London Jewish Cultural Centre meeting “Two States for Two Peoples: Solution or Illusion?”

The London Jewish Cultural Centre is running a series of events on Israel at 60. Last night’s was on the theme “One State or Two?” I found it astonishing, not at all what you would expect – certainly not if you go along with the usual right-wing convention that one-state means “pro-Israel” and two-state means “anti-Israel” (for example, remember the recent fuss when the Oxford Union gave in to right-wing pressure to remove Norman Finkelstein from the two-state side of a debate because he’s “anti-Israel”? Really, we should refuse to accept these meaningless terms at all.)

The speakers here were Tony Klug, who started arguing for a Palestinian state thirty years ago (and of course was regarded as deeply anti-Israel for doing so then). He’s been a sharp critic of the occupation ever since, and is a founder member of Independent Jewish Voices. Speaking for one state was Daniel Gavron, a lifelong Zionist who has recently concluded that withdrawal from the Occupied Territories will never happen and that democracy can only be achieved within a unitary state. The meeting was chaired by Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian and of the Jewish Chronicle (when the Board of Deputies permits).

The room was full, with well over a hundred people. In their appearance and in their comments, the audience seemed not to be JfJfP types, but rather part of the mainstream North London Jewish community. Richard Kuper, who is prominent in JfJfP, told me that the last time he had tried to contribute to a discussion in that room, the chair had to intervene to prevent him from being shouted down, but the event last night was totally different in its tone. The background assumptions of all three speakers were the same: that the Israeli government, and often the Israeli people, have completely misunderstood their own situation in the world, and as a result are passing up on a unique opportunity for peace, one which won’t come again. Since all three also expressed affection (or more) for the idea of Israel, there was an air of complete puzzlement and sadness about how so many people could be making such a huge mistake. Of course, there’s no shortage of theories — some were offered here — for why that has happened, but what surprised me was the unanimity of the tone and the fact that these assumptions were shared by virtually everyone who spoke — probably a third of the audience.

The discussion between one and two states did have some of the usual elements, mainly the argument over the feasibility of the two solutions. Each side argues that the solution offered by the other can’t work, for well-rehearsed reasons: two states can’t work because of the settlements, one state can’t work because of the hostility between the people. It may be pessimistic to say this, but I find the arguments against each solution pretty convincing. (But in any case I don’t think it’s up to me to choose what solution other people choose for how they live). Usually, this part of the debate feels very tired because there’s no discussion about the actual-existing Israel – only an argument over whether it should continue or cease to exist. Last night, by contrast there was agreement that in any imaginable future Israel would have to change enormously to remove the injustices and inequalities that currently exist in the treatment ofa quarter of the non-Jewish citizens of the Jewish state.

Leaving, I could hardly feel cheerful about a debate in which each side had convincing arguments as to why the “solution” proposed by the other would not work. And as Tony Klug said, “We are now in the last chance saloon… the alternative is perpetual conflict”. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope that the situation is finally being understood in mainstream British Jewry. That is far from saying that opinion has changed unanimously, but there’s no question in my mind that a decisive change of mood is under way, in London at least. It may be a little while before it makes its way North to our parts.

“Something quite interesting taking place at the JC” – impossible, surely?

Richard Kuper (ex-chair of JfJfP and more recently its publications and policy officer) has posted to the Just Peace UK group a long list of surprisingly sympathetic pieces in the Jewish Chronicle, and ending with the proposition

Opinion within Britain’s Jewish community has shifted massively in recent years and the JC seems to be making an effort to catch up.

Mike Marqusee – If I Am Not For Myself

Today I went to Glasgow to hear Mike Marqusee speak about his new book If I am Not for Myself – Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew. You can read about the book on Mike’s blog, and details of the remainder of his short Scottish tour are here. In his talk, he described the starting-point for the book as his refusal to accept the label “self-hating”–a description of an anti-Zionist which can only make sense if you accept Zionism’s claim to be the sole representative of the Jewish people. To dispute that claim, he brought forward evidence from the prophets, from haskalah (Jewish enlightenment), and from the history of the Bund (the Jewish trade union federation of Eastern Europe and Russia). He emphasised that Zionism was not the inevitable path of European Jewry, but the product of accident and of mistakes (and also, I would add, of ruthless determination by Jews emulating the right-wing nationalists of Eastern Europe). Even though I came in more or less convinced of his arguments, I still found his talk informative and thought-provoking. (Incidentally, in case it worries you too, he gave a pretty good answer to my misgivings about adopting the label “anti-Zionist” in the twenty-first century).

