Jeff was terrific – I was completely absorbed as he spoke for over an hour and a half, logically and patiently explaining the situation in Israel-Palestine in terms anyone could understand. Even this long post hardly begins to capture what he said. For more, see his many articles on the Internet and on the ICAHD website.
He started off by talking about “framing” the conflict. This is the idea often talked about as the different “narratives” of the two sides, but I found his explanation much clearer than any I have heard before. If your starting point is Israel’s current security needs, then everything will fit into this view of the conflict – the post-9/11 “war on terror”, the rejection of the “generous offer”, the need for the Wall, and so on. Jeff pointed out that the one who frames a debate generally wins it – the opposition is reduced to rebutting individual points. In the security framing, there is no occupation – it simply doesn’t appear and you can only raise it as a tangential point. The alternative framing, of course, actually starts from the occupation as the central feature of the situation.
He talked about the exclusivity of the dominant Israeli framing, which assumes that the land of Israel belongs exclusively to the the Jewish people and tolerates “Arabs” (as individuals, not a collective successessay entity of the Palestinian people) only on sufferance. He counterposed a “Human Rights” framing, which would have as its starting point the existence of two peoples in Israel-Palestine and the fact that one has occupied the land of the other. In the security framing a number of subtexts are taken for granted:
- the conflict is existential: one side will win, one will lose
- everything that Israel does is for security
- “the Arabs” don’t want peace – all of them are our enemies, for ever
- the problem is terrorism
- most importantly, there is no occupation
He went on to talk about his well-known idea of the “Matrix of Control”, which is a combination of overlapping strategies that the occupation uses to effectively paralyse Palestinian life in the OT. These strategies include:
- physical control of the key nodes in the matrix – checkpoints first and foremost, but also settlements, highways, by-pass roads (including wide “sanitary” margins), army bases, closed military areas, “nature preserves”, border crossings, holy places in key locations, and so on
- the closures of the OT, through both internal and border checkpoints
- the Jewish-only highways infrastructure. Jeff has a very illuminating map which he didn’t show on this occasion, in which he uses the new roads and settlements to illustrate the way in which Israel-Palestine has changed from being two countries with parallel north-south structures into one integrated country with predominantly east-west communication lines. Jerusalem is the centre of this country.
- settlement blocs – Jeff points out repeatedly that the amount of land the settlements takes is not nearly so important as their strategic significance. That’s why the figures of 80 or 90% quoted for Barak’s “generous offer” are so meaningless (see Gush Shalom’s analysis and maps. In this context, watch out for what happens to the settlement blocs of Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim – these are crucial for the project of effectively cutting the OT into separate areas. Bush has called for “contiguous territory” (ie joined-up) for the Palestinian state, but the Gush map shows an outline for a Palestinian state which is joined, has the majority of the land area of the OT, but is clearly not intended to be viable.
- the Wall, which marks a political border (a military barrier would follow the 1967 border)
He ended by expanding on the alternative “Human Rights” framing for the conflict. Its central points would be :
- the occupation is central. It continues to evolve and proactively change the situation
- Israel is the strong party (4th nuclear power in the world, 3rd largest arms producer, 4th strongest army, etc, etc) and the occupying power
- the conflict is not existential. Palestinians and the wider Arab world have repeatedly over recent years shown their willingness to make a comprehensive peace with an Israel defined within the 1967 borders
- as the strong party and the occupying power, Israel is accountable for her actions within the OT
- there are two parties to the dispute, each with legitimate claims and inherent rights.
He didn’t attempt to minimise the enormous difficulties in the way of achieving a settlement based on human rights, but talked about the ideas in the article I linked to in my last post. There is really something to think about here which takes us forward from the sterile one-state/two-state argument.