Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Miller's Crossing

It is hard to think of a more thoughtful or pragmatic voice on the subject of the Middle East than Aaron David Miller's, so his recent article in Foreign Policy,"The False Religion of Mideast Peace," in which he explains his skepticism about prospects for President Obama's current peacemaking, deserves to be read (or, as in my case, read twice).

Like all apostates, Miller lists his many sad declarations of faith, and these are affecting, if not entirely persuasive. Here is one, for example:

From the 1940s through the 1980s, the power with which the Palestinian issue resonated in the Arab world did take a toll on American prestige and influence. Still, even back then the hand-wringing and dire predictions in my Cassandra-like memos were overstated. I once warned ominously -- and incorrectly -- that we'd have nonstop Palestinian terrorist attacks in the United States if we didn't move on the issue. During those same years, the United States managed to advance all of its core interests in the Middle East...Today, I couldn't write those same memos or anything like them with a clear conscience or a straight face. Although many experts' beliefs haven't changed, the region has, and dramatically, becoming nastier and more complex.

Palestinian terrorism in America as a driver of American diplomacy? Nastier now than the October War? More complex than King Hussein's decision to join the Baghdad Pact? Never mind. Miller has two important points to make, and like most heretics, nothing would make him happier to be proven misguided. We had better know the arguments against him if we are ever going to be persuasive in conversations with American officials, or friends, for that matter.

THE FIRST POINT (which the quote I reproduced implies) is that Israeli-Palestinian peace is not really all that central to American foreign policy interests in the region. I won't dwell on the point: you can read what he writes and make up your own mind. I will repeat here what I said when others wrote something like this a little while back, which is that the issue is not whether Israeli-Palestinian peace will be very good for America, but whether Israeli-Palestinian (and Lebanese, and Syrian) war will be very bad. The answer is, it will.

Incidentally, Miller's rhetorical gambit suggests we should believe he is right because he was once one of the people who would have argued he was wrong. But Roger Cohen, one of the people who argued that Obama should ratchet down expectations last year, now argues that Obama should make a strong push for a peace, much like he pushed for health reform--all of which leaves readers impressed with Gods That Fail in a bit of conundrum regarding which change of heart is more inspired. Anyway, a belief in peace never really meant the conviction that peace will happen--and I suspect Miller remains a kindred spirit in this sense. Then again, I don't write memos to presidents.

WHICH BRINGS ME to Miller's second point, the more important in a way. Basically, he is saying Obama is bound to fail, so he shouldn't waste his political capital:

Governing is about choosing; it's about setting priorities, managing your politics, thinking strategically, picking your spots, and looking for genuine opportunities that can be exploited -- not tilting at windmills. And these days, Arab-Israeli peacemaking is a pretty big windmill.

Arab-Israeli peacemaking is politically risky and life-threatening, Miller writes. Big decisions require strong leaders. Even with strong leaders, you still need a project that doesn't exceed the carrying capacity of either side. Bottom line: Negotiations can work, but both Arabs and Israelis (and American leaders) need to be willing and able to pay the price. And they are not.

Nor does America carry the prestige it once had. Israelis and Palestinians will have to own the deal, and they will simply care more, especially those who try to scuttle it. Moreover, America doesn't have the mystique a negotiator needs to cajole and seduce. Then there is America's domestic politics. ("The last thing Obama needs now is an ongoing fight with the Israelis and their supporters, or worse, a major foreign-policy failure.") Finally, America is Israel's best friend and must continue to be.


But, surely, not every diplomatic achievement rests on bringing others to agreement, any more than every political victory requires Senator Graham. Sometimes, you win by getting other major players lined up to put the hold-outs in an untenable position over time. Miller seems to take for granted that any future Middle East breakthrough will look like the last one: Camp David I, where President Carter got Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sign a deal. That's not necessarily what a breakthrough would look like today. Consider what Obama has been doing on nuclear non-proliferation. Consider international banking regulation.

