Sunday, September 25, 2011

Goldstone Redux -- How Abba Mazen Was Forced by the US and Israel to Throw the Palestinians Under the Bus Again

Last year, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the three major threats to Israel were: Iran, rockets sent against Israeli citizens, and...Goldstone. I kid you not. Even for a former furniture salesman, the hyperbole seemed remarkable. I mean, how much had Israel really suffered as  result of the Goldstone report, which came down hard on Israel (and Hamas) for Operation Cast Lead. Lo naim, akh lo nora ('Not pleasant, but not awful') is how I would summarize the effects of the Goldstone Report on the Israel public. After all, only the most dedicated Goldstone Report watchers know that the report has been buried in Geneva.

And why? Well, the US put considerable pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to leave it there, since nothing made Israel madder than the Goldstone report. It will be recalled that Abbas, after an earlier display of US pressure had agreed to an "independents expert committee" (led by Judge McGowan Davis), and a delay of accountability. As Jared Malsin put it last October

Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Missionreport. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.

By adopting this position, rights groups say, the PA is placing itself in open conflict with the interests of its own people. "What's very clear now is that the PA wants the report to stay in Geneva," said Fred Abahams of Human Rights Watch. "We thought there was a lot of progress made in New York and this was a step backwards...with peace talks going, they don't want Goldstone anywhere near the agenda," Abrahams said on the phone from New York.

The PA has never been a fan of human rights. This it shares in common with Hamas and the Israeli government. So it's not surprising that the US, Israel, and the PA, can agree to ensure that Israeli war criminals won't be dragged before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes. Such maneuvers are "distractions" from the "peace process". 

And now, according to some observers, Mahmoud Abbas has done it again. He took the statehood bid to the United Nations Security Council, not against the wishes of the US and Israel, but in accordance with them. For had he gone to the General Assembly, he would have received an immediate upgrade of the Palestinians' status -- enough of an upgrade to be able to drag Israel before the ICC and other international organizations. This he could not get from the Security Council, not because of a potential US veto, but because the US  continues to place intense  pressure on a handful of states serving now on the Security Council. My hunch is that there will be no need for the US veto. If the subject ever comes to a vote -- a very big if -- the US will have been able to get what it wants.

The Statehood bid, like the Goldstone report, will likely be buried under the bus. But that doesn't mean that Abbas was wrong to go to the UN. In so far as the process has served to reveal the US and Israel as the neighborhood bullies (again), that can only weaken their prestige in the world. Who likes a bully?

And in the meantime, sumud, sumud, sumud. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Liberal Zionists Should Support the Palestinian Statehood Bid -- And Why Most Don't

With the notable exception of a few Israelis and Michael Lerner here, I have yet to see liberal Zionists give unqualified support to the Palestinian Authority's statehood bid at the United Nations.What I have seen is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the Netanyahu government.

I hear things like,  "If only Netanyahu had been serious about peace," "If only he had not preferred Lieberman," "If only he was willing to freeze settlements....we wouldn't be in this mess." Or: "We Israelis deserve all this; we had the best partner in Abu Mazen imaginable, and we screwed up. Instead of a negotiated peace, we are now witnessing Palestinian unilateralism."

The closest position to support I have seen in a mainstream media publication is this article by Yossi Alpher in the International Herald Tribune. Alpher argues that by going to the UN, the PA is making concessions that it could never make with its own people. He views the statehood bid as a way to leverage progress towards a viable two-state solution.

Ideally, the Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state can be leveraged into a two-state agreement that serves Israel’s vital needs, as well as those of the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t work, the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties.        
Americans for Peace Now have posted this on their website. To its credit, it does not oppose the statehood bid, as does the center left organization,  J Street (which is better named "O[bama] Street".) But I don't see an explicit endorsement either.

This strikes me as odd. After all, liberal Zionists have endorsed the principle of "two states for two peoples". Were they to regret  Zionist unilateralism in 1948 the way they regret Palestinian unilateralism in 2011, I would understand. In other words, had they said, "History has shown that unilateralism doesn't work; that the unilateral declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 was a tragic mistake for which generations have paid and continued to pay," their insistence on a settlement acceptable to both sides would be reasonable.

But the ones I have seen don't do this. Instead of cheerleading for the Palestinian two-state solution on at the UN, and writing editorials and op-eds that endorse the statehood bid (while questioning its efficacy in achieving true statehood), most see it as a counter-productive gesture that does not advance the peace process. The liberal Zionist New York Times opposes it. So does the liberal Zionist establishment in the US.

I think the reason is that all Zionists fear Palestinian empowerment. The Zionist left is willing to grant Palestinians enough unilateralism to move forward the Left's two-state solution through the UN, and nothing more. Alpher says that if the UN bid doesn't move the two-state solution forward:
....the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties
In other words, if Mahmoud Abbas can't move the two-state solution along through the UN, it should be "delivered" to ("imposed on"?) the two parties. And then what? Will their be sanctions on Israel and Palestine if they refuse the delivered solution? Will the Palestinian diaspora have a voice in the solution? Will those who support Hamas, whose military wing is comparable to the  Irgun and the Stern gang? And what of the Israeli public and the settlers?

