Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fiddling While Gaza Suffocates -- the Inside Story of the Madrid Fiasco

A few days I wrote a very long post on the fiasco at the Forum for a Just Peace in Madrid. This was a much anticipated gathering of Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, and European NGO's, civil society, and human rights organizations, that saw itself as an alternative to the Oslo/Annapolis "peace process". The forum never took place, and attempts to enter the forum building were blocked by Spanish police. Mutual recriminations continue to fly.

In my post I placed the blame for the failure of the Forum on the Spanish Foreign Ministry, which invited more mainstream Israeli groups like Peace Now, over the objections of the organizers.

I have now learned from a variety of Israeli sources that the situation on the ground was a bit more complex.

It seems that one of the representatives of ICAHD, the Israel Committee Aganst House Demolitions, which was on the organizing committee, was involved with the Spanish Foreign Ministry's initiative to invite thirty-seven more delegates from Israel. These included people from Peace Now, and from moderate human rights groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. There were already twenty Israeli delegates who had signed the organizer's framework statement; the new delegates apparently did not sign

As far as I can see, this is what set off the chain reaction that led to the Palestinian and Arab delegations' no-show, which was followed by the Israeli delegations' no-show, out of solidarity.

In addition to the above irregularity, ICAHD was later accused by the Alternative Israeli Center of failure to show solidarity with the Arab delegations.

ICAHD, for its part, did not see view the organizers' framework statement as binding upon the delegates.

The brouhaha in Madrid exposed the typical strains and fissures in protest movements. On one extreme of the End-the-Occupation movement you have Palestinian and Arab groups (which may include expatriate Israelis) who refuse to engage with any Jew who lives in Israel, even anti-Zionists activists like the Anarchists, on the grounds that this constitutes "normalization" with the Zionist entity. Then there are those who will not engage with Israelis who do reservist duty, even though they are members of groups like Breaking the Silence or Peace Now. Then there are the Israeli and Palestinian anti-Zionists who look for the replacement of Israel with a secular Palestinian state. Then there are Palestinian and Israeli anti-Zionist two-statists, and then Zionist two-statists. And, finally, there are those Israelis who claim to favor a two-state solution, but who really want an Israeli state and a Palestinian "mini-state", but who are nevertheless concerned with human rights violations.

The Forum's statement clearly allowed for some Zionist two-statists to participate (even though the sentiment in Madrid was overwhelmingly anti-Zionist). But because it called for Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Right to Return, it just as clearly excluded not only Peace Now, but also those who support the Geneva Initiative or the Clinton Plan. That was the intention of most of the organizers, I suspect.

The failure of the Madrid Forum also exposed the difficulty of building an effective coalition between two groups with somewhat different agendas: the Israeli human rights NGOs and the Palestinian resistance movement. Although the activists belong overwhelmingly to the so-called extreme left, i.e., the non-Zionist left, at least some of them would be happy living in a Jewish state that treated its minorities better. (That last group may be small; I don't know; in any event, these positions are not part of the official platforms of the organizations, from what I have read on their websites.) And, of course, the European Union, which funds many of these NGOs, has its own agenda.

The big losers of the Madrid fiasco are, of course, the Palestinians and Israelis who want to see the end of a long and brutal Occupation and, at least, a modicum of justice for the Palestinians. In the last week we have seen political assassinations, press revelations concerning plans for new Jewish building in Arab Jerusalem, the tightening of the grip on Gaza, not to mention the ongoing work on the Wall, and the thousand of human rights violation that occur daily.

The Forum in Madrid should have been pulled off, not apart. Somebody screwed up, but the screwup was not inevitable. I hope that after a period of stock-taking and letting off steam, the organizations can take a deep breath, and get their act together. Some will argue that it is best for the groups to go their separate ways; I disagree. It is impossible to look for a truly United Front To End the Occupation, but at least the organizations can meet in a large forum and argue with each other. Even if you think that Peace Now in the long run serves the Occupation, you can still the usefulness and necessity of some of their settlement-watch activities.

As for the doctrinnaire loonies: well, I am old enough to remember Gus Hall handing out leaflets outside of Columbia U for some protest organized by the Communist Party USA. Hall is now a footnote of a footnote in history.

The Palestinians deserve a lot better.

3 comments:

Jonathan Mark said...

Did you find out why the Spanish government was involved? The assumption is that the Spanish government or the EU provided the meeting facilities or funding or something to the forum. Is that true?

Jerry Haber said...

The Spanish government (Foreign Ministry) and the EU were heavily involved financially and lost a lot of money when the conference fell apart.

Jonathan Mark said...

The collapse of the conference makes me wonder whether it is possible for supporters of anti-Israel boycotts to organize useful meetings between Israelis and Palestinians.

At some point the boycotters will object to the presence of Israelis such as Peace Now who most of us consider reasonable and helpful. The conference, if it relies on EU or American money, will then collapse.