Regarding the conflict, Obama could stand with the EU, Russia, China and the UN Security Council on a joint declaration of principles. Indeed, if I were writing a memo to him it would look something like this:

The future of a Palestinian state is not the internal affair of Israel, nor is Israel’s security in the region just a matter for Arab leaders. The conflict is an international problem, confounding the vital interests of America and other Western countries.

No agreement could ever be implemented without international security guarantees, and the investments of the world’s donor countries. The principles of international law exist to be applied; inevitably, the American administration will offer bridging ideas. Why wait to present a plan in pieces when all parties—and especially the citizens of Israel and Palestine—need a solid political horizon to adapt to now and over time?

The time has come to acknowledge that direct negotiations alone will not produce a final agreement, and that the United States government—acting with the European Union, and the Quartet—must present a plan of its own, building on the progress of past negotiations and consistent with doctrines of international law.

An American plan will rally the EU, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and persistent Israeli and Palestinian majorities, especially if the US backs up the plan with actions that encourage compliance. A sustainable peace cannot be implemented quickly, but an international plan would provide realistic hope that the era of occupation and has ended. In the absence of such hope, the forces of peace will be swept away.


Is Miller right that such a plan would mean more losses in 2010 Congressional elections? Who knows, but I doubt it. Public assumptions about the conflict have been shifting, especially among younger voters. There are so many other things to judge Obama on. Besides, an "ongoing fight" with Israelis and their supporters, or with Palestinian rejectionists and theirs, for that matter, will not necessarily play out as "a foreign policy failure." Failure is not getting them to yes. It is looking gutless in the face of their no.

So why don't we, agnostics all, encourage President Obama to work to supersede UN 242, the Oslo Agreements, and the Mitchell "Roadmap," with a new, more detailed governing framework for peace. Getting every great power and virtually every other state behind it would be a great diplomatic achievement, irrespective of whether Israelis and Palestinians accept or reject it, especially if it builds on the 2002 offer of the Arab League, and wins its endorsement, too. It would utterly transform the dynamics of Israeli and Palestinian politics over time. It would restore, well, faith.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Enlightenment

If a picture is really worth a thousand words, here is a 22,000 word essay on one of the most neglected, yet hopeful, changes in our region, the quiet revolution in the education of Muslim women, even in the most traditional parts of Arab countries. The photographer, I am proud to say, is my daughter-in-law, Amy Thompson Avishai, who spent most of her childhood years in Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia--she was the child of an American military attaché--and returned to Morocco on a Fulbright scholarship to photograph the Dar Taliba Girls' School in El Hanchane--as she writes, "a small dusty town between the tourist spots of Marrakesh and Essaouira."

The pictures are so vivid and humane I won't comment on them, except to say that they remind me, as few other essays do, of the slow trickle of enlightenment I felt at that age. I wonder (and wonder seems the very word) about deprivation and gratitude and attention span. I feel, I confess, a twinge of envy. And wonder about parts of our world that are sliding back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Independence Day, Revisited

The problem was Bialystok, or at least "Bialystok"--to an eight year old, the mythical city of commerce, Catholic shrines, Polish Jew-hatred, and Yiddishkeit, from which the free-thinking Shaicovitch family made its way to Montreal in the 1920s, or "efteh de vor," as my Auntie Malka never tired of explaining. Their city was cut off from Russia, and the Trylling textile factory--owned by the forbearers of the Columbia University critic Lionel Trilling, and where my grandfather was a manager ("de vas going to take 'em fa a partneh")--hit hard times. Then, suddenly, my grandfather died, still in his forties, leaving his wife and seven children destitute. And so the family made its way, in tranches, to Montreal and its textile factories: commerce, Catholic shrines, Quebecois-Jew hatred, and Yiddishkeit.

And the solution was Israel, or "Israel"--to an eight-year-old with a father who had come to Montreal a fourteen-year-old Shomer Hatzair Zionist cadre--one already speaking rudimentary Hebrew, one who had grown fat on Bialies, become good at Talmud Torah, and lonely in family conflicts--an unlikely, periodic object of longing. And the more or less exclusive vehicle for longing was song, especially two albums by the Oranim Zabar group, which my father had brought home before he left it for good (and iTunes has just restored to my life).

