Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Is To Be Done?

(With apologies to V.I Lenin.)

I want to try to outline what I think needs to happen to lead to some modicum of “Peace and Justice” in /Palestine. I want to provide an answer for those of my friends who ask: “What else could Israel do? The enemy is intractable.” as well as my friends who ask: “What else could the Palestinians do? How can they agree to go on living with so much misery and injustice?” as well as to my friends who are just sickened by all the violence and don’t know what to do or think. I will also try to give some advice to any influential politicians who might be reading this – (Obama are you there?)

First let me say, that short of the coming of the Messiah, I don’t believe that absolute peace and justice is possible – and certainly not in Israel/Palestine. Absolute Peace would require a total absence of conflict, complete harmony of purpose and means, and full agreement of all individuals to “play by the rules”. This is, simply put, a dream. Similarly, Justice is not an objective thing: it is subjective concept. And since we will never get everyone to agree on what is Just, we will never obtain “Justice For All.”

Furthermore, the Talmud notes that – as opposed to the contemporary protest slogan “No Justice. No Peace!” – justice and peace are often at odds, as the losing party harbors a grudge. The Rabbis recommended solution? Meditation and compromise wherever possible.

This does not mean that we should not strive towards peace and justice, merely that we should recognize that these are not absolutes. We should also be happy if we can “only” achieve less violence and some justice: because that is actually a lot. We should remember that charity and compromise and forgiveness are also values.

We should remember that, as Voltaire put it, “The perfect is the enemy of the good”, and that, just as schar averah averah (the wages of sin are more sins), so too schar mitzvah, mitzvah (the reward for good deeds, is more good deeds.) Simply put (maybe over-simply, I admit) Israel should not expect zero terror attacks, and the Palestinians should not expect to get their pre-1948 homes in Jaffa back. But they both should expect to get more of what they want and need. And they should remember that a little bit now will lead to more later. Start the positive feed back loop, and then keep it going.

This approach does not preclude grand geo-political “solutions” – the “Two State Solution,” the “One State Solution,” (anyone for the “No States Solution,” or the “Seven Percent Solution”) – but it de-emphasizes them. Without mutual trust, respect and good will, neither solution works. With them, either could work – and the difference becomes a matter of tactics and taste.

Any solution, and any path to get there, must address root causes. What do people reasonably want and need? Safety, some prosperity, reasonable freedoms, a supportive society, and a familiar and stimulating culture. What are the roadblocks to these? Fear, hate, hopelessness, greed, self-centeredness, lack of knowledge, and mistrust.

So what should people do to build towards a solution – any solution – while at the same time taking steps to improve conditions now, as the basis for that solution? Depends who you are.

If you are the Israeli leadership, what should you do? You should move on two broad fronts. First you should move decisively to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian population. Second you should declare openly, publicly, definitively and clearly, that you have no intention of annexing land in the occupied territories (or, alternately, that you are willing to trade land for whatever land you hope to keep) and then take real steps to show you are serious.

Ideas that could improve the daily lot of the Palestinians include: joint economic projects; tax free zones on the green line; development of infrastructure (roads, water lines, electrical lines, schools, etc.) that benefit the Palestinians and not just Israeli settlers; encouragement of and cooperation with European and American investment and development aid to the Palestinian territories; passing on of all tax revenue collected from Palestinians to the Palestinian authorities (Israel regularly collects various taxes from Palestinians and then withholds them); equitable water allocation; handing over of all local government function – including building permitting – to the local Palestinian authorities; a significant easing of all checkpoints within the West Bank; re-routing the security wall/fence to follow the green line and not separate Palestinians from their lands, and make West Bank travel circuitous in the extreme; a lifting of the commercial blockade (siege) of Gaza; opening a travel corridor between Gaza and the West Bank; etc. etc. etc. There is no shortage of ideas, if there is a will.

But some of the above steps would negatively affect Israeli security you say? No – they only negatively affect the security of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. For instance the reason there are checkpoints all over the West Bank, and not just on the crossing points into “Israel Proper”, is that there are Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. The reason there are “Israeli Only” roads in the West Bank, is for the safety and convenience of the settlers. The reason the “Wall” snakes through and around Palestinians villages and fields is so that it can protect Israeli settlers.

Which leads us to the second point. Israel must renounce its policy of supporting and promoting Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. It must renounce its territorial ambitions there. Even if Israel feels it must keep the territories under its control because of security fears, there is no need for settlements or settlers. Perhaps it can’t dismantle all the existing settlements today. But it must announce that it will in the future; or alternately, that it is will to give up exclusive Jewish control over them. And it must start this process now. Yes this is a big political problem for Israel. But there is no other way. The settlements are the root cause of most of the negatives in the West Bank: resentment, unequal economic development, land theft, security problems.

How can I be sure of that? Haven’t West Bank Palestinians always violently opposed Israel’s right to exist? No. From 1967 to 1987 there was relative peace and harmony in the West Bank. The Israeli Occupation brought both tourists and Israelis to the West Bank, and they brought their money, and the Palestinians where, if not delighted, willing to swallow their national pride to make a good living. In addition, many Palestinians found jobs inside Israel – mostly menial to be sure, but better than what had been available prior to the 1967 war. In those years an Israeli could safely go hiking in the West Bank or looking for bargains in the shops of Kalkilyah, Tulkarem, or East Jerusalem. In those days, there where relatively few terror attacks by Palestinian groups, and virtually all where planned and executed by overseas Palestinian groups. What changed to spark the first intifada, to bring the fight to the West bank and Gaza? Mostly it was the build up of the settlements, and the associated land expropriations (or outright theft), unequal development, and the humiliations to Palestinians by and “to protect” the settlers.

