Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 10 December 2006

Carter's support for democracy

Yesterday’s CounterPunch featured a short piece by Norman Finkelstein where he argues,

It seems Israel's "supporters" have conscripted me in their lynching of Jimmy Carter. Count me out. True, the historical part of Carter's book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, contains errors in that it repeats standard Israeli propaganda. However, Carter's analysis of the impasse in the "peace process" as well as his description of Israeli policy in the West Bank is accurate - and, frankly, that's all that matters.

Now I have plenty of respect for Finkelstein, but I have to disagree – those are not the only things that matter. As a matter of fact, by enclosing ‘peace process’ in scare quotes, I think he is himself indicating that there are more fundamental things at issue than just an impasse. Israeli policy in the West Bank is certainly very important, but not, I would argue, more important than Israeli policy in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Jerusalem (if that’s separate from the West Bank), than Israeli policy towards Iran, or Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the 1948 refugees.

A lot of people seem to be rushing to Carter’s defense. But I can’t say I understand why they would want to.

In an article on CounterPunch about a month ago, Norman Finkelstein quoted some ‘key statements’ from Jimmy Carter’s new book on Palestine, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, among them,

The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there is little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world. (pp. 209-10)

I suppose it must be to Carter’s credit that there was only one such Security Council veto exercised during his administration, against draft resolution S/13911 on 30 April 1980. That draft, moved by Tunisia, basically reaffirmed previous UN resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied since 1967 and so forth.

US Ambassador McHenry concluded his statement explaining the Carter regime’s objection to the draft resolution,

I know that in many quarters there is skepticism that negotiations in this [Camp David] framework can succeed. The road ahead will be difficult. But together with Israel and Egypt, we ask only that we be judged on the results we obtain.

…It is to the end - the attainment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East - that my government has committed itself. We solemnly reaffirm that commitment here today.

The United States will oppose the resolution before us. [emphasis added]

Thanks in large measure to the cynicism of Carter, his predecessors and successors, twenty-six years down the track, the results he obtained in this way are no peace and certainly no justice. But it seems he no longer wishes to be judged on that basis. As the old saying goes, ‘Embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.’

Thursday’s (7 December) NY Times reported that former Jimmy Carter aide, Kenneth W. Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern history and political science at Emory University, resigned his titular position as ‘a fellow with the Carter Center on Tuesday, ending a 23-year association with the institution’.

In a two-page letter explaining his action, Mr. Stein called the book “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.”

It’s hardly surprising that a book with a title associating Palestine and apartheid would attract this kind of criticism. In the immortal words of distinguished Harvard Law professor and rabid Zionist ideologue, Alan M Dershowits, in his FrontPageMagazine review of the same book, ‘Sometimes you really can tell a book by its cover.’

At the same time, admittedly without reading the book myself – just based on what Carter himself says about it, it is plausible that it is indeed ‘replete with factual errors’, as Finkelstein acknowledges, although perhaps not the ones Stein and Dershowits identify.

Last Thursday (30 November), Democracy Now! broadcast Jimmy Carter’s 28 November speech ‘at an event in Virginia’. Sometimes I wonder about young Amy’s selection of what to broadcast. I suppose it’s significant that the great Nobel Peace Laureate and global guarantor of electoral transparency has articulated a position on the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ that is so controversial that the mainstream media won’t touch it. But ultimately, he’s not saying anything new. Not even for someone with his profile. Not even characterizing Israel as an apartheid state, contrary to the impression the title of his book might give.

I’ve never and would imply that Israel is guilty of any form of apartheid in their own country, because Arabs who live inside Israel have the same voting rights and the same citizenship rights as do the Jews who live there.

And for another thing, as this quote illustrates, the poor old guy is so inarticulate that it’s embarrassing to listen to him, quite apart from the substance of what he has to say. I don’t recollect whether he was always so tongue tied, or whether advancing age has taken a toll. I feel safe in assuming he and his editors exercise greater care with his written work, but still, perhaps not quite enough.

More importantly, the thrust of his talk was to identify ‘three options that Israelis face’. It’s significant that his sole concern is apparently with Israelis’ choices. But he’s right to think that ultimately this is likely to be a determining factor in the feasibility of any outcome.

For reasons that elude me, he ascribes the first option to Olmert,

a forceful annexation of Palestine and its legal absorption into Israel, which would give large numbers of non-Jewish citizens the right to vote and live as equals under the law.

He rejects this for a number of reasons. First and foremost, in his view, ‘This would directly violate international standards and the Camp David Accords’.

