Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Hope amid the flames

Some potentially very interesting developments in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The one that seemed to catch people by surprise and has generated a fair amount of heat is an agreement between the Sharon government and what it (and the US) officially regard as a terrorist organization.
Beirut, Lebanon (AP, January 25) - Israel and Hezbollah will exchange prisoners in a two-stage deal in which the militant Lebanese group promises to obtain information about Israel's most famous missing serviceman and Israel releases Lebanon's longest-held prisoner within three months, the Hezbollah leader said Sunday.

The deal begins with an exchange of prisoners and human remains Thursday and Friday, and will proceed to the case of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad and negotiations for the release of more prisoners, Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, told a news conference.
This involved some hard choices, especially for Israel, which didn't achieve its main objective of getting the return - or at minimum positive information about - Arad. What it got instead was a promise by Hezbollah that it will make every effort to provide a definitive answer within three months - which, if it does, will lead to a further prisoner release by Israel. On the other hand, while Hezbollah can point to a large number of Palestinians released in the deal - 400 - others have pointed out that there are no "big names" among them and that Israel specifically refused to release anyone "with blood on their hands," that is, who had killed any Israelis.

The January 26 edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz had a version of dueling commentaries on the exchange. An analysis by the paper's Palestinian affairs correspondent argues that the real loser in the deal is the Palestinian Authority.
The fact that Hezbollah of Lebanon managed to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners is proof of the ineffectualness of the Palestinian Authority, whose efforts on the matter have yielded rather pathetic results. The deal, therefore, is expected to boost the prestige of Hezbollah in the eyes of the Palestinians, and to further undermine the status of the PA.
On the other hand, in an editorial titled "A prize for Hezbollah," Haaretz said while it's glad the freed Israelis will be able to rejoin their families, "the principles underlying the deal between Israel and Hezbollah for the exchange of prisoners and bodies merit harsh criticism."
When you peel away the trivia and the details, it has only one meaning: Following [Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan] Nasrallah's success in kidnapping four Israelis...Israel has agreed to do what it refused to do before the kidnappings.... The lesson...is that it pays to strike at Israel, whether through kidnappings, terror attacks or war, in order to reverse its refusals.

This will contribute directly to strengthening the militant wing of Palestinian society - that same wing that defeated the moderates in internal disputes in the summer of 2000.
While they do argue about who is the real loser in the deal - Israel or the PA - they both agree that Hezbollah is the winner, echoing the statement of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that the prisoner swap, "constitutes a frank recognition by Israel that the resistance (Hezbollah) is legitimate and not a foreign terrorist movement as it claims."

(Lebanese, AP notes, view Hezbollah "as the group that led a guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of an enclave in southern Lebanon.")

(Sidebar update: Taking a contrarian view to most of the Israeli and Arab press, which took the agreement as a victory for Hezbollah, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a senior writer at The Daily Star of Lebanon, argues in the January 28 issue that the group is actually the loser. Noting a report that Israel intends to withdraw from a remote area of Lebanon it continued to occupy after the general withdrawal of its troops in 2000, Hussain writes that between that and the prisoner exchange, Sharon is "bring[ing] to an end all unfinished business with Hizbullah." [Spelling as per original; the word of course is a phonetic translation from Arabic and there is no one accepted spelling. My tendency is to use Hezbollah for the Lebanese group and Hizbullah for the unrelated Kurdish Islamic group.] As a result, there would be "no single rationale left for the resistance." Instead of having been forced into an undesired situation, Sharon has actually succeeded in taking one opponent out of the game. Of course, if Hezbollah is in fact a resistance movement against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, it would seem that losing its raison d'etre is a victory. Saying otherwise would appear to be an admission that Hezbollah is or at least should be other than what is claimed.

Update to the update: An article in the International Herald Tribune for January 29 raises exactly the question Hussain did: What is the relevance of Hezbollah now?)

But if it's true that the "militant wing of Palestinian society" is strengthened by the agreement, what are we to make of this, which came the very next day, also as reported by Haaretz?
A top Hamas official has said his organization could declare a 10-year truce with Israel if Israel withdraws from territory captured since 1967.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi told Reuters late on Sunday that Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was "difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation."

"We accept a state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. We propose a 10-year truce in return for [Israeli] withdrawal and the establishment of a state," he said in a telephone interview from hiding in the Gaza Strip.

His comments appeared to strengthen signs of a big political shift by a faction sworn to destroy Israel and now seeming to move closer to the aims of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
Now, obviously this is a long way from peace or acceptance. Indeed, Rantisi specifically said this does not mean Hamas is recognizing Israel.