Israel should ratchet down the violence. Israel has become so convince that the best defense is a good offense, that it now regularly engages in deterrent strikes and pre-emptive war: both doctrines apply to Gaza, as well as many of Israel’s regular security operations. The hatred these engender on the other side, makes them part of a feed back loop, which only perpetuates the hatred and violence.

Finally Israel must reform its education system to teach about Palestinian history and claims as well as about Jewish history and claims. It must acknowledge the harm its national project has done to Palestinians. It must work to reduce the stereotyping and hatred of Arabs that is common in Israel. And it must work to end administrative and legal discrimination, against its own Arab citizens.

If you are the Palestinian leadership, what should you do? You should make both declarative statements and take actions to back them up. You should publicly, definitively, and clearly state that Jews have the right to live in peace and freedom in Israel/Palestine, and that it is not your intent to drive them out nor to demand lost property back from them. You should announce that you will first and foremost use diplomatic means and non-violent means to achieve your goal. You should tell the Palestinian people, that most of them will not be able to “go back”, but that you will fight for other compensation and other measures to improve their lives. Would that be difficult politically? Yes. But there is no other way. Palestinians cannot win a military fight, and, in fact, it only debases them and alienates support – both in Israel and around the world, and its physical consequences only further impoverish them. They cannot all go back, there is often nowhere to go back to.

On the ground, you should impose an effective “monopoly of force” – that is create a single entity that can control the use of force – that is the pre-requisite for any effective government, and it is a prerequisite to others trusting you enough to negotiate any serious deal. You should enforce your non-violence pledge vigorously, and certainly against civilian targets. (Go ahead and organize boycotts if you want – that is a reasonable tactic if all else fails.) You should work actively to increase the economic conditions of your people. You should change your internal education and propaganda to reduce hatred and stereotyping of Jews and the pining for unrealistic goals. You should teach something of Jewish history and Jewish claims.

If you are a Jew, what should you do? Encourage and support Israel to undertake the measures described above. As Jews voice your qualms about Israel’s policies publicly. It is both more likely to have weight with Israel than non-Jewish criticism, and it may give politicians backbone to stand up to Israeli intransigence – something Israel needs right now. It might also help to build trust with Palestinians.

Move the discussion within the Jewish community, from a tactical one – “What else could Israel do?” – to one based on values and goals. It amazes and worries me that otherwise liberal Jews, who would oppose any sort of religious or ethnic discrimination in Canada or the U.S., are supportive of Israel’s discriminatory policies in favour of Jews over Arabs; that Jews, who opposed Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war in Iraq, favour it when Israel does the same; that Jews who where appalled by American military atrocities in Iraq (and earlier in Vietnam) refuse to take seriously atrocities committed by the Israeli military. Forcing other Jews to face hard facts and square them with their own values will accomplish two things. It might help by building pressure on Israel to do the right things. But equally important, it might break the perceived total congruence of Judaism with Israel, and it might save the help soul of the Jewish people even if Israel slowly smothers its own. Remember that the dream of a Jewish State was to serve Judaism, Jewish values, and Jews, not to have Jews and Judaism serve the State.

Express your support for those aspects of Israel you admire. Express your concern for the Israeli people. Do not “Support Israel” unconditionally, as the Jewish establishment demands of you. Do not support Israelis by vilifying Palestinians. Oppose the negative stereotypes and generalizations about Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, which we hear all to often in our community.

Don’t be “holier than the Pope”: don’t shy from naming and confronting anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Do something to build bridges to Muslims and Palestinians.

If you are a Palestinian, what should you do? Encourage and support the Palestinian leadership to undertake the measures described above. As Palestinians, voice your qualms about excessive Palestinian violence and other stupid or immoral Palestinean policies publicly. It may have some influence on the Palestinian leadership. It will give more, rather than less, weight to your core arguments about past and present injustices done to the Palestinian people. It also might also help to build trust with Jews.

Do something to build bridges to Israelis and Jews.

If you are a Western leader (Obama are you listening yet?), what should you do? Knock some heads together. Threaten, cajole, bribe. Invest your political capital. Send effective international forces to enforce peace. Make the Palestinians prosperous enough to retreat from their “house-key” pipe dreams. Make the Israelis scared enough to retreat from their have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too pipe dreams.

Help solve one of the most intractable aspects of the problem. Pressure Lebanon and other Arab countries, to give the children and grand children of the 1948 refugees living on their soil citizenship, the permission to work and to own land, and encourage western countries to help resettle those who wish to emigrate. Help fund reparations for all Palestinian refugees.

Finally, no matter who you are, don't wait for others to do their part first. All these ideas stand on their own. Keep in mind that the goal is not only to bring more peace and justice; it is to keep the very ideas of peace, justice, and morality alive. In this conflict, all three, have too often been thrown to the wind, and are in danger of dying altogether.

Keep emphasizing that in the end we want security, prosperity, and freedom for all the residence of Israel/Palestine, and that the ends do not justify the means.

And take the long view. Take small victories where you can. That way if a "Solution" takes another 100 years to come, we will have done some good and kept decency alive in the meantime.

As the Talmud teaches: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to refrain from it.”


Anonymous Shmuel said...

Thanks Syd. Excellent analysis, although I would quibble on a point or two. The crux of your argument can be summed up with the words of Hazal: "It is not your responsibility to complete the entire task, but you are not at liberty to refrain from action" (Avot 2,19). Yishar koach.

7:58 am  

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