Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013
On April 29, at Blair House, Arab League ministers led by Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani reiterated their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, including a (by now, familiar) proposed finesse, that the 1967 border might be adjusted with land swaps to accommodate the large settlement blocs. Three days later, on May 1 (and again on May 3), Israeli aircraft attacked an apparent cache of Hezbollah-bound Iranian weapons near Damascus, attacks embattled President Assad called an act of war demanding retaliation, and which the same Arab League ministers, no friends of Assad, roundly condemned.
It is hard to imagine a juxtaposition capturing so vividly Israel's way forward in "the region." Netanyahu's government did not exactly reject the Qatar initiative and even dispatched Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to explore things with Secretary Kerry. But the attacks in Damascus seem a truer, or at least more urgent, expression of popular attitudes the government derives its mandate from. Israelis have always seen the logic of current military preemption more clearly than that of eventual diplomatic engagement. This won't change.
One former intelligence head-- a man who, fearing a general regional war, has been outspoken in his opposition to attacks on Iranian nuclear installations and even advocated negotiations with Hamas--told me in Washington last week that if Iran grows its military footprint in Syria (elements of the Revolutionary Guard are already there) then all Israelis would be united behind the IAF attacking Iranian forces there. "We simply cannot tolerate Iranians on our borders," he said. And what of the Arab Peace Initiative? "The original Saudi Plan made no mention of Palestinian refugees," he added gravely. Hameivin yavin.
Some of this is just a professional default. Intelligence officials tell you that Arab enemies must be judged in terms of their capabilities and motives. Officials are paid to understand something about capabilities; as to motives, nobody is paid to be Dostoyevsky. They may study the various "ideologies." But they really assume that motives flow from power and, besides, what can Israelis (Jews, "Zionists," etc.,) do but demotivate Arabs by reducing their capabilities?
Given what's happening in Syria, you have to be blind not to see the neighborhood is dangerous. So, no, don't attack Iranian nukes, but perhaps Israel has no better course on Palestine than to wait out the regional violence, reinforce its "deterrence," and defer the peace process. Jeffrey Goldberg, with typical brio, captured this attitude (in a somewhat different context) last year: "If you’re an Israeli, you look at the last twelve years... and [say], 'Now’s the moment when you want me to pull out of territory on the West Bank, including the mountains that overlook Israel’s central cities and its airport? Right now?'"
I could pick nits with this intelligence official as with Goldberg. How would an attack on Iranians in Damascus not invite the same regional war that an attack on their nuclear installations would? Has not preemptive Israeli power, from the Suez War to Gaza, itself helped excite the fanaticism that's made the region so dangerous? Would not more attacks on Damascus touch off a widening war, in which Assad desperately tries to rally weakening forces in the Syrian opposition to stand against Israel, say, by launching (or encouraging Hezbollah to launch) missiles at Israeli cities? As for Goldberg, when you put things the way he does, how does Right now? not translate as Ever?.
Still, I am not writing to criticize either man. For I think that, taken together, their cautions expose the partialness of the peace movement's answers when immediate security issues come up, which is why our leaders and literary heroes never seem to know what to say when the IAF springs into action. ("Okay, bomb Gaza, but avoid civilian casualties, and stop sooner than the right says...")
No doubt, the peace camp has been broadly right to insist that reaching a deal on Palestine would, over time, seriously undermine jihadist and Islamic radicals, who cannot be expected to be more rejectionist regarding Israel's existence than the Palestinian people; that Israel cannot continue to defy the region and the world and expect to thrive or even survive. Anyway, that's the argument we've been making for two generations, though mainly to answer the settlers and their like, whose every excess has been rationalized by the claim that Arab enmity is natural, not historical.
