Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

A buzzsaw of negativity

Last week, I received another email from Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, 'the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans'. It seems he's peeved. So what's he got his knickers in a twist about?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts aimed at jumpstarting diplomacy to reach a two-state solution are running into a buzzsaw of negativity.

It's not me he's pissed off at, though.

I’m not surprised when the negativity comes from opponents of a two-state solution. They don’t see ending the conflict as either an existential necessity for Israel or an American national interest.

But he's got me all wrong. I think it's quite possible that 'ending the conflict', by which he explicitly means partitioning Palestine to preserve a Jewish ethnocracy on 78% or more of the land, could very well be 'an existential necessity for Israel'. But that's not why I oppose a Two State Solution. Au contraire, I oppose it precisely because it preserves a Jewish ethnocracy. As for the 'American national interest', even if I considered such a thing possible, why would anyone outside the 1% care about that?  

It's 'when the intense negativity and cynicism comes from those who purport to share the Secretary’s end goal, it irks me'.

Maybe Jeremy's confused about the 'end goal'. Is it the 'diplomacy'? Or the 'two-state solution'? Certainly to all appearances Israel's objective is to prolong fruitless negotiations, hemmed about with 'preconditions' that even the quisling abu Mazen could never accept. If they ever agree to partition Palestine, it will be along the lines Jeff Halper suggests, which accords with the views Israelis reveal in opinion polls. 

I don’t know of anyone familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – across the board – who sees in the Kerry initiative anything other than an attempt to impose on the Palestinians a Pax Israeliana. In fact, neither Kerry nor his Israeli partners bother to deny it. For his part, Kerry’s main contribution to this latest incarnation of the long-moribund “peace process” is a vague $4 billion package of “incentives’ – part of what Amira Hass calls hush money – that bears a striking resemblance to the “economic peace” Netanyahu and Peres have been trying to peddle for years. Otherwise, Kerry is merely pressing the Palestinians to accept Israel’s preconditions for negotiations and its version of a two-state solution: no end to settlement construction, land expropriation, house demolitions (28,000 Palestinian homes demolished since 1967, and counting) or displacement; recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state; the imposition of the Clinton Parameter’s on East Jerusalem (“what is Jewish is Israeli, what is Arab is Palestinian,” thus eliminating completely any kind of coherent urban entity that might serve as the Palestinians’ capital); Israel’s retention of at least six major settlement “blocs,” strategically placed to fragment the West Bank into disconnected and impoverished cantons while isolating what remains of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; long-term or permanent Israeli military control over the Jordan Valley and Palestine’s borders with Egypt and Jordan – well, the list goes on: Israeli control over Palestinian airspace, over their electromagnetic sphere (communications), etc. etc. etc.

This is apparently not the Two State Solution Jeremy has in mind. According to this post on the J-Street site, 

The outlines of an agreement are by now well-known and widely accepted: Borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed reciprocal land swaps allowing Israeli incorporation of a majority of settlers, as well as Palestinian viability and contiguity; a sharing of Jerusalem that is based on demographic realities establishing the capitals of the two states and allowing freedom of access and respect for all holy sites; robust security arrangements; and an agreed upon resolution of the refugee issue that resettles refugees outside of Israel.

It should, but apparently doesn't, go without saying that contiguity is literally impossible if the Palestinian state is to incorporate both the West Bank and Gaza without dividing Israel, as any map of the area will attest. Whether such a state could be economically viable is open to question. But in light of the vulnerability of any corridor connecting the two enclaves and Israel's history of preventing intercourse between them, not to mention the likely influx of refugees if Israel and their current host countries won't take them, I have my doubts. What J-Street might have in mind by 'robust security arrangements' is doubtless best known to them, but they probably mean that the Palestinian state would be 'demilitarised' – anathema to Palestinians in opinion polls – and possibly annexation of the Jordan Valley. If it weren't so banal, J-Street's cavalier approach to the plight of the millions of refugees – that after languishing in refugee camps for 65 years, someone they haven't even had a role in electing is empowered to negotiate away their right to return without so much as 'by your leave'. But then, Israel has consistently rejected any responsibility for the refugees since 1949. After all, their return would erode the Jewish majority that they were expelled to achieve in the first place.

There is a widely held misconception that Israel's creation of 'facts on the ground' since 1967 have rendered The Two State Solution™ impossible, as intended, or soon will. Four years ago, former US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and other luminaries warned that there was only a "six to twelve month window" before all chances for peace evaporated. In May 2012, long after the Scowcroft window had slammed decisively shut, J-Street itself emphasised 'The Urgency of a Two-State Solution' without setting a deadline, but insisting that 'the window of opportunity for achieving a two-state solution is rapidly closing...We no longer have the luxury of waiting for a riper time to pursue peace; now is that time' and quoting with approval Obama's proclamation a year earlier, '[T]he current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination…'

In reality, whether there is a Two State 'Solution' depends entirely on the problem it is to solve. If the problem is that millions of Palestinians are stateless and subject to Israeli military occupation, some for 46 years and the rest for their entire lives; that millions more in the diaspora are stateless, some for 65 years and the rest for their entire lives; and that over a million more live as twelfth class citizens, principally in isolated enclaves always facing the threat of relocation or house demolition, then the TSS solves little for the first group and nothing for the others.

