Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Uri Avnery on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Uri Avnery is a long term Israeli peace activist, left wing activist, journalist and politician and always worth reading. He has been an advocate of a two state solution since the estalishment of the state of Israel back in 1948 and originally avocated a broad anti-colonialist alliance of Jews and Arabs to liberate the "Semitic Region" (his term for the Middle East) from imperialism and colonialism.

I regularly pick up his articles at the Information Clearing House which is where I saw this piece reflecting ruefully on the current situation in Israel/Palestine. I want to quote some of his observations here.

If you stop any ten random passers-by in a Tel Aviv street and ask them what they think about the chances of peace, nine of them will shrug their shoulders and answer: It won’t happen. No chance. The conflict will just go on forever.
They will not say: We don’t want peace, the price of peace is too high. On the contrary, many will declare that for peace they are ready to give back the occupied territories, even East Jerusalem, and let the Palestinians have a state of their own. Sure. Why not? But, they will add: No chance. There will be no peace.
Some will say: The Arabs don’t want it. Others will say: Our leaders can’t do it. But the conclusion is the same: It just won’t happen.
A similar poll of Palestinians would probably yield the same results: We want peace. Peace would be wonderful. But there’s no chance. It won’t happen.
This mood has produced the same political situation on both sides. In the Palestinian elections, Hamas won, not because of its ideology but because it expresses the despair of peace with Israel. In the Israeli elections, there was a general move to the Right: Leftists voted for Kadima, Kadima people voted for Likud, Likud people voted for the fascist factions.
Without hope there is no Left. The Left is by nature optimistic, it believes in a better future, in the chance of changing everything for the better. The Right is by nature pessimistic. It does not believe in the possibility of changing human nature and society for the better, it is convinced that war is a law of nature.

On the recent international conference on Gaza:

On TV we were shown a uniquely impressive conference, a huge assembly of world leaders, who all came to Sharm-el-Sheikh. Who was not there? Chinese and Japanese rubbed shoulders with Saudis and Qataris. Nicholas Sarkozy was everywhere (Indeed, it was well-nigh impossible to take a photo without the hyper-active French president appearing in it somewhere.) Hillary Clinton was the star. Hosni Mubarak celebrated his achievement in getting them all together on Egyptian soil..

And for what? For little, poor Gaza. It has to be rebuilt. It was a celebration of sanctimonious hypocrisy, in the very best tradition of international diplomacy.

First of all, nobody from Gaza was there. As in the heyday of European imperialism, 150 years ago, the fate of the Natives was decided without the Natives themselves being present. Who needs them? After all, they are Primitives. Better without them.

Not only Hamas was absent. A delegation of Gaza businessmen and civil society activists could not come either. Mubarak just did not allow them to pass the Rafah crossing. The gate of the prison called Gaza was barred by the Egyptian jailers.

The absence of delegates from Gaza, and especially from Hamas, turned the conference into a farce. Hamas rules Gaza. It won the elections there, as in all the Palestinian territories, and continues to govern it even after one of the mightiest armies in the world spent 22 days trying to dislodge it. Nothing will happen in the Gaza Strip without the consent of Hamas. The world-wide decision to rebuild Gaza without the participation of Hamas is sheer foolishness.

And on the current state of play on the peace process in Israeli politics:

This is now a test for all those who stood at the cradle of the “Two State” idea some 60 years ago.
This vision was – and remains – the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sole realistic alternative is the continuation of the present situation – occupation, oppression, Apartheid, war. But the enemies of this vision have smartened up and pretend to support it on every occasion.
Avigdor Liberman is in favor of “Two States”. Absolutely. He spells it out: several Palestinian enclaves, each of them surrounded by the Israeli military and by settlers like himself. These Bantustans will be called “a Palestinian state”. An ideal solution, indeed: the State of Israel will be cleansed of Arabs, but will continue to rule over all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Binyamin Netanyahu has a similar vision, but differently worded: the Arabs will “govern themselves”. They will govern their towns and villages, but not the territory, neither the West Bank nor the Gaza Strip. They will have no army, of course, and no control of the airspace over their heads, neither will they have any physical contact with neighboring countries. Menachem Begin used to call this “autonomy”.
But there will be “economic peace”. The Palestinian economy will “flourish”. Even Hillary Clinton ridiculed this idea publicly before meeting with Netanyahu.
Tzipi Livni wants “Two Nation-States”. Yes’ Ma’m. When? Well… First of all there have to be negotiations, unlimited in time. They did not come to fruition during the years she has been conducting them, nor have they got anywhere at all. Ehud Olmert speaks about the “Political Process” – why did he not bring it to a successful conclusion during the years of his stewardship? How long must the “Process” go on? Five years? Fifty? Five hundred
So Hillary speaks about “Two States”. Speaks with great vigor. Is ready to speak about it with any Israeli government that will be set up, even if inspired by the ideas of Meir Kahane. The main thing is that they talk with Mahmoud Abbas, and that Abbas in the meantime receives money, a lot of money.
An EXTREME right-wing government is about to be set up.