I have my misgivings about Mr. Abbas's move simply because I do not think that he has the authority to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people. He is not the elected representative of the Palestinians, either in the diaspora or in Palestine.  He is propped up by Western and Arab money.  He is, I fear, willing to forego the legitimate rights of the Palestinians for the sake of a negotiated settlement; and if he had Yossi Alpher for a negotiating partner, a peace agreement between them (without real peace) could be attained.

The liberal Zionist's first and foremost concern is not justice but peace and quiet for Israel. As I heard a young activist say, "Israelis want to be free of the Palestinians; they don't want the Palestinians to be free". I agree with Alpher that we have to move beyond Oslo. But the post-Oslo paradigm for peace should be to abandon seeking a two state solution, and to work instead towards an equitable division of power between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and outside it.

Let there be compromise, but let it not be a rotten one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Tikvah Fund's Transparency Problem

Professor Zachary Braiterman has picked up a theme that I wrote about last year, but at much greater length and in much greater detail. He demonstrates that the Tivkah Fund, which ostensibly supports Jewish literacy and encounter with Jewish culture from a neutral, academic standpoint, is really a neocon kiruv (outreach) outfit. This is no surprise, considering the people on the Tikvah board. But, argues Braiterman, unlike the Posen Foundation, which wears its commitment to Jewish secularism on its sleeve (one might say, like frontlets between its eyes), the Tikvah Foundation, which funds quasi-academic programs at NYU, Princeton, Oxford, appears to take no political stand. On the contrary it positions in the middle -- just like other self-described centrist organizations like the American Israel Cooperative Enterprise and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, who think that they if they sponsor some Zionist left scholars from Israel (AICE) or have a few old fashioned Zionist liberals (SPME), they are somehow in the middle. Braiterman does not appear to be against ideological foundations like Posen funding academic initiatives, because they are transparent where Tikvah isn't. I don't agree. The cognoscenti know what the Posen foundation stands for, but I doubt many faculty members take the trouble to explain to their students that the syllabus has the approbration of Felix Posen, who only pays if a course has enough secular Judaism in it. Anyway, transparency is important, but it is not the only consideration -- ideological meddling in the academy is another. If a college professor thinks that secular Judaism is worth teaching, he doesn't need -- and shouldn't take -- money from an ideological foundation with an axe-to-grind. It is true that universities more and more accept money with strings attached. That undermines the whole mission of the university. And faculty members don't have to accept money from these ideological foundations. But back to Tikvah and its lack of transparency. Braiterman decided to focus his sights on Tivkah, USA, and the Jewish Review of Books, with its clear right-of-center bias. It's a pity he didn't rip the mask off the most egregiously rightwing and opaque Tikvah Fund project, the Tikvah Israel Fellows program. Like Aish ha-Torah's "Jerusalem Fellowship," which appeals to unsuspecting college students without revealing its rightwing, orthodox agenda, the Tikvah Israel Fellows promises that "a select, international group of outstanding undergraduates, post-graduates and graduate students will gather in Israel for a transformative journey of intensive study, cultural exploration and mutual discovery." And where will that discovery take place?
The program will take place at the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, located outside Jerusalem, and will be led by Dr. Micah Goodman, one of Israel’s most celebrated thinkers
It doesn't serve the Tikvah's fund purpose, which is neo-con "kiruv", to note that Ein Prat is in "Judea", a.k.a., occupied Palestinian territory, not recognized by anybody as annexable to Israel in a peace settlement. The line-up of speakers reads like a veritable who's who of Israeli neocon and to the right, with the occasional liberal hawk on board for decoration. (Look at the website if you don't believe me.) This is the Shalem Institute's dream-team of speakers, but everybody knows that the Shalem Institute is a neocon think-tank, with folks like Yoram Hazony, transferist Daniel Gordis, Natan Sharansky, Moseh Yaalon, etc. as directors or fellows. And that's their business. But the lack of transparency of the Tikvah Fund "Israel" Fellows, who are being housed on occupied Palestinian land outside of Israel, and taught by Israel's own "Commentary Crowd," is simply incredible. Just a small example: Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the man who has made a crusade of delegitimizing Israel human right groups by questioning their transparency, and by taking that crusade to the Knesset, appears here on the Tikvah website as "founder of Bar Ilan University’s Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation and teaches in the Department of Political Studies" -- without any mention that he is the Director of highly ideological NGO Monitor. And what will he be teaching the Israel Fellows about?NGOs, Human Rights, and the Arab-Israel Conflict." So much for transparency. Which just goes to show that the first law of kiruv is that you are not doing kiruv.