If, on the other hand, the problem is 'With the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea at near-parity, demographic trends preclude Israel from maintaining control over all of Greater Israel while remaining a democratic state and a homeland for the Jewish people', then the TSS really is a solution and will remain a solution, unless, of course, in Ehud Olmert's immortal words, 'we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished'.

One of the things Jeremy, or whoever wrote 'The Urgency of a Two-State Solution', has missed is that Israel has in fact controlled all of Greater Israel™ since 1967 without allowing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the right to participate in electing the government of the state that controls every aspect of their lives. So there is no prospect whatsoever of Israel 'remaining a democratic state' – it has not been recognisably democratic for the last 46 years. Another is that if Israel Proper™ is 'a homeland for the Jewish people', then it is not a homeland for the indigenous Palestinian people, who have endured racial discrimination since 1948, hardly the mark of a democratic state.

While I'm digressing, another popular misconception among advocates of the TSS is that ongoing encroachment by Israeli settlements, bypass roads and the rest of the 'matrix of control' will reduce the eventual rump Palestinian state to a series of discontiguous bantustans. While not actually false, this view misses the point that a Palestinian state was never going to be anything other than a bantustan, or more likely two discontiguous bantustans, even if it comprised the full 22% of Mandatory Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Yet a third is that Israel will become an apartheid state when the non Jewish population between the Jordan and the Mediterranean exceeds 50%, which is likely to occur within the next few years. If they want to join the other hasbaristas in defining apartheid strictly as the system of racial segregation against indigenous Blacks applied in South Africa until 1994, the issue is moot. But The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court identifies apartheid as a 'crime against humanity' and defines it as: 

inhumane acts...committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Significantly, it is irrelevant which racial group is in the majority.

Returning to Jeremy's missive, he's 'had enough of the skeptics and critics – particularly those who claim – even as they criticize the Secretary for his efforts – to recognize the importance of reaching peace and a two-state solution.' They seem to him to be undermining Kerry's project just because they think it's too hard. He's concerned about the consequences of inaction:

if the Secretary were to simply walk away, and the Palestinians headed to the International Criminal Court and other international bodies, seeking recognition of their rights and international action against Israel.

Clearly, he imagines that it would be a disaster for Palestinians to seek recognition of their rights. And they would suffer, too.

Congress has threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority (and maybe to the UN bodies who accept them), the Israelis could be expected to launch a new wave of settlement construction (E-1, anyone?), and Palestinian tax revenue could again be withheld.

In other words, if Kerry fails to get the Israelis to come to the party and make the fabled 'painful compromises', his own government will punish the Palestinians for it, as will the Israeli government, by violating existing agreements. He writes of these things as if they were a force of nature that Kerry and the Israelis have no control over.

With the Palestinian Authority already struggling to make ends meet, what happens when it can’t?...If the PA stopped collecting garbage, does Israel resume full responsibility for West Bank services?

Well, yes. Why wouldn't the Israeli government take responsibility for providing infrastructure and services in the area that they actually control? Indeed, why don't they now? And while they're about it, they might just extend suffrage to the still stateless Palestinians under their jurisdiction.

Furthermore, 'demonstrations might break out and we could be on the road to a third intifada'. And not a moment too soon.

But from those who seem to be saying it’s not even worth trying – much less trying hard – I want to know what they would have said to those who tackle the great challenges of human history? That it’s not worth trying to invent a way to fly? There’s no way to find a cure for cancer? We can’t possibly stop global warming so why try?

So prolonging the lifespan of The Jewish and Democratic State is now one of ' the great challenges of human history'! But unlike curing cancer, this would not alleviate human suffering, it would exacerbate it. In much the same vein, redefining chutzpah, he asks,

What would they have said to the Martin Luther Kings, to the Nelson Mandelas, to the Gandhis? Don’t bother; the forces you’re up against are too powerful? Don’t waste your time?

Writing on Mondoweiss, Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace, finds grounds for hope that Jeremy refers to her heroes. But if those Jeremy is addressing support partitioning the area of Mandatory Palestine into a state for Jews and a state for Arabs, as he does and Kerry purportedly does, the obvious thing to say to King, Mandela and Gandhi is, 'Stop it!' After all, they devoted themselves to the struggle against racism, colonialism and apartheid while Jeremy and his 'liberal Zionist' cronies are committed to perpetuating them.

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