I bought a copy of the book (well, my dad and I bought half a copy each :) ) and I’m looking forward no end to reading it. I strongly recommend that you catch one of Mike’s talks if you get the opportunity.

Forgiveness

In London last week I went to a showing at the ICA of a new film, Forgiveness, made by the Israeli director Udi Aloni (son of Shulamit Aloni, for people who like making connections). Aloni was at the showing and discussed the film with the audience afterwards. “Forgiveness” is a tremendous film, about memory and the repression of memory. Its central setting is a mental hospital for Holocaust survivors that was built on the ruins of Deir Yassin, and which the film pictures as a place where two different kinds of ghosts can meet and reach reconciliation. There’s far more to it than that, of course—the website has a story outline and reviews, if you want to read about it—but really, you should just get out and see it.

SPSC on Atzmon, again

A follow-up to this post: Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has written a highly critical article on Atzmon. (At the time I’m writing, the SPSC server isn’t working, but you can get a flavour from an extract here). I can’t resist ungraciously pointing out that Mick doesn’t actually mention anywhere that the SPSC recently gave Atzmon a platform, but the main thing is that in this piece he recognises the danger that Atzmon and his allies represent both to Jews and to the Palestinian solidarity movement by bringing genuine anti-Semitism into the campaign. That’s a very welcome statement.

Gilad Atzmon in Edinburgh

Gilad Atzmon, the famous saxophonist, played in Edinburgh on Nov. 22nd at the invititation of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Before the gig, he gave a talk entitled “Zionist Control (The Gatekeepers of the Pro-Palestine Discourse)”–it’s no secret that he doesn’t think much of “Jewish leftist groups”. The Jewish Socialist Group wrote to SPSC (it’s an open letter that I couldn’t find anywhere on the Web, so I have reproduced it below) protesting about the invitation on the grounds of Atzmon’s antisemitism. I also wrote privately, in a personal capacity, to Mick Napier of SPSC, who has promised a considered reply.

Dear Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign,

The terrible situation of the Palestinians today, especially in Gaza, demands the broadest possible unity by those who wish to challenge oppression, racism and human rights abuses. Those who disrupt that unity, or make pro-Palestinian activity vulnerable to charges of antisemitism cannot be friends of the Palestinian people.

Against this background, the Jewish Socialists’ Group strongly oppose Scottish PSC’s invitation to Gilad Atzmon to speak and perform on November 22 at an event called “Zionist control”. Apart from the SWP, which has inexplicably invited Atzmon to its annual Marxism events, and to a book launch at its Bookmarks shop (which was picketed by “Jews Against Zionism and other anti-racists), Atzmon is shunned by other progressive, pro-Palestinian organisations. They completely reject his statements – regurgitating world Jewish conspiracy theories and diminishing the crimes of Nazism – which have been widely denounced as antisemitic.

Atzmon’s outbursts have been a gift to Zionist journalists, providing them with an opportunity to discredit and smear those who support Palestinian rights and justice for the Palestinian people.

If you are not familiar with the views of the person you have invited, here are some examples from his article “On antisemitism” December 2003 on his own website (www.gilad.co.uk):

“We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously…American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elders of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.”

“Israel’s behaviour throws some light on the persecution of Jews throughout history.”

In 2005 Atzmon approvingly distributed Paul Eisen’s essay “Holocaust Wars” which the Socialist Unity website described as “a full-blooded exposition of
Holocaust denial material and a tribute to notorious neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel.” Atzmon said he had only “slight differences” with Eisen’s article.

In 2006 he wrote an article called “Beyond comparison” for Al-Jazeerah [not the TV station] (August 12) about Israel and Nazism: “Nazis were indeed proper expansionists, they were trying to take towns and land intact…unlike the Nazis who had respect for other national movements including Zionism, Israel has zero respect for anyone including its next door neighbours. The Israeli behavior should be realised as the ultimate vulgar biblical barbarism
on the verge of cannibalism.

