Tuesday, March 25

The Binational State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Many Israelis view this solution as an anti-Semitic attempt to destroy Israel. However, as I have mentioned in a previous article on my blog, this is not a new idea at all. The idea was entertained by the well-known Jewish philosophers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes in the 1920’s. The history of the establishment of the State of Israel is a tragic one. It provided hope for the Jewish people and the survivors of the Nazi holocaust while resulting in the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population and the creation of a Palestinian refugee problem which remains unsolved to this day. The two state solution as the result of the partition vote in the UN of 29th November 1947 was rejected by the Arab states but was accepted by the majority of UN members.

The conflict has reached a total stalemate as Israel approaches its 60th Anniversary .The attempts at reaching a two-state solution has not yielded any results. The whole situation in this area has to return to the drawing board for new, imaginative solutions that would be acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians. The numerous wars since Israel was established had taken a severe toll on all sides to the conflict. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss these wars except to mention that it never brought the conflict any closer to a solution. Apart from Egypt and Jordan, no additional Arab states have diplomatic relations with Israel. The Oslo Accords of September 13, 1993, did give some hope for a settlement but this hope was short-lived and time proved the Oslo Accords a total failure. The second intifada broke out in October 2000 and the Palestinian Authority was further weakened by it as Hamas, the extremist terrorist organization, became stronger and intensified its suicide terrorist attacks against Israelis in all public places. Communications between Israel and the Palestinians virtually broke down only to be replaced by violence and Israeli military retaliatory actions. The small amount of trust between Israel and the Palestinians ceased to exist.

The two-state solution which gained world support, even in Israel, became moribund. One of the reasons for this is the settlement policies of successive Israeli governments. The occupation of Palestinian lands by right wing settlers and the continuous building and enlarging of existing settlements in occupied territories in practice has destroyed the two-state solution. One does not have to use much imagination to realize that the future, independent Palestinian state would be in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. The right wing Zionist settler movements have rekindled the binational state solution by default. It is not the idea of anti-Semites and those who wish to destroy Israel as we are made to believe. The expansion of settlements in Palestinian occupied territory made it very difficult to ascertain where the future Palestinian state will be. Would settlers vacate their homes in the occupied territories and return to Israel or would they remain under Palestinian rule? It is highly unlikely that the settlers would agree to this.

The only alternative to the two-state solution is a binational state solution which could be a federation of Israel and Palestine with a central government represented by both Israelis and Palestinians. In order for this to be achieved both Palestinians and Israelis must make revolutionary changes in their attitudes towards one another. Both parties to the conflict must agree to a binational solution. The chance of this happening is zero when the hate between the two sides runs so deep. Both sides have strong national aspirations which under the present circumstances run contrary to each other’s interests. There does not seem to be any sign that attitudes of Palestinian and Israelis will change. The hate and mistrust run so deep that it seems that either the binational state or the two-state solutions will not be achieved for many years.

Both sides are intransigent and extremism is gaining the upper hand. The misery, squalor, check posts and lack of economic development in the Palestinian areas will continue. The Israeli Security Forces will remain on its guard for terrorist activity and will continue to enhance the status quo of no progress, no direction and no peace.

On the Palestinian side there is the moderate Fatah who are prepared to negotiate a peace treaty but their strength is being eroded at a rapid pace while the extremist Hamas and its Islamic Jihad ally are becoming stronger and gaining more Palestinian support. They have no intention of coming to terms with Israel’s existence. Hamas is not even in favour of a two-state or binational state solution as it runs contrary to their charter. They wish to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. Both extremist organizations believe in genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Jewish People. Unless they become pragmatic and are prepared to negotiate with Israel on any form of solution they must change their attitude towards coexistence which is at present not part of their lexicon.

Israel must be more accommodating and show its readiness to negotiate with Hamas if the latter is prepared to negotiate even if it does not officially change its attitude towards Israel’s existence. The fact that it would be prepared to negotiate with Israel does grant de facto recognition of Israel despite its claims to the contrary. At the same time, Israel should show willingness to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners including Marwan Barghouti. Settlement activity beyond the green line should be frozen including existing settlement expansion. Israel has not ceased its settlement activity beyond the green line. Israel has also not ceased demolishing Palestinian homes not because of terrorism but because these homes are “illegal”. Why illegal? The reason for that is to make way for further settlement activity in Palestinian lands.

