Blog: The Politics of Hope



Peace, peace, and there is no peace

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On October 6 The Washington Post ran a story entitled “A key back channel for U.S., Israeli ties.” The story informs us that “Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert, has emerged as a crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government, working closely with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s private attorney – and also Defense Minister Ehud Barak – to discreetly smooth out differences and disputes between the two governments.”

The article goes on to describe how Ross is currently working with “[chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak] Molho and [Deputy Prime Minister Ehud] Barak on a package of incentives that the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu to extend a settlement moratorium by 60 days to keep nascent peace talks with the Palestinians on track.”

This latest disclosure is another nail in the coffin of the “peace process.” It lays to rest the long-held fiction of the U.S. as an honest broker in these so-called negotiations. This disclosure comes as no surprise. It has already been officially leaked that these “incentives” certainly include Israeli military presence and effective control over the Jordan Valley. What else might be in this package? Guarantee against return of Palestinian refugees? Final annexation of the major settlement blocs, including East Jerusalem? And does it matter? What now emerges into the full light of day is what anyone with eyes to see has observed, certainly since 2000 – that the U.S., far from being an “honest broker” in “peace negotiations,” is in fact Israel’s lawyer – in addition to her banker – on the international scene.  See my friend Jim Wall’s excellent blog on the Ross incentive package. It spells out how the military occupation of the Jordan Valley and the diplomatic guarantees contained in the package complete the bantusization and isolation of the West Bank and Gaza.  And for what?  The extension of a “settlement freeze” that is itself a snare and a delusion (settlement building has continued unabated in spite of the talks)?

But the illusion continues to hold sway. The evening that the Post article appeared, I attended  an event organized by J Street, the PAC founded several years ago as an alternative to AIPAC, the powerful “Israel Lobby.”  On its website J Street identifies itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for vigorous U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  The event was entitled “Who are the Partners for Peace? Palestinian Perspectives: A Discussion with the American Jewish Community.” The event was moderated by Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and lead negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks. The panel featured three Palestinian speakers, the idea being to bring “Palestinian moderates,” as the program identified them, to the attention of American Jews.  Presumably, this kind of conversation would help to dispel the notion that Palestinians were not interested in peace with Israel and that they were incapable of “working together” with Israelis to achieve a two-state solution. An overwhelmingly Jewish audience filled to overflowing the vast sanctuary at Temple Sinai in Washington DC.  It’s possible that many came out of curiosity.  But I felt, as I did when I attended the sold-out J Street conference in Washington last year, that the Jewish community came to this event out of an increasingly urgent need to find a way to continue to feel good – and optimistic — about Israel. Seeing that there are Palestinians who want peace is a comforting notion:  if they exist, then – given that we Jews also seek this outcome – there is hope.

But this hope rests on yet another fiction, one that functions alongside of that of the U.S. as a good faith broker. This is the fantasy created by the language of “partnership.”  Partnership assumes equality, or at least the possibility of such.  It assumes a  playing field that might approach being level. But an occupier and occupied cannot be partners in a negotiation.  A militarily controlled and economically vanquished people confronting a nuclear power supported by the world’s remaining superpower is not a meeting of partners. The assembled wanted to believe that this partnership is possible — that the only task remaining is to match up the “moderates” on both sides, those willing to hear the other’s narrative (“Tell us what it was like to grow up in a refugee camp” Ambassador Indyk asked one of the panelists).  These would be, presumably, the panelists on the podium and us, the supporters of J Street.

As a member of the audience I asked the panelists to comment on the Post article, asking the question very much in the spirit in which I opened this blog posting. Two out of the three said that they thought back channel was wrong – certainly, said one, a tactical error. The third, astonishingly, answered my question about the Ross “concessions” by saying “I am not so sure about this concept of ‘honest broker.’ What’s an ‘honest broker?” In a negotiation, I am concerned not that the broker be honest, but that he be effective!” This quip drew appreciative laughter. Later this same panelist, in answer to a question about settlements and international law (such as the law declaring illegal the settling of one’s own population on land obtained militarily, and profiting economically on that territory) claimed that, after all, international law can be understood in many ways. This was news to me.  Clearly, I had much to learn about international law.  Certainly, I was learning more and more about what a moderate is.

Ambassador Indyk ended the evening with an appeal to the audience. Peace will never be achieved, he declared, “without all of you.”  This statement mystified me. What did he mean, I wondered? The audience, however, responded this appeal with enthusiastic applause and went off to the reception. What, I continued to wonder (or who) were they applauding? I don’t think it was for panelist Amjad Atallah of the New American Foundation, who, just prior to Indyk’s closing words, ended the panel discussion with an answer to the Ambassador’s question, “will we see a Palestinian state within a year?” “A Palestinian state alongside of Israel,” Atallah answered, “depends on freedom for Palestine. If a settlement looks anything like what we now have on the ground, the ‘Two State Solution’ will be much more terrible than the present situation.”