While I respect Avnery I think the time of the Two State solution has passed, if there ever could be such a time. It was killed when Israel began the settlements in the Palestinian territories. I can't see any way of dislodging those people voluntarily. Many of them are fanatics and deeply immured in a disturbing racism against their Arab neighbours. The only possibility for a Two State solution would be if the settlers accepted citizenship in the new Palestinian state and gave up the perks and privileges they currently enjoy, provided by the Israeli government.

My personal view is that there were two catastrophes for the Jewish people/s in the 20th century. The first was the Nazi Holocaust and the second was the Zionist triumph through the establishment of the state of Israel. The latter was dependent on the former. Mass extermination of the Jews of Europe meant the elimination of both the political and religious opposition to Zionism within the Jewish world. People today don't realise that prior to the Holocaust Zionism was regarded as an anti-religious and even blasphemous and sacrilegious movement by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewry. The great rabbinical schools of Orthodox and Hasidic Judaism were based in the Eastern European heartland and were destroyed by the Nazis. In the post-war period, amongst the Jewish emigres in Palestine primarily there was a reconfiguration of Judaism to re-orient along Zionist lines. This actually marked significant rupture with Rabbinic tradition, a rupture that could only have been successful following the elimination of the great mass of European Jewry and it s religious leadership and the concomitant severe trauma amongst the surviving populations. But the Zionist triumph and the state of Israel represented a catastrophe, ehtical, spiritual, cultural as severe as the Nazi Holocaust. However there are surviviors who remain steadfast to the older form of Orthodox Judaism. You can find links ot them in he list of Some Interesting Sites down the side below.

Just as tragically Zionism has resulted in a similar spiritual and ethical catastrophe in US Protestant Evangelaical and Charismatic Christianity. Riddled with the heresy of dispensationalism, these Christians have become infected with a most nasty form of Christian Zionism, which, as with the Jewish settlers of the West Bank, has corrupted them with a vile form racism against Arab people, as well as providing a basis for a masked but vuirulent form of anti-Semitism entertaining fantasies of a destruction of the Jewish peoples that would make Hitler's attempts look like child's play.

Even if it was morally tenable, the Two State solution is no longer viable thanks to the settlements. The only solution I can see is the creation of a secular, democratic state of Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem with citizenship for all: Jewish, Arab, Armenian, Russian and Greek; Christian, Muslim, Druze, Rabbinic Jew, Karaite, Samaritan, Bahai, Raelian, agnostic, atheist and all.

Update: Two interesting pieces from today's Asia Times. In the first, Robert Dreyfuss, discusses the recent Charles Freeman affair in Washington and asks whether the Israel lobby there have, in fact, overplayed their hand. Their very sucess in thwarting Freeman's appointment shows without a doubt that there is a definite organised Israel lobby that exerts considerable influence on Washington. Furthermore, as he points out, not only does this lobby, for the main consist, of rightwing Zionist neo-conservatives but:

Israel is about to be run by an extremist, ultra right-wing government led by Likud Party leader Bibi Netanyahu, and including the even more extreme party of Avigdor Lieberman, as well as a host of radical-right religious parties. It's an ugly coalition that is guaranteed to clash with the priorities of the Obama White House.