Both sides to the conflict must show readiness to negotiate seriously. Israel and its US ally cannot ignore Gaza as part of the solution even though it is under Hamas rule. Bolstering the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas will not lead to any serious negotiations because of lack of Palestinian support.

According to Meron Benvenisti, binationalism is apparently inevitable. Israel and the Palestinians are sinking together into the mud of the "one state." The question is not whether it will be binational state, but which model to choose.

Saturday, March 15

Religious Right Wing Ideology in Zionism

The terrible tragedy that occurred at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem has aroused strong emotions amongst adherents of right wing religious Zionism. They blame the left wing in Israel for the murder. This message was so clear because of the rough treatment given to Prof Yuli Tamir the Minister of Education, when she arrived at the institution on a condolence visit. The scorn and the violence that came from this sector with the tacit support of the rabbis that graduated at this institution leaves us with no doubt about the direction of education in this “holy of holies”. Mercaz Harav, the right wing religious Zionist institution, has produced graduates that are illegal settler oriented as well as strong supporters of the occupation on religious grounds. It is a disgrace! Why must it take a heinous terrorist act to bring out true barbarism, racial hatred for others and hatred for a large left oriented non-religious section of the Israeli population? I had a feeling of déjà vu. A similar situation existed a few weeks before PM Yitschak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995.

Many rabbis whose views are extreme right wing are graduates of this institution. The yeshiva's well-known graduates include former MK Rabbi Haim Druckman, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Zfania Drori, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Noon and former MK Rabbi Hanan Porat. All these rabbis are religious Zionist firebrands! They believe and fight for “Eretz Yisrael Shleima” (Greater Israel, which includes all the territories occupied in the Six Day War of June 1967). The ideology that these religious leaders hold, according to them, are based on the right of Jews to settle all the occupied territories. This is based on prophecy. The damage that they have done to Israel’s credibility in the world is enormous. It is creating a situation whereby Palestinians are forcibly removed from their lands to make way for Jewish settlement in the territories. At the same time it also makes a two state solution even more complex to achieve. How can Israel claim that it does not wish to occupy another people when the settler movement is given permits to build in disputed areas of Jerusalem? Palatial homes are built for settlers while Palestinian homes are demolished to make way for Jewish settlement. It makes Israel’s claims of being a non-occupying power a complete farce! It also strengthens the case for a binational state solution. There is no place for a Palestinian state other than in the Israeli occupied territories! There are those religious Zionists who still maintain that the future Palestinian state is Jordan where the Palestinians ought to be transferred.

The religious Zionist movement is becoming more right wing and less amenable to any form of negotiations with the Palestinians. They must share a large part of the blame for much of the hate that Israel is receiving. The reaction of the yeshiva students was chants of “Death to the Arabs!” Rabbi David Shalem director of the Institute of Talmud Studies at the school called for the Ehud Olmert government to attack Palestinians “everywhere, in Gaza, and the north and inside.” He issued a thinly veiled call for the extermination of Palestinians by referring to them as present-day Amalekites, who were “indigenous nomads who attacked the Israelites on their flight from Egypt and were annihilated by King David.” (New York Times, March 7). They also called for the destruction of the home where the terrorist and his parents live. It must be made clear that after Rabin was assassinated, there were no calls coming from rabbis or their students in this “holy of holies” of religious Zionism to destroy the home of Yigal Amir the assassin. Nor were there any calls for the destruction of the Kiryat Arba home of Baruch Goldstein the murderer of 29 Arabs in a mosque in Hebron on 29th February 1994. The deeds of the perpertrators of these crimes were no less evil than that of the terrorist who killed the 8 students in Mercaz Harav.

Mercaz Harav is a hotbed of racist Jewish fundamentalism at its worst. "The Talmud states that...two contrary types of souls exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from the Satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness...Rabbi Kook, the Elder, the revered father of the messianic tendency of Jewish fundamentalism said, "The difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews...is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.' "Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky's "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel"

It is also the base of Gush Emunim. "Gush Emunim rabbis have continually reiterated that Jews who killed Arabs should not be punished, [e.g.]...Relying on the Code of Maimonides and the Halacha, Rabbi Ariel stated, 'A Jew who killed a non-Jew is exempt from human judgment and has not violated the [religious] prohibition of murder'...The significance here is most striking when the broad support, both direct and indirect, for Gush Emunim is considered. About one-half of Israel's Jewish population supports Gush Emunim." "Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky's "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel"

Mercaz Harav is the ideological and organizational centre of the Israeli settler movement. They oppose any form of compromise with the Palestinians or the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Gideon Levy, columnist for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper of record, wrote on March 10: “From Mercaz Harav emerged the rabbis that led the vilest movement in Zionist history. Most of the delusional right-wing perpetrators and the mongers of hate for Arabs came from this flagship.”