The second rejected option is ‘the taking of substantial portions of the occupied territory with the remaining Palestinians completely surrounded by walls, fences and Israeli checkpoints’, the position I associate with Olmert’s ‘disengagement’ plan, under whatever the currently fashionable name might be.

What he’s advocating is more or less exactly the Geneva initiative, for which he takes credit (or accepts blame, depending on your perspective),

I was involved, in some ways, in the preparation of the Geneva Initiative, and I was there and made the keynote speech in Geneva when this initiative was prescribed.

This is the only option he can characterize as ‘acceptible’. I’m going to resist the temptation to quote him at length, but here is the rationale he articulated on CNN,

To incorporate the Occupied Territories into Israel and have just one state, I don't think that would work, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, the Palestinians, if they were given a right to vote on an equal basis with all Israelis, they would play a major role in making decisions about the whole country. And with the rapid population growth of the Palestinians, which in Gaza is 4.7% a year, one of the highest of the world, and in the foreseeable future the Palestinians would actually have a majority in that nation. So I think the only real practical solution is to have two states, side by side, in their own territories living in harmony and peace. That’s I think the best and most likely approach.

On 28 November, Amy Goodman did a 25 minute interview with Rashid Khalidi, identified on the Democracy Now! site as ‘Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and the Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University’ and Ali Abunimah, ‘creator and editor of The Electronic Intifada’.

This was the first time I’ve heard Khalidi speak, but Abunimah is a frequent guest on KPFA’s Flashpoints program. They both have new books out (The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood and One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, respectively) which are on their way from Amazon and I definitely intend to read them soon, although I might have to prioritise Ilan Pappe’s new Ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and I have enough trouble keeping up with what I think I need to read on the web.

In response to Amy Goodman’s question about the one state solution in the context of the clip from Carter I just quoted, Abunimah responded, quite accurately,

He’s saying that the reason to oppose a one-state solution is because it would be democracy. That Palestinians would have an equal rights, one person, one vote, and an equal share in deciding the future of the country.

What he left unsaid, probably out of a concern for diplomacy, is what could possibly motivate Carter’s cavalier attitude to democracy. Why would he support a ‘solution’ as ‘the best approach’ explicitly because he believes it precludes a Palestinian majority? As I have no stake in diplomacy, I’ll call it by its name. Carter’s objection to democracy in Palestine is motivated by racism – he can’t abide the prospect of a sectarian Jewish state not existing in Palestine.

Rashid Khalidi’s response pointed out that on the one hand,

anybody who wants to talk about a two-state solution has to talk about how how you would reverse the trends that have been ongoing for at least four decades. The annexation of Palestinian land, the usurpation of Palestinian property in order to create the settlements, the chopping up of the West Bank into cantons, the erection of a matrix of control.

On the other hand, however, ‘both Palestinians and Israelis are very attached to the idea of having their own state’. I agree that it is particularly significant that the vast majority of Israelis would utterly reject the idea of a secular state with even the potential for a non Jewish majority. These are the same people 65% of whom just a few months ago were willing to admit to a pollster that they would not live in the same building as an Arab. As far as I’m aware, the poll didn’t ask about whether respondents would embrace an Arab son in law, but I think it indicates a very high level of racism.

On this basis, I am inclined to agree with anyone who suggests that a unified democratic secular state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan is an implausible outcome. Obviously, I haven’t read Ali Abunimah’s book yet and he might make arguments there that would persuade me to reverse my position. Furthermore, I have not yet finished reading Virginia Tilley’s One-state solution. However, I gather from correspondence with her that it does not contain a concrete proposal to overcome the barrier of Israelis’ anti Arab attitudes.

That said, Rashid Khalidi has summarized some of the obstacles to a two state ‘solution’. In my view, the principal arguments against a two state arrangement are that its intent is to entrench one racist, sectarian ethno-religious state and to create yet another. But on a more concrete level, there are two specific issues that I think decisively show that it is not a realistic possibility.

