Friday, June 15, 2007

Jerusalem Post op ed - The Hamas Victory

This article of mine based on our work at Reut was published in the Jerusalem Post (14/6). Hopefully my blog readers will think more of it than the Talkback writers did :) (its amazing how subtetly goes out the window when talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)

Despite Israel’s natural inclination to view Hamas’ military victory over Fatah forces in Gaza with despair, the movement's complete control over Gaza may not be as bad as we fear. In fact, its consequences may offer the best opportunity in years to break the political stalemate by assisting in the creation of an effective address in the West Bank with which Israel can promote a political process.

The biggest obstacle to any progress between Israel and the Palestinians since 2000 has been the absence of either a partner or an ‘address’ on the Palestinian side. The reform of the
Palestinian Basic Law in the context of the Roadmap was supposed to alleviate this by creating the role of Prime Minister to bypass Arafat. Yet the reform became an even greater constitutional millstone round the Palestinian political system’s neck after Arafat’s death and Hamas’ victory in the elections. This led to constitutional dysfunction due to the overlap of powers and authorities between the position of Chairman, controlled by Fatah, and the government, controlled by Hamas.

With no legal way out of this crisis until new Palestinian elections in 2010, Israel was forced to bide its time hoping that its boycott policy would somehow change
Hamas’ spots. As international support slowly eroded, and a humanitarian disaster in the PA looked on the cards, Israel’s choices were beginning to grow thin.

Hamas’ disregard for the PA’s constitution by carrying out a military coup can work in Israel's favor. With a clear Fatah majority in the PLO, Abu Mazen could theoretically use the fighting as an opportunity to break the constitutional Gordian knot tying Palestinian hands by annulling the Basic Law and centralizing power and authority in the West Bank under his leadership. This new scenario would in effect create two separate political-territorial units alongside Israel – a Gaza Hamastan and a West Bank Fatah-land.

Instead of Israel being faced with no Palestinian address, it would suddenly be able to deal with two.

While no one celebrates the official presence of a Hamastan a few miles from Sderot, the new situation provides opportunities. The de-facto division between Gaza and the
West Bank would allow Israel to maintain its boycott of Hamas in Gaza while utilizing the situation in the West Bank under the leadership of a potential partner. In this context, Israel should consider strengthening Abu Mazen through transferring funds, renewing the free movement of trade and lifting all constraints on cooperation with Fatah members.

For its part,
Hamas may find that its victory over Fatah is only the beginning, not the end of its problems. It will need to deal with a hostile international community, tension with Egypt, internal ideological divisions and provision of services to Gaza’s civilian population. Similar to King Pyrrhus of Epirus' men whose victory over the Romans was so costly that they were subsequently defeated the next time around, Hamas may find that though it won the battle, it will ultimately lose the war.

We shouldn’t think the way ahead is easy or we’re on the verge of a Switzerland style utopian peace.
Hamas isn’t disappearing any time soon, Fatah hasn’t suddenly turned into card carrying Zionists and Israeli society’s ability for large scale territorial compromise is yet to be fully tested.

But if we want to maintain Israel as a Jewish democratic State and prevent the inevitable slide towards anarchy and increased international isolation continued occupation would lead to, we need to find a Palestinian address to coordinate the establishment of a two state solution.

Recent events in Gaza may provide our best opportunity for some time to come.

Friday, June 08, 2007

12 Spies and a Man from Laos

In the summer of 2001, Ilan and I were preparing for Shabbat in a beautiful town in northern Laos called Vang Vieng. Cooking frantically in our little pot late Friday afternoon, and trying to explain to the hotel manager how we don’t turn on lights, cook, use money etc because it’s a special religious day (anyone whose ever done this can imagine the scene) I was shocked when he responded; AHHH, YOM SHABBAT.

Astonished, I looked at him, and he repeated, YOM SHABBAT. As it turns out, he, along with many other people from the developing world came to Israel in the 60's and 70's on scholarships to the Weitzman Institute to study agricultural techniques. 30 years later, he still looked back fondly on his time in Rehovot.