Still, when you do look at what's unfolded in Syria (and Iraq, and Lebanon), it seems clear that settlers are not the peace movement's only foils, and we have meanwhile failed to acknowledge two inconvenient truths. The first is that the same post-Sykes-Picot world that left Lord Balfour's Britain in control of Palestine also left the Middle East full of weird and seriously fractionalized states, all potentially subverted by inflamed ethnic and religious minorities, potentially supported by brothers who are majorities in neighboring states. The second, that the same advanced technology that allows a small state like Israel to become a great power in a region where Israelis are out-numbered 50 to 1, also allows the smallest of inflamed factions the power to do Israeli cities enormous and disruptive and unacceptable damage.
The sad fact is that our region has evolved into the poster child for what Nassim Nicholas Taleb (who began to shape his theories as as a youth in war-torn Lebanon) has called "fragile": an interconnected system in which the smallest, eccentric, fanatic part--the people you don't ordinarily encounter, the "black swan"--can do catastrophic damage to the whole. For Israelis, relying on the good faith of the Palestinian majority will invite disaster, much like an airport that assumes a security screening process fit for the average traveler.
Yes, Israeli military intervention in Lebanon in the early 1970s helped inflame what needed to be contained. Yes, the same can be said for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Yes, the occupation. But Syria? There, the factions needed only each other. Nobody knows where this will end. Goldberg may be demagogic at times, but he's right to assume an approach that does not simply entail "pull[ing] out of territory on the West Bank." No Israeli in his or her right mind will go for this, nor should any Palestinian. Which brings me back to the integration imperative I spoke about in my last post.
Given the scale and proximity of the states in question, no two state solution is conceivable--so I argued--apart from the confederal arrangements that would allow them grow by integrating a common (in effect,) urban infrastructure. The problem of security makes such integration all but inescapable. By speaking of a "demilitarized" Palestinian state--like the one Abbas offered Olmert--Palestinians have shown extraordinary goodwill; but when Israelis just take this for granted, we insult our Palestinian partners without really doing justice to the dangers and methods of contemporary terrorism, especially Jihadist terrorism, but settler terror as well: the dangers of shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles, or chemical and biological agents, or attacks on the electric and telecommunications grid, attacks on water. Preparing for only the white swans, as Taleb warns, is just not good enough when the system is a highly interdependent and the means of destruction in the hands of a few outliers is so outsized.
Israelis particularly have come by their wariness honestly. As my friend Carlo Strenger has been emphasizing lately, the wave of suicide bombing that accompanied the Al-Aqsa intifada from 2000-2004 has left deep scars and a plausible sense of fragility, even among people who've been fighting the occupation their whole lives. Imagine not one bomb killing and maiming civilians in Boston but over 150 over four years. Now imagine that southern New Hampshire were a kind of Chechnya, and that radicals from Manchester placed the bombs; imagine that polls showed a majority of New Hampshire Chechens favored the bombs. Would people in Boston now be inclined to trust any plan in which some insane subset of New Hampshire Chechens could be in a position to fire missiles at Logan airport?
I know, I know, you also have to imagine also that Massachusetts occupied southern New Hampshire--cruelly, and with irredentist ambitions--and negotiations to end the occupation had been stuck. By the end of Oslo the number of settlers doubled. I know also that Abbas and his brains-trust has condemned the intifada, the bombs, the violence. But who can guarantee Abbas can survive the radical forces roiling his own streets or the jihadist forces threatening Assad across the Syrian border? For Israelis, the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.
For that matter, will a Palestinian state be able to cope with potential Jewish terrorist groups which almost certainly will try to disrupt and discredit any settlement that potentially forces settlers out of hotbeds of fanaticism like Kadum or Kiryat Arba? Remember what De Gaulle had to deal with after Algeria? Now imagine that Algeria was a big city adjacent to Paris?
No, the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, the borders, the all-sided recognition, the effort to deal with the refugees--all of these things--are only the beginning. We need to think about security cooperation much more deeply. I don't pretend that anyone has worked through the details yet, which may take months of management analysis and negotiations; but it will simply not be enough for Israelis and Palestinians to assume a solution in which two states arise, separate, and each has sole discretion over internal security.