To give credit where credit is due, Carter is one of the few who even mentions the little matter of the corridor between Gaza and the West Bank,

And remember that Gaza is on the sea coast, where the Philistines lived during the time of King David, and it’s separated by 40 kilometers, about 30 miles, from the rest of Palestinian territory. So in order for a Palestinian to go from Gaza to the West Bank, they have to go through 30 miles of Israeli land, though that’s just a geographical description.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s all he has to say about it. The Geneva initiative envisaged ‘engineering solutions’, presumably causeways or tunnels, so that the corridor would ‘not disrupt Israeli transportation and other infrastructural networks’ (Article 6.i.d.). It goes without saying that there is no question of Palestinian sovereignty over the corridor – that would disrupt Israel’s territorial contiguity. But there is no causeway so high or tunnel so deep that Israeli forces could not disrupt traffic between the two Palestinian enclaves if they were so inclined. We have already observed Israel’s commitment to intercourse between Gaza and the West Bank - since they signed the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) over a year ago on 15 November 2005, which ‘promised Palestinians freedom of movement of people and goods…none of the agreement's provisions have been fully implemented by Israel.’ In other words, the level of good will on Israel’s part that would make a separate non Jewish Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza a real possibility is no lower than what it would take to create a secular state.

The other issue, which Rashid Khalidi mentions in passing, is ‘the expulsion of a majority of the Palestinians from their homes’ in 1948. Estimates tend to range between 750,000 and 900,000 Palestinians who became refugees in the ethnic cleansing operation that created a long yearned for Jewish majority for the Jewish state. I hasten to add that it doesn’t matter whether they left ‘voluntarily’ or not – most refugees are not literally driven out at gunpoint - they are still entitled to return. The survivors and the descendents of those refugees now number as many as 5 million. From what I’ve heard him say, Ali Abunimah’s parents are 1948 refugees and Rashid Khalidi’s parents may very well be too. So it could be because they feel they have a vested interest in the refugee issue that they don’t raise it.

Any solution to the so called Israeli Palestinian conflict worthy of the name must provide for the refugees’ right to return. The Geneva initiative provides for Israel to determine the number of refugees permitted to return to the areas they fled (Article 7.4.v.c.). While it goes a lot further than those who never even consider the issue, it doesn’t even meet the minimal standards of justice accorded by UN Resolution 194, which at least allows that ‘the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return’ (Article 11; my emphasis). In other words, it is up to the refugees themselves, and not someone purporting to negotiate on their behalf, to decide whether or not to return, and the place they are entitled to return to is not some arbitrary place, but ‘their homes’. Even if only a small fraction of those currently languishing in refugee camps were to decide to exercise their right, if it were a meaningful right – to return to their homes - it would almost certainly entail a non Jewish majority within the Green Line. The compensation due to those choosing not to exercise their right, if it were just, would almost certainly bankrupt Israel.

As I read it, therefore, any two state arrangement that provides the minimum just redress for the 1948 refugees would create a non Jewish majority in the Jewish state, which is precisely why the Zionists reject the right of return as ‘national suicide’. The inevitable outcome of two states in historic Palestine turns out to be two non Jewish Palestinian states, which defeats the purpose.

But of course, since the purpose of the two state ‘solution’ from the 1947 UN partition resolution to the Geneva initiative and the Road Map is precisely the creation or retention of a sectarian racist ethno-religious Jewish state, the question of justice - for the refugees or anybody – doesn’t arise. And in the absence of justice, there will not be peace.

1 comment:

  1. Carl,

    You get the prize for the very first comment ever on this blog!

    The National Security Archive is a very useful resource. I should spend more time there, but I have enough trouble just keeping up with the blogs! Unfortunate acronym, though, 'NSA'.

    If you're saying Bush ought to be impeached, I couldn't agree more. Since they offed Kennedy, when I was too young to understand what he was up to in Vietnam, I've thought every US president deserved impeachment.

    And that certainly includes Carter. As you probably noticed in reading the post you commented on, as far as I'm concerned he has marked himself as a racist. I haven't read his book and don't intend to, but I've heard him speaking about it and hope I'm safe in assuming that he's saying the same things. Of course, if I'm wrong and he's articulating a radically different view in interviews and speeches than in the book, he's a nastier hypocrite even than I credit him for.

    People used to say the mass media are in thrall to big business. Maybe some still do. My view is that the mass media ARE big business and they are going to prosecute big business's agenda. If that coincides with Israel's perceived interests, that's fine with them. If not, I don't think there's any doubt about what takes precedence.

    The problem is that those empowered to do the impeaching are the likes of Pelosi, who has not, in fact, been silent on the matter. She has been absolutely explicit that 'impeachment is off the table'. If there was evidence that an intern was blowing him, I'll bet they'd impeach him quick enough, though. After all, what's more important, the lives of hundreds of thousands of worthless ragheads, or where the president puts his dick?

    There's an old saying I'm rather fond of and never tire of repeating - I made it up myself: 'Embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.' It's just what they do and they're not in the least self conscious about it. And that certainly goes for Pelosi and Waxman just as much as for Bush.