Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Dove of Peace? Or Rather the Hammer of Justice and the Bell of Freedom? On the Thirtieth Anniversary of Peace Now

In Jewish law, a woman whose husband refuses to divorce her, or who disappears without a trace, is called an "agunah", a woman "chained" or "anchored" to her husband. She cannot remarry, and any child she has with another man is a bastard.

By engaging in the discourse of peace, the Israeli left, whose flagship organization is Peace Now, has left the Palestinian people agunot to an unattainable peace for over sixty years.

I don't mean to begrudge praise to Peace Now, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Two cheers for the group that managed noisily, if unsuccessfully, to mobilize against the Occupation. More effective organizations followed in its wake.

But Peace Now, and the entire Zionist left, chained the fate of the Palestinian people to something called "peace" or the "peace process". "We should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza for the sake of peace." "We should give peace a chance."

By framing the withdrawal in terms of "peace", the movement could appeal to the basic human desire for peace, i.e. peace and quiet.

But, as the rightwingers cogently argued, if the key issue was peace, then why was there a State of Israel to begin with? In order for the Jews to have peace? If that was the justification, then Israel is a collosal failure. For Israel is the least safe place for Jews today and from the founding of the Jewish state. Certainly it is more likely that a Jew will be killed for being Jewish in Israel than anywhere else.

No, the purpose of the Jewish state was to allow the Jewish people to determine its own destiny, to free itself of the yoke of the gentiles. The point was not peace but freedom. The "Jewish national anthem" Hatikvah doesn't speak of peace but of freedom, "to be a free people in our land."

The Israeli left was much influenced by the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 60s, which wanted to "give peace a chance." Better they should have listened to the Pete Seeger song used in the Civil Rights movement, "If I Had a Hammer." They would have sung of the "hammer of justice" and the "bell of freedom," not the chance of peace.

For the justice of Palestinian self-determination is no more dependant on a final peace agreement with Israel than is the justice of Israeli self-determination. David Ben-Gurion did not condition the establishment of the state of Israel on a peace agreement with the Palestinians, much less their acceptance of Zionism.

Justice, freedom, dignity -- those concepts should have been the core concepts of the Zionist left. Even the American progressive Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom, though I appreciate the addition of "tzedek" (Justice), are too quick to tie the inalienable rights of the Palestinians to a just peace.

The philosopher Joseph Levine has pointed out that an incontrovertible fact about the birth of Israel is that an ideological group of mostly secular European settlers came to Palestine, displaced a large group of natives, and founded an ethno-nationalist state that excluded (from the nation) the remaining natives. Zionists strongly justified their actions with a variety of considerations; opponents did not. But given this fact, and the fact that the nationalist Palestinian aspirations were recognized by the same countries that recognized Jewish nationalist aspirations in the 1947 partition plan (rejected, with justification, by many Arabs and Jews on the left and on the right), the best goal the Jewish state could ever hope to justify was that of "parity" between the two peoples -- one neither dominating nor being dominated by the other, in the words of the pre-State Zionist left.

So one would expect the Israeli Zionist left to agitate for the establishment of a Palestinian state, equal to that of Israel, regardless of the question of peace -- unless it took the principled opposition to the establishment of either state until peace and security had been achieved for both peoples.

But the Israeli left (and I include its progressive Zionist supporters outside of Israel) have always taken the existence of the State of Israel for granted, at the same time as it has conditioned the existence of the State of Palestine on peace and Israeli security. It will argue that peace advances Israeli security since it will focus always on the interest of the Jews.

That is why the Israeli left collapsed after the failure of the Oslo process. Without peace, there could only be the peace process. And without the peace process, there could only be pain, frustration and postponed dreams. So the interminable arguments over whether or not there was a partner for peace missed the real issue -- how best to advance the legitimate self-determination of both peoples.

I don't deny the power of peace, although I am not on the level of, say, Judah Magnes, who was a principled pacifist.

But the central issue here is not peace. It is justice. The time has come not to put away the bullets but to bite them, to say that the Palestinians deserve *at least* as much as the Israelis deserve, regardless of how that affects Israel. Agreeing to that involves a collosal concession on the point of the Palestinians, one which they may rightly choose not to make. I am not saying that security is not an important issue. Surely no people will willingly commit national suicide because of a moral argument. But my point is that the concern for Israeli security is not a sufficient reason to allow the abominable situation to continue, where one side has everything and the other has nothing.

When the discourse of justice, of self-determination is adopted, then the options are either two strong and equal states for both peoples, or no exclusive state for either. Either option entails reducing Israeli power for the sake of Palestinian power, a tzimzum (contraction) for the sake of promoting an equitable solution.

This is not altruism.

