Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Streets Of Tel Aviv: Bursting The Bubble?

More than a hundred thousand young Israelis, in every major city, took to the streets on Saturday night to protest the prohibitively high cost of living, especially the very high cost of housing. Last week, a tent city went up on Rothschild Boulevard—supposedly, the epicenter of the Tel Aviv bubble—and tens of thousands began marching in sympathy. A sense of grievance is spreading like last year’s fires in the Carmel forests.

Columnists and television pundits pronounce this the biggest domestic crisis the Netanyahu government has faced, or is likely to face. It is coming just as he is trying to rally Israelis en masse to resist a U.N. General Assembly vote to endorse a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders—a vote that will itself produce mass street demonstrations in occupied territory. (Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has called Palestinians to the streets. Not to be outdone, President Abbas has too.)

The lingering question—which will determine the complexion of the Israeli protest, and perhaps the fate of Israel’s place in the region—is how much young people in the streets of Tel Aviv believe that the former problem, the difficulties of making ends meet, is a function of the Israeli government’s failure to address the latter problem, that is, failure to make peace with Palestine.

How much do Israel’s economic stresses, long incipient, but gushing up in response to housing costs, result from the kind of government and ideology Netanyahu administers and represents? Can this connection be popularly believed?

The question is particularly important because, for the first time in a long time, young people who would ordinarily vote for the parties of the right—lower middle class scions of Moroccan immigrant families, Russian immigrants, and so forth—are marching with peacenik descendents of old Labor party families.

Something new is forming on Israel’s political landscape, and Israel’s left senses an opportunity. My young friends who started the “Solidarity” movement, protesting the dispossession of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, have thrown in with the housing protests. Are the goals really capable of being merged?

I BELIEVE THE answer is yes, hell yes, but connecting the dots will not be simple. There is a communitarian tinge to the idea that the government has ignored the problems of the poor, the struggling middle class, the young, but such sentiments can quickly morph into fierce nationalist ideas—you know, that the government, unlike in old pioneering times, is letting down “amcha,” a colloquial way of saying the common people, but which literally means “your people.”

Menachem Begin built the Likud exploiting just such resentments. The suburb-settlements built for Jews in East Jerusalem—Neve Yaacov, Ramot, Gilo—were a sop to the poorest Jews who also happened to be Likud voters. A third of young Israeli children live under the poverty line, but almost half of those are Arabs. If Netanyahu offered to give big housing subsidies exclusively to young Jewish Israelis, say, as a reward for army service, would the new street coalition hold together?

The politics are hard to predict; it is not impossible that the Arab spring has inspired an Israeli summer. Haaretz has taken pains to report the Jews and Arabs are finally demonstrating together.

What seems easier to predict, in any case, is that without peace the economic strains on Israel will grow. Even more important, the wealth Israelis will forgo for not making peace, the opportunity cost, will increasingly be seen as enormous—if a leadership emerges to make the case.

GROWING INEQUALITIES ARE not, in themselves, an indication of economic failure or are even preventable. The Israeli economy, driven as it is by high technology export businesses in software, value added components, advanced medical devices, etc., is bound to have a social profile more like Silicon Valley than a manufacturing city like Wolfsburg, Germany.

Technology start-ups that succeed in global markets make young entrepreneurs very rich very fast and out of all proportion to their neighbors. Two former students of mine, just over the past year, sold the little businesses they started for $20-30 million, I could work at a university for a lifetime and not accumulate their share of these “exits.”

The real question is whether, as the very rich get richer, the incomes of ordinary people are growing and their quality of life is improving. Are Israelis getting the kinds of services we need for the taxes we are paying? Can we afford essential things like higher education, medical care, and, yes, housing, from what we earn? Is there growth in sectors like construction and housing, tourism, food processing, retail—sectors in which people who are not high-tech entrepreneurs can start steady businesses that are not fancy shots at a global jackpot?

This is where planet Netanyahu and the absence of peace bite together. The streets need to learn some hard truths:

* The settlement project was, and is, insufferably expensive. It is commonly understood that upwards of $20 billion have been spent on settlement and infrastructure in occupied territory, not including the costs of securing them, which are continuing. Meanwhile, traffic in Tel Aviv and the coastal plain more generally has graduated from heavy to infuriating. Mass transit in major metropolitan areas is constantly postponed.