“While Nazism was a nationalist expansionist movement with extensive yet limited ambitions, the Jewish State and its Zionist lobbies are trying to revive the spirit of a global crusade in the name of a bizarre religious war.

“It is about time to … say it all loudly… We have to admit that Israel is the ultimate evil rather than Nazi Germany”.

Since the early 1980s the Jewish Socialists’ Group has worked closely with Palestinian organisations and solidarity campaigns and more recently with Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Just Peace UK and European Jews for a Just Peace in the struggle against occupation and for equality and self-determination for Palestinians. We have challenged Jewish communal “leaders” when they denounce opponents of Israel as antisemitic and Jewish opponents of Zionism as “self-haters”.

At the same time we remain vigilant about antisemitism and other forms of racism. We agree entirely with the Britain’s former PLO representative, Afif Safieh, who frequently told pro-Palestinian demonstrations and meetings that antisemitism was an enemy of the Palestinians as well as the Jews.

As Jewish socialists and outspoken opponents of Zionism, racism and fascism, we cannot understand how it benefits the Palestinian struggle to invite and promote an individual who speaks as Atzmon does, regardless of his origins. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has long had a clause in its aims to oppose antisemitism and all forms of racism. We cannot understand why SPSC seem intent on exposing the pro-Palestinian movement to charges of antisemitism.

We appeal to Scottish PSC to rescind the invitation and we appeal to Palestinian organisations and solidarity organisations to make their views on this
known to Scottish PSC.

Yours,
David Rosenberg
(on behalf of the National Committee of the Jewish Socialists’ Group)

Meeting with Alyn Smith MEP

Two of us went on Friday to meet Alyn Smith, the Scottish Nationalist MEP, who has just got back from a European Parliament fact-finding mission to Israel and Palestine. The mission was announced on a Europa website (a link at the bottom leads to the mission’s programme, which was pretty good, but subsequent news about it seems to have been relayed only through an Iranian news agency, Electronic Intifada, Al-Jazeerah, etc). This may be because the conclusions that the MEPs brought back are uncomfortable, though unfortunately not surprising. Alyn Smith seems to have been brought up to speed on the situation by the five days of meetings and visits, and has come back with an admirable determination to try to find a positive Scottish contribution to the situation. First the very uncomfortable main points that he has brought back:

  1. The mission saw for themselves what the Palestinian solidarity movement has been saying for months: that the humanitarian situation on the West Bank, and especially in Gaza, is catastrophic. About Gaza they said:

    Due to economic sanctions, almost all public institutions have shut down. The hospitals are overcrowded and receive neither money nor sufficient medicine. The public employees have not been paid for months. The doctors told us that some deadly injuries are not caused by traditional weapons but most likely by new experimental chemical weapons. More amputations than ever are necessary. They have not had the time to examine the dead bodies yet as they are busy dealing with the wounds of those who have survived.

    (It’s not only economic sanctions that are strangling the PA. Probably more important is the large amount of customs revenue that the Israeli government is still “withholding”.) It’s impossible to imagine a situation so bad continuing indefinitely. But the MEPs didn’t forecast any success for the hopes of the Israeli government and the “international community” that the Palestinians will rise up and throw off the Hamas government. They believe that it is more likely that the situation will solidify support behind Hamas, which they acknowledge as the elected government. More likely is the prospect of civil war or a coup by Abbas, who is importing large quantities of arms into the Gaza strip, a situation that the US is “completely relaxed” about (to quote Alyn). You can’t imagine anything more likely to please Olmert and Bush.

  2. We couldn’t take any encouragement from his assessment of the political leadership on either (or, more accurately, any) side of the conflict.

