Blog: The Politics of Hope

The Politics of Hope

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Roger Cohen gives us the politics of despair. On the one hand, his recent OpEd in the New York Times, “A Mideast Truce” shows us what a long way we’ve come in editorial coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He’s clear about the horrendous reality of Israel’s settlements, even though he stops short of naming it as the colonial project that it is. He calls the separation wall a “land grab” and credits it for shattering Palestinian lives — even though he persists in advancing the inane claim that it has protected Israel from suicide bombers. Perhaps most important, he focuses on the fact that Israelis have literally and psychologically walled themselves off from Palestinians. And he quotes Israeli author David Grossman’s crucial observation that Israelis, despite their military might, see themselves and continue to act as victims. Basically, he’s got it — he describes the current situation.

But what is the conclusion that he draws? That we should give up on peace. That we should settle for, in his words, “a truce of the mediocre.” And why? Because the “two sides” cannot come to an agreement. Settle for the status quo, he says, and keep it the way it is. This, like Tom Friedman’s recent piece that recommended that the US pull back from its fruitless attempt to mediate because “neither side” is able or willing to make peace, is fundamentally wrong headed. And the reason is to be found in the concept of “two sides.” This concept, like the request for “balance” that so many of us working on this topic hear so often, is based on and advances a fallacy. It’s the fallacy contained in Cohen’s equation of Hamas’ “annihilationist ideology” with the spread of illegal Jewish settlements: the implicit point is that here we have two evils facing off.

As long as we persist with this idea of two sides (the conflict between two rights, two claims; the clash of two wrongs, etc.) we will continue to remain as stuck as we are and we will yield to the politics of despair.

There are not two sides, arrayed in equal moral and physical forces on a level field. Rather what we have is one side, all-powerful, with a powerful friend at its back, crushing the other. It’s been going on for over 60 years.

When will we finally see this, “we” being the United States of America, which funds and diplomatically enables the continued dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians?

Cohen’s conclusions can only be reached through a denial of this fundamental truth. Accepting the status quo will not being a truce. The injustice prevailing in historic Palestine — systematic, egregious and far-reaching — will continue to produce popular resistance: some of nonviolent, some of it violent. There will be no truce. And nothing resembling peace. Not until the fundamental injustice of the situation is recognized and addressed — by the United States of America.

And this fundamental change in US policy will only come about if and when the American people demand it. Evangelical and founder of the Sojourners movement Jim Wallis tells us that when politics fail to bring about the redress of fundamental injustice in the political system, broad social movements arise to “change the wind” — to make the politicians, their moistened fingers always in the air, do what has to be done. That movement is here, and it is growing — the movement at the grassroots, to change the wind.

That’s the politics of hope.


  1. Thomas F. Heck said,

    November 29, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

    What happens when a peace scenario emerges that lies outside the discursive terms that the principal parties to a conflict have drawn? If the present Israeli and Palestinian leadership regard a two-state solution, as projected in the Oslo accords, endorsed in the Bush “road map,” and espoused by the Obama team, as the only possible path to peace, should the rest of the world simply stop envisioning others?

    Does history give us any reason to hope that legitimizing and recognizing two fundamentally hostile neighboring states within the narrow confines of the Holy Land, separated by miles of barbed-wire fences, concrete walls, and watchtowers, will lead to a truly just and long-lasting peace? Will it resolve the countless gut-wrenching grievances over land seizures and bulldozed crops and dwellings? Will it be the balm needed in Gilead to soothe the pain of bereavement and despair? Will it be seen as doing equal justice to all concerned?

    Then there is the symbolism of wrapping fortress Israel in a barbed wire security fence. Auschwitz and Buchenwald were fenced, too. There are some older Israelis who still remember what it was like to be cut off from the outside by such cruel perimeters. Will they ever be able to accept the transformation of their state into a ghetto-like “gated community”? Do most Jews truly desire this scenario in their hearts? I have yet to meet one who is completely supportive of such an outcome.

    Buckminster Fuller once said, “In order to change something, don’t struggle to change the existing model. Create a new model, and make the old one obsolete.” The new paradigm being envisioned here is novel only in context, not in essence. It is based on an interesting but rarely considered diplomatic precedent: the highly successful Antarctic Treaty of 1959. That covenant is nearly as old as the State of Israel itself. It governs an area over five hundred times as large—an area that once was threatened with claims by quite a few competing nation-states. To its credit, and the credit of its signatories, it has been successful in keeping the peace for decades.