* The industries that Palestinians are going to focus on, and draw regional investment to, in the event of peace are precisely the ones Israeli “amcha” are most likely to benefit from—again, tourism, construction, retail, food processing. Israel and Palestine are one business ecosystem. Israel could generate another $8 billion in GDP just from doubling its number of tourists from 3 to 6 million a year. (Florence get 12 million.)

* One sixth of the government budget goes to defense and is creeping up to incorporate new weapons systems. Social services are constantly being trimmed back. The ratio of national debt to GDP is stuck around 80%, not unmanageable as long as interest rates remain low and growth rates remain high, say, 4-5% year; but if Israel were to enter periods of lower growth, as now seems inevitable with global recession and political isolation, it will be impossible to outpace the social tensions we now see, or discontent in the Israeli Arab community.

* Educational infrastructure is in serious decline. High school classrooms average 30-40 students. University budgets have been slashed in recent years, causing the closing of departments, especially in the humanities, and Israeli scholars by the hundreds have sought jobs overseas. Yet the Netanyahu government is focusing on the nationalism of the curricula, indoctrination, not the expansion of the development of critical thinking.

* The health care system is in crisis because government subsidized hospitals and health maintenance organizations cannot pay doctors a living wage. The latter have been on strike for two months. When you figure hours worked, young doctors make less on average than babysitters. Yet Israeli medical training is world-class; medical tourism, especially from neighboring Arab countries and the Gulf, could rejuvenate the Israeli medical profession overnight.

* Participation in the Israeli workforce is among the lowest of OECD countries, perhaps 56%, as compared with 68% in Japan. This is largely because of the long-standing policy of the Israeli right to keep ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students on the dole.

* A major impediment to reducing the cost of land is the Israel Land Authority, a throw-back to the old Zionist Jewish National Fund (whose lands are about a fifth of the ILA’s holdings). The ILA still controls roughly 90 percent of Israel’s land, which it manages, by mandate, for “the Jewish people.” Privatization and auctioning of land is inevitable if the cost of housing is to be brought down. But this would mean that Arab citizens would be able to gain much more land for development, anathema to the Israeli right.

* Ginning up the cost of flats themselves, especially in Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s core, are absentee owners: wealthy Diaspora Jews who—excited by the Israeli right’s pandering, and encouraged to think of Israel as a kind of metaphysical theme park—drive out younger Israeli buyers and renters.

* Strong recent evidence suggests that all of these things together, added to the incessant war tension, have so degraded the quality of life in Israel that as many as a million Israeli Jews live abroad today, mainly in the U.S. Many of these people are highly educated and could be founding companies at home.

* Last, not at all least, is Netanyahu’s free-wheeling approach to market regulation—so much like that of American Republicans, and masked by ultra-nationalist distractions—which has led to the enormous concentration of ownership in Israel, The wealthiest 16 families own 20 percent of the top 500 companies: Ofer, Dankner, Arison, Tshuva. Some family-based conglomerates have been taking super-profits from, in effect, monopolies in banking, telecom, food retailing, media, and so forth. But they are also over-leveraged, and highly invested in real estate. Burst the housing bubble—by releasing a great deal more ILA land, for example—and some will be under water. The impact on Israel could be something like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the U.S.

Ideally, the demonstrators in the streets would know all these things. I suspect they know some of them and sense that, in any case, Netanyahu is not to be trusted.

One thing is certain: the idea that the young of Tel Aviv live in a bubble is finally, clearly nonsense. They have always been the Israelis with globalist commercial experiences and cosmopolitan instincts, a sense of how Israel fits into world. It is Netanyahu and the right, settlers and the orthodox and Russian Putinists, who have lived in a bubble. The streets of Tel Aviv may burst it before the streets of Ramallah plan to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

September: Why Israelis Are Anxious

Al Arabiya, the Dubai-based news network, asked me to reflect on Israeli responses to the PA's decision to go to the UN.  Here is my contribution; readers of this blog will recognize some formulations.

This week, the Fatah leadership of the Palestinian Authority announced a full-bore diplomatic effort to gain UN membership for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with its capital in Jerusalem. President Mahmud Abbas is touring Europe and Turkey. Emissaries will be traveling to China, India and other rising powers. Saeb Erekat, Abbas’s indefatigable chief negotiator, called the campaign for statehood “massive.”

