Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summit's Eve

There is no good reason to expect anything different this time. But why not? Have direct face-to-face talks. Let the Israeli Prime Minister of a right-wing government meet with the disputed President of the Western portion of what the diplomatic community calls the Palestinian Authority. Anything must be better than the slow, steadily meaner conflict simmering just below a likely regional conflagration that threatens American interests in the region. Right? Anything!!

Bring out the same tired players; the same American diplomats who have been peace processing the Israeli-Arab conflict since the 1980s; the same EU ambassadors; the same eviscerated Arab autocrats and puny Arab monarchs; the same Israeli and Palestinian professional staffs of diplomats, intelligence officers, and security personnel; bring it all on!

It's been some time since Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have been in the same room together. In Netanyahu's previous premiership, Netanyahu played hard to get before shaking hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Wye River, Maryland in 1996. It took a great deal of cajoling 50 weeks ago to get the two to shake hands (with Obama prodding) in New York City in a photo op of no consequence. The last time Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the issues of war & peace in direct negotiations, 14 years ago, Bill Clinton was POTUS, Madeline Albright the SecState, and Dennis Ross was running the operation. The negotiations went on directly for over a week, and Bibi even tried to extract Jonathan Pollard in exchange for his grudging concurrence. What came out was a weak, soon-ignored document -- the Wye River Memorandum, may its memory be for a blessing. Within months Bibi was booted out of office by a frustrated Israeli electorate and the molasses-like intransigence of Netanyahu gave way to Ehud Barak, with a far more creative -- some might say reckless -- approach to the conflict. Neither Bibi's way nor Ehud's way worked out; but here they are in 2010, locked arm-in-arm -- two brash old men who think they can outwit and outmaneuver anything the Americans or the Arabs can throw at them.

Arafat was far more interested in the approach of Ehud Barak when Bibi was replaced, but Arafat would not deliver his movement over to the US-brokered Israeli offer until it was too late. He died years later. Arafat's disappearance, and continued Israeli pressure from a right-leaning Ariel Sharon, caused Palestinian political, security, and military institutions to unravel. What's left of Arafat's infrastructure is holed up in the West Bank; the newer, perpetually hostile vanguard movement HAMAS controls the southern and sinking satellite of Gaza. What role will HAMAS have to play in these soon-to-begin direct talks? Answers the new elder statesman of American foreign policy, George Mitchell - "none." Not smart.

Amazingly, Dennis Ross is giving it yet another try. Can't fault the guy for being persistent.

President Barack Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, wants to try to use the hopefulness of the "direct talks" to help with domestic politics. Nothing looks Nobel Peace-prize worthy like a summit at the White House between implacable enemies.

Bound to fail? Is there anything anywhere that indicates the slightest change, even a hint that a breakthrough is in the offing?

I just don't see it. My friend Tommy says that the Americans can't want Middle East peace more than the parties to the conflict, the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it sure seems that as you look out at the lineups and the starting pitchers, the umps want to be on the field more than the players.

Not a great way to begin the New Year and end Ramadan. Play ball!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

BDS and Israel, Part IV

(Part III)

You have to ask yourself: if BDS is so clearly a contemporary expression of precisely the same exaggerated and neurotic tropes of modern anti-Semitism, how is it that a tiny number of American and Israeli Jews are actively promoting this tactic? The answer is embedded in my question. In most encounters with anti-Semites, I have been left with the impression that they obsessively and neurotically exaggerate Jewish power and influence, as well as Jewish sins and depravity. I hope that all Jews would sympathize with the complicated condition of Palestine in the midst of Israel, and work to constructively influence for the sane and humane resolution of the century-long conflict. Some Jews, however, are wired to sympathize to their own detriment with the victims of Israeli muscle. Self-hating Jews? Hardly. Rather they are Jews so troubled by the assertion of Jewish national rights (and the particularly ugly way it plays out in the hands of Likud politicians) in Palestine/Israel that they blindly march off down the path of cultural delegitimation and legalized disengagement - the first necessary step in the oft-repeated script for any anti-Semitic society.

This is my first direct engagement on this blog of the BDS movement and it will hardly be my last. I am convinced that on American college campuses, the BDS movement will be the principal vehicle for the faux legitimation of anti-Semitism for the next few years. And now we know it is a legitimate stance in left-Jewish circles, when once "beyond the pale" (if you were to believe some of the right-wing Jewish nattering nabobs) Jewish leftists like Michael Lerner and Jeremy Ben-Ami find themselves now beyond the pale for the likes of  Jewish Voices for Peace (the BDS group that petitioned TIAA-CREF to abandon investments in Israel).

I'm of two minds here. This Israeli government is a disaster; Israeli and Palestinian and Arab societies are chauvinist mutations of ideal societies; the Israeli settlement project of the last 40 years is illegal, a travesty, and constitutes oppression. I do not know if a 2-state solution will work, and I believe that all sides in the conflict have waged stupid wars, fought those wars without principle or humanity, and, once diplomacy became the order of the day, negotiated in bad faith. All this is true. But I do not hate any of the players, and do not think that either side has gone so far off the deep end that BDS is the correct tactic to effect a solution. A despondent (Israeli academic) Neve Gordon to the contrary, there are a million constructive things that every one of us can do to help make Israel/Palestine peaceful short of effectively crippling and deligitimating the study of Jewish culture and history. And I will never deny the possibility to my students of learning about the heritage of any of the parties in the best way possible, according to my best academic judgment. Period. Anyone who advocates otherwise is my anti-Semitic adversary, and I will not back down.