This is the truth that must be told. The current diplomatic effort will not work, even if, improbably, it produces something called a “peace agreement.” Peace will come, not through political compromise requiring yet more concessions and “flexibility” from the Palestinian side, but through a recognition of the injustice to which the Palestinians have been subjected for over 60 years, and an honest look at the illegitimacy and unsustainability of the political system that is now firmly in place — a system that constitutes a single apartheid state. The current political process, if it “succeeds” at all, seems more and more likely to succeed only in legitimizing this unacceptable reality. Nothing resembling peace will result from this outcome.

A synagogue full of Jews listening to the voices of Palestinians is not a bad thing.  Eventually, the Jewish community will come to understand that the Palestinian people are not our implacable enemy.  Eventually – someday – as a community we will come to understand that Palestinian resistance has been directed not toward Jews, or even toward Israel as such, but toward Israeli expansionism and to six-plus decades of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and denial of human rights. Conversations like the J Street event last week may prove — someday — to have been a helpful part of that process. But these conversations will not produce a solution. For a solution we need to hear the voices of prophets, voices like the voice I heard the next day at a lecture at the Palestine Center in downtown Washington DC.  Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, told us that

“There is reason for deep short-term pessimism about the situation in Palestine and the situation in Israel. Both are endlessly depressing.  But there are signs, I think, of encouraging positive longer term trends in the public sphere in this country. This is not a situation that will change rapidly, however. It took generations and a lot of hard work to establish the myths Israel was built on, and it will take years, and a lot of hard work, to deconstruct them, and for the generations that are not going to change their minds in many cases, to lose their influence.”

“I think it will be a long time before the political situation certainly will change such that we can expect an end to Israeli impunity.  Israel will continue to be protected in pretty much anything it chooses to do by our Congress and by our government. But I think the handwriting may be on the wall. I think that the system of domination and control through the calculated dosed use of violence and overwhelming power that has obtained in the Occupied Territories for over 43 years, a system based entirely on violence, and that has maintained the dispossession of the Palestinian people for 62 years, cannot be hidden forever. Maybe it can’t be stopped, but it can’t be concealed, is my point.  The brilliantly conceived discursive artifice, a citadel of lies, that has concealed this system of power and control for so long is actually beginning to crumble…The day is clearly coming when this status quo will pass. Maybe a long time for that day to come but it is coming.  It is up to Israelis and Palestinians in the first instance to dismantle this iniquitous system, this unjust system, this unsustainable system and to put in place one that is more just. But, the last thing I want to say is while it is essentially up to them there, it is also up to us here. Americans bear a very, very, very heavy responsibility in this matter.  We are the 900 pound gorilla on the Middle Eastern stage.  The United States has upheld this entire discriminatory, unjust structure ever since 1948, ever since the partition resolution of 1947. Clearly, a beginning in new direction at least in the public sphere in this country has begun. I would strongly argue that true peace with justice in Palestine for both peoples that live there depends on the continuation of this process in this country.”

(Click this link for a video and complete transcript of Dr. Khalidi’s address.)

When politics fail, broad social movements arise to change the political wind. This is the movement we see forming on a global basis to end the madness and eventually bring peace to the region. We need voices of prophecy – honest, unvarnished truth-telling.  When Elijah confronted King Ahab over the killing of Naboth and the theft of his land, he did not sidle up to the monarch, put his arm around his shoulder and say, “Ahab, this doesn’t look so good. We need to work on your image — and we need to figure out a better way to get you what you want. Let me talk to the folks in Jezreel and see what kind of a deal I can get for you.”  No – we know what Elijah said:  “Have you murdered and also taken?”  In the Hebrew, the question is asked in three, shattering words — followed by a short discourse on the consequences to follow.

People often ask me: but if not two states, then what? Isn’t one state even less possible?  But the one-state two-state debate is not the conversation that is needed now. We already have one state. More and more Israelis  – including former Prime Ministers – see this, and it is a state that is unsustainable.  The question, as Israeli writer Bernard Avishai asked years ago, is not whether Israel will survive. The question is:  what kind of Israel will it be?  The more the truth is told, the sooner we can begin to answer that question.

Announcing:

An updated edition of Mark Braverman’s Fatal Embrace:  Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land is now available.  It features a new Afterword and an endorsement by Marcus J. Borg.

Mark Braverman’s review of Joe Sacco’s astonishing graphic novel Footnotes in Gaza has just appeared in Commonweal Magazine.  The online version is available at http://commonwealmagazine.org/graphic-violence

Upcoming:  go to the Events Page for a listing of Mark’s U.S. appearances for the Fall.