Many observers, including my own Palestinian friends in and around Jerusalem, express doubts about this campaign—not out of fear of jeopardizing the flow of American aid, the fear Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad openly voices—but rather because they cannot see the point of taking on so much to elicit what will likely prove an empty gesture. Israel, they say, will still control Areas B and C, or nearly 70 percent of what the world recognizes as Palestinian land, assuming the green line as the basis for a border. The settlements will not stop; calling the hemmed-in Palestinian Authority a “state” does not change any facts on the ground. (You might as well call it the Palestinian “empire,” one friend quipped grimly.) Besides, UN membership depends on a resolution of the Security Council, and the Obama administration seems likely to veto this, at least until after the US presidential election. What can possibly be gained from Abbas’s effort, other than inflated expectations which, when deflated, could turn an already tense situation more generally violent?

It is hard not to share the skepticism, especially a week after the Knesset passed the Netanyahu government’s most provocative law, in effect, erasing the border between Israel and “Judea and Samaria,” criminalizing Israelis who advocate for economic boycotts, including even boycott of settlements. And yet, Israeli commentators—especially those in the business and army intelligence élite—seem far more exercised about “September” (the nick-name they’ve given Abbas’s push for statehood in the UN) than you’d expect given so much Palestinian skepticism and shows of force by pro-settler politicians.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan is warning that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s effort to thwart Palestinian statehood will backfire. Yaacov Perry, the former CEO of cell phone giant Cellcom, along with business mogul Idan Ofer and others, have offered a peace plan much like the one then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas in 2008. One can almost detect (forgive me) a paradigm shift among Israelis who constitute the “center”: people not cloistered in settlements or Jerusalem houses of religious study; young people who perhaps cannot imagine Israel without the settlement of Ariel, but also cannot imagine European basketball without Maccabi Tel Aviv; people who can be the difference between a 65-seat majority for the parties of Greater Israel or a 65-seat majority for the parties of Global Israel.

“September” means a kind of layered anxiety, the fear of a global deadline. And underlying the fear are implicit assumptions:

The Palestinian middle class is coming into its own. After 1967, ordinary Israelis vaguely assumed that Israeli business and banking would dominate in the territories, while Arabs—if they could be induced to abandon insurgency—would be farmers, merchants, laborers, perhaps even quaint figures on the landscape where tour buses stopped. For the past decade, it has become clear to their Israeli counterparts that Palestinian entrepreneurs, professionals, and bankers expect, and deserve, a different fate. They have not left for Jordan and the Gulf, but are organizing a mini-state in Ramallah, one far more attractive to ordinary Palestinians than Hamas’s mini-mini-state in Gaza. The spine of this state is not simply Fayyad’s American-trained police, which provides the rule of law (while offending Palestinian liberals with its excesses). It is an economy that shows promise, even if it still relies heavily on international donors.

The Palestinian economy, while growing, is in danger. Israeli élites are finally seeing that managing the territories for the sake of the settlers thwarts what Palestinian élites are trying to develop in the womb of the Occupation. Netanyahu’s offer of “economic peace” is just a smokescreen. Palestinian commerce is stifled by barriers to internal movement, lack of access to Jerusalem, global supply-chains constantly disrupted for so-called security reasons, and stringent limits on entry and exit of Palestinian managers, scholars, and investors. The World Bank reports: “Ultimately, sustainable economic growth...will not rebound significantly while Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets remain in place…”

Thwarted development will bring resistance. Palestinians, in this context, will struggle for political independence not just to oppose Zionism, or throw-off occupation forces, but out of a positive need to win control of immigration and keep their economic development going, indeed, much like Zionist pioneers struggled against Britain in the 1940s. Nor do Israelis in the center see settlers as culture heroes they way they did in the 1970s. Rather, they admire globalist Israeli entrepreneurs like Iscar’s Step Wertheimer. Conspicuous Palestinian entrepreneurs—Munib Al Masri springs to mind—speak their language.

Backed by world opinion, Palestinian action will resemble the Arab Spring. Israelis are used to fighting violent insurgency and appealing to world opinion. What if there is no violence and no sympathy? An acquaintance of mine attended a dinner with Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently, who was asked what he would do if tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian demonstrators began marching toward Jerusalem. Barak responded—sincerely, my friend tells me—that he really didn’t know. Israelis do know the Arab Spring has produced a government in Egypt that cannot bolt down popular opinion as in the past. No sane Israeli thinks the actions of soldiers on the Golan last June, opening fire on Palestinian demonstrators approaching their lines, would be morally or politically acceptable, not even in Israel; another operation like Cast Lead, Israel’s incursion into Gaza, seems almost unimaginable, particularly since Hamas has implicitly allowed Abbas to lead into September.