I can still remember the LPs nested on the brown felt turntable, in the damp basement, the needle slowly descending into its groove. The sounds of the invitation "to the dances" sprang to life--"chemdati el hamecholot boi!" (click and listen)--filling the room, and my eyes filled with the bright light of the desert, a little like the brightness of the Forum when the Canadiens skated onto the ice. Here, on the way to the Negev, there were no fatsos. Girls wore shorts, you passed the coffee pot (click and listen)around the campfire, cradled a rifle, and marched south to Eilat (click and listen), not like Bedouin, but like a modern adventurer, between the blue of the sky and grit of the soil, where "the seat of tomorrow's miracles" beckoned. The important holy text was the "Song of Songs," (especially here, click and listen) where love met bodies, hardened in ways I could only dimly imagine, and compared to ancient doves, pines, and wild beasts. Men exclaimed "Ho!," for no particular reason.

Tonight, Independence Day celebrations begin. Everywhere in the country there are paeans to Jerusalem, or to the previously benighted Jewish people, but neither the city nor the people come up in these songs, except as negative space, implying poignancy. What seemed holy was the frontier and spices and Hebrew seductions. That seemed enough.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

More Facetime--On Israel's Economy and Peace

"Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream," David Brooks wrote a couple of months ago, following on the success of the book, Start-up Nation; "The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world."

Brooks might have added that among the things created for the world would be the poems, songs, tracts, and art of a modern Hebrew culture, but never mind. On the whole, I can't imagine a more welcome sentence than Brooks' accounting for why the country was founded, especially to those of us who've been making the case since 1991 and before. The choice really is between Greater Israel and greater Tel Aviv. So why do I feel so irritated?

I tried to answer the question, more or less, in a recent television interview on TV Ontario's thoughtful program, "The Agenda." (My thanks to the show's host, Steve Paikin, who does his homework, and gives his guests time to make an argument.) In a nutshell, what drives most Israeli entrepreneurs crazy when they hear Brooks, Dan Senor, Saul Singer, and other neocons rhapsodize about Israel's economy is the use of its (provisional) success to manage Israel's brand abroad, implicitly defending Bibi Netanyahu's status quo. Presumably, the fight with the Arabs leads to an army, the army to technology, technology to a pulling away from neighbors, economically and in terms of "freedom," and the pulling away should be respected, emulated, and defended by Israel's friends (you know, Americans).

There is, of course, some truth to the connection between Israel's technology and the IDF. (Again, I wrote about this at length in HBR some time ago.) But, on the whole, the neocon position gets things essentially backwards. What advanced Israel's technology and management in the 1990s was the process of globalization that came in the wake of Oslo. For high tech actually depends on intimate relationships with global customers, whose problems you solve by adapting technologies you would otherwise not be able to develop. Lose the global relationships and the technologies whither. Moreover, Israel's army was good training for some things, but Israelis have had much more to learn from the business culture of global corporations than teach.

Political isolation, then, will mean economic implosion: already, friends in venture capital firms report that activity is about a third of what it was when Start-up Nation was written. Peace is a precondition for continued growth, as are massive investments in Israel's foundering educational system, which the defense budget suffocates. And growth must come fast, since Israel's inequalities and levels of unemployment are truly disquieting.

If Start-up Nation has a hero, it is Dov Frohman, the founder of Intel-Israel. I interviewed Dov for the Hebrew Republic, and asked if we cannot depend on the world coming to us for our technology? His answer was not polite:

"This is bullshit. Bullshit. Investors will not come to us in a big way unless there is political stability. Personal and economic stability, or the hope of stability—a process. In the global economy, you don’t only need Jewish investors, you need global investors. Investment is not colored with sentiment, and looks at the overall situation. What Bibi says is demagoguery. He’s done some of the right things which in a healthy environment would have been pretty good. But before these policies can have an impact, we’ll have more violence. In this environment, big companies do OK, and little independents do very badly.”