14 Comments »

  1. Lowry Pei said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    Mark —
    This is brilliant. I only wish there were more voices like yours, not just on this issue, but in our politics generally. It’s good to read something political that is not just deeply discouraging. The reason it’s not, in my opinion, is that though the situation is dire and the various actors intractable, you get to the *systemic* reasons why it is so. You’re able to step back far enough to point out the structure of the situation, rather than the immediate events happening from day to day but changing nothing about that structure.

    I remember the first time I was at your house, you pointed out to me a picture of a certain temple in Jerusalem and told me about your connection to it. It was like you were saying “If you want to know me, you need to know this.” I see you upholding the honor of your heritage here.

    One minor edit you should make. In the sentence beginning “When Elijah confronted King Ahab,” you left out the word “not” after “did.”

    Lowry

  2. David Rushworth-Smith said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    As ever, you are right on the mark, and correct in your assessment. In my opinion, Obama will not be allowed to do whatever he thought that he could do when he became President. The Jewish lobby, the US army, the politicians, and the strategists, will not allow the State of Israel to be anything other than what she now is. Like yourself, and a growing group of clear-thinking people, Sam Bahour also sees things clearly, and says so frankly. He should have been on that Palestinian panel of experts. I fear that the State of Israel will eventually collapse unless something dramatic (perhaps supernatural) happens.

    By the way, I think you mean that Elijah did not put his arm round Ahab and say ‘Hey Buddy’. That is negative, instead of positive.

  3. Cotton Fite said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    Yeah, Elijah was not the kind of guy to put his arm around Ahab; he never sounded like the smooth diplomat type to me.

    What amazes me – and maybe it shouldn’t – is the durability of the myths that surround Israel, the lack of a Palestinian partner for peace, the American “partnership” and the notion that we can be an honest broker. But I do agree with the “moderate” Palestinian that the most important concern is that the broker be “effective”. Where he and I part company is in how we describe effective. I describe it as meaning we tell Israel to restart the “freeze”, and make it a real freeze this time, or else …. No, Mr. Netanyahu, nothing in return for that “favor”.

  4. Pauline Coffman said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    So what exactly did Martin Indyk mean, Mark? And who were the other two Palestinian panelists? I am getting really skittish about “big, successful events” that promote one point of view or the other. We end up feeling like we’ve done something significant, but really, all we’ve done is patted ourselves on the back. My suspicious nature is coming out. Were there any women on the panel? Or in the room? I notice men still like to pat each other’s back and cajole everyone to “feel good”. Women see right through that. I do agree with your previous commenter that Sam Bahour would tell it like it is and not bother with all this hoopla.

    I don’t get the sense that those close to the President listen to “all of us” very much at all. Tell me I’m wrong.

  5. Toni Mann said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    I can see what you mean by a lack of prophetic voice. Your perplexity at the vagueness of statements about there being no peace “without all of you” and the subsequent enthusiastic applause is understandable. I know I would have been incredibly frustrated to receive the sound-bite jocular response that you got to your question about an honest broker.

    Is there a way to capitalize on the pull that J Street seems to have for the Jewish audience while somehow injecting more substance into the message? Whether yes or no, of course, the prophetic voices speaking elsewhere must keep speaking, like Khalidi. We have to face reality before we can change anything, so we have to have people willing to speak the truth to power.

    I think your point about the inequity of the situation making a true partnership possible is quite important and one that is often overlooked.

    Lots of good points, Mark. More and more I see how necessary it is for “the choir” to be nourished and encouraged. It’s a pretty tough road to walk at times.

  6. David A. Leighton said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    Mark, you paint a black picture but I have always thought the “One State Solution”, the only valid option, it already does exist outside Gaza and the West Bank, although of course “Israeli” Palestinians, if they have taken on Israeli citizenship, are still very much Second Class citizens in this Apartheid State. The iniquitous Avigdor “Liebermann” might make this matter far worse for the Palestinians.
    MORALITY would dictate that either Justice should step in and punish Israel through a Legal process, apropos of the Goldman Document on account of their iniquitous and disgraceful attack on Gaza, i.e. genocide and also the defenceless and murderous attack on the Relief Ship “Mavi Marmara” in International or any kind of “Waters”.

    The ubiquitous Biblical Saving Justice should thus be exercised and failing that, “Divine Intervention” can intervene at any time now, since God is the final Arbiter, and thus virtuous Jews can be spared punishment.
    Who could ever have trusted Denis Ross, no-one believes he comes from Scotland!!

  7. Pat Minor said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    As always, Mark, I agree with what you say (I believe you are one of those prophets).