This is ordinary justice.

19 comments:

Jeffrey said...

I have never encountered so eloquent a cognitive egocentrist. You write as if we were dealing with denatured people, lacking in religious and national values. You ignore the principled rejection of partition that has been the policy of Palestinian leaders since the first groups of Jews began to return home over a century and a half ago. I don't know what your specialty is. History, however, clearly is not it.

Jerry Haber said...

Hi, Jeffrey

I didn't get the first part of your comment. You are welcome to expand upon it. Maybe it is my cognitive egocentrism. Did I write as if I were dealing with the Palestinians as "denatured people"? Because I called them natives?

You write that I "ignore the principled rejection of partition." I suppose you are referring to this part of the post.

"But given this fact, and the fact that the nationalist Palestinian aspirations were recognized by the same countries that recognized Jewish nationalist aspirations in the 1947 partition plan (rejected, with justification, by many Arabs and Jews on the left and on the right), the best goal the Jewish state could ever hope to justify was that of "parity" between the two peoples -- one neither dominating nor being dominated by the other, in the words of the pre-State Zionist left."

OK, that is a mouthful, but here was my point.

1) The UN recognized that the Palestinians have a right to a state in the 1947 partition plan, and in previous partition proposals. As you know, subsequently, that right has been reaffirmed several times over the decades.

2) The offers of a state to the Palestinians, including Geneva, do not come near to being offers of serious statehood. Please tell me how Ben-Gurion would have reacted had the UN offered him a non-militarized state alongside a Palestinian Arab state with one of the best armies in the region.

3) The principled rejection of the 1947 partition plan by the Palestinian Arab leadership was a justified and pragmatic response. (My authority here is Hebrew University professor Avraham Sela, in Paul Scham and Walid Salem's Shared Histories.) The ideological justification was pashut -- what right did European Jews have to *any* state in Palestine, much less in the expanded one promised to them? At best they could hope for minority rights, according to the (divided) Palestinian leadership. The hiddush in Sela's claims is that the Arab rejection of partition was pragmatic and plausible, since they had every reason to expect that the Soviet Union would not recognize the State.

But even if they had accepted the partition plan, war was, arguably, inevitable, and each side would use whatever provocation it could to gain more territory -- again, perfectly reasonable, from the both sides' standpoints. But the Zionists, both on the diplomatic and the military front, outmaneuvered and outfinessed the Palestinians, who had their own tzuris, much of which was of their own making.

All this is history. My point was that the Arab rejection of partition carries with it no implications at all for whether the Palestinian people had, or has, a right to self-determination in Palestine. Israeli advocates seem to see that rejection of partition somehow weakens their claims for a state. Why? Because they did not accept the position of the UN? That should not be the line of reasoning taken by an Israel advocate, since Israel has rejected more resolutions of the UN than has the Palestinians (oom, shmoom).

Was it because there was a war between the Palestinians the Jews? The Germans did their best to exterminate the Jews, yet I have never heard any Jew say that Germans don't have a right to self-determination.

As you know, to this day, nobody in the Israeli government, or in the Zionist movement, has ever recognized the claims of the Palestinian people to a state in Palestine, At best, Israel has grudgingly offered the Palestinians a medinat-minus for their own sake of peace and quiet.

I should point out that Israel was not alone in denying the Palestinian's self-determination; on the contrary, Jordan and Israel working in tandem deserve that distinction, until King Hussein renounced claims to the West Bank.

Finally, you are right -- my field is not history. Nor is it Talmud, which is your field. So we are even there.

Anyway, I invite you to look at some of my other posts to see where I am coming from. We obviously disagree, but as you well know, even professional historians disagree over the weight to be given to events.

Jeffrey said...

I'll look over your note. Just one correction: I'm a Harvard and Yale trained historian (Medieval and Early Modern). I studied with historians such as Isadore Twersky, YH Yerushalmi, Giles Constable, David Herlihy, Muhsin Mehdi, Javob Katz, Reuven Bonfil, David Berger, and Haym Soloveitchik. I teach in a first rate Talmud Department, where I offer courses in the History of Halakha, Intellectual History and Halakha and Medieval Jewish History.

Jerry Haber said...

Jeffrey,

Sorry to get ad hominem, and I stand corrected. You will admit, however, that your graduate training or area of specialization is not in the modern history of Israel/Palestine, but in the medieval intellectual history of the Jews. So with respect to the former, I think we are on equal footing and can be self-termed "amateur historians".

Jeffrey said...

Thanks for the clarfication. I have read extensively in Modern History as well. The fact, though, is that I think that the present situation in the ME can only be understood in light of the medieval Islamic (and to a lesser degree, Jewish) tradition and experience. I base that conclusion upon Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, Albert Hourani, MEMRI and Paul Fenton.