    Given the widespread resentment that the State of Israel has lately brought upon itself by its expansionism, its illegal settlements, its religious and racial discrimination against non-Jews, and its oppressive treatment of the native Palestinians, one may be excused for wondering whether the world’s superpowers and the neighboring states in the region could not well and wisely undo today what they did in 1948-50.

    Imagine a scenario, in other words, whereby the leading nations of the world would put the State of Israel on notice that, effective a certain date, diplomatic recognition would simply be withdrawn, and that henceforth no governmental claims to territory within the Holy Land (the region of present-day Israel and Palestine) would be recognized by the rest of the world.

    Imagine a scenario in which most or all the other nations of the world would agree to support and recognize only a demilitarized “Holy Land Protectorate” (HLP) under U.N. stewardship. These outsider nations would commit themselves to a new tactic in international conflict resolution: “just saying NO” in a concerted way, on an international scale. They would agree to use every non-violent means within their power to transform the region of Israel and Palestine into a nation-state-free zone. They would declare it, in effect, a World Heritage site governed by a document similar to the Antarctic Treaty, with a full international bill of rights guaranteed to all its residents, regardless of their faith, color, or national origin. (A draft HLP treaty already exists at the web site

    This may sound like tough love…. it IS. I submit that it is probably the only way to resolve the mideast crisis and the growing pan-Arab hostility to Zionism without war and bloodshed.

  2. Wanda Martinsen said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

    Would love to see this conflict settled in a peaceful manner with a two state solution and fairly dividing or sharing Jeruslem. I wonder why the U.S. doesn’t put more pressure on Israel, when we continue to send so much money and equipment for war efforts to them. Why don’t we stop?

  3. eileenfleming said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:22 am

    We don’t stop for many reasons-to name a few: a media that has failed to accurately report, politicians with divided loyalties, fear of being labeled anti-Semitic, rampant apathy, ignorance, arrogance and ‘comfort’ in the status quo.

    Don’t look to Government for solutions via traditional diplomacy to change the situation, look instead to Civil Society, such as people power in solidarity with BDS.

    At Sabeel’s 28th regional conference, in Oct. 2009, Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories said:

    “The grounds for hope are in the history of the last 75 years that shows that military approaches do not succeed in successful political outcomes. America won every battle in Vietnam, but lost the war.

    “The people running the government still subscribe to political realism; military power. Afghanistan proves militarism doesn’t work, but we keep reinventing failure. We talk human rights but still engage in military interventions.

    “Only progressive forces in civil society recognize this and understand the symbolic battlefield of morality and the legitimacy war. Shifting expectations from institutions and government onto the global battlefield of legitimacy will determine destiny.

    “There is potency in nonviolence as proved by Gandhi but anti-apartheid strategies doesn’t mean we will see a just outcome; look at Tibet, but it is the only path.

    “It is the Politics of Impossibility that can project the unimaginable. No one expected Nelson Mandela to be released from jail or the collapse of the USSR.

    “This set of circumstances requires the art of the impossible and the war is waged in the consciences of people which makes it so powerful.

    “The Legitimacy War gives me hope that Palestine will receive justice and there will be peace.

    “The traditional institutions are limp and the UN Charter is an illusion as a way forward in the conflict. That is the signal to Civil Society to act for no leadership should be given impunity for what amounts to war crimes. They must be held accountable and the call is for national governments and institutions to implement international law and universal jurisdiction.”

    Case in point:

    On September 29, 2009, a Palestinian bid to enact international law and universal jurisdiction by seeking the arrest of Israeli defense chief Ehud Barak for war crimes during his visit to Britain did not result in his arrest; but it was seriously debated by UK Judges for five hours and led to Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, to cancel his scheduled trip to London.

  4. Peter said,

    February 19, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    The situation in “The Holy Land” often seems hopeless, so it is refreshing to see your blog entitled “The Politics of Hope.” As a Canadian Christian, I feel that the only way forward is for articluate Jewish people like yourself to speak out against the excesses of Zionist policies. Your voice is surely much more persuasive than any outsiders’ could ever be.
    If large numbers of moderates like yourself took advantage of your right to Israeli citizenship, could you not vote in an Israeli election and give tolerance a strong voice in Israeli politics?


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