  3. His opinion of EU policy was scathing. The attempt to route part of the PA payroll as aid through Abbas’s office makes no sense at all, either in the context of the Hamas boycott (which it undermines, as far as it is effective at all), or in the context of helping the PA continue to operate (which it is completely ineffective at doing, since the amounts involved are so small). I was particularly struck by his opinion about the Rafah checkpoint, the only route into Gaza that is (supposedly) not under Israeli control. Rafah is open under the supervision of EU monitors, which means that when they can’t reach it it stays closed (this happens often). And where are the monitors living–remember, this is a checkpoint between Gaza and Egypt? Why, in Ashkelon, of course! That way, their access to Rafah is entirely under the control of the IDF. According to Alyn, the head of the EU “Border Assistance Mission” didn’t bother even to try to justify this arrangement to the MEPs

Alyn hopes to call a meeting of “stakeholders” in the Scottish community very soon. I know that before he went he discussed the situation with at least the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities. He plans on a meeting in early December, at which he hopes to be an honest broker in starting a dialogue between the different stakeholders, in the hope that a distinctive Scottish position will emerge. It’s a conscientious and constructive move, but I can’t say I’m wildly optimistic about the chances of the dialogue being very helpful.

Anarchists Against the Wall

I went to a meeting today with this rather discouraging title, half-expecting a wild-eyed and disorganised presentation, even though friends had told me that it would be much better than that. (I can’t be the only one who felt that way, though; we have had two people sign off our mailing lists simply because the meeting was advertised on them.)

In fact, it was very good, with two speakers–one Israeli, one Palestinian– PowerPoint presentations, and a couple of films. I was only there part of the time and didn’t see the films, though we now have them on DVD. The presentation on the wall itself is now sadly routine, but what was new to me was a first-hand description of the non-violent demonstrations that have been regularly taking place at Bil’in (I’ve known about them for some time because of effective publicity from Gush Shalom). Like many villages along the route of the wall, Bil’in will be cut off from much (60%) of its farming land. The demonstrations there are important for several reasons: they are a continuing focus of resistance to the most visible symbol of the occupation; they show how effective non-violence can be, even against a state prepared to use extreme violence at any time; and they provide an opportunity and a practical example of Israelis and Palestinians organising and working together. As the Israeli speaker, Sarah Assouline, said “You can’t tell us that there is no partner for peace!”

About the violence: Sarah described how terrifying it is to face the police and the army at these demonstrations (adding that it was too terrifying for her!) People have been seriously injured at Bil’in and, in other places, have been killed in non-violent demonstrations against the wall. All the dead were Palestinians–the army doesn’t use live ammunition when Israelis are among the demonstrators, so that is one very important role that they can fulfil. But I still wouldn’t care to face the teargas, rubber bullets, and experimental riot control weapons that the army tries out at Bil’in.

When I talked to Sarah outside the meeting, she emphasised that she is a woman on a mission. The demonstrators are facing huge legal bills, even though they have an advocate who has been working for them for very little pay. They aren’t terribly good at advertising themselves–unlike Gush Shalom (see links) who they work with on the demonstrations. I don’t suppose the associations of their name can help much. But after seeing the presentation, I thought that what they are doing is important, and we should support them. How about doing a benefit for them–we could raise some money, show the films and tell people about Bil’in, and have a good time too?

Responses to the Herald letter

I’ve collected together the responses mailed to SJJP during the first couple of days after the letter appeared. The mixture ranges, as you would expect, from “shame on you” to “good on you”. There were replies in the Herald in the several days following (here are the letter pages for 18th August and 21st August – I think there were others, but unfortunately the Herald doesn’t index more than two days back).

SJJP Letter in the Herald

Our letter appeared in full in the Herald today, with no fewer than 20 signatures!  It was interesting to see how easy it was to get people’s responses and signatures, compared to previous times. Obviously that’s partly because the Lebanon war has been (and will continue to be) such a sharp crisis, but I think this might be the start of a lasting increase in people’s willingness to speak out for justice in the Middle East.

A number of factors combine to silence Jews in Britain who want to say “not in my name”, including (at least) a sense of loyalty, discomfort with the idea of being identified, a feeling of powerlessness, and fear of the reaction from within our own community. These form a powerful combination, but we’ve seen over the past week that if we can overcome our isolation we can get a lot of strength from one another. It would be nice to think that this is the beginning of a sustained campaign.

SJJP on the August 12th demonstration

We only started organising for the demonstration a few days beforehand, so it was very gratifying to have a good turnout, a speaker (Barrie Levine, who gave an excellent speech), a banner, placards and leaflets. People joined the SJJP group from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and the far North. One supporter, in her eighties, made a 17-hour round trip to join us! She said, like many other people there, that sometimes you just have to act, and this war in Lebanon is such a time.