Yes, we disagree, respectfully.

Jeffrey said...

PS
Intellectual honesty (and modesty)does force me to admit that in the political field I'm an auto-didact.
I'm more intrigued by the idea that political discourse can be pursued respectfully and on a higher plane than that we encounter generally.

Jerry Haber said...

Jeffrey,

Then I take it that you discount the Palestinian Christian experience (George Antonius, Edward Said, etc.) as inconsequential in forming Palestinian nationalism, since you keep coming back to Islam. You may have a point, but to date, even fundamentalist Muslim groups like Hamas, like their fundamentalist Jewish counterparts, have submerged their long-term religious goals for the sake of their ethnic nationalism.

I am sure that if I confined my consideration of Palestinian nationalism mainly to the views of Zionist and neoconservative orientalists (that includes Lewis and Ajami, but not Hourani) I would come up with the same conclusions that you do. I am surprised that you did not mention Kimmerling and Migdal on Palestinian nationalism.

My point in the post was different. Do the Palestinians as a people have a right to national self-determination equal to that of the Jews? Most people who are not partisan think that they do, and that includes, mirabile dictu, George W. Bush. And so one asks the question -- why must the Palestinians fulfill conditions that were never made of the Jews? And the answer is simple -- they are militarily weaker than the Zionists, and so whatever they get, they can only get through diplomacy and insurgency. Since they are up against a strong Israel, which, for its reasons, is not interested in an independent Palestinian state alongside its borders (but would be willing to subcontract its security out to a weak autonomous region in a neocolonial relation with it), the only thing the Palestinians can do is to suffer and to make Israel bleed.

My point, then, was to reorient the left away from the peace discourse to the justice discourse. In fact, I am surprised that anybody on the right was interested in the post, since the target was the so-called Zionist left.

But what a breath of fresh air to have a respectful exchange of opinions! Some of your fellow Efratans, who sent me poison emails, were not so friendly.

Best
Jerry,

GBacharach said...

I should point out that Israel was not alone in denying the Palestinian's self-determination; on the contrary, Jordan and Israel working in tandem deserve that distinction, until King Hussein renounced claims to the West Bank.

Did you get this point from Shlaim? I just recently read Karshs New historians book which demolishes Shlaims claim.( Although Iv never read any of Shlaims books)

Its the concept of the 2 state solution that has caused Israel and the palestinians to not have peace. Gaza should be Egypts and the west bank, Jordans. Even if you believe that Israel is responsible for the failure of the peace process, something new should be tried.

"I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!"

^From the man that Arafat called a hero and Said called the voice of the Palestinian people.

what right did European Jews have to *any* state in Palestine, much less in the expanded one promised to them?

What right did Muslims have to Pakistan? Besides, Israel had less than a million people When Zionists started coming there.

Jerry Haber said...

hi gbachrach,

guilty as charged..."karsh demolishes shlaim"? He also "demolishes" morris. Have you ever noticed how many people cite karsh and how many people cite morris or shlaim?

why is it that i write a post picking on the Zionist left/progressives, and the only people who respond are on the right?

anyway, gbachrach, we have been through all this before. Instead of citing the Mufti, why not read the summary of the position of the Arabs before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946.

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/
avalon/anglo/angch06.htm

and then tell me what you think is unreasonable about it.

Jeffrey said...

To further back my point that this is, and always has been a religious war between Jews and Muslims, see David Horowitz' interview with Benny Morris:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1207649985946&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

The bi-national state you seek would be a death sentence (or shmad sentence)for every Jew.

Jerry Haber said...

Jeffrey,

Oy. You ought to read more of my posts. I don't advocate a binational state, although current Israeli policies may make that inevitable. I advocate an equitable division of Israel/Palestine into a federation of two (or three, with Jordan) secular states. Please see my post on a "Talmudic Solution." I would also like to see Israel become a western, liberal democracy like the US, rather than the bizarre "ethnodemocracy" founded by Russian Jews like David Gruen. But then again, I am an American who likes the American system of democracy

Why would you send me to the neocon Morris, whose writings on Israel's ethnic cleansing (his term) in 1948 have some merit -- I admire a historian who sits in archives -- but whose tendentiousness as a historian (exposed by Karsh on the right and Finkelstein on the left) have left folks like me scratching their head.

And why would I, or your, for that matter, read a website edited by a bigot?

Anonymous said...

Jerry Haber said...

My point, then, was to reorient the left away from the peace discourse to the justice discourse. In fact, I am surprised that anybody on the right was interested in the post, since the target was the so-called Zionist left.