Saturday, March 8

The Vicious Cycle of Violence

A terror victim at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem (Y-Net)

The past week has been a week of revenge and hate. Qassams and Katyushas fell in Sderot and Ashkelon and caused injury and shock to the people of these towns. The result of these attacks was felt, not by the regular members of Hamas (who celebrated a victory when the Israeli Army withdrew from Gaza). The fact that 165 Palestinians were killed, many of whom were innocent, and not involved in the violence did not seem to make any impression on Hamas and company. The predictable rhetoric based on fantasy and an unrealistic world view was rapid in coming from their spokesmen. The arms caches hidden in private homes under Hamas orders turned many Palestinian women and children into human shields, exposed to the wroth of the Israeli Army in its quest to rout out the Hamas terrorists.

The situation remains tense and the motivation for Hamas terror has increased. The situation has become difficult and any form of sanity is still far from reality. Reports of innocent Palestinian babies and children being killed and injured are coming in. It is shocking that children on both sides have fallen victim to this cycle of violence. Nothing on earth can justify killing of innocent people whether Israeli or Palestinian.

The latest terrorist attack occurred on Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in the Kiryat Moshe neighbourhood of Jerusalem where 8 students were killed and nine others wounded. This attack was despicable and ought to be condemned in the strongest terms! The repercussions resulted in a rallying point for the right wing which makes political capital of this ghastly and tragic act. Various claims of responsibility for the attack were made. An organization calling itself "Galilee Freedom Battalions - the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh" claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station. This claim has yet to be verified. The terrorist, Ala Abu Dhaim, who was himself shot dead, acted alone. Hamas’s terrorist wing denies any responsibility for the attack. Later reports did state that this terrorist acted alone.

This terrorist attack served the interests of extremists on both sides of the great divide. The celebratory shooting in the air in Gaza that followed the terrorist attack in Jerusalem last night showed that the penetration of Merkaz Harav was viewed as an unusual political and military achievement for the group responsible.

The attack brought something to a wide public in the Gaza Strip that it had been waiting for all week - revenge. The Israeli right wing demonstrations with its spine-chilling chanting of “Death to the Arabs” were reactions that were just as despicable as the reactions of joy in Gaza.

This yeshiva is the spiritual centre of the religious Zionist movement. Many right wing rabbis graduated here. The ideology of the religious Zionist movement is another of many complex factors that are obstacles to any form of negotiated peace settlement. The terrorist who committed this awful deed was killed in a shoot out. The cynical use of political ideologies at a tragedy of this magnitude is disgusting. It reaches a level approaching the level of Hamas’s reaction to killing of Israelis.

The peace process is in shreds. Even resumption of negotiations with President Mahmoud Abbas is a hopeless exercise in achieving peace. Abbas does not represent his people. The division of Palestine into two entities means that Gaza is not part of the overall peace process. Mahmoud Abbas does not have the authority to negotiate on their behalf. The situation is so hopeless and the US is very unrealistic in its approach towards a negotiated settlement. How peace will be achieved before President Bush leaves office at the end of 2008 is anybody’s wild guess.

The cycle of violence – terror and Israeli army retaliation will continue. How much innocent blood needs to be spilt before both sides come to their senses? Both peoples have had enough of this destructive and tragic violence. Al Jazeera’s Odeh said the latest incident could prompt greater willingness to negotiate.

"The political buzz in the Palestinian territory is that this attack has really awakened the politicians on both sides to a reality - the status quo will not work and they need to work on reaching a ceasefire," she said.

"This is the second attack [inside Israel] in one month, something that Israelis haven't seen in a very long time. They don't want to be subjected to that again. The calls for a ceasefire, mutual and reciprocal between Israelis and Palestinians, will be a lot stronger."

A cease-fire and a stop to all violence and terror must be declared!