As a result, the arrival of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government is also guaranteed to prove a crisis moment for the Israel lobby. It will present an enormous public-relations problem, akin to the one that faced advertising agency Hill & Knowlton during the decades in which it had to defend Philip Morris, the hated cigarette company that repeatedly denied the link between its products and cancer. The Israel lobby knows that it will be difficult to sell cartons of menthol smooth Netanyahu-Lieberman 100s to American consumers.
In the other piece, Ramzy Baroud, reflects on the prospects of a third Palestinian Intifada. A number of issues are simmering that could provoke it but:
some of the most contentious issues throughout the years have been the crimes of house demolitions, settlement construction in the Occupied Territories and the increasing number of settlers moving into those ever-growing settlements.

In a recent interview with Ma'an news agency, the Palestinian Authority's governor to Jerusalem warned that the planned demolition of 100 Palestinian homes and the displacement of nearly 1,000 people in the occupied Jerusalem area would certainly increase the growing possibility of a third Intifada. "It is now clear to the international community, and our position within the Palestinian Authority is very clear - no negotiations, no peace process with settlements," he stressed.

Baroud continues:
There is a great fear that the Israeli plan, which some have described as "slow-motion ethnic cleansing", is now augmenting into a fast-paced settlement project. These worries have been confirmed by the Israeli "Peace Now" movement, in a press release, issued on March 2.

"The Ministry of Construction and Housing is planning to construct at least 73,300 housing units in the West Bank," Peace Now reported. It further stated that the plans outlined in the Israeli Ministry of Housing report "represent only a small part of the total number of the plans existing in the settlements".

"At least 15,000 housing units have already been approved and plans for an additional 58,000 housing units are yet to be approved," said the group, which also concluded that of the units already approved by the Israeli government, nearly 9,000 have been built. "If all the plans are realized, the number of settlers in the territories will be doubled."

He further observes:
The new illegal units are built on stolen land, illegally confiscated from their rightful Palestinian owners. With such a move, Israel purposely renders the so-called two-state solution permanently incapacitated, while insisting that a one-state solution is the equivalent to the "annihilation" of the Jewish state.



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  2. Michael,

    I'm not sure how familiar you are with both Ashkenazic & Sephardic writings pre-WW2, but your contention that Zionism was regarded as
    "anti-religious and even blasphemous and sacrilegious movement by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewry" is very debatable & certainly not the academic communis opinio amongst those scholars working with Yiddish pre-WW2 literature. I am sure you are aware that Ashkenazic Jews began migrating to the area now known as Israel with Zionist zeal as far back as the 19th century. You would also obviously be aware that there were significant populations of Sephardic Jews returning to the area since the Spanish inquisition. In fact, your post seems to ignore the fact that large scale Jewish emigration to the area began post-Balfour 1917 well before the 1948 declaration of nationhood.

    Certainly there were some sectional hardline Chasidic and Neturei Karta styled elements opposed to Zionism, but these religious groups were relatively marginal and have declined in influence. In fact the greatest opposition to Zionism from religious Jews came from the Reform communities predominantly located in North America.

    Given that secular democracy is a western concept at variance with almost all Qur'anic and Talmudic traditions you seem to be wishing for a new nation which would only have the support of the secular Jews & non-Islamic Arabs. To ask religious Sunni & Shi'ite muslims (who make up the majority of the Arab population in the region) to simply accept a secular western-style democratic government completely at variance with their traditions borders on the neo-colonial to me.

    I think a two-state solution (with a democratic Jewish-majority Israel & a Republic of Palestine under Islamic law) is the only viable answer but I anticipate it will take hardline governments in both Israel and the Palestinian territories to finally achieve peace akin to the situation in Northern Ireland - where hardliners need to forge the peace in order for it to stick.

    Obviously Israel is going to have to cede land & cease military incursions & new settlements while Hamas-styled elements are going to have to cease suicide bombings and rocket attacks.

    Just my thoughts...