During Oslo in the 1990s, until the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada, Hamas dissidents were responsible for virtually all Palestinian acts of terror, but Israel held Arafat's PA (which was vainly trying to jail Hamas people) accountable. The settler groups were responsible for Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, but Palestinians saw "Israelis." This formula--"you're sovereign, so you're responsible"--is a recipe for disintegration. It makes any peace hostage to sociopaths.
Both states, rather, will have to agree in advance to shape confederal internal security institutions, almost certainly in conjunction with third parties like the FBI and Interpol to facilitate close cooperation. Until now, given the occupation, the on-the-ground intelligence gathered by Israel's security services (its "Gatekeepers") and by the PA's US-trained police have been sources of repression and provocation. In any two state solution, intelligence and counter-terror methods can, and must, be shared. They will then be the source of both shared stability or shared responsibility for inevitable failures.
External security is a different matter, of course, and Israel will--for obvious reasons, and during our lifetimes--want to retain sole discretion over its defense forces. It will have its air force, combat divisions, cyber force, and nuclear arsenal, though ideally buttressed within an alliance like NATO.
But here, the Arab Peace Initiative might well be seen as an invitation to consider building toward collective security agreements, too. If you are Qatar or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, your nightmare is Iran, not Zionism. Souad Mekhennet, the roving New York Times correspondent who has interviewed virtually every jihadist in the game, told me recently that in her view, an agreement on Palestine would not only greatly diminish the moral prestige of jihadist forces, and undermine the growing hatred for "Jews" and Americans, but that the Gulf states, Jordan, etc., would welcome an implicit alliance against Iranian ambitions.
The key for Israel, and Kerry, is a Syrian war that does not widen into a regional one, which could sweep away the Hashemite regime in Jordan, and put Israel into confrontation with groups supported by the very Gulf states offering peace. More Israeli attacks on Damascus, in this sense, cannot help. Offering Jordan aid in caring for Syrian refugees might.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 8:39 AM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Please, if you have not yet contributed--even as little as $25--do so now. Ben Avishai and Ken Winikur, the film's producers, get nothing--zip, nada--of Kickstarter pledges if they don't raise the full $35,000 they need to prepare a cut for television. (This is not like a public radio appeal, where stations keep what they can get and make do. The genius, and challenge, of Kickstarter is that contributors are charged nothing if the project they give to is not fully funded.)
So, again, take a moment to watch the trailer and give what you can. The whole process takes perhaps 5 minutes. You don't have to be a supporter of J Street to give; just someone who wants to see the debate in the American Jewish community, and about American Middle East foreign policy, elevated by a broadcast film of this kind.
Here is the link. We urgently need your help.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 4:15 PM
Monday, April 15, 2013
Israel turns 65 today, old enough to know better; and if life begins at conception, the state and I are exactly the same age. So forgive me for going all meta. I can imagine pretty much what I'll be, if at all, in 20 years. But Israel?
I ask because the conflict with the Palestinians seems headed to something bad yet the peace process has become a great bore. Presumably, everybody knows the arguments and grievances and indignations. They know that two states have been preempted by Tel Aviv's complacency, or settler momentum, or Ramallah's nostalgia, or Gaza's missiles; that we're too afraid and they're too angry; that you can care about "Jewish," or about refugees, but not both; that the occupation has created one state anyway, and seriousness about human rights means demanding one-person, one-vote, a notional prelude to a political dream palace, which actually means a prelude to Bosnia, but never mind.
But wait: isn't John Kerry serious and hasn't President Obama inspired? Won't a renewal of Palestinian insurgency, with Syria in chaos and the Egyptian economy collapsing, lead to regional violence? Even if Israel has the power to win any war, don't Palestinians have the power to make them despise any victory? Boring. Everybody also knows that in restarting negotiations over restarting negotiations, Kerry's in denial about how far apart the sides are, or the limited power of American diplomacy to force them closer, or (the same thing) the limited power of the president to defy the Israel lobby.