Israel’s own economy is at stake. A vote in the UN General Assembly cannot recognize Palestine or offer it membership. But it can become the occasion for member states to recognize Palestine—and as many as 130, by current count, will do so. This matters because, economically, countries other than the US matter. The Israeli business world is especially tied to Europe. The government’s level of debt to GDP is comparatively high. To continue growing fast—as it must to pay for defense, and outpace its looming social tensions—Israel’s economy relies on technology companies that build relationships with—that is, build solutions, process technologies, and components for—other global businesses, particularly European corporations.

So “September” means a change in the rules: influential Israelis know it, ordinary Israelis finally sense it. For years, Palestine seemed an internal problem; the IDF handled insurgents, Mubarak handled the region, and Washington handled the world. No more. When many countries in the Euro zone, Latin America, and the Far East recognize Palestine and the 1967 border, many will claim that Israel is in breach of international law. The danger will not simply be, say, a Norwegian mayor bringing charges against some traveling IDF officer in the International Criminal Court. It will be a German supervisory board telling the chairman of a German company that working with an Israeli supplier is not worth the hassle. Any Israeli investor will tell you that venture capital for start-ups is already much harder to come by than it was a couple of years ago.

Ironically, the same global forces that have made Israel an economic success make its occupation of Palestine more fraught. It has made an independent Palestine plausible, and interdependence with Israel attractive. For Israel’s part, it can’t have an economy like Singapore and a nationalities crisis like Serbia. Israelis are feeling the danger of September—of the changing rules—even if Palestinians are not so sure.

What was the Knesset’s action against advocates of boycott last week if not a tribute to a rising, general fear of the economic isolation that Palestinian diplomacy can help bring about? The point is, this fear is justified.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jerusalem March: Unprecedented

About a year and a half ago, I suggested that the young activists organizing protest in Sheikh Jarrah (now calling themselves "Solidarity") had the potential to refashion the landscape of Israel's peace movement. Today's march in Jerusalem, organized by those same young leaders--the first protest in 44 years in which Israelis and East Jerusalem Arabs marched side-by-side to call for two states and a shared capital--is another turning point.

Do not be misled by the numbers. The protest in Sheikh Jarrah started with a few dozen. It grew into a weekly vigil of several hundred that is monitored around the world. Today's march, of perhaps 3000, is just the beginning, too. Once Jerusalem Arabs see they can march peacefully, that is, along with Israeli leaders who coordinate in advance with the courts and police, they will come out in ever greater numbers. And when they get mobilized, the much larger peace movement in Tel Aviv will get mobilized.

The leaders of Solidarity, Assaf Sharon, Avner Inbar, Sarah Benninga, and Hillel Ben-Sasson, just sent the following report around to their supporters. I urge you to go to their website and offer what help you can:

The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement's march for Palestinian independence earlier today was a tremendous success. More than 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians marched from Jaffa Gate to Sheikh Jarrah in a historic and inspiring cooperation between the Solidarity movement and the popular committees of East Jerusalem. We held signs quoting Nelson Mandela's saying that "only free people can negotiate" and drove home the message of the nonviolent struggle for freedom and equality.

Even before it set out the march stirred a debate long absent from the Israeli political and ideological conversation. This is a debate about generational transition, political vision and the nature of the struggle for the future and soul of our region...[T]his morning the Haaretz editorial endorsed the march.

The picture arising from this discussion is becoming quite clear – a fundamental change is taking place in the Israeli left. A new generation with a new political language is growing on the scorched earth of what used to be the Israeli peace camp. This new generation aspires not only to end the occupation but at the same time for civil equality to all inhabitants of the land. It grows from local grassroots organizing but keeps it eyes on the goal of a transformative change in the Israeli political culture...

[W]e encourage you to follow this discussion and add your voice to it. Israel's actions in the last weeks, from the reactions to the 'flytilla' to the boycott law, prove that these are no ordinary times. We cannot continue supporting a peace process that has long been dead. The voices of the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who marched today in Jerusalem should lead the way towards politcal freedom and civil equality.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Age Of Wonders

There is little I can add to Bradley Burston's passionate column on the anti-boycott law, which passed the Knesset this week, and will eventually go to the Supreme Court for overturning. What I can add is my deep sense of sorrow, which Brad--a Berkeley radical who, like myself, gravitated to Israel in the Sixties for the progressive and cultural innovations of Labor Zionism--shares. We thought that we were coming to a place where the new Jew was being born; and the unity of Jerusalem and the emancipation of Soviet Jews would yield an age of wonders. We did not figure on Avigdor Lieberman.

Here is the nub of Burston's column on the law:

1. The measure curbs political freedom of expression in Israel in a number of ways, setting potentially significant – and dangerous – precedents. It allows any individual to, in effect, become a private law enforcement agency, empowered to bring lawsuits against anyone or any group the plaintiff accuses of having taken part in or even simply supported any action the plaintiff construes as a boycott against Israel, against the settlements, or even any individual Israeli, for any reason.

2. The measure erases the legal differentiation between settlements and Israel proper, regarding targeted boycotts against goods from the settlements as actions harmful to the state of Israel itself.

3. The Knesset's apolitical Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon has ruled that the law's broad definition of "boycotting the state of Israel", coupled with its "civil wrongdoing" or anyone-can-sue clause, may compromise freedom of expression where it comes to public debate over the fate of the West Bank. Prior to the Monday vote, Yinon stated that the law could be brought to bear against targeted boycotts "whose goal is to influence the political debate in connection with the future of Judea and Samaria, a discussion which has been at the heart of political debate in Israel for more than 40 years now."

4. The effect of the law could be crippling to the efforts of all organizations and many individuals working for Israeli-Palestinian peace and enhanced freedoms and human rights within Israel and the territories. The rabid anti-NGO campaigns of Im Tirtzu and other groups could escalate into a full-bore "lawfare" offensive, hauling them repeatedly into court and costing them prohibitive legal fees.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The UN--A Coda

Two friends of the blog wrote me with, in effect, the same addition to Alvaro de Soto's note from yesterday. The first is from renowned civil rights attorney Kathleen Peratis:

In the General Assembly, if a majority of those voting vote yes on recognition of Palestinian statehood, then the Secretary General has no choice but to refer Palestine to join all treaty bodies that are open to "all states," which is, according to Larry Johnson, former UN undersecretary for legal affairs, most of them. Thus, Palestine would sign onto the Law of the Sea, the ICC, and many other bodies. There are treaties and UN bodies that are only open to states that are approved by the Security Council, such as the International Court of Justice (different from the ICC), and, as to those, Palestine will not become a member state. So a General Assembly majority vote, even without the Security Council, is not nothing.

The second is from Ramallah political activist and business consultant Sam Bahour:

De Soto leaves out another option, which is the upgrading of the current status of the PLO/Palestine observer status to be accepted in UN agencies as having the rights of a member state, thus opening the ICC for us to apply cases to directly (and without all the drama in the big hall).

In other words--aside from occasioning the application of bilateral trade (or other economic) sanctions by member states--upgrading the UN status of Palestine to the point where Palestinians can bring charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court is no small matter. Leaving aside the workings of the occupation itself, international law regards settlements as clear violations of the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel and most member states are signatories.

And a coda from Alvaro de Soto, following the Quartet's inability to reach a joint statement today:

Bernie, Ramallah shows its cards:
President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Tuesday to take the Palestinian bid for statehood to the UN after the diplomatic Quartet failed to reach a breakthrough to revive peace talks. We will go to the United Nations and we hope the United States will not use its veto, but that we will go with its agreement," the Palestinian leader told reporters after a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias. "The fact that there is no statement from the Quartet is a negative indication that there is deep division between them," Abbas added. 
Earlier, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP that "there is no other option but to support the Palestinian plan to go to the United Nations to seek full membership for the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders."