Saturday, March 1

Is Palestinian Terror the Result of the Occupation?

This is a question that is provocative and is really a two edged sword. There is no simple answer and much depends on how one looks at the relationship between Palestinians, Israelis and maybe the Middle East as a whole. The answer to this question is a mix of “yes and no”. It also depends on whether one supports Israel or the Palestinians. While it is true that Palestinian terrorism is a result of the occupation, it is also true that Palestinian terrorism is a consequence of an existential problem of Israel's right to exist. Israel's right to exist has been in dispute since the day it was established in 1948. Terrorism against Israel existed even before the occupation of territory because of the Six Day War of 1967. In fact, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and their ilk view Israel as occupied territory since 1948 and they will not rest until Israel is destroyed. Al Naqba – the catastrophe of 1948 resulting in Israel’s establishment on occupied Palestinian territory, which to them, is still unacceptable.

The only solution to this conflict is a negotiated peace settlement and total cessation of hostilities on both sides. A hudna or tahida (temporary cease-fire and calm) will not be the solution as Hamas holds the key to its observation. Hamas does not even want to discuss this directly with Israel as it refuses to negotiate or recognize Israel even though it is prepared to accept this through a third party. Anyway, there is no trust between the two sides. Israel will view a hudna as a period of re-armament of Hamas which could take ten years in order to recoup its losses and renew its armed struggle to destroy Israel.

The violence continues unabated. Ashkelon has now joined Sderot in receiving vollies of Qassam rockets which is causing injury, fatalities and severe damage to property. Now it is not only Qassam rockets, but also Grads that are being fired. The damage is increasing as well as the frequency of mortar fire. It is unacceptable! Nothing can justify this sort of terrorism! The result of it all will be severe Israeli Army retaliations in Gaza which will cause severe tragedy to many innocent people while those responsible – Hamas leadership and their allies - will be deep in their bunkers, planning their next round of attacks. They are not affected by the Israeli Army retaliations! They have their human shields where they hide – Palestinian women, children and babies! Their motivation for carrying out more attacks just increases while at the same time the cost in blood of the Palestinians also increases. What do they hope to achieve by this - Israel’s total destruction “ethnic cleansing and genocide” of the Jewish people? Is this their goal? Hamas and its new found ally, President Ahmadinajad of Iran, have hinted at this ad nauseam.

Hamas intends to harm as many Israeli civilians as possible. It does not differentiate between soldiers and civilians. The Israeli army retaliates and during its retaliatory activities, many innocent Palestinian civilians are harmed and killed as well as a handful of armed Hamas terrorists. Israel’s retaliatory activities are not directed at innocent civilians. Unfortunately, the Hamas terrorists hide behind Palestinian civilians in the hope that Israel will kill Palestinian civilians as well. They have succeeded in this tactic. Hamas are cowards and their leader Khaled Mashal hides behind his vicious, hateful rhetoric in Damascus, Syria where he dictates his wishes resulting in harm to his own people that he claims to represent.

According to South African lawyer, Professor John Dugard, an independent investigator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a South African lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in the 1980s, says in a report that "common sense ... dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation." The report calls for an end to the Israeli occupation, citing the country's checkpoints and roadblocks restricting Palestinian movement, house demolitions and the "Judaization" of Jerusalem. The report says that until the occupation is ended, "peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue." A question arises as to what is the definition of “occupation”. Is it the occupation of Palestinian territory conquered during the Six Day War of June 1967, or is it the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which according to Hamas, is “occupied Palestinian lands that must be liberated”? If it is the latter, then only the total destruction of Israel will bring peace to the area according to the report. This is not clear.

Professor Dugard has given the most blatant support for Palestinian terrorism to date. It will be interesting to read how he will justify that in the 25 page report he compiled and will deliver at the Human Rights Council of the UN next month. This report will be based undoubtedly on a previous report that he wrote on 26th March 2002. He does mention Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights which cannot be denied. Much of this report is reasonable in its content where he does give a sense of balance:

“The Israeli perception is very different. Israelis see terrorism as the cause of the crisis. Suicide bombers who enter Israeli shopping districts, suburbs and settlements and snipers who shoot at passing traffic, have instilled a sense of fear into all Israelis. There is no guarantee of safety on the streets or roads, in shopping malls and restaurants. Palestinian violence is not seen as a response to Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territory but as terror directed at the very existence of the State of Israel.

