Antony Loewenstein: Israel must pay for crimes
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Vacation to Israel Canceled due to History of Israel
HOBOKEN, NJ—With only three weeks to go before embarking on a much-anticipated vacation to Israel, 34-year-old Jeff Kaufmann made the difficult decision to cancel his trip yesterday, citing unfavorable exchange rates and the entirety of the Jewish nation’s 60-year existence. “I’d been looking forward to this for months, but hotel prices started going up, things got kind of crazy at work, and also Israel’s whole history is basically a decades-long horror show of ethnic violence, harsh reprisals, and geopolitical madness.” Kaufmann said. “The Negev Desert is supposed to be amazing, but on the other hand, ever since its founding in 1948, Israel has been spinning downward in a chaotic spiral of fear, hatred, and death. So it’s a tough call.” Kaufmann added that he hopes the Arab and Jewish peoples will be able to put aside a century of bloodshed before his travel voucher expires in June.
This speaks for itself.
During a recent moderated discussion on campus, I had the chance to pose a few questions to Canadian international law expert (and recent federal NDP candidate) Prof. Michael Byers.
Interested in what light his expertise may shed on ways forward for Israel-Palestine, i asked if there was any historical precedent for the UN asserting a mandate over contested territory.
Byers answered that, although there were small-scale precedents, the UN has (understandably) been loathe to put itself in such a situation given post-colonial realities. However, he then paused briefly and recollected with some interest that after the first Gulf War, there was confusion over how to disburse reparations from Iraq to Palestinian residents of Kuwait (of which there are, or at least were at a time, hundreds of thousands).
Byers explained that since people can only receive international reparations (reparations may be the wrong term, here, but it captures the idea) through the apparatus of their home state–and most Palestinian residents of Arab countries do not have citizenship in their country of residence–the UN, in effect, stepped in and acted temporarily as the Palestinians’ state so as to ensure those who were due payment under international law received it.
After another brief pause, something occurred to Byers, and he went on with a mixture of surprise and stifled enthusiasm: “Actually, if you wanted to get really provocative, you could even call for Palestinians to be granted UN citizenship.”
Hm. I wonder what effect that would have on Israeli military policy.
Food for thought.
As a sort of stop-gap compromise between the two-state solution and a permanent international protectorate, Prof. Dan Jacobson wrote this several months ago in the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture:
…given the fundamental weakness of both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian governing institutions… reputable observers of the Middle East scene are renewing their call for trusteeship-like solutions… Accordingly, the West Bank to begin with, and at a later stage Gaza, is to be held in trust for the Palestinians for a pre-determined transitional period, while the trustees work with responsible Palestinian partners to create the institutions of a viable, independent state. As in East Timor [halewi’s link], a UN Security Council-endorsed international force will replace the Israeli army in the occupied territories. The force will be responsible for maintaining order, preventing terror attacks against Israeli targets and rebuilding Palestinian security forces. According to expert projections it will have to consist of at least 10,000 troops, led by special forces and supplemented by civil police contingents (CivPol). U.S. or NATO leadership of the force is usually seen as a requirement for its success. European participation may provide a much-needed perception of impartiality to the effort. Arab and Muslim participation in the force would provide legitimacy, particularly if units from countries with open channels to both Israelis and Palestinians are included, such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco and the Gulf States, under a consensual Arab League umbrella. Arab participation in the multinational force is of the utmost importance, in order to prevent its being construed as yet another neo-colonialist exercise in the region.
Although this wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of Israeli settlements, water use, other shared resources, demographic pressures, justice for ‘Israeli Arabs’, etc., it’s certainly a laudable vision.
Apropo, i was heartened to be at a small-scale campus dialogue on Gaza last evening, where a number of Israeli grad students were in essence calling for just this sort of thing. Maybe it’s time, one said, to simply bring in international forces. We need help.
A silver lining, perhaps, in the otherwise horrific human tragedy that is Gaza (?)
Hezbollah is not the source of the problem, … It is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948. The eastern shore of the Mediterranean is in turmoil from end to end, a repetition of continuing conflicts in one part or another since the abortive attempts of the United Nations to create separate Israeli and Palestinian states in 1948.