The only people who aren't bored, it seems, are the pure hearts on both sides who claim that the peace the process is supposed to produce is anyway superfluous; that Palestinians can outlast Zionism like ancient Muslims sweated out the Crusaders, or that Israelis can hunker down behind their wall, wait for "the neighborhood" to settle down, and morph into Silicon Valley (soon, with more Haredi programmers). In Israel, cynicism actually means flirting with messianism: annex, sigh, annex, sigh, and join in hymns to the land of Israel. Then again, what is more boring: the dead ends careful people think themselves into, or the delusions faithful people con themselves into? Either way, Kerry Shmerry.
So Israelis are entering the state's 65th. year in a kind of Après moi, le déluge frame of mind: Lapid's people can sit with Bennett's people, and both can sit with Bibi's people, not because they agree on a future, but because they can't really envision one. And they blush for people who try to. Sure, let Kerry start negotiations; let his shuttles continue. They won't lead anywhere. So we're safe. Not safe safe, but not-to-blame; safe in the conviction that nothing should really be expected of us, not when there are nuclear Ayatollahs to wag a finger at and existential threats defining "history." Hell, even our smartest American Jews are lamenting how there won't be Middle East peace in their lifetime. So no more strategy, just brilliant pathos.
If it isn't clear by now, I hate this talk, this boredom, this canny hopelessness, and not only because "knowing better" means realizing you'll be remembered for what you stood for, not for your predictions. More important, the new politics is staring us in the face but most keep defaulting to the old one, of all things, just to avoid looking foolish. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that we're bored, not because we've heard it all before, but because what we've heard is vexingly out of date; two separate states addressing the problems, or redeeming the promise, of 1948, or 1967, not 2013.
The thing is, two states in a globalized, networked, densely populated land cannot be the same as two states in a land full of sparse agricultural villages and rivalries over hilltops. The UNSCOP partition plan was nice, at least for Zionist colonists. But forget partition. It was not conceived for what Tel Aviv has become and what the East Jerusalem-Ramallah-Hebron triangle will inevitably become. Economic integration has become much more important for national life to thrive than "self-determination"; open source cooperation is much more important than closed borders.
Most Israeli peaceniks of my generation still don't get this. They've been saying since before Oslo, "we'll give them their share of the land and perhaps they'll leave us alone," which had a certain plausibility, except for that refugee thing, and the matter of one-fifth of "us" being them. But I like to think that Kerry gets it, that somewhere in the course of his shuttles he's shifted paradigms--like to think it if only because it makes sense for a hip, worldly American to get it, so I can hardly believe he doesn't get it and thinks he can get others to get it.
I haven't much evidence for this, but there is some. "We are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development [in Palestine]," Kerry said at last week's final press conference in Jerusalem. This came in the wake of President Obama's closing words in Jerusalem ("if people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv... Israel should have [entrepreneurial partnerships] with every country in the world"). Translation: the conflict needs to be reframed in terms of the new economy, indeed, that the issues in dispute could be both expanded and made more tractable if we recognized facts on the ground other than the kinds of villages and settlements that faced off in the 1940s.
Actually, most reporters immediately assumed that Kerry's talk of new economic efforts was merely a way to elide the “core issues” (borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees) where--given this government in Israel, and those divisions in Palestine--frustration is guaranteed. Or a way of sending a message to Abbas's Fatah brains-trust to leave Salam Fayyad in office, which Abbas did not do--about which more in a follow up post. I have myself argued that economic progress under occupation, where movement of Palestinian talent and components is restricted to protect the settlement project, cannot be serious.
And yet consider the emphasis and timing of Kerry's statement. These are familiar notes, but the music seems different to me somehow, precisely because it’s clear to anyone who'll give it a moment's thought that enabling flows of talent and components into Palestine is a bigger core issue for a future two state solution than, say, the precise placement of the border; that the occupation needs to end first and foremost because of the economic harm it is doing.
