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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE MISNOMER OF PEACE TALKS   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN

I don’t know how anyone given the task could draw a map of Israel: it is likely the only country in the world with no defined borders, and it actually has worked very hard over many decades to achieve this peculiar state.

 

It once had borders, but the 1967 war took care of those. It has no intention of ever returning to them because it could have done so at any time in the last forty-three years (an act which would have been the clearest possible declaration of a desire for genuine peace with justice and which would have saved the immense human misery of occupation), but doing so would negate the entire costly effort of the Six Day War whose true purpose was to achieve what we see now in the Palestinian territories.

As far as peace, in the limited sense of the absence of war, Israel already has achieved a kind of rough, de facto peace without any help from the Palestinians. The Palestinians have nothing to offer in the matter of peace if you judge peace by the standards Israel apparently does.

Israel has the peace that comes of infinitely greater power, systematic and ruthless use of that power, the reduction of the people it regards as opponents to squatters on their own land, and a world too intimidated to take any effective action for justice or fairness.

Genuine peace anywhere, as Canadian physicist and Holocaust survivor Ursula Franklin has observed, is best defined by justice prevailing. But you can have many other circumstances inaccurately called peace; for example, the internal peace of a police state or of a brutally-operated colony.

Israel appears to have no interest or need for the kind of peace that the Palestinians can offer. What then can the Palestinians give Israel in any negotiation?

There are many “technical” issues to be settled between the Israelis and Palestinians, such as the right of return, compensation for property taken, the continued unwarranted expulsions from East Jerusalem, the Wall and its location largely on Palestinian land, but in a profound sense these are all grounded in the larger concept of genuine peace as Ursula Franklin defined it, something we have no basis for believing Israel is, or ever has been, interested in.

Israel wants recognition, not just as a country like any other, but as “the Jewish state,” whatever that ambiguous term may mean, given the facts both of Israel’s rubbery borders and the definition of Jewish, something which Israelis themselves constantly fight over – reformed, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, North African, observant, non-observant, and still other factions and divisions in what is quite a small population.

I very much think that the reasons Israel wants that particular form of recognition are not benevolent: it is the kind of term once put into a contract which opens the future interpretation of the contract to pretty much anything. After all, recognition of Israel as a state is something Arab states have long offered Israel in return for a just settlement, but Israel has never shown the slightest interest.

If recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state” were granted, what would be the status of any non-Jewish person in Israel? I think we can guess, given the awful words of Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, or the even more terrible words of Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Shas Party, a Netanyahu ally, and Israel’s former Chief Rabbi.

After all, about nineteen percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jews, mainly the descendants of Palestinians who refused to run from the terrors of the Irgun and Stern gangs in1948. They carry Israeli passports, but are not regarded as citizens in the same sense as Jewish citizens, and there are even laws and restrictions in place creating the kind of deadly distinction George Orwell wrote of in Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.”

The new talks do not include even the most basic requirement of a legitimate voice to represent the Palestinians, a desirable situation perhaps from Israel’s point of view, one Israel’s secret services have long worked towards with dark ops and assassinations. How do you negotiate with opponents you allow no voice?

Mahmoud Abbas, an almost pitifully shuffling character who is the man supposedly representing Palestinian interests, is now approaching two years of playing president without an election: he has zero legitimacy with the Palestinians and the outside world. Even at that, his assumed authority extends only to parts of the West Bank of the territories.

Hamas, despite the shortcomings found in any leadership of a heavily oppressed population (after all, it is often forgotten that the African National Congress in South Africa was communist-affiliated), is nevertheless the elected government of Gaza territory, but Israel has pressured the United States – and through it, effectively the world – to regard Hamas as a coven of witches, ready to unleash dark powers if only once Israel relaxes its stranglehold.

It would be far more accurate to talk of a settlement or an accommodation with the Palestinians than peace, but any reasonable agreement requires intense pressure on Israel, which holds all the cards, pressure which can only come from Washington. Accommodation involves all the difficult “technical” issues Israel has no interest in negotiating – right of return, compensation, the Wall, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s position on all of them is simply “no.”

But we know that Washington is contemptibly weak when it comes to Israel. The Israel Lobby is expert at working the phones and the opinion columns and the campaign donations. It even gets Washington to fight wars for it, as it did in Iraq, and as it now is attempting to do in Iran – surely, the acid test of inordinate influence on policy.

Most American Congressmen live in the same kind of quiet fear of the Israel Lobby as they once did of J.Edgar Hoover’s special files of political and personal secrets. Hoover never even had to openly threaten a Congressman or Cabinet Secretary who was “out of line.” He merely had a brief chat, dropping some ambiguous reference to let the politician know the danger he faced. It was enough to keep Hoover’s influence going for decades.

You never heard a thing in the press about the quiet power Hoover exercised in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, but it was there. Just so, the Israel Lobby today.

So where does the impetus for a fair accommodation come from?

Nowhere. Israel goes right on with its calculatedly-unfair laws taking the homes and farms of others, slowly but surely pushing out the people with whom it does not want to share space.

Anywhere else, this process would be called ethnic-cleansing, but not here, not unless you want to be called a bigot or an anti-Semite.

One says this about the impossibility of a settlement with a reservation. It is possible that the weak Abbas, locked in a room in Washington, could well be browbeaten and bribed into signing some kind of bastard agreement, giving Israel every concession it wants in return for a nominal rump Palestinian state composed of parcels Israel doesn’t want or hasn’t yet absorbed. It wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on, but Israel would then undoubtedly assume its perpetual validity and in future interpret it as it wished.