But what about all the investment we have seen, even the uptick in the stock-market?

“There is a lot of financial type of investment but little production type of investment—there are investments which can be taken out at will. And in the meantime, we are losing our reputation as a place for global companies to pioneer. It’s hard to restart the engine; five years of no investment, means ten years of paying the price for no investment. And then what will make our entrepreneurs want to stay in Israel—if they don’t have quality of life? There is continuous movement of people, they will want to stay elsewhere. More and more, companies can consult locally and can consult abroad; having more foreign companies here is still important, though in the long-run we are going to have start-ups with problems here like everywhere else. But the really critical thing is keeping our people here. I don’t need to do a poll to know that 50 percent of the young people would go.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Elie Wiesel's Jerusalem

The week-end International Herald Tribune brought us two statements, the first, a full page ad by Elie Wiesel, explaining his (and presumably every Jew's) attachment to Jerusalem, and second, a column by the Times' Roger Cohen, explaining his (and presumably every decent person's) attachment to facts. Just who paid for Wiesel's fancy musings on Jerusalem--an earlier version of which Christopher Hitchens eviscerated years ago--the ad does not say. Rumor has it that Bibi Netanyahu asked Wiesel to intervene, and that Ronald Lauder, who took out an ad of his own yesterday, is covering the costs. Anyway, Netanyahu's brazen use of Diaspora big shots--whose love of Jerusalem transcends love in Jerusalem--commands a certain awe. My wife, Hebrew University literary scholar, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, has written about this before. In the following letter to the IHT, she responds to Wiesel:

In the same issue of the IHT (April 16, 2010), there appeared a full page ad (“For Jerusalem”) signed by Elie Wiesel, and Roger Cohen’s column, “The Clutches of the Dead.” Nothing could have illustrated Cohen’s point about the slim purchase that the “minority,” the Living, have over the “majority,” the Dead, better than Wiesel’s sentimental claim over all of Jerusalem on behalf of some misty-eyed notion of three thousand years of Jewish belonging.

Neither man lives in Jerusalem, my city, but Cohen articulates that very value for which many of us hoped Wiesel—who won the Nobel Prize, not for literature, but for peace—would be our spokesperson. After representing so eloquently the victims of history’s injustices in Nazi and then Soviet Europe, Wiesel would surely, we assumed, turn to the injustices perpetrated by his own people, and cry out against the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people. Instead he tells us, with no evidence on the ground, that “Jews, Christians and Muslims are allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.”

I defy Mr. Wiesel to find three Muslim families in all of West Jerusalem. The delicate balance between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods in this city has never been realized in city planning and infrastructure. Now it is being flagrantly undermined by acts that will almost certainly push the Palestinians into the hands of the extremists and kill any chance for peace between the two peoples.

Cohen reminds us that Jerusalem’s poet, Yehuda Amichai, called his city the “only city in the world where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.” As a growing group of Jerusalemites, Jews and Palestinians, stand in protest every Friday afternoon in the parking lot in Sheikh Jerrah across the street from where Jewish settlers have brutally displaced Palestinians based on some doubtful claim to Jewish ownership prior to 1948, we are taking a stand in the name of the Living and Life Itself.

Not only do the settlers here and all over the West Bank undermine the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence (if Jews have a right to land owned across the Green Line before the War of Independence, then surely so do those thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from West Jerusalem—including, presumably, the very house from which I write these words), but they consign all of us, sooner rather than later, to join the phalanx of the dead who died because people like Wiesel prefer mythical references to History and Eschatology over the real people who want to live together in peace:

“You see that arch from the Roman period?” asks the putative tour guide in Amichai’s poem "Tourists": “It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Facetime

I note, humbly (well, not just humbly), that the "Hebrew Republic Lecture," to which one can link to the right of this post, has passed 2000 viewings. My thanks to Vanderbilt University, and especially to the Chairman of its Jewish Studies Program, Lea Marcus, for hosting the lecture and making it available on the web.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Divinity School: Ilona Karmel's Bible

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. I posted this eulogy for my late friend Ilona Karmel two years ago. I think of her almost every day; but having visited Poland this past fall, and having walked the Plashow Camp where she was held, the sirens brought particularly vivid images today. I thought I'd post my eulogy for her again, for those who were not following this blog two years ago.