Monday, July 11, 2011

What The UN Vote Means--And Does Not

My friend Alvaro de Soto, the former Special Ambassador of the United Nations's Secretary-General to the Middle East peace process, is a legend in the UN, from which he is now retired. Peruvian by birth, an aide to Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Alvaro was an indispensable mediator in talks that resolved the bloody crisis in El Salvador during the early 1990s, and was later called in to help manage crises in Myanmar, Cyprus and Northwest Africa. He resigned his Middle East post in May 2007, frustrated by the inaction of the Bush Administration; and his End of Mission Report, leaked to The Guardian, was famously frank and incisive, sparing neither the Israeli government nor Palestinian rivalries. He now teaches international relations in Paris. You can hear him speak about his mission here.

Alvaro wrote me yesterday about the impending UN vote on Palestine, frustrated by the simplifications he reads in the media, laying out what actions the UN can and cannot take. With his permission, I reprint his email in full:

The annual September gathering at the UN is being portrayed as a showdown between Israel and Palestinian aspirations for statehood. I haven't seen a draft of the much touted Palestinian initiative which will, by some accounts, be Israel’s undoing. Without this, it is hard to tell what the Palestinians--or at least those headquartered in Ramallah--are seeking. David Shulman posits the prospect of a US Security Council veto. Others speak of the Palestinians obtaining between 120 and 150 votes--which, of course, would be in the General Assembly.

These are two quite different approaches. If the idea is to bring the Palestinians up to par with Israel by pushing forward a mirror image of the resolution that led to the creation of Israel, it should be a General Assembly resolution as was the case in 1947. But as a matter of international law, neither the UN nor any other international organization can give legal validity to the creation of a state. The UN is not in the recognition business; only states can recognise states.

Contrary to widespread belief, (except in a metaphorical sense) the UN did not create Israel; rather, Israelis used the approval by the UN General Assembly in resolution 181 of the partition plan as the basis for proclaiming the creation of Israel, which was then recognised by states. In 181 the General Assembly approved the partition plan (stage 1), within hours Israel proclaimed its independence (stage 2) and this was followed by recognitions (stage 3), including quickly those of the US and the then USSR. Israel's application for membership in the UN was subsequent to these separate and discrete stages. Of course at the time it made its proclamation Israelis had reason to believe that they would receive recogniton from these important players.

The Palestinians would likely get widespread recognitions--arguably it already has a large number and the PLO is represented by ‘ambassadors’ in some of them, but they do not have, to my knowledge, advance certainty that if they proclaim a state they will receive the recognition of key players that can make the difference between UN membership and continued second-tier status--certainly the US is in doubt. Thus while they may improve their standing with a view to the continuing struggle to break free of Israeli occupation, they seem destined to fall short of what Israel achieved in 1947.

If the Palestinians were to pursue UN membership, a different procedure would apply. Ultimately UN membership is granted by the General Assembly if 2/3 of the members present and voting so decide, but the opportunity to take such a decisión only arises if the Security Council puts its positive stamp on a membership application. There is no bypass mechanism, no uniting-for peace procedure in case of Council deadlock: The drill is that a state aspiring to membership writes to the Secretary-General signifying its desire to be accepted. The Secretariat’s Office of Legal Affairs prepares a report on whether the basic formal legal requirements are met--including, presumably, whether the applicant actually constitutes a state. This report goes to the Security Council which makes a political assessment regarding whether the applicant meets the substantive requirements spelled out in the UN Charter--whether it is peace-loving and otherwise committed to the obligations arising from UN membership under the Charter, including its financial obligations, and whether the Council judges that it has the capacity to meet those obligations. The Council votes, with the usual requirements of 9 votes in favour and no permanent members voting against. If it is approved it goes to the General Assembly. If it is not, there will be no General Assembly vote.

Thus until there is clarity regarding what Ramallah wants, discussion of the import of a UN decision on the subject is speculative. Could they be seeking, for example, some sort of general statement by which the bulk of the international community expresses the view that, all efforts to date having failed, they will henceforth consider that unless the parties conclude otherwise, they will not accept that Israel has any rights beyond the 4 June 1967 lines?

On the face of it that should garner a robust majority: I don't know of any state which today recognizes that Israel has any such rights. In fact, the UN is repeatedly on record as regarding the occupation--of territory captured starting on 5 June 1967--as illegal. The principle of inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war is enshrined in Security Council resolution 242. So it is not clear whether anything new would be achieved nor what effect it would have. Yet Israel seems to be letting out all the stops in its effort to stymie the as yet unspecified initiative. Smoking out the reason for such strong opposition, which absent a draft remains a mystery, may be sufficient grounds for such an otherwise nugatory initiative.

