Monthly Archives: March 2012

Troubling Brotherhood Document Jeopardizes 1979 Peace Treaty

The hope has always been that the Muslim Brotherhood would handle power responsibly. That they would pay attention to economic development and providing a better life for Egyptian citizens rather than to the length of women’s skirts. But there’s this disturbing document reported on the website for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs located here: http://jerusalemcenter.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/the-new-egyptian-parliament-takes-aim-at-the-camp-david-accords/.

The Egyptian Parliament has released a statement that jeopardizes the 1979 peace accords withIsrael. Again, as the Muslim Brotherhood began to take control the hope was that they would have more important things to worry about then taunting Israel. That appears not to be the case. The document is provocative and seriously capable of undermining the cold peace that has characterized the relationship between Israel and Egypt. Below are some of the qualities and themes of the document.

1. The document does not refer to the “State of Israel” but to the “Zionist entity.” This perpetuates the myth of Zionist conspiracies in the Arab world. The use of the word “Zionist” is designed to incite fear and stimulate images of Jewish manipulation and colonizing settlements. It clearly is not the language of any genuine peace process represented by the historic treaty of 1979.

2. Palestinian terror is referred to as “resistance.” In a peaceful relationship betweenEgyptandIsraelboth sides have denounced violence. To justify it as legitimate resistance is to justify violence.

3.Israelis officially defined as an enemy and any possibility of cooperative relations is rejected. This language is slippage into an “us” versus “them” mentality that seems to be the purpose of the document. These categorical group identifications lead to psychological and communicative distortions that exacerbate problems.

4. There is a suggestion of cutting off diplomatic relations. Such relations are important for maintaining a balance of power and the necessary lines of communication to prevent mistakes and misinterpretations. Cutting off diplomatic relations is usually a final insult before resuming violence.

5. There is a call for supporting the armed struggle against Israel including boycotts. Again, violence is justified.

6.Jerusalemis clearly defined as a Muslim holy place and the presence of the Jews is completely denied and ignored. A call to take up the cause of Jerusalem is designed to activate religious passions, especially amongst the lower and middle classes. Jerusalem is a symbol of loss and sometimes humiliation in the Arab world and reference to the city draws attention to this loss.

7. There is a frightening call to explore the possibilities of nuclear Egypt. Even if the Brotherhood is bluffing this is a dangerous game. How the nuclear standoff will play out in Iran remains to be seen.

The document was accepted unanimously by the Arab Affairs Committee and represents a new tone of confrontation and tension.Israelis defined as a major enemy and responsible for Palestinian suffering and instability in the Arab world. There are strong statements of support for Hamas and rejections of any direct negotiation or peace process withIsrael.

The relationship between Egypt and theUnited States remains hopeful. TheUnited States has supportedEgyptboth financially and militarily for a long time and is in a position to apply pressure. Nevertheless, if the Muslim Brotherhood foregrounds its religious convictions over political practicality then the “rational” influences theUnited Stateshas to bring to the table will be diminished. Difficult as it is to imagine, and just as unpleasant, Egypt could slide into becoming the next Iran if it pursues a nuclear scenario that is undergirded by religious convictions rather than political ones.

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Settlements and the Two-State Solution

I’ve been living and teaching at Ariel, a large Israeli settlement, and spending time talking to settlers and people who work with them. There’s an interesting gap between how settlers think of themselves and how others do. Much of the Western liberal world considers settlers at the center of the problem and assume their communities will be removed as a result of a peace treaty. People who live in these communities cannot imagine it; at least they do not see themselves as radicals interfering with peace. But the issue of the settlements for many is the most difficult and fundamental problemIsraelfaces. The legal issues and the definitions ofIsraelproper versus settler expansion into contested territory that violates state and international laws are not very resonant for members of these communities. They easily swipe away arguments about legality.

Like so many others I am lamenting the possible demise of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps I remain naïve, but it seems to me to be the only sensible answer. Also in my naïveté I do not understand why the Palestinians would not be enthusiastic about the possibility of their own state. Why would they not want to start the process of building institutions, educating their kids in their own schools supported by a sovereign state, creating art and philosophy and watching their society develop? I know, I’m a Westerner in these are Western ideals. But from what I know of the Palestinian population such goals are consistent with their desires. Moreover, two sovereign states independent but working together is the only way thatIsraelremains a democracy committed to Jewish particularity. No solution or lack of solution is going to jeopardize the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. But the “Jewish” nature of the state is a thoroughly different and interesting question.

There is some sort of failure of will and failure of leadership that is choking the life out of the two-state solution. Netanyahu has publicly stated his support for a Palestinian state but seems to do little to bring it into effect. I suppose he’s a talented political animal skilled at swaying with the wind, but his victories are in the realm of security and protection not peace, even accepting the fact that they are related. Netanyahu and Barak ran the country once and now they’re running it again. Unfortunately, political survival seems to be their primary goal.

Even if there were two states there would be a tremendous amount of cooperation between the two required. Transportation and movement, business relations, oversight of holy sites, and any number of governmental and commercial transactions would be shared experiences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s why Herb Kelman in his overview of the solution to the problem in the journal Middle East Policy calls it “two states in one country.”

Here’s one suggestion for saving the two-state solution day: work with the Palestinians and the United Nations on the declaration of a state that is satisfactory to both Palestinians and Israelis, not a unilateral Palestinian declaration. The West Bank andGazawill have to be part of the new Palestinian state with agreements about land exchanges.Israelcannot make demands on a Palestinian state that essentially deny the nature of the state. The Palestinians must be satisfied with the political and geographic conditions. A number of negotiators believe the issue of the status ofJerusalemand refugees can be solved relatively easily. Many of the issues related to these problems have been aired and it’s a matter of bold leadership to make a decision.

I have an Israeli friend who makes the case for a political system that is federal-like or involves independent Palestinian communities without removing settlements. In future posts I will explore the issues around such solutions as well as political arrangements that involve the single state.

The Politics of Naming

A few posts ago, before I was so rudely denied the Internet, I wrote that I was off toIsraelto teach at Ariel University. Actually, I should say Ariel University”Center.” I have been invited to teach an eight week course on deliberation and ethnopolitical conflict. The course deals with group differences and political conflicts in general, but the process of deliberation and conflict resolution in specific. An Israeli friend and colleague promptly wrote me and said you are not teaching at a “University.” My friend wanted me to understand that Ariel Universitywas not an official Israeli University. I did understand that but the name “Ariel University Center” can be pretty deceptive.

The town of Ariel is a settlement in theWest Bank. And the Ariel University Center of Samaria is a large public college located in the town ofAriel. The University center at Ariel was originally associated with Bar Ilan Universitybut now enjoys its own independence. The University has developed since its founding in the 1980s and offers now degrees recognized as quality higher education degrees.

But Ariel and its University have one obstacle to surmount – it’s in theWest Bankand certain segments of Israeli society do not think it should be there. There have been boycotts of the University because of its location and a significant controversy over its status as a “University.” My goal in this post is not to take a political position or to support or condemn anyone but to characterize the problem as an interesting one with respect to the politics of naming and identification Briefly, the controversy goes like this: the Israeli government supported upgrading Ariel to university status but such a vote was considered a political maneuver and met with resistance from many academics mostly because of its location in the West Bank. Moreover, the addition of a new University was by some seen as a threat. The initial vote of support by the government was only a precursor to support by the Council of Higher Education which was ultimately necessary. Later the Council of Higher Education did in fact reject the proposal to grant Ariel University status.

The debate became somewhat of a political football because conservatives wanted “a fact on the ground” in the name of the University, while liberals objected to its location. The institution was once called “the College of Judea and Samaria” but later the name changed to “ArielUniversityCenter.” This name change still upset many people. There were boycotts and letters of opposition. You might be asking yourself how could this institution be calledAriel University Center when such a proposal was rejected by the Israeli Council for Higher Education? It comes down to the politics of naming who has naming rights. It turns out that the Council of Higher Education in Israel proper governs universities inside the green line, but institutions on the other side of the green line are formally subordinate to the Israeli Defense Forces; that is, the army. The Israeli Council of Higher Education has no naming rights, obviously, outside of its official national boundaries. Hence, the Israeli defense minister has the right to name the institution and that he did.

This was mainly a symbolic move to assist the institution with its prestige because no new money was going to come its way. However, increasing enrollments and recognition of the University has improved its budgetary condition. The symbolic manipulation of the name is interesting because there really is no such thing as a “UniversityCenter.” What is that? What makes a “UniversityCenter” different from a “University?” I don’t know. The debate continues with various levels of integration and recognition.

The debate over naming “Ariel University” is a symbolic battle that represents the essence of political conflicts. It also underscores the importance of names, labels, and categories. It is a process critical to the social construction of reality that is so central to ethnopolitical conflicts. At a deeper level, the naming ofArielUniversityis a metaphor for collective experiences. This battle the name is attached to represents the consciousness of settlers, liberals, and conservatives. In other words, the conflict is coded into the argument over the name.

What Is a Settlement?

On Friday, March 9, 2012 I leave for Israel to teach at Ariel University for about two months. Ariel is a settlement and I will be blogging from there. Some thoughts are below from something I’ve been working on related to settlers and their discourse. I will take up related issues over the next few months. Please feel free to comment. The remarks below are the basic issues related to settlements beginning with “What is a settlement.”

Contiguous land can be claimed or annexed for any number of reasons including economic, security, or military defeat. Benvenisti argued that Israel’s position with respect to the territories was not ideological but purely economic and practical. He held that the land was legally available to Israel and Israel’s incursion into the territories was justified by economic interests. Israel also makes the distinction between pure colonization and the slow integration of a new population into an older one. The new population is typically more powerful and considered superior and they slowly overwhelm the older or indigenous population. This process mostly describes post-1967 settlement justifications. Israel has struggled with the definition of the territories as a frontier land that is subject to the legitimization process. This is one reason that various strategies have been used to justify land acquisition. Sometimes these justifications are political and economic and other times they are ideological or religious. My concern is with religious and ideological justifications. But in either case the “settlers” and their “occupying” behavior have become a part of Israel and restructured how Israelis define themselves. Lustick  is interested in state expansion and contraction and describes stages of territorial expansion. He argues that Israel is in the throes of regime occupation and so increasingly intertwined with the territories that it cannot extract itself without violence. The conflict is at the intersection of the settlers desire to naturalize and justify their existence, and the fact that their project is opposed by many and will have to be abandoned or severely curtailed in order to secure a stable peace. In the face of this conflict, the settlers must work through discourses about the land, sanctity, Zionism, and the cultural “other,” namely, the Palestinian Arabs.

            A settlement is a communal Israeli village purposefully located in the West Bank or what religious settlers refer to as the ancient biblical land of Judea and Samaria, land that is currently contested territory. The settlement represents religious and political significance in every manner from architecture to geographical location and design. Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 resulted in a return to holy places and thus reconnected the Israeli public with sacred places and religious feelings. Gadi Taub in his book on the settlements credits Israel’s literary figure Amos Oz with being the first to recognize in just a few months after the Six Day War the political division that would overtake Israeli politics for years to come. Oz wrote that Zionism in the future would either continue to be about democratic self determination in the best sense, or it would be about redeeming the land. Oz knew that if Zionism drifted toward religious redemption of the land then the Palestinian population would be under the boot of occupation and Israel would evolve toward a modern Sparta focused on military expertise and subjugating a local population.

            Settlements are self contained communities that require roads, schools, buildings, and all the essentials of municipalities. Various religious and political organizations (e.g. the Gush Emunim, Yesha council) have taken the lead in promoting settlements by developing apparently normal communities in every way except location. Settlements typically resemble modern suburban bedroom communities where residents come and go at will. But these settlements are anything but innocent or normal. They are a discursive space for a counter Israeli society that has religious redemption and control as its goals. We will see below how the settlements have discursively constructed authenticity through language, symbols, and the creation of their own meanings. Settlers employ a discourse that is an interrelated set of practices that shape meanings. These practices, whether cultural or interpretive, are patterned and systematized within a social and political context. A critical point about discourse is its constitutive nature. That is, a discourse states how the world is, should be and what matters the most. It defines an acceptable way to talk and conduct oneself. By attending to the discursive practices that give rise to meanings we can reveal settler claims of rationality, the ways in which they relate to institutional norms, and the political implications associated with them. Discourses, then, exist at local levels of interaction but are also related to broad discourses that become historically situated and enduring systems that take on political and cultural significance.

Consequently, discourse constitutes relationships and meanings by prescribing what conforms to the dominant discourse. And, discourse can be transformative.

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