Since 11 September international support for the belief that terrorism is the main problem to be confronted in the region has inevitably grown. That terrorism is a threat to the present world order cannot, and should not, be denied. That terrorism is a scourge that threatens Israelis and Palestinians alike cannot and should not be denied. Every effort should be made to end violence intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or the public, whether it is perpetrated by instruments of the State, by organized non-State groups or by individuals. At the same time it is important not to ignore the main explanation for the acts of terror committed by Palestinians against Israelis - opposition to the military occupation. Or the main explanation for the acts of terror committed by the Israel Defense Forces against Palestinians - enforcement of the occupation”.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza is untenable and the poverty, overcrowding and the total collapse of the economy are factors that strengthen Hamas.

According to Maan News Agency 1st March 2008, 34 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip on since dawn Saturday, including five children and more than 100 wounded in Israeli shelling on the northern Gaza Strip. (The number of Palestinian killed is still rising and stands now at over 50)

Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed and five injured as Israeli forces step up its attacks on the coastal region.

In the latest attack Abdul Rahman Shahab the son of Hamas leader Muhamad Shahab was killed.

Two sisters, 13-year-old Salwa Zedan and 17-year-old Samah Zedan, were killed in an Israeli attack near their house east of Jabalia.

Two resistance fighters from the Al-Qassam Brigades Mu'tasem Abed Rabbo and Abdullah Abu Shahira were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

Israeli Special Forces backed by tanks penetrated the area east of Jabalia in the eastern Gaza Strip under the cover of Israeli warplanes that showered the region with rockets and missiles early on Saturday morning.

Medical sources confirmed that houses were bombarded with air and ground fire.

According to Dr Mu'awiya Hassanain, director of emergency and ambulance services in the Palestinian health ministry, the dead and injured were transferred to Kamal Adwan Hospital.

Fathi Thabet and Tal'at Darduna were the first to be killed in the Israeli attack. Less than an hour later Ibrahim Az-Zein and Sa'id Al-Hsheim died after being hit by Israeli artillery shells near Az-Zawiyah in the eastern area of the Jabaliya camp. Eyewitnesses reported that Hussein Al-Batsh was also killed.

According to medical sources, a missile fell on the house of Abu Shbak family, killing 12-year-old Jacqueline Shbak and her brother Iyad Mohammed Abu Shbak, along with 45-year-old Bassam Obeid and his son Muhammad. Muhammad Al-Jamal and Abed Faraj were killed in another missile attack. They are reported to be affiliated to Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades.

On Friday an Al-Qassam Brigades commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike on a car in Jabalia.

The Al-Qassam Brigades told Ma'an that "Iyad Al-Ashram a commander in the Al-Qassam Brigades died when a missile targeted his car in the Al-Zamo area of Jabaliya."

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in violent clashes between Palestinian resistance factions and the Israeli army east of Jabaliya.

Israeli sources reported that two of the soldiers are in a serious condition. They were air-lifted by helicopter to the Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva.

The Al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for targeting an Israeli Special Forces unit in a house east of the Jabaliya camp with two rocket propelled grenades. The brigades claim there were casualties and planes were seen evacuating the wounded from the scene.

The Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching two rocket propelled grenades at a group of soldiers inside located the Darduna family's home in east Jabalia.

Moreover, five Palestinian resistance fighters were wounded as they launched projectiles at the Israeli town of Ashkelon on Saturday.

Israeli sources confirmed that five Israeli citizens were slightly injured when a missile landed on a house in the city of Ashkelon.

According to Israeli military sources 18 rockets have landed in the western Negev and Ashkelon since dawn on Saturday.

Hamas is harming the Palestinian people. Their callousness and lack of sensitivity towards their own people is criminal. It is removing their right to peace no less than the damage and terror that it is causing to Israel. It is increasing Palestinian suffering by its criminal behaviour and it does not intend to rule the Palestinian people responsibly. The only people that can rid themselves of the Hamas cancer are the Palestinians themselves. Imposition of the Hamas fantasy of the destruction of Israel through terror on the Palestinian people is irresponsible and dangerous. It will lead nowhere but to further suffering, economic hardship and more Israel army retaliations which will take a tragic toll in blood. They have declared war on Israel and this is a war that they have no chance of winning.