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Today is a post from Ronnie Becker, Professor of Mathematics but with a strong interest in events in the Middle East. I hope comments will be forthcoming. I have a couple of my own,
Two Encounters with the Left
In the week after the recent Israeli elections, within a single 24 hour period, I had the pleasure of interacting (actively in one case and passively in another) with two men of the left, a liberal (in the US sense) Peter Beinart and the doyen of political science and the left in Israel, Shlomo Avineri. In the case of Beinart, it was at a spirited talk, which I chaired, to a group of 32 academics in Cape Town on themes contained in his recent book The Crisis of Zionism. In the case of Avineri, I read an article published on the same day in Foreign Affairs with the subtitle Beyond a Final Status Agreement. The contrast between the two could not be more stark. It is instructive to outline their approaches to one of their central topics, the peace process.
For Beinart, Israel’s problem is that it cannot remain a democracy without granting rights to all the Palestinians under its military control, either in the framework of the Israeli state or in their own state. They have, he says, ill-treated the Palestinians (there is no attempt to weigh up this ill-treatment with any human rights abuses on the other side which are pertinent and possibly causal) and the settlers have formed an unethical group which continues to build in the West Bank. Since the one state solution is undesirable, the two state solution is all that remains. The settlements form a continually increasing obstacle to this solution. Annexation of the West Bank area C and cutting the rest free is spoken of as a possibility by the right, but although the 100 000 people living there could be given full citizenship, Beinart regards the resulting arrangement as undemocratic .
So how is this to be resolved? Well, we have the Oslo accords and the Clinton parameters and the Arab initiative. Have these not failed in 2000 (followed by an intifada which killed 4000 people)? And once again in 2009 when Abbas-Olmert had a 2 year negotiation which also failed? And the 3 phase 2003 roadmap which never reached phase 2? Unilateral withdrawals led to disaster pointing to a definite possibility that this might happen again even under agreement, especially since Hamas have stated time and again that they regard every inch of Palestine as their patrimony (of course there have been slightly more moderate statements by some Hamas officials and evidently these are the ones to be believed) . Further, the region is now dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is a junior member. Hamas is the far more powerful Palestinian wing and Abbas is so weak that he has even had his financial contributions from Arab states cut by 40% and his concessions in the Olmert negotiations widely ridiculed. Will not the moderate who signs the peace treaty be swept away in the blink of an eye by his extreme colleagues? Further, where will million(s) of refugees be settled under these circumstances if not in high rise buildings in the Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem ceded by the treaty? The fact that 85% of the Israeli voters indicated support in the election for parties who wished to hold onto the major settlement blocks, opening further the gap with the Palestinians, is dismissed by saying that they are not necessarily correct.
The answers to these seemingly insuperable obstacles, when they are brought up, are fairly uniform in Beinart’s view. Israel and the Palestinians are equally to blame in most of them and there are always signs that the Palestinians are flexible and are “partners for peace”. (The signs come from several unnamed sources often). We must stop the settlers and Netanyahu from making peace impossible and then everything will fall into place and we will have a treaty (and peace?)
Avineri starts with the statement that the more dovish past Israeli governments’ efforts illustrate deep obstacles to peace. In the most recent negotiations, Abbas-Olmert found such great problems with the core issues of the conflict – borders, fate of settlers, refugees, Jerusalem, security – that the gaps between the most moderate positions of both Israelis and Palestinians were too wide to bridge. Now this is further complicated by Hamas for whom agreement would not end the conflict, and there is also the regional turmoil. Avineri’s suggestion is that the way forward in this conflict is like the partial solutions that have been applied in Kosovo, Bosnia, Cyprus and Kashmir, where there are similar deep issues, not as yet resolved. The US has not been able to move the parties closer but parties have accepted partial solutions which do not give up fundamental claims. This may be the only realistic prospect for peace. Avineri has some more detailed suggestions. On the part of Israel there should be relaxation of settlement building and also cooperation. On the part of the Palestinians there should be change in the education of the youth so as not to educate for hatred. In time peace may be easier. In summary, one quote from the article:
“The conventional wisdom in the international community is that one can return to the Oslo process of 20 years ago. But up until now, that has not achieved its stated aim — a two-state solution — and will not be very helpful in moving the two sides toward more accommodation. The recent Israeli elections have not changed this, and more modest aims are the only realistic way to push Israeli-Palestinian relations away from the dangers of confrontation and toward some modicum of reconciliation. Everything else has already failed.”
The approach of Avineri eschews the blame game, recognizes the realities on the ground and promises hope in the long term. In particular, it should be clear that settlements and settlers make things more difficult but so does the Palestinian sequestering of refugees without integration for 65 years. Settlements do not, as is popularly supposed, constitute the fundamental obstacle to a peace treaty, as is being increasingly recognized – this recognition has been expressed recently by the Washington Post in an editorial on New Year’s day.
It is high time that the left recognized the unrealistic nature of its 20 year old approach to peace, as has Avineri. New and creative thinking is required and if this task is undertaken, the left may not again be almost totally rejected by the Israeli public in the next election in the areas of peace and security. In particular, Beinart might reconsider his moralising and threats of boycott and devote his considerable talents to constructive realism.
The article by Avineri is at: