Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rights and wrongs

"You're all fuckheads."

In most disputes in this world, there is not a right and a wrong. Often, there is righter and wronger, but it's rarely clear cut. World War Two was something of an exception, at least in Europe, where most involved were fighting a war of defence against an aggressor that could not easily be negotiated with. In the Pacific, the war is more readily characterised as a conflict between economic powers. I'm not sure that a Phillip Bobbitt-style reading of the conflicts of the twentieth century as one "long war" between contesting political systems stands up to scrutiny, because in each case the system is simply the means particular interests choose to express themselves. Only if the interests themselves truly differed could Bobbitt's analysis stand. But the US military did not then, and does not now, serve the people; rather, it served the interests of the corporations that feared Japanese encroachment on markets and resources that the US considered to belong to it. I do think it's reasonable to consider the US righter and Japan wronger, but I think a white hat/black hat view is entirely wrong. Viewing the war in the Pacific rather as similar to the First World War, a clash of "great powers", is probably more accurate. Even if Marx was not right when he suggested that economics always lies behind conflict, it makes sense to look first at what economic interests are at stake in any given clash.

I think De Soto's bullet points capture the tragedy of Israel/Palestine exactly. The boycott on Hamas has been a disaster, a real "what the fuck were they thinking?" position on the part of the US and its supporters. Not engaging with the democratically elected government of the Palestinians is a repudiation of democracy, not an expression of it. We cannot claim to support democracy only if it gives us the results we wish for -- although this has very much been the American position in the past hundred years or so: Iraq is just the latest conflict in which America seeks to deny a people's clearly expressed will. It also leaves no avenue to further the peace process. Which I think is what Israel wanted. It was doubtless delighted that Hamas was elected, because that provided it with the latest of a chain of excuses not to negotiate fairly, or at all. De Soto is right about Israeli rejectionism, which has basically been its stance for many years now. It has no intention of allowing a just peace, and gives the impression of aiming at a "Greater Israel" as a fait accompli. It's all very well to pay lip service to a "roadmap" that requires you not to create further settlements in someone else's territory, but you cannot expect to be taken seriously if you allow -- and even encourage -- those settlements to be built. Israel's approach has been to divide and conquer: to maintain instability among the Palestinians, and to keep up a level of conflict that does not permit a decent internal discourse.

Meanwhile, the world's powers stand by and watch. As I've noted, Israel could be pressured into doing the right thing very easily. Everyone needs markets, after all. We do not need to apply sanctions. A simple "do it" from the US would suffice. Even pressure from the EU would likely have an effect. The preconditions set for Hamas and the Palestinians in general are ridiculously severe and onesided. Hamas must renounce violence against a nation that currently occupies its territory and is killing the people it represents? Well, you go first is probably Hamas's best reply! This is not the least of the conditions that were placed upon Hamas, which the Quartet is well aware it cannot and will not accept. There are of course no conditions at all on Israel. It is not even required to live up to the commitments it has already made.

But the Palestinians are not in the right either. Israel is not going away. Whatever the rights and wrongs of its establishment, it is there, and it is unshiftable. It's time, long past time, for the Arabs to ask themselves whether that is so bad that they can never accept it or whether they must find an accommodation. Two things strike me: the first is that Muslims have had to surrender parts of the world of Islam already -- Spain was once Muslim ruled, so too Greece and other parts of Eastern Europe, so it is not impossible to accept that lands once conquered can be surrendered; second, Israel is progressive and successful. Part of its success has been bought with the Yankee dollar, but I think that it's fair to say that that is nothing like the whole story. Israel was built by the Jews, scratched out of the dirt by them, and should be something of a model to the nations around it. It's not perfect, by any means, but it comes out of comparison with places like Syria very favourably.

Worse, of course, than rejectionism is outright murder. Which is what suicide bombers do. I do not believe that murdering civilians is a suitable means to "defend" oneself. I don't think that anyone truly believes that that is what the Palestinians have been doing. Clearly, suicide bombing creates outrage, makes headlines, and importantly provokes one's enemy to perpetrate its own outrages on your civilians. Those directing suicide bombers know that each attack will bring the deaths of not just Jews but Arabs too, killed by Israel in revenge. I do not say that Israel must bear responsibility for suicide attacks, but I do say that its enemies rely on its intemperate and disproportionate responses. Each side has found a way to blame the other for its own disgraceful outrage: Israel claims the right to revenge because of Palestinian attacks; Palestinians claim the right to attack because of Israel's brutality. De Soto says in the report:

"I wonder if the Israeli authorities realise that, season after season, they are reaping what they sow, and are systematically pushing along the violence/repression cycle to the point where it is self-propelling," he writes.

A fair resolution to the crisis is simple enough to visualise (I use "fair" in a rather broad sense because of course many will argue that it would be fair for Israel not to exist in the first place): Israel retreats behind the green line, compensates refugees and allows some to return; the Arabs accept that Israel will continue to exist; the two nations live as partners; eventually, the Middle East builds institutions like those in Europe -- can you imagine a MidEast Union that expands to include Iran and Turkey?

All this seems very distant as Hamas and Fatah slug it out on the streets of Gaza and Ramallah. It is a pity that the Americans discouraged a broad coalition among the Palestinians in its desire to isolate Hamas (and its more basic desire to destabilise the PA in exactly the way we're now seeing), and doubly a pity that our pitiless sanctions on the Palestinians have helped create a state of affairs in which resolving the conflict is impossible, and trebly a pity that another decent man has not been able to turn the tide, sold out by superiors who see pleasing America as more important than achieving justice.


At 5:02 am, Anonymous Kev said...

I have to say I am concerned when I hear " the security forces loyal to Hamas " and " the security forces loyal to Fatah ".

Where the hell are " the security forces loyal to the Palestinians ".

I do agree that failing to engage with the democratically elected government was short sighted in the extreme and the truth is that if the previous government hadn't been up to their necks in corruption Hamas probably wouldn't have been elected in the first place.


At 8:27 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Very good point, Kev. It's one of the features of the nation-state that it has the monopoly on force (American insistence on arming the populace notwithstanding). I don't think it's possible to build a functioning democracy when the political parties have supporting militias. A big problem with the PA is that whereas you would expect it to be conducive to peace to support the gov't by arming it and training its soldiers and paramilitary to suppress terrorists, its connections to the terrorists make that unpalatable. So the PA and the parties involved do not have the ability to suppress terrorism, even if they did have the will, which I think they don't.


Post a Comment

<< Home