Ilona Karmel died on December 13, 2000. She was supposed to have died in the Krakow ghetto, or in the Plashow death camp, or when a retreating Wehrmacht half-track ran her down, crushing her legs and killing her mother; but instead she lived, came to Radcliffe, graduated and wrote a novel, then married and, as fate would have it, wound up working in a Munich orphanage, where she began another novel, which she published back in Boston in 1969, eventually teaching longer fiction in the MIT Writing Program, which is where I met her in 1980.

To say this was love at first sight is not to say much. Ila had a heart like a street-car—so I was told by the guarded (and somewhat envious) colleague who introduced us—and I was new to Boston and an orphan to boot. Ila was also the most immediately inviting person I had ever encountered, probing and candid and big-sisterly. She seemed to say, “I have no patience for mere acquaintances, so this first talk is actually an audition for a life-long friendship,” and I left her home raw and exhilarated. I would soon learn that Ila had no patience either for any great show of admiration for her, so writing now about how she helped some of us with God, of all things, feels pretty reckless. “Nu, come on!,” Ila would scoff, implying self-effacement, but not really meaning it, wanting, not less honor, but more scrutiny, which no human being could stand too much of, let alone God. Only children were perfect—and not past 18.

Ila enjoyed telling the story, which I always took to be the first class of her little divinity school, that when she was interviewed for the MIT position, one member of the search committee, a celebrated political columnist, noticed she had taught most recently at a day care center. “Why don’t you apply for another job teaching toddlers?” he challenged her. “Because I am not good enough,” she coolly replied. But this was no joke, actually. The premise that she was not good enough, not innocent, was always just beneath the surface of her conversation. She loved Dostoyevsky, she loved Robin Williams, she loved anybody, in whom she detected the kind of self-doubt that could lead somewhere. This made her a natural teacher of writing; and she was notorious among Program faculty for spending hours in private conferences with students on days she was not teaching, especially black and Asian students, whom she called, simply, de stoodents, pronouncing the word with a reverence I found a little affected at first, suspecting (since she had published almost nothing since 1969, her great and then neglected novel, An Estate of Memory) that her devotion to them might be something of a cover for frustrated literary ambition.

But her talent for self-doubt went, perversely, in another direction. During the many hours we spoke on the phone about our drafts, or moved from course to creamy course at one of her dinner parties, or rode home in my car, gossiping about my (failing) tenure case, I can hardly recall a moment with Ila that did not entail some kind of religious perception. I do not mean religious dogma, though the literature of Judaism and Christianity formed some kind of boundary around her. Nor do I mean a transcendental perception, which was the closest her husband Hans (the physicist, Francis Zucker) would ever let himself get to religion; for him, homage was compelled by abstract perception, formal and faultless, like Goethe's theory of color, whose mathematical expression fit, thrillingly, with sensuous nature. Ila cherished this world of his, but when she used the word God, something less sublime and more personal was at stake.

Rather, Ila had what William James called, with great awe and greater irony, a “sick soul.” She had questions that, if you outlast their driving you crazy, leave you shaken and grateful. Why be good? What is death? Does matter matter? A part of what made being with Ila so compelling was the sense you had that nobody had a greater reason to ask such questions or a greater purchase on the claim not to have been defeated by them. She loved the mystery of her own hope. She loved your faults if you were brave about them. Her fascination with things was rarely scholastic, her wry wit rarely cynical, her generosity rarely forced. It wasn’t that such impulses—scholasticism, cynicism, cunning—were beneath her. They just weren’t as interesting as a world going wrong because of sincerity.

Read the whole eulogy here...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah: Common Decency

David Grossman, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, and thirty other writers and scholars, forced from the sidewalk across from the homes of Sheikh Jarrah's evicted families.