There was a lot of enthusiasm among the people behind our banner. Protesting against the Lebanon war has given us focus and energy, which have been hard to sustain in the last year in the face of the Gaza withdrawal and the remorseless grinding down of the OPT. No matter what the short-term results of the negotiations over the ceasefire resolution, there’s going to be a need for sustained campaigning for a long time to come. The response to today’s demonstration is a hopeful sign that we can do that.

PSC meeting on the blockade, Euston 10th May

Last night I went to a Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) meeting at Euston on the crisis in the Territories. The PSC organised a strong platform, with Tony Benn, Karma Nabulsi, Lindsey German and Tariq Ali amongst others. Plenty of strong feeling, but the big hall in the Friends’ Meeting House was only half full–maybe a couple of hundred people. Karma Nabulsi had a strong quote from one of her contacts in the OT:

“The silence of the West hurts more than the bullets of the Israelis”

Allowing for a degree of overstatement, it’s still an arresting thought. I’ll say something more about this “silence” in my post about today’s news. The most interesting and controversial speech was from Tariq Ali, who was kept to the end as a rousing finish. The PSC obviously need him more than he needs them, as his speech was far from the party line. He was very emphatic that you couldn’t understand what is happening without understanding the Palestinian election, which he interpreted for our benefit: it’s because they realised that Oslo would never have given them a viable state (and also, to be fair to Tariq, because they were fed up with Fatah corruption). He didn’t say what would represent viability, though he allowed that a retreat to the 1967 borders would be “a first step” to towards a viable Palestinian state. His views on the future for the region were summed up in this wonderfully dogmatic line:

“Abandoning fantasy politics means a one-state solution”

Most of the speakers made complimentary (and often, I thought, condescending) reference to JfJfP (which is organising a vigil on Monday night to protest at the EU’s position).

The PSC is organising a national demonstration in London on May 20th against the blockade.

The blockade is biting

I wrote on April 13th and 16th about the human disaster that can be predicted as a result of the EU, American and Israeli policy towards Hamas, and about the resolute silence in the media about it. The silence was broken on Tuesday night by a report on Channel 4 news (you can watch it again here) from Gaza, where hospitals are running out of essential supplies and people are dying as a result. It’s one thing to write about economic blockades, another to actually see a person with cancer or kidney failure, deprived of treatment and even of pain relief by this savage policy.

Do any of the people responsible for the EU policy actually think about what they are doing? I suppose the theory must be that if enough suffering is inflicted on the Palestinian people they will, in desperation, force Hamas to recognise Israel and thus allow the peace process to resume. This idea is wrong on at least three different counts

  1. First and most important, it is a form of collective punishment and therefore wrong by definition. The suffering is being inflicted on people regardless of their opinions, how they voted, whether they support violent action, or anything else about them. They are suffering because they are Palestinians.
  2. It won’t work in changing Hamas policies. Palestinians will only become more angry over the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, and more determined to defy it. There is a big debate in Hamas at the moment on how to proceed after the elections; this policy can only help the hardliners.
  3. If it did work, the long-term effect would be to hugely increase the bitterness of the Palestinians towards Israel and the occupation. How is that a basis for the reconciliation that is supposedly going to be the foundation for peace in the region?

We expect nothing better from the American and Israeli governments; we know how much they are influenced by humanitarian concern for the Palestinians. But the EU, which has claimed the higher ground in the past, has now joined them. It seems that “The International Community”, so keen in principle on the idea of democracy in the Arab world, is in reality prepared to go to any lengths to stamp it out when it actually happens.

There seems little we can do about this. At least sign the petition and write to your MEPs.

A looming disaster

It’s extraordinary how little attention the situation in the OT is getting just now. The Guardian carried a story entitled Gaza on the Brink of Implosion yesterday, but overall no-one seems to know or care what is going on as Israel, the US, and the EU impose a harsh collective punishment on the Palestinians because of the way they voted. An MEPs’ delegation to Israel-Palestine has denounced EU policy as likely to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

There is at least now an online petition which you can sign to help build conciousness of the situation–I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it will itself do much to change policy. For a little more work, you can have a little more influence by writing to your MEPs (this page will tell you how to contact them). In London, two Conservative MEPs have been supportive!–who knows what the Scottish MEPs might say if we lobbied them effectively?