Kerry’s focus on economic progress in this context may sound hackneyed but it can also be an appeal for realism and creativity. Okay, the PA is on the ropes; residents of Palestinian cities need international donors to pony up around $2 billion a year to pay teachers and police, and Fayyad made donating easier. But Palestinians have over $8 billion in bank deposits (Jordanian Palestinians have well over $12 billion), and banks can't lend even half of it because, given the occupation, there are few investible business plans. In this sense, Fayyad was doomed from the start.
But in this sense, also, think about the placement of a border—a much more fraught issue when you think of two states as land subtending agricultural villages and smallish industrial villages rather than networked cities. But Israel and Palestine are already headed to something much more like the latter than the former. Israel is a city-state, an arc-shaped Hebrew megalopolis of about six million Jews, from Ber-Sheva to Haifa and on into the Galilee, a entrepreneurial node in a global network. Bending around this arc is a string of hybridized Israeli Arab cities, another million and half people, many of whom are percolating into Hebrew civil society, and whose Arabic culture disrupts Israel's urbane Hebrew culture not at all. Sure, there is racism: Jews and Arabs are humans. But there is also Rambam Hospital in Haifa, where Jewish and Arab doctors and patients portend an Israel and Palestine we often see but don't project from.
And interfacing with this Israeli, Hebrew city-state is the Palestinian, Arabic state-in-the-making, increasingly integrated with the economic life of Amman. Indeed, when hundreds of thousands of refugees start pouring back, much of the West Bank hill cities (and Jordan Valley) will look like, and have the urban density of, Amman. A two state solution cannot now be a divorce. As I've stressed again and again, both states north of the Negev desert are about the size of greater Los Angeles; West Jerusalem to Ramallah is San Diego to Tijuana. You cannot divorce San Diego from Tijuana, and why would you want to?
In fact, when you think of the jurisdictions these city-states will exercise, you'd think naturally of police, education, civil law, property law, etc., pretty much what the PA has hypothetically exercised under the Oslo Agreement. But now try to think of jurisdictions that do not require the two city-states to work cooperatively and grow reciprocally. There aren't any.
Think of water and sewage, bandwidth and telecom, health delivery and control of epidemics, labor and immigration law, certification and integration of tourist services, banking and currency controls, roads and bridges, railways, construction standards, technical universities, and so forth. In effect, this must become one big system: two nations, yes, but one urban infrastructure. So a border will matter, independence will matter.
But as Sam Bahour and I have written, independence must be enabled by interdependence. Housing stock and office space in Palestine, as in Israel, will grow up, not out; the flow into Palestine of intellectual capital from Israel and Jordan will matter more to Palestinian development than any financial capital it gets from Western Europe or Gulf States. Palestine graduates about 1200 computer technologists a year. How many will be competent unless they work on large scale projects such as can be found in Israel's technology centers for Intel, Cisco, and Google? How many Israeli medical tourism companies can thrive without forging partnerships with Palestinians drawing clients from Dubai and Qatar?
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting the sides are not interested in cultural distinction and national sovereignty; I am not saying notions of holiness, or justice under international law, won't matter. Both sides will want to build "their own state." But the obvious direction here is toward an array of confederative institutions, which is just what the global economy has established and portends.
Even on the most enduring and volatile core issues, such as Jerusalem, various good faith negotiations in the past (like those between Olmert and Abbas) have presumed new confederative institutions simply to solve otherwise unsolvable problems. Jerusalem, they agreed, would have two capitals but one municipality. Well, what was that projected municipality if not a confederative institution? What was projected international committee that would become custodian of the old city? Security arrangements, remember, were similarly agreed on, and would assume an American or other third party patrol on the Jordanian border to guard against smuggling heavy weapons and missiles. What was the joint body that would deal with this third party if not a confederative institution?