But Hamas has been a prime mover behind suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis and until now has demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state that would encompass all the land under the British mandate in the area before the creation of Israel in 1948. For a driving force behind the so-called "rejectionist front" to propose a 10-year truce is a significant stand down.

Rantisi said he did not expect Israel to respond favorably to the new suggestion, "when it has rejected the Palestinian Authority's offer for less land than what we are proposing."
He's undoubtedly right about that, if for no other reason than the phrase "including Jerusalem." The status of the city is perhaps the touchiest, thorniest issue of all, and Jews all over the world remember too clearly how their access to their holiest sites was blocked when the city was under Jordanian control to ever say "Sure, you take it."

But it's not necessary to accept the proposal, it would only be necessary for Israel to say it is, perhaps, "encouraged" by the "willingness of Hamas to consider compromises that are to the good of all the peoples of the region." If you're interested in peace and in the security that peace brings, you should want to encourage every sign of moderation in your opponents' positions, not seek to undermine them with out-of-hand rejections. And, though it clearly falls short of being a solution, Hamas's shift is such a sign - as is, perhaps, the willingness and ability of Hezbollah to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Keep hope alive.

Footnote: As any even semi-regular reader knows, I have been consistently critical of Israel in regard to its face-off with the Palestinians. I do that for several reasons. One is that the underlying principle is that I genuinely believe - and have believed for over 30 years - that the Palestinians have every bit as much right to a land of their own as the Israelis do and that mutual recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state is, barring a miraculous reconciliation, the best available, the most just, solution for long-term peace and stability.

I also believe that Israel has become less interested in a solution that does not involve maintaining its dominance over the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Indeed, there is a significant part of Israeli opinion that says Israel should not just by necessity but by right control all of Biblical Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank). One outfit even refers to Israel's seizure of the West Bank during the 1967 war as "driving the occupiers [Jordan] back across the river." Some on the radical right go even further, saying Israel has the right to control all the territory of the ancient United Monarchy, which by Biblical descriptions would include not only all of present-day Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, but good hunks of Jordan and Syria as well. (That's assuming the United Monarchy or at least the Biblical vision of it ever existed; modern archaeology says that's extremely unlikely. The right-wingers are, as you would expect, unimpressed.) One of the things that began to change my mind is learning that the slogan of the Likud coalition - at least the one they used at the time, it may have been changed in the interim - translated to "Both Sides of the Jordan."

I also maintain that Israel, as the predominant power in the region, has by that very fact the obligation to go the extra mile in search of a peaceful settlement. And right now it's not willing to go the first mile, much less the extra one.

And on a more, I suppose, emotional level, I feel most responsible for that with which I'm most closely connected. In world affairs, I feel most responsible for that which is done, at least indirectly even if unwillingly, in my name - that is, US policy. That's why I focus on US behavior over that of regimes and movements it opposes. It's not that those movements necessarily have (or deserve) my support, it's rather that I'm not responsible for them. I am, by virtue of being a citizen, in some way and to some degree responsible for what the US does, even if only, if you will, symbolically. On a secondary level, I feel more responsible for the actions of US allies than, again, those allies' opponents. So when Israel ignores or undermines chances for peace, when it commits some grievous wrong, I feel more of an obligation to raise my small voice against it than I do when Hamas or some other Palestinian group commits some atrocity. The bias, if there be one, is a matter of where I feel my responsibility lies. I have, I do, and I will reject absolutely any claim, charge, or inference that doing so is in any way anti-Semitic.

But - to those who may be inclined to feel that anti-Semitism is irrelevant or unimportant or even not real, I offer this:
Nearly one in five Britons says a Jew would not make an acceptable prime minister, and almost one in seven believes the scale of the Holocaust is exaggerated, according to a poll published Friday in Britain's Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

The poll, which interviewed 1,007 people in England, Scotland and Wales, found that 18 percent disagreed with the statement, "A British Jew would make an equally acceptable prime minister as a member of any other faith." ...

The findings of the poll, which was conducted by the ICM research company, showed that 15 percent of those surveyed agreed the scale of the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
Now, in fairness, the lead paragraph goes further than the body of the text justifies. The respondents cited didn't say a Jew was unacceptable as Prime Minister, but rather less acceptable.

But it still means that nearly one-fifth of Britons believes that being a Jew makes you less acceptable as Prime Minister. And that is anti-Semitism, that is bigotry, and that is disgraceful.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / jeffcouturier.com (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-blue.png"}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-red.png"}} document.write('');