After all, the history of modern Israel involves agreements divvying up the land of others without their consent, but even those historical divisions – look at the maps attending the Peel Commission (1937) or the UN decision on partition (1947), and you see roughly equally divided territory – today are ignored by Israel or given some very tortured interpretation. So what will have changed?

There simply can be no genuine peace with justice where there is no will for it.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR   Leave a comment

THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR

JOHN CHUCKMAN

It takes a good deal of time to realize the full impact of any large and sudden change in foreign policy, and this is especially true of the kind of sudden, violent interventions often undertaken by the United States since the end of World War ll.

In the case of Mr. Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it took the best part of a decade for results to unfold: a beautiful, peaceful country was reduced to despair and savagery by bombing, a coup, invasions, and a politically-motivated holocaust.

The men responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in the name of expedient policy were not only ten thousand miles removed from the misery they created, they were soon gone from office, busying themselves with memoirs justifying their deeds to others also ten thousand miles removed. In all cases, the stench never quite reached their nostrils.

The most important antecedent of the War against Terror was another expedient, violent policy – the recruitment, training, and supply of Islamic fighters for a proxy war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Once America’s immediate goal had been met in that war – that is, inflicting maximum damage on the Soviet Union – the mess created in achieving it was of no interest. Just as was the case in Cambodia. And just as was the case in many lesser American interventions from Chile to El Salvador.

Part of the behavior exhibited in these examples is a direct extension from American domestic life – enjoy your beer and toss the can for someone else to pick up. Only in foreign affairs, it’s other people’s lives being tossed.

The impact of intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s has only been realized more than a decade after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Afghan people have experienced more than a decade of anarchy, tribal warfare, and the Taliban’s coming to power as a result (Despite the Taliban’s obvious shortcomings as a government, they came to power to end the violence that Americans, after arming everyone to the teeth, couldn’t be bothered about, and they did succeed at least in cleaning up America’s carelessly tossed trash).

The War against Terror itself will have many unforeseen results. This very fact was one of the soundest arguments against proceeding in the fashion that Mr. Bush has done, without ever attempting to use diplomacy or international institutions to bring to justice those responsible for terrible acts. Now, with the fairly rapid collapse of the Taliban, the Bush people are having a difficult time controlling a tendency to smirk, but the savage work of B-52s does seem an odd thing to smirk about.

The first clearly discernable victims of carpet-bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing its government (other than dead and starving Afghan peasants, streams of refugees, murdered prisoners of war, and a new bunch of thugs in power – none of which appear to be of great concern to Americans or their government) are the Palestinians.

Mr. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan have made it almost impossible for him to resist the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon. After all, Bush’s approach to terror originating out of Afghanistan is the Israeli model: you destroy things and kill people even if their only connection with an attack is shared geography.

The absurdity of the policy is made clear by analogy. Imagine the American government bombing the city of Buffalo, New York, because that is where Timothy McVeigh grew up. Or bulldozing the homes of his relatives.

The futility of the policy is obvious from Israel’s decades-long experiment on unwilling subjects. She has succeeded only in raising new generations of bitter enemies – groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, more fanatical than the PLO, are in large part creatures of Israeli policy.

Despite extremely harsh practices, Israel has never succeeded in silencing such opposition groups in territories she herself occupied. Despite a lifetime’s experience in brutality, Mr. Sharon is not able to stop desperate young men from committing kamikaze acts in the heart of Israel. Yet we have Mr. Sharon’s demand that Mr. Arafat, with his pitiful resources and unstable political environment, do so as a pre-condition even for talking. At the same time, Mr. Sharon labels Mr. Arafat “irrelevant,” proceeds with a policy of serial assassination in the West Bank, and blows up the tiny bit of infrastructure that gives Arafat’s government any sense of authority.

This is plainly irrational, yet Mr. Bush is in no position to say so. Mr. Sharon has very pointedly made the comparison between the two situations, Bush bombing Afghanistan and Sharon bombing the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there are many differences in the two situations, starting with the fact that the Palestinians live under conditions that most Americans would never tolerate without making full use of Second-Amendment rights. But the differences are too complex to explain to a broad political audience, while the gross parallels are obvious to everyone – facts which work in Mr. Sharon’s favor.

In the long term, Mr. Sharon’s approach is hopeless, but hopeless policies can do a lot of damage in the meantime. The Palestinians are not going to disappear or become, as so many of Israel’s leaders have wished them to be, absorbed by Jordan. Israel with her policy of settlements in the West Bank has always talked of having “facts on the ground,” but there are no more convincing facts on the ground than a few million people with a high birth rate.

And a few million people living with no hope, right next to a few million people who regard them darkly only as something to contain while themselves living in considerable comfort, is by definition a volatile and dangerous situation. Israel controls this situation, just as South Africa did in very similar circumstances (even more so, since the Palestinians are a minority rather than a great majority). It seems almost sarcasm to write or speak, as most of our press does, of two “partners” in a “peace process” and how one of them, the Palestinians, has utterly failed its responsibilities.

A viable Palestinian state with generous Israeli assistance for its economic success is the only intelligible concept of peace. But it seems impossible that the statesmanship required can ever come from a man with as much blood on his hands as Mr. Sharon, or from his nemesis, the Nixonesque Mr. Netanyahu who waits grinning darkly in the wings. And it seems equally impossible that Mr. Bush, purring with satisfaction over the immediate results of his nasty work in Afghanistan, can rise to what is required of an American president with any pretensions to genuine leadership in the world.