A Terrible EU Decision

Gush Shalom have issued a “Call to Europe” to stop the blockade on the Palestinian government. And European Jews for a Just Peace have written to the European Union:

President Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels
Belgium

Amsterdam, April 10 2006

Dear President Barroso,

It is with great dismay, shock and concern that we note the proposed cutting of aid from the European Union to the Palestinian population. This amounts to a collective punishment meted out to approximately 3,500,000 Palestinians. Forcing people to go hungry is not an acceptable tool of international diplomacy. Yet that is exactly what this policy amounts to.

The Karni checkpoint has been closed for goods, leaving the people of Gaza without basic staples. At the same time Gazan fishermen are being denied access to fishing grounds prevented from catching fish, in grounds defined by international agreement as Palestinian, by the Israeli navy. The Israeli Army’s repeated shelling of the Gaza Strip has killed children as young as five years old.

In addition, one Israeli bank, the Bank Hapoalim, has now stopped the transfer of money to the Palestinian territories. If others follow suit, there will be no way of transferring funds to organizations and even family members from abroad because all funds must go through Israeli correspondent banks.

These are measures enacted against a population many of whom are already forced to live as recipients of charity from abroad because of the Israeli occupation. A people is being starved and humiliated. They are losing their property and being put in ghettos erected by the State of Israel, with its wall and settlements. Despite these being illegal, punitive measures such as those now proposed against the Palestinians have not even been considered against Israel. Indeed, any call whatsoever for divestment, boycott – or even for compliance with the EU’s own trade association agreement rules – are dismissed as unconstructive. We must ask then, how is this decision to cut aid a constructive one?

The European Union – among others – cannot demand democratic elections and then proceed to punish people because they do not like the result. Hamas has taken no anti-Israeli action since their election victory. Indeed, Hamas has taken no action against Israel for over a year.

This policy risks catastrophe, first and foremost for the Palestinians. It is bound to lead to more violence for Israelis as well. A people – not a government – frustrated and humiliated as the Palestinians are being will react with anger. Is it possible that the European Union is not aware of this?

Both as Jews and as European citizens to whom the EU is ultimately responsible, we urge in the strongest possible terms that this decision is reconsidered to prevent further violence. This policy cannot but bring more tragedy to both peoples living in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Yours sincerely,
Dror Feiler, Chairman, and
Dan Judelson, secretary

for the EJJP Executive Committee

We should follow this up with letters to our own representatives, although goodness knows how long it will take, or how much pressure, to overturn a decision by the Council of Ministers. An online petition is being started. Meanwhile Palestinian children are starving. Chag sameach!

Convergence and Convenience

Amira Hass writes in Ha’aretz about the end result of imprisoning an entire people behind walls, fences and checkpoints:

The convergence plan, which coagulates the violence of occupation in densely populated Palestinian areas, will bring forth and intensify three types of Palestinian rage: national rage due to the sabotage of the Palestinian project for a state, development and independence; economic rage of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their land, property and livelihood to the Jews who prosper on the other side of the barbed wire; and religious rage, of those who turn for solace to the Koran and Allah, where they can find explanations stating that’s the way Jews are.

Anyone will recognise the truth of this who takes the trouble to acquaint themselves with the barest facts about conditions under the occupation. So why does Israel press on towards this disaster?

Alan Hart meeting

I went to a meeting yesterday organised by the Scottish PSC as part of its launch promotion of a book called “Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews”. It was written by Alan Hart, who was famous as a television journalist in the sixties and seventies. The book is a history of Zionism, the first of two volumes and about 600 pages long; I won’t comment on it but rather on his short presentation of it. He is obviously extremely well-informed, and by his account – which I have no reason to question – a first-hand observer of many of the historical events he describes, and a back-channel for big diplomatic initiatives at the time.