  3. The Sephardic immigrations of the 15th & 16th centuries came as a result of the expulsions from Spain. The Ottoman Empire specifically welcomed the Sephardic Jews into the Empire which included Palestine. Most went to the Balkans and Anatolia and a number went to Egypt where there had always been a significant Jewish community. Very small numbers went to Palestine, most importantly the Kabbalists, such as Caro and Luria who settled around Safed in Galilee. Safed would become a very important centre for Jewish thought in the folowing centuries until the crisis of Shabbatai Zvi in the late 17th century

    Zionist immigration into Palestine started in the late 19th century but remained pretty much a trickle until the 1920s and the British Mandate. At the same time the rise of anti-semitic nationalst movements in eastern Europe prompted upsurges of immigration into Palestine, facilitated by the Zionist movement, which at the same time exacerbated tensions with the local Palestinian population who feared (quite justifiably) that they would be displaced by the waves of newcomers

    But even so, Zionism was not accepted by the religious authorities, both because it was a secular movement and because of the belief that Jews should not pre-empt God by trying to establish Jewish rule in Palestine. Only the messiah could do that and the messiah would come only when all Jews completely fulfilled all of the Torah. In Eastern Europe, too, Zionism had a secular rival as well. The Bund or Jewish Social Democratic Party which was active amonsgt the Jewish working masses in Poland and Russia. The Bolsheviks, of course, suppressed the Bund in the USSR, but outside the USSR it would be destroyed in the Holocaust together with the religious leadership.

    For the Two Sate solution to succeed, Israel msut sit down and talk with all the leaders of the Palestinians, Hamas and the PLO, and must give up all claims to the Occupied Territories IOW stop the settlements once and for all. It must accept that Jerusalem is going to be the capital of two states. Finally it must either repatriate the settlers on the West Bank into the pre-67 borders or those settlers have to get used to becoming Jewish citizens of the new Palestinian state on an equal footing with their Arab neighbours. I would also advocate strongly that as a sweetener of whatever solution is finally effected that either both states or the single state in Palestine be immediately admitted to the EU. After all the whole tragic disaster in Palestine is a result of European imperial scheming and European anti-semitism seeking a solution to its religio-cultural prejudices by exporting its historic Other elsewhere.

  4. Michael,

    Your analysis of the origins of Zionism are incorrect and completely ignores the philosophical conception of Aliyah in Jewish religious thought.

    With respect, I can understand your opposition to the state of Israel, but your misrepresentation/ignorance of Jewish religious literature in Yiddish/Hebrew and the secondary source materials in esp. German & Russian seems to have led you to reproduce standard Wikipedia-esque talking points at variance with the findings of modern research in the field.

    In terms of primary sources, I would recommend you consult the following, from both Sepharic and Ashkenazic perspectives. I'm only recommending English langauge sources here because I assume you do not read French, German or Russian. [If you are genuinely interested in this field - ie the religious origins of the modern Zionist Aliyah movement, then I can also provide the important Russian & German sources for you.]:

    J. Halevi, Kitab al Khazari: an Argument for the Faith of Israel, (trans from Arabic), Schocken, 1964.
    A.I. Kook, The Essential Writings. Amity House ,1988
    Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed,
    University of Chicago Press, 1963.
    Nachman of Breslov, Breslov Research Institute, 1990.
    H. Shaklover, The Voice of the Turtledove, Petach Tikva, 2002.

    In terms of secondary literature I would recommend:
    Yosef Salmon. Religion and Zionism: First Encounters. Magnes Press (2002)
    A. Hertzberg, (ed) The Zionist Idea: A
    Historical Analysis and Reader (1959)
    S. Almog et at, Zionism and Religion, Brandeis University Press, 1998.
    W.D. Davies, The Territorial Dimension of Judaism, 1982.
    E. Luz, Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist
    Movement (1882-1904), Jewish Publication Society, 1988.
    J. Frankel, Prophecy and Politics: Socialism,
    Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917 (1981)
    Frankel and S. Zipperstein, Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1992)
    D.H. Weinberg, Between Tradition and Modernity (1996)
    M. Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siècle (2001)
    E. Schweid, The Land of Israel – National Home or Land of Destiny, Herzl Press, 1985.
    S. Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha’am and the Origins of Zionism (1993)
    W. Harvey, ‘Zionism as a Return to Mount Sinai in R. Kook’s Thought’, "R. Abraham Isaac Kook and Jewish Spirituality", 1995, pp. 290-300.
    M. Idel, ‘Some Conceptions of the Land of Israel in Medieval Jewish Thought’ in
    "A Straight Path" 1988, pp. 124-141.
    Goldstein, “Some Sociological Aspects of
    the Russian Zionist Movement at Its Inception,” Jewish Social Studies (1985), pp. 167-178
    A. Newman, ‘The Centrality of Eretz Yisrael in Nachmanides’, Tradition.(1968/9), pp. 21-30.
    S. Rosenberg, ‘The Link to the Land of Israel in Jewish Thought’ in "The Land of Israel", 1986, pp. 139-169.
    J. Frankel, 'Modern Jewish Politics East and
    West (1840-1939),' "The Quest for Utopia" (1992), pp. 81-103
    E. Weinerman, “Racism, Racial Prejudice and Jews in Late Imperial Russia,” Ethnic and Racial Studies (1994), pp. 442-495