Despite Scowcroft’s age (and some may say political and religious affiliations, although i withhold judgement here), this strikes me as precisely the sort of wisened, historically-informed, big-picture thinking that’s needed today. This is not in spite of 21st century globalized media, the dominance of pro-growth consumerism or the world’s concomitant cornucopia of identity crises. Rather, it’s precisely because of these things, because of the ‘global village’ that adaptive long-term thinking (both proactively and retroactively) now matters to virtually everyone. As Scowcroft goes on to say,
The current conflagration has energized the world. Now, perhaps more than ever, we have an opportunity to harness that concern and energy to achieve a comprehensive resolution of the entire 58-year-old tragedy. Only the United States [halewi winces] can lead the effort required to seize this opportunity.
I’m not convinced of the US’ suitability, let alone omnipotence, in leading the charge, here. But Scowcroft is dead on about how energized (if polarized) the world has become over this issue.
I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but i feel compelled to expand on it further. Israel-Palestine is an ill-adapted vestigal appendage of an outdated, geographically misplaced sociopolitical entity–the nation state.
It’s no coincidence that the very birthplace of this ‘imagined‘ ethno-political system–Europe–is now moving to a supranational, federal union with devolved cultural autonomies.
Europeans have literally lived through the horrific consequences of nation-state logic a full generation before most in the post-colonial world. This is not an argument for European superiority–far from it. If anything, the opposite. Rather, it’s an argument for the long-term untenability of the nation-state (a gift for which the world can thank the idiosyncratic territorial rivalries of 17th century European power brokers). This is particularly true for regions that have seemingly intractible competing claims.
In this light, the two-state solution no longer seems particularly adaptive for our current day and age. Not on the issue of the region’s shifting demographics, nor on its resource scarcity (namely, water, so often overlooked), nor with regard to ‘imagining’ an identity politics fitted to the 21st, as opposed to 19th, century.
Israel-Palestine, despite the endlessly ironic tragedy of the current situation, holds promise–perhaps the world’s best promise–for demonstrating how a new sociopolitical system can be concsiously imagined, cultivated and employed.
The region must become a permanent international protectorate.
Absurd–i know. But no more absurd than a flourishing nuclear ‘ethno-Jewish democracy’ living ‘side by side in peace’ with a demilitarized Palestinian Bantustan. Please. No more absurd than perhaps the holiest place in the world devolving into a wasps’ nest of low-grade ethnoreligious civil-war, which is precisely what a Middle Eastern South Africa would look like.
The UN gave birth to this mess (not least out of western guilt for the Holocaust); now it’s a global tinderbox. Time has come to take collective responsibility–to take the potential, nay the necessity, for a powerful set of global institutions seriously, and turn Israel-Palestine into an internationally-administered, shining beacon of hope for the world. No, really. Call me crazy, but i mean it.
This is not as hard to do as it may sound–it takes some creativity and vision–but, phased in, from Jerusalem outwards, for instance, it may even be doable within this generation.
Combining the overarching structure of the late Ottoman millet system with the innovative democratic innovations of the EU, the result could be an entirely new paradigm of sociopolitical organization: the Permanent International Zone, a multicultural global protectorate.
Eventually, a series of such protectorates would have a far easier time of coordinating issues of macropolicy, such as trade, ecological concerns, migration, and so on, than exists within the current system of international relations, which is dominated by (somewhat) enlightened national and corporate anarachy (aka realism).
It may seem an impossible goal at the moment, but i honestly believe (perhaps against all common sense) that it is the way forward. If enough people take the time to think about it–Jews and Muslims especially, but the greater international community as well–i’m confident its utopian pragmatism will begin to shine through.
It seems high time we put aside our obsession for nation states. Diverse cultures and identities can persist, even thrive, without these relics of European cultural imperialism. The world doesn’t have to remain the hapless victim to historical accident; we don’t have to buy into the imaginings of centuries-old power-hungry western ideologues or the knee-jerk reactions of their non-Christian contemporaries. We now live in a world where the scale of civilization requires us, at the very least, to effectively coordinate policy, if not get along. This is the way forward. It just takes some constructive vision. No lobby, state or corporation has monopoly on that.