Perhaps the left accepts the criticism as valid and further comment is unnecessary.

Ploni

Jerry Haber said...

Ploni,

Do you really think so? Then why are we still confronted with support of Annapolis, etc., but the Zionist left? The discourse of peace is still big.

I agree with the rightwingers that a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, or parts of it will not bring peace (see Gaza). Leibowitz said the same thing (for different reasons) forty years ago. He wasn't interested in peace, and neither am I. Of course, he was interested only in Israel, and I am interested in both Israel and in Palestine.

Anonymous said...

“the purpose of the Jewish state was to allow the Jewish people to determine its own destiny, to free itself of the yoke of the gentiles”. OK, but those are still shtuiot. And those shtuiot don’t leave the Palestinian people less “agunot” than the engagement in the “discourse of peace”. There is a good piece by Benvenisti on http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/975056.html (I just do not see why the loser is “Am Israel” : is it just to go on with the “internal debate, a restricted one, a Jewish-Zionist one” ?)

Jerry Haber said...

To the anti-Zionist "Anonymous"

Barukh ha-Shem -- I have been noticed by somebody on the left!

I wasn't defending statist Zionism in my post, or the two-state option, or for that matter, Peace Now. I was saying that the discourse should be one of justice rather than peace. And the political implications of that discourse goes far beyond anything that Peace Now, or Meretz, or the Geneva Initative, has to offer.

My argument was with those who accept the justice of statist Zionism, but who deny it when it comes to the Palestinians.

Now, "taklhlis" -- what do I think? I still think that, given Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, a federation of two states is better than one. But, as you know, the two-state solution that I support is no more likely to come about than a one state.

As for Benveniste's piece, he wrote:

אכן, זו היתה השאיפה בסוף שנות ה-70 של המאה הקודמת, כאשר עדיין אפשר היה לחלק את הארץ באורח שאיפשר קיומן של שתי מדינות בנות קיימא.

So one doesn't find him unambiguously in his writings opposing in principle two states. Oovdah, when Oslo came around, he was not a critic, and he was even prepared to admit that then that things were not "irreversible."

One more thing -- I am a Zionist because I believe that a Jewish community in Palestine/Israel still has great possibilities for the Jews, the Palestinians, and the world as a whole. With all its faults, there are good things to say about a non-statist Zionism. especially as an alternative to the current statist Zionism. And the easiest way to achieve that would be for Israel to become a liberal democracy in which the Jewish component is limited to the cultural (and religious) sphere.

As I wrote once, this position won't make post-nationalists or anti-Zionists happy, but what can I do, this is how I think, now. There are good things about Israel, things that are worthy of emulation. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?

Jerry Haber said...

P.S. I should also point out that the two-state solution in the short run is more realistic, given international recognition. That is the Chomsky-Finkelstein argument.

But I want to go on record that I do not, in principle, oppose a one state solution, or a binational solution, or a federation, or whatver the peoples agree upon, provided that liberal democracy is a part of it. I am very concerned (but not exclusively concerned) with Judaism and the survival of the Jewish people, and that is one of the reasons why I oppose the existence of an ethnic state that endangers survival, while, at the same time, oppresses others, thereby harming both body and soul.

Anonymous said...

The five state solution:
1)The secular democratic Republic of Israel
2)The Haredi Theocracy of Greater West Jerusalem
3) The White Settler Apartheid State of Judea and Samaria.
4) Islamic Republic of Gaza
5) The Fatah city state of Ramalah.

or perhaps the five states are
1) anger
2) disappointment
3) despair
4) paranoia
5) hopelessness


Surely we can stop the drift toward either of these 5 state solutions solutions.

Ploni

Anonymous said...

I am sure “Anonymous” (April 15, 2008 7:18 AM, and here) doesn’t speak English fluently. Please, forgive him.

But I’m not sure “Anonymous” is anti-Zionist. What’s the point of being anti-Zionist? Let Zionists be Zionist, provided that it’s not to the prejudice of anyone – here we are back to the question of justice and to all the clichés used for the sake of injustice (the kind of clichés I called shtuiot in my preceding post : April 15, 2008 7:18 AM).

I appreciate what you say when you say: “I do not, in principle, oppose a one state solution, or a binational solution, or a federation, or whatver the peoples agree upon, provided that liberal democracy is a part of it”.

By the way, do you make yours slogans like “allow the Jewish people to determine its own destiny” or “to free oneself of the yoke of the gentiles”?

Jerry Haber said...

No, I didn't make up those slogans. I used the ones used frequently by Zionists in 1948 and thereafter. Magnes wrote to Ben Gurion using one of them, and Leibowitz did, too. They sound quaint now, don't they?

All the best
Jerry