    In terms of the two-state solution to work, I think the international community and Israel will need to accept the inevitability of a non-democratic Palestian state ruled under sharia law. Jerusalem is obviously a holy city for Muslims and I cannot see Palestinians willing to share control of a holy city that their religious tradition views as solely quintessentially Islamic. The solution may be a split city or a city policed by the UN under International Law.

    many Palestinians will oppose admission to the secular/Christian dominated EU governed by non-Islamic law. Many in the Islamic would much prefer an alternative Islamic khalifate-tyle union of Islamic states. It is important to clearly recognise the increasingly rigorous Islamic character (in the Salafi tradition) of the modern Palestinian nation.

  5. Thank you for the bibliography, I'll certainly follow it up. I have read quite a bit of rabbinic material, including the great medieval sages, Ramban, Rashi etc. Aliyah and Zionism are not the same thing. Pre-Zionism, aliyah into Palestine did not mean taking over the land, expelling the inhabitants and establishing a Jewish state. Indeed the very notion of doing so was considered a blasphemous usurpation of the messianic age to come, which could only be ushered in by the Messiah. In many ways Zionism owes much more to European nationalist ideologies than to traditional Jewish religious thought. That fusion came later in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s with the development of relgious Zionism under Rabbi Abraham Kook.

    I don't see the inevitablitity of a 'non-democratic Palestinian state ruled under Sharia law'. Hamas itself was democratically elected largely because of the corruption and ineptitude of Fatah. It was the US and Israel that prompted the Fatah Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to circumvent the election result leading to the civil conflict in Gaza in which Hamas effectively took control of the territory.

    You also forget that there are Christian Palestinians and that Jerusalem is a city sacred to all three faiths, something that would require in any two state solution Jerusalem being not only a shared capital but an international city as well.

    I suspect that the prospect of EU membership, not least for financial benefits it would bring, would be very appealing to a large number of Palestinians, regardless of politico-religious views. (I also understand that Yasser Arafat floated the possibility of the new Palestinian state joining the Commonwealth) After all both 'Islamist' and 'secular' Turks have been keen to get Turkey into the EU and it's been the 'Islamist' government that implemented the most far-reaching reforms in anticipation of EU accession (including the abolition of the death penalty). The EU has also been making a range of agreements for closer association with different Middle eastern countries. I think Morocco once even made overtures concerning EU membership, or perhaps it was Tunisia. We might yet see the development of a de facto EMU

    In the long term though I think a Middle Eastern Union of some sort is a logical eventuality (perhaps in close association with the EU). It has long been the aspiration of the Arab 'street' and the dream has been long circumvented by European colonialism and plethora of corrupt undemocratic regimes backed by the US and Europe in the region. If it's legitmate for Europeans and South east Asians and Africans and South Americans to establish unions amongst themsleves then it is equally so for Middle Eastern people. If a viable two state solution is finally able to get up then I would argue that the Israeli state should grasp its destiny as a MIddle eastern state and work to bring about such a union with itself being a constituent part. But I remain dubious about the viability of any two state solution.

  6. I should add that Israel iself is only a partial secular state with the Rabbinate having a strong say on many aspects of the Jewish state. When the Ethiopian Jews were brought into Israel they had to have a makeover to turn them into proper Rabbinic Jews so that they could claim Israeli citizenship and this giving up their own traditions. The Rabbinate also has a major role in marriage and divorce as well as determining who is a true Jew eligible to claim right of return.