    Maybe I am naive, but I continue to feel we do have some say in what our government does. Agreed, it will take a long time for anything we say to have some effect, but the last two times I have seen my Congressman speak, he has mentioned me and my concern for Palestine in his remarks. Clearly, he connects my face with Israel/Palestine and thinks about it when he sees me. Here in Iowa, we also talk to Presidential candidates (yes, I will even talk to Sarah Palin if given half a chance). It is important to let our elected officials (even our President) know how we feel. Even if we are only a gnat in their ears. We are a democracy, after all, if not as true a one as many of us would like.

    That said, we need to leave no stone unturned. Whatever we can do to get the word out about the real situation on the ground in Palestine needs to be done. Keep up the good work!

  8. Mary Murphy said,

    October 12, 2010 @ 6:25 am

    Again thanks, Mark, for taking the trouble to write your blog.. Even if most of us who read it share your convictions your aspirations, still it’s comforting for us to find them so sincerely expressed. Mary

  9. Carolyn Harris said,

    October 12, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

    Hi Mark:

    It’s good to hear from you again in such an insightful way. I know that opinion in the US is changing but it is still under ground. We don’t see any effect “on the ground” in US policy. I agree with you that the prophetic voice must be heard. Keep talking and writing.

    Carolyn

  10. Newland Smith said,

    October 12, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

    Again, Mark, you have brought a number of events/news items together in a very compelling way. Clearly the emergence of Dennis Ross is another nail in the coffin of the latest peace negotiations. “When politics fail, broad social movements arise to change the political wind.” It is not clear to me what are the “broad social movements”. Do you mean the BDS movement which is international, broad, and growing. At the BDS session at the US Social Forum 2010 in Deetroit there were seven break out groups ranging from academic and cultural boycott and consumer boycott to state bond divestment and faith-based divestment.

  11. Anita Boillot said,

    October 13, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    Hi, Mark,

    You are absolutely right that the U.S. is not an honest broker of any sort of peace in the Middle East. Look at our record of “peace”: two ongoing “wars” (“occupation”, is a more accurate term for the current situation than “war”); excursions into Pakistan; and, the possibility of doing something horrible about Iran. Look at our record of unequivocal support of Israel. Look at the latest farce of Dennis Ross rushing to give Israel more money (to funnel back to our corrupt Congress in upcoming elections?) so that Israel will not steal anymore from Palestinians for 60 days than it already has.

    Peace, peace, and there is no peace…Hope, hope, and there is no hope? Maybe Americans are finally waking up to the fact that our Congress has betrayed us in every way possible; e.g., by destroying our economy, by destroying our foreign policy, by obliterating our personal liberties, and by selling our good faith in any negotions about anything in the world. I think that the awakening is too late.

    Thanks for your wonderful and courageous diligence.

  12. Toni Mann said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 8:07 am

    Er, it was pointed out to me that I probably meant that the inequity makes a true partnership IMpossible. And I did. Oops.

  13. Ed Thompson said,

    October 21, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    Many Americans who have grown up with exposure to “Christian education” have developed a foundation of ideas that makes them very receptive to the “myths” that are propogated by the Israel lobby. Examine “Christian education” materials that are taught to kids not yet in high school and you will find many references to Israel. I suspect that most 12-year-old veterans of Sunday School can tell you that “God promised the people of Israel the land that they now occupy!” Impacting these imbeded assumptions and themes that many of us learned as kids but are buried deep in our hearts will be a slow and complicated process. Thanks, Mark, for your prophetic voice that confronts these assumptions and ideas buried deep in our hearts and minds.

  14. Mark Braverman said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 7:06 am

    Thanks, Newland, and yes, I do mean the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions for any readers who are not familiar) movement, a response to the Palestininan call for economic, cultural, and academic pressure on Israel (www.pacbi.org, also a good site is http://bdsmovement.net/). And it’s broad because BDS is a big tent, you can come in boycotting goods made in illegal colonies (also called “settlements” in the West Bank, all the way to a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel itself (by the way I support the latter — that’s what worked for South Africa, voices from Israel are pleading for it, and I think that is where we are going if the madness is to end). BDS is also important because it shifts the conversation from who is at fault, who is hurting more, who started it, whose land is it, etc. to the legitimacy of Israel’s policies — which is after all the root cause of the conflict. And that’s where the “movement” is broader than BDS, or any other kind of direct action that may be launched (e.g. the boats to Gaza). Selling Palestinian olive oil on Advent in your church is part of the movement. Bringing in a speaker or a video to your adult ed, or organizing a conference, or a study group in your church or neighborhood is part of the movement. Adding visits to peace groups in Israel and Palestine to your pilgrimage is part of the movement. Doing something about how we educate our college kids and seminarians about this is part of the movement.

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