The organizers of the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations are a loose, but hardly amorphous, group; no formal hierarchy, but rather a network of perhaps a dozen thirty-somethings, as closely knit as a basketball team. The ones who more or less act as the point guards are graduate students who've gone to school in America and have come back--Assaf Sharon from Stanford, Avner Inbar from the University of Chicago--to write theses in political philosophy. Instead, they are now practicing political philosophy. The oldest in the group, Dr. Amos Goldberg, is a Hebrew University teaching fellow in Holocaust Studies (and a former graduate student of my wife, Sidra).

Almost none in the group, I hasten to add, are leftists in the ordinary sense. Assaf and Amos are the products of the National Religious Party youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and came by their skepticism honestly. Another, Sara Benninga, is the daughter of a distinguished Tel Aviv University business professor. Most came to this issue because it could simply not be ignored. Little by little, they are becoming radicals of democratic globalism.

The leaders of this group are also gaining a good deal of experience in the management of protest. For yesterday's rally, they planned an operation that seemed to those of us who participated both poignant and instructive. It also wound up exposing the arbitrary ways the Jerusalem police has been dealing with the growing challenge to the city's disgraceful treatment of its Arab residents:

Ever since the Friday demonstrations began back in January, the police had cordoned off the homes of the displaced families after about 2 PM, so that demonstrators were unable to show solidarity directly to the people evicted, or express their disgust with the Jewish settlers. In response--a kind of outflanking operation--the group invited about 30 of us, including the author David Grossman, former speaker Avrum Burg, NIF President Naomi Chazan, Israel Prize winner Zeev Sternhell, to gather at the homes of the families at 1:30 PM, where we conducted a kind of impromptu seminar for a couple of hours (not a hard thing for writers and professors, as things turned out).

At around 3:30 PM, we all suddenly emerged onto the street with our signs, and stood across from the homes that were confiscated, kitty-corner to the others that are under threat. When the police commanders realized that we were actually behind their lines, they quickly organized and sent a phalanx of heavily armed officers to form a line behind us, and began pushing us out toward the main demonstration in a park across the street.

WE HAD ALL agreed in advance that we would not resist, or do anything to challenge police authority. As we were being pushed, we walked very slowly but steadily toward the demonstrating crowd that was gathered in the usual place. Now and then we would scold the police for pushing too aggressively. Most of the young officers seemed a little abashed to be pushing well-known sixty-somethings around, but that was the point.

Then something unexpected and chilling happened. The commander of the police spotted Assaf and recognized him as the group's organizer. He instructed several officers to seize him and put him under arrest. Immediately, Avner, Amos, and another leader sat down, challenging the police to arrest them, too, which is exactly what the police did. The instinctive way the three sat down in solidarity, unwilling to allow Assaf to be arrested alone, touched those of us who were walking beside them in ways that are hard to explain. It reminded me of a sentence in Albert Camus' The Plague, that there is no heroism in fighting something like the plague, just common decency.

David Grossman then addressed the crowd across the street, speaking more passionately than I have ever seen him in public, exhorting the crowd to double its number next week. (Hebrew speakers can see the speech here.) A few of us, including Burg, went to the police station to testify on behalf of those arrested. As I waited, the commander, one Shmuel Ben Yosef, returned to the station, spotted me, asked me if I was one of those arrested, and loudly ordered me from the station. When I reminded him that I was not an officer subject to his command, but a citizen, his syntax changed (from a command to a request) but not his threatening tone.

I found myself out on the street, where I waited for God knows what. But the leaders were released a few hours later, without my testimony; the charges were essentially dropped, as they had been in the past, since the suspects had after all done nothing illegal (so the courts have already stipulated). They were arrested essentially because they had surprised the police and pissed off their commander.

As I waited outside, the group's drummers came and began playing across from the station, so that those detained inside would know they were not alone. I dare say that is the last thing anyone felt.