The book will make a fascinating read, but the presentation posed some problems; its big theme was the need for “a new covenant” between Jews and gentiles in which Jews would stop supporting Zionism, and gentiles would end antisemitism so as to make Jews feel safe in renouncing Israel. I couldn’t argue with the basic link between Zionism and anti-semitism, but this was much too simplistic. I also didn’t like the emphasis he put on the need to persuade Jews away from support of Israel as the main condition of changing the situation. Obviously I’m in favour of such persuasion, but that formulation means that you are giving diaspora Jewish communities responsibility for what Israel does. Various people pointed out that Israel cares much more about US government support – and also its place in the European picture – and Alan changed his position a little under questioning to the point of saying that changing diaspora opinion was an essential condition rather than the main one.

However good the book is, it won’t do much to change ideas in the Jewish community. The title alone will make sure that it gets very little consideration. If that is a loss, then it’s up to us to put its arguments in a more acceptable way.

Gush Shalom on the Route of the Wall

Gush Shalom ad published in Ha’aretz, April 1 , 2005:

As if…

Sharon seems to obey the Supreme Court of Israel. The path of the Separation Wall seems to have been moved to the vicinity of the Green Line.

But now it becomes clear that he is building more walls, under the guise of “protecting the settlers’ roads”. One wall will be built along route 443 (the Modi’in-Jerusalem road in the occupied territories), another in the south Hebron area, along route 317 (between the Susita-Karmel settlements).

These roads cut the West Bank into pieces, in order to imprison the Palestinians in isolated pockets. Exactly as the original path of the Separation Wall, which was vetoed by the Supreme Court, was intended to do.

SHARON REMAINS SHARON

Hamas integrating into PLO

The news from Palestine this week seems to be all about Hamas and what is sometimes described as “the decision by Mahmoud Abbas to integrate Hamas into Palestinian politics” and sometimes as “Hamas’s historic compromise”. Which is it, and does it matter?

Hamas’s stated objective is to establish an Islamic state in historic Palestine. It doesn’t sound as thought there’s much possibility of compromise there. But in practice their actions vary a great deal. They have indeed used extreme violence on many occasions, but they have also been capable of much subtler responses in the context of the many ceasefires they have participated in. And they certainly can’t be ignored — they have great and growing support, especially in Gaza.

The security-first view of this situation is to say, first, that the apparent flexibility is just a front, their intentions never change, and they must be militarily destroyed. Since the IDF couldn’t do that even with its virtually unlimited firepower and ruthlessness (look at these statistics), Israel has handed the job over to Mahmoud Abbas, demanding that he “disarm” (i.e. defeat) Hamas in order to prove his good intentions. Note that Israel is demanding that the PA must succeed where she failed in this, and it must do it with a security apparatus that the IDF itself virtually destroyed in the various incursions. That’s chutzpah.

The second response to Hamas’s success is that its popularity shows that “the Arabs” support the demand to drive Israel into the sea. A lot of Hamas’s popularity is due to its welfare work and its perceived lack of corruption, but it is true that many Palestinians do see the conflict as a win-lose situation. Either we beat them, or they beat us — just as the Israel’s-security-first view has it. The problem in trying to convince them differently is that Israel offers no reward for peace: the settlement activity, the demolitions, the land confiscations associated with the Wall — all continue, and together give a very clear message that the project of appropriating and controlling the West Bank is steaming ahead. It must be pretty hard to be preaching coexistence to Palestinians just now — and indeed if a former head of Israeli military intelligence can see a new intifada coming without big changes in Israel’s attitude, it can’t be that hard to foresee.

These two responses — Hamas must be destroyed, and the Palestinians must be taught not to support it — will only take Israel further down the endless road of bloody confrontation. Hamas has to be recognised as a fact of life, encouraged in the first place by Israel as a counterweight to the PLO, and now becoming a serious political rival to PLO/Fatah. The support it gets for violence is proportionate to the hopelessness of the people. To UK observers, the parallel with the Provisional IRA is irresistible. And look at the results of the politicisation of the Republican movement in the Northern Ireland: the political crisis is far from resolved and criminal activity is still a huge problem, but massive sectarian discrimination and the resulting bloody conflict are gone forever. Israel and the Palestinians could take the same road.

But for now Israel is going the opposite way, with results that are all too easy to predict.

Abu Mazen and Hamas, from Ha’aretz
Bitter Lemons on the Transformation of Hamas – four analyses from Palestine and Israel