Two interlocking city-states, that is, will have economies that are urban, networked and rooted in knowledge-based entrepreneurship. In that context, even the return of refugees becomes easier to entertain. For the fight to maintain a Jewish national reality is no longer about who will control an agricultural Galilee, but what will the language of work be in Herzliya. Olmert suggested to Abbas (and Abbas had agreed with Yossi Beilin back in 1995) that the sides establish refugee claims in an international commission, yet another confederative institution that manages restitution of property and/or compensation. But why in God's name can't Israel and Palestine jointly agree on a residency system so that a number of citizens of one state may become resident aliens of the other?
A Palestinian citizen who reclaimed a farm in the Galilee, but voted in Palestine, would be traveling perhaps twenty minutes to get to the polls. Ditto, a resident of Ariel, formally in Palestine, but a citizen of Israel. I am not saying that all settlers should remain in place or all refugees should become residents of Israel. Palestinians are right that, in principle, Israelis should not gain by having broken international law since 1967; Abbas was right when he conceded to Olmert than the return of millions of refugees would destroy Israel. But, really, what negative impact would fuzzy arrangements over residency have on the tourism businesses starting up in Bethlehem or the bioinformatics companies starting up around Rambam or the Weizmann Institute?
The point is, we have to start working these problems as if independence presumes interdependence; projecting vivid lines of cooperation and reciprocity, so that we can all begin to trust in a future together--not because we like each other, but simply because the imperatives of cooperation seems so plausible. This is what Germans and Frenchmen began to work on when they formed the makings of a common market in the beginning of the 1950s.
And when I say we, I suppose I mean Kerry first and foremost. It is simply not enough for him, or the Obama administration, to work quietly behind the scenes on process and let people who are chasing the past set the terms of the conversation. Palestine is not just Israel's internal affair; Israel is not just Palestine's foil. It is time for the vision thing. As for the rest of us, the choice is either contribute to this vision or bore ourselves to death.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 6:55 AM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
|Watch the trailer on Kickstarter|
Ben and Ken have been making documentary films for fifteen years, producing nationally televised documentaries on subjects as diverse as “The Spear of Christ” and crime boss Whitey Bulger, all broadcast on Investigation Discovery and The History Channel. They also collaborated on producing all of the films for the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. (Yes, Ben is my son.)
To be clear, this is an independent production, which I have had the privilege of advising closely. The intention is to air the film as a national television broadcast, in the US and abroad. Ben and Ken presented J Street: The Documentary to the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. Israel’s YES docu cable service has provisionally committed to running the final result, while other public television networks, from Norway to Japan, have expressed strong interest in the finished product. In the US and Canada, too, public television series and cable networks have asked to see a rough cut--hence this post.
This project is now at its most critical stage. Ben and Ken have raised all they could from foundations and private philanthropy to complete their filming. Now they need to raise $35,000 to complete editing--and raise whatever they can over and above this amount for archival footage acquisition, audio mixing, color-correction, animations, music and title graphics. This morning, they began a Kickstarter campaign to do just this.
Readers of this blog have honored me with your attention over the past six years. Now I ask for more tangible evidence of your good opinion. This is a film we need.
Watch the trailer, contribute what you can.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 2:44 PM
Sunday, March 24, 2013
this post from 2009, which still feels to me a decent welcome for the festival of freedom. Maya is now six, by the way.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 10:09 PM
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Wheeler Centre, in a symposium on "National Identity and Faith," organized by the indomitable Raimond Gaita. The lecture recording, and the transcript, are now available online. So is the panel discussion held after the talk. There are turns in the argument I now wish I had not taken around the 40th. minute, when I might have wrapped things up, rather than try the audience's patience by launching into new, albeit related subjects. But on the whole, a summary of the tortured ways Jewish orthodoxy afflicts Israeli identity. It seems of particular interest, since the new government has been put together ostensibly to reverse support for ultra-Orthodox communities. You can hear the lecture here, and read it here. And here is the panel discussion.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 1:40 AM