This week we read about the 12 spies, sent to check out the land, 10 of whom brought back a bad report causing a 40 year exile in the desert. The Torah reports they returned saying;

'We came to the land you sent us to, and it certainly is a land flowing with milk and honey...
But the people that dwell there are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great… And Calev stilled the people and said: 'We should go up at once, and possess it; for we can surely do it.' But the men that went up with him responded: 'We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than us…The land through which we passed is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw there are men of great stature.’

To mark the Torah portion, Nefesh BeNefesh asked Olim to write 12 things they most love about being in Israel. The request has been going round the blogosphere and has led to some great answers here, here, here and my favorite one here.


I was also tagged to comment, but realized that most of my answers had already been written. There are so many things I love about this place – Hatikva with 40,000 fans in Ramat Gan, Shabbat Shalom wishes in the supermarket, not being the geek with his harmolis meal when going out with work, a day off by the beach instead of at Brent Cross or Primark… the fact that THIS is where Jewish history is being played out.

But there's something that makes me prouder than all of those things – and that’s meeting a Lao hotel manager from a small village who loves Israel and the Jewish people due to an experience he had 30 years ago. That Israel gave the chance to others less fortunate to improve their life and education, and bring that expertise back to their own countries. There must be tens of thousands of people all over the world who have benefited from Israeli kindness, something Israel bashers don’t even have the faintest idea about.


Yet that’s only one side to this country. Strange as it may seem, the 10 spies didn’t lie about the land. As they said, it is a land of milk and honey. Yet it’s also a land that 'Ochelet Yoshveha' that eats up its inhabitants. It’s a land of wonder, but also one that desensitizes us to suffering of others, of what David Grossman describes as shrinking the “surface area” of the soul. It’s a land where a stranger will drive out of their way to help you, yet another might drive out of their way to cut you up; a land that can invite Lao farmers to study but whose religious leaders can refuse asylum to Sudanese Refugees because 'we have enough problems of our own'.

As the 10 conclude, the people that dwell in this region are tough, and living won’t be easy.

But the other two spies were also right. Despite this we should go up, we should move here; it may be difficult, it may sometimes be painful; but with a little faith, and a little courage we will ultimately be able to overcome everything.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The 6 Day War - 40 years on...

Last week, I was asked by a journalist from Al Jazeera to write some thoughts on the 6 Day War and the future from an Israeli perspective....

For those who view Israel as a regional military superpower with a healthy economy, it's difficult to imagine a time in June 1967 in which the citizens of a country 9 miles wide heard the threats of destruction from their neighbours, the deafening silence from the international community, and dug mass graves in local parks in preparation for a second Holocaust.

The 6 day war is in many ways the catalyst for this remarkable change of Israel's image, yet it raises dialectical feelings. On the one hand, it commemorates a great military victory, the fulfilment of our 2000 year old dream to pray at the Western wall and access the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Yet at the same it also marks our control over a large Palestinian population, an issue that has slowly undermined our moral and international legitimacy.

The war marked a new stage in Israel’s short history – making us more confident of our future in this region yet also forcing us to recognize the legitimacy of another people’s rights to this land, forcing us to compromise on our dreams. It liberated us from annihilation yet simultaneously left us as occupiers of another people. It saved us from existential danger yet now threatens the future of a Jewish democratic state.

Israel may have won the war in 6 days but we have waited for 40 years to win the peace.

Most Israelis understand and accept the need for a negotiated two state solution (including East Jerusalem). But they have fears – that territory we withdraw from will not form the base of a peaceful Palestinian state but of rocket attacks against our civilian population. We hear statements from our neighbours and fear that deep down, they still haven’t come to terms with the legitimacy of Jewish sovereign presence.

On one level, peace to me simply means the absence of personal fear – that my bus won't blow up, that my child's school won't be hit by a rocket or that one day a mushroom cloud won't appear above Tel Aviv (it may seem counterintuitive, but Israelis do have a deep seated fear of being annihilated). It means Palestinians being able to travel freely and not being obstructed by checkpoints or Israeli soldiers –in short, a 'negative' type of peace (to paraphrase Isaiah Berlin).

There was a time when I had hoped for much more - Israelis visiting Damascus for the weekend to shop or Saudis thronging to Tel Aviv to party. Yet 40 years on from those historic days in June, from the war that in many ways still hasn’t ended, Israelis and Palestinians may not only have to accept something less than we all wanted, but even something less than we thought we could live with.