Drummers coming to be heard across from the police station, as demonstration leaders await release.

video

Friday, April 9, 2010

Israel's Pentagon Papers

Common sense tells you that the Israeli military, charged with keeping Israeli citizens as safe as possible, should have the right to keep operational plans secret; and that the government--acting within bounds set by the judiciary--should have the right to censor any stories about such plans and prosecute the people who leak them. But what if the military, acting as an occupation force, is itself violating bounds set by the judiciary, and its actions are arguably making citizens less safe? What if a whistle-blower leaks documents to a journalist, who then uses them to write a story questioning the legality or efficacy of the military's actions? What if the story is itself passed by the censor, but the government opens an investigation into the journalist's sources?

What, then, if the journalist, cooperating with the investigation, hands over documents in an agreement that stipulates that they could not be used to prosecute the source, if found? And what, nevertheless, if the government finds the whistle-blower and charges her under laws written, not to deal with the press, but to prevent espionage for a hostile foreign government? What if the government refuses to renounce the option of arresting the journalist for holding prohibited documents--so he remains in London, refusing to return to the country?

THIS, IN A nutshell, is the troubling case of a young woman, Anat Kam, who allegedly (well, apparently) leaked documents from the office of the Central Command to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, showing that the IDF systematically issued operational guidelines to its soldiers quite different from regulations the courts have required. The latter decreed that the military may not simply engage in targeted assassination in the occupied territories; that, rather, soldiers must at least try to take Palestinian suspects alive, and not unreasonably endanger innocent bystanders during search operations. Blau's original piece exposed how the IDF ignored these bounds. He explored cases where Palestinians who might have been arrested were killed, as were bystanders.

Haaretz--which, as if more proof were needed, is emerging as a great world newspaper--is defending its journalist with all of its force. I won't attempt to compete with its morning edition, that gives any patient reader the full picture, including this editorial, arguing how military intelligence broke the deal it made with the paper, and this follow-up by Blau.

I will, however, make one point the paper does not make, about the efficacy of targeted assassinations themselves. Presumably, these are justified, and the regulations issued to facilitate them justified, because occupation forces preempt attacks on Israeli civilians by getting the bad guys before they get us. I have no doubt that, in some cases, this preemption has saved lives. But what if, on the whole, the opposite is true, that shooting preemptively and recklessly raises the likelihood of violence against Israelis.

ANYONE WHO GIVES this a moment's thought must see this is at least possible. An old friend of mine, the University of Toronto sociologist Robert Brym, carefully studied all 138 suicide bombings between September 2000 and mid-July 2005. He concluded that, in the vast majority of cases, the suicide bombers themselves—whatever their “ideological” predispositions, or the groups that claimed responsibility—had lost a friend or close relative to Israeli fire. They acted, he wrote, “out of revenge.”

Which is precisely why the newspaper was as justified in exposing these secret documents as the Times and the Post were justified in publishing the Pentagon Papers. Haaretz's Akiva Eldar connected the dots this morning when he wrote that he expects the real story of how the Al-Aqsa Intifada got started is buried somewhere in similar documents--the ones we have not yet seen--documents pointed to by Kam's leaked ones, testifying to the IDF's vendetta culture:

Right now, hundreds of clerks and officers are sitting in the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the army lacking the courage to contact a journalist and divulge that the ministers or commanders in charge are endangering their children's future.

Some are keeping to themselves the real story behind the big lie peddled by Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon - the falsehood that "Yasser Arafat planned the intifada," which gave rise to the disastrous "there is no partner" ideology. The real story, of course, is contained in documents stamped with the words "Top Secret."


I expect we will soon hear stories about Kam's youth, or ingenuousness, or flakiness, which all may be as true as Daniel Ellsberg's depressions. None of this changes the importance to Israeli democracy of airing the question of whether targeted assassinations as practiced and sanctioned by the IDF command are either morally acceptable in a country of law or will make any of us sleep more safely, even if not more soundly.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Independent And Interdependent

This, co-authored with with my friend and colleague Sam Bahour, appeared today in Haaretz.

The latest rift between the United States and Israel, which began with Israel's announcement of more planned construction in Ramat Shlomo - a Jewish-only neighborhood - that would further separate East Jerusalem from the rest of a future Palestinian state, distracts from the larger, even more inhumane separation that must be reversed if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has any chance of being resolved peacefully. This is the separation between Israel and Palestine themselves.