It has been said that one of the reasons that have led Ramallah to pursue unification or reconciliation with Hamas is that without it its case at the UN come September will be weakened. Hamas, however, has been silent at best on the Palestinian démarche, originally a Salam Fayyad initiative. Thus the question of what the Palestinians are pursuing is not a matter of detail. It is the crux of the matter.


Bottom line: What the UN vote would occasion is not the creation of a state, but the various decisions of existing states to recognize Palestine and possibly sanction Israel, in bilateral trade, say, for violating international law. The real question is, what countries significant to Israel would recognize Palestine, and what would they be prepared to do to back up recognition with economic action? Indeed, what do Palestinian leaders really want?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 15: Two States, One March

A drawing on the Separation Wall 
Something unprecedented, but long overdue, is planned for July 15 in Jerusalem. What isn't new is Solidarity and other peace organizations marching in the center of the city for Palestinian independence. What is new is overt cooperation with East Jerusalem Palestinians, who this time will be marching alongside Israelis. It is hard to know how the police, or settler organizations, will react.

The biggest hedge against violence is numbers, and peace activists in Jerusalem itself are greatly outnumbered by rightists. The more people (especially from Tel Aviv and Israeli Arab cities) show up, the more impressive and peaceful the march is likely to be. It is a little creepy, I know, to urge others to demonstrate when you are thousands of miles away. All I can say is that, were Sidra and I in Jerusalem this summer, nothing could keep us away.

Friend of this blog, David Shulman, writes about the march here. The Facebook page is here. David writes in part:

It was thus not by chance that on June 2—Jerusalem day, and the forty-fourth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War—the municipality sponsored and largely financed a mass march in favor of further Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem (and, indeed, throughout the occupied West Bank). With police protection provided by the state, tens of thousands of marchers followed Road Number One south and west into Sheikh Jarrah and then into the Old City. The very idea of dividing the city is anathema to those who organized and took part in the march—although most know very well that there is no hope whatever of achieving any settlement with the Palestinians without such a division. The march was clearly meant as a statement of the right-wing goal of asserting and cementing Israeli sovereignty over the entire city by pursuing the settlement project in Palestinian neighborhoods. As it happens, the marchers also called out aggressive and overtly threatening messages aimed at the Palestinian population and at Israelis who support Palestinian independence that should not be minimized or overlooked.

Most of the marchers were young people, and probably a majority of them were settlers. (The police estimate of the turnout was 25,000, almost certainly on the low side; others estimated over 40,000.) For much of the way, this huge crowd was chanting slogans that, I think it’s fair to say, Israelis have never heard at such a pitch—slogans such as “Butcher the Arabs” (itbach al-‘arab) and “Death to Leftists” and “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel” and “This is the Song of Revenge” and “Burn their Villages” and “Muhammad is Dead” (the latter with particular emphasis outside the mosque in Sheikh Jarrah and then again as the march entered the Muslim Quarter of the Old City). It’s one thing to hear such things occasionally from isolated pockets of extremists, or from settlers in the field in the South Hebron hills, quite another to hear them from the throats of tens of thousands of marchers whipping themselves into an ecstasy of hatred. The slogans call up rather specific memories: I couldn’t help wondering how many of the marchers were grandchildren of Jews who went through such moments—as targets of virulent hate—in Europe. Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City watched in horror, but there were no attempts to meet the hatred with violence...

So here you have one vision of the future of Jerusalem—and, sadly, it looks very much as if the current wave of racist hysteria is only gaining strength in Israel. Moreover, as is usually the case with modern nationalism, the political center and the more moderate right show no signs of attempting to hold back the tide. Indeed, a number of members of the government, which is in any case dominated by settler parties, regularly contribute to the inflammatory rhetoric. What’s left of the old Israeli left is fragmented, diminished, and politically ineffectual.

And yet the peace camp is not dead. A joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative is planning a counter-march—under the banner “Marching for Independence”—on July 15 of possibly historic significance. The numbers will be much smaller—maybe 2,000 or so, if the organizers are lucky—but the meaning of the event will certainly transcend the bare numerical count. Something quite new is under way in Palestine. September is getting closer, and with it the possible proclamation of the Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Even if the United States casts its veto in the Security Council against Palestinian independence— a paradoxical move, given the official and long-standing American support for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders— the reality on the ground may begin to change.