The parties to this conflict must recognize that their futures are inevitably linked, in peace even more than in war, and that they already can establish cooperation, as equals under international law, with international partners, without forgoing national sovereignty. America's commitment to "confidence building" begins here.

Yes, negotiations cannot take place unless the sides are each attributed the right to self-determination; each side will exercise sovereignty after any agreement is concluded. But self-determination never meant that a nation does whatever it wants, without regard for the interests of others. In this context, the need for cooperation is especially urgent. The shared territory is very small, and more like one big megalopolis than two hermetically sealed states.

THE NEED FOR mutual accommodation usually comes up when discussing security arrangements: demilitarization, safe passage to Gaza, and so forth. But this is only the beginning. There are scarce resources to be shared: water, the electromagnetic spectrum, natural gas reserves. Tourists will travel around what they'll need to see as a borderless territory. There will have to be reciprocal agreements on currency and labor law. There will be investments in what will seem like a common business ecosystem.

This is why the United States should seek to use its leverage to reduce tensions and mitigate grievances now, in advance of any final-status agreement, by reinforcing international conventions regulating state-to-state relations. These conventions would enable Palestinians and Israelis to advance their economies through a joint planning process. Why not establish an equitable foundation now in areas where progress is possible? Why shouldn't Palestine already enjoy the prerogatives of a sovereign state in fields that do not pose a security threat to Israel, especially where international conventions and bilateral modalities are clear?

WATER IS AN ideal place to start, given its strategic importance in the region. What is keeping Palestinians and Israelis from applying international water treaties to water allocation? Israel already recognized Palestinian water rights as part of the Oslo II Interim Agreement. However, it has not implemented that agreement, and continues to deprive Palestinians of their fair share of water. On average, Palestinians receive less than 100 liters per capita per day, far less than the minimum availability of 150 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. The average Israeli uses 353 liters of water per day, while the average Israeli settler in the territories uses up to nine times what's available to a Palestinian. If the international community is sincere about incubating an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, why should this issue be deferred to political negotiations later on?

The same is true of electromagnetic spectrum. Visit Palestine's $350-million cell-phone company, Jawwal, which now faces legal competition from Wataniya Mobile, a joint venture of the Palestine Investment Fund and Wataniya Telecom from Kuwait and Qatar. From the roof of Jawwal's modern headquarters in Ramallah, what you see is disturbing. On one hill to the north is an Israeli settlement in Area C, with a cellular tower for Israeli operator Cellcom. To the south is another settlement with another tower. Cellcom gets about 10.5 megahertz of spectrum; Jawwal, 4.8. To get 3G and continuous coverage, which is what every Palestinian entrepreneur needs, you need an Israeli carrier. This conflict over bandwidth should be negotiated away now, and subject to the rules of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union - of which Israel is a member.

There are other ways of untangling the web of military occupation, including free trade zones, postal services and environmental protection. These should all be managed based on tested international models, such as the European Union's. Most important, perhaps, is access for Palestinian talent and foreign intellectual capital (such as investors, educators and doctors) to, and movement throughout, the occupied territory.

IF PROGRESS IS made on things like bandwidth, movement and access, will the classification of territory into areas A, B and C not seem obsolete? Moreover, if Israel and Palestine can build trust as two sovereign entities, will Hamas be enough of a reason to maintain the siege on Gaza, especially as Palestinian entrepreneurs from the West Bank prove able to bring hope there?

The challenge, in short, is to create dignified ways of becoming equals and partners in each other's lives. Postponing this invites new violence that will rip apart the fabric of both Palestinian and Israeli society. And who knows how the violence will spread? Rather, we must shrink the negotiating agenda to a manageable scale, whose end game is clear: two independent but interdependent states, living side by side. The United States, for its part, should build on its condemnation of settlements and establish international law as a reference point for immediate changes.

Published in conjunction with Common Ground News Service.