Israeli POW Gilad Shalit is finally back home after 5+ years in illegal solitary confinement. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were also released, with hundreds more to follow. Many of them will not be able to return home like Shalit, and probably none of them are really free -- being, still, under Occupation -- but my best wishes and congratulations go to their families and to the Shalit family. To those released prisoners who still believe in violence, I wish them to come to their senses before they hurt others or be killed themselves.
You will probably be shocked to discover that the MSM, in Israel too but especially in the US, is focusing on the wrong aspects of this prisoner-release deal, right? Right?! Duh. In this particular instance, we are fed a breathless 24/7 about the terrible dilemma of releasing dangerous murderers out in the open, and how dangerous this is. I have sympathy to families of victims who see perpetrators and the people who assisted them go out of prison. It is downright unpleasant and disheartening. But still, this storyline is a distraction.
For one, I will not be lectured about morality and "preventing terror" from the very same people who also advocate for the release of Jewish terrorists like Ami Popper. But No. Let us not bite the bait, and leave all this aside for a moment.
Because really, the pro-Occupation right wing on Israel-Palestine are top experts in the propaganda game. They always play offense. So they will push their crap lies onto you, and while you are busy refuting them point-by-point, you don't realize they had already won by changing the conversation.
At a time where the Israeli right-wing, and even center-right, should lower their heads in shame and admit their defeat and hypocrisy and general dead-endedness - they are instead once again running around, bullying everyone and steering the conversation away from where it should go.
And boy, what conversations can we have about this prisoner deal.
I can think of 3 great ones, right off the top of my head. And all of them have the common theme that, in fact, a different reality in I-P is not far from our fingertips.
All we need to do is realize we are not just "kibitzers", i.e., a passive audience over-analyzing and bickering without any meaningful role to play. We are all players in this game, and need to understand our impact.
Please follow me to conversation #1: the death of the "No Partner" lie.
Remember Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's UN speech a few weeks ago?
He portrayed Palestinian leader Abbas as a liar who talks 1967 borders, but really wants to destroy 1948 Israel. He slandered the mainstream Palestinian position that all post-1967 illegal settlements need to be dismantled, as if it was a Nazi position, explicitly using the Godwin-violating term "Judenrein". These were just two gems in a speech designed to reinforce the decades-old Israeli dogma, temporarily suspended in the 1990's to be embraced with a vengeance post-2000:
"Israel has no [viable/honest/credible/etc.etc.] partner for a peace deal."
And this was Abbas, the most moderate and accommodating Palestinian leader Israel can dream of, that Bibi was dissing as if he was some incorrigible fanatic. In Bibi's rhetoric, that gained him so many Congressional standing ovations, Hamas are beyond the pale, "worse than the Nazis."
And here he is, the very same Bibi, barely a fortnight later: in bed with the very same Hamas, releasing over 1,000 prisoners, including some very dangerous and unrepentant people - in a deal that his more "moderate" predecessor didn't have the stomach to sign.
I'll tell you WTF. Bibi has been lying to us all along through his teeth, and of course he knows that.
Do you know that now? Great.
But Our Problem is NOT Bibi
For progressives, Bibi is easy. He is obvious. He wears his wingnuttery on his sleeve. When I see him, I can't help remembering his doppleganger Basil Fawlty: over-eager, over-playing his hand, and always ends up tripping on his own shoelaces. Besides being repulsive on a personal level.
When Bibi says it, it sounds extreme. But when his predecessor Olmert, in between the two - not one, two! - inexcusable and corrupt wars he started during his short term, finds the time to talk sweet conciliatory words and make empty promises - even a veteran brave anti-Occupation journalist like Gideon Levy falls in the trap. Of course, Olmert has been lying all along. As the leaked Palestine Papers show, behind the scenes he and his cronies were bullying Abbas et al., when the latter, at their nadir of weakness and isolation, practically begged Israel to agree to terms more generous than will likely ever be offered again.
And when his predecessor Sharon evacuated settlements from that least-desirable, poorest speck of real-estate in I-P, Gaza, everyone applauded the "bold sacrifice" and "encouraging step towards peace" - even though it was plain to see (if one wanted) that Sharon, a known war criminal, has never really changed his philosophy and strategy - only his tactics; Sharon has meticulously avoided any peace negotiations in his 5 years in office, despite having Fatah rather than Hamas to deal with. No, everyone fell into that trap too, and within 2 days or so of IDF's evacuation, started hectoring and lecturing those backwards Palestinians for not having yet turned Gaza into a second Singapore.
But all this is nothing compared with Sharon's predecessor... well, I'll get to Ehud Barak soon. He deserves special treatment. Because he is the one who actually coined the term "No Partner", and almost singlehandedly condemned Israel-Palestine to 11 miserable years, and counting.
Yes, unfortunately, everybody "who counts" in the West says it in one way or another: from supposedly moderate Israeli politicians and notables, to - on this side of the pond - perennial "experts for everything" like Thomas Friedman, or even good-intentioned diarists and commenters on this site, including those who sigh about this "ancient, intractable tribal feud" that has supposedly lasted milennia and will last centuries more.
No, it is Not. And these sighs are not a neutral harmless statement.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is modern. It is rational, in the sense that we have two nations quarreling over a limited set of territory, resources and controls - rather than a conflict initiated and dominated by some whacko ideology. If you are looking for examples of irrational crises fueled mostly by lunacy, then Europe's self-destruction in the 1st half of the 20th Century would be a classic one - and the global economy's self-destruction in recent years would be a closer-to-home example (perhaps it is the Western mind, that is in fact more prone to these irrationalities? Consider it a snark).
Look at these Hamas, supposedly the loonie, bloodthirsty, worse-than-Nazis beyond-the-pale toxic factor, whose presence and power makes any progress impossible. They took their prisoner and kept him for 5+ years. Didn't pick his toes apart, didn't get tempted into executing him - even, for example, as our military was pounding the Gaza homes right above their heads, dropping tons and tons of bombs every day and killing hundreds of civilians - probably including family members and close friends of Shalit's own personal prison guards, some 3 years ago.
No. They took him in order to strike a deal. They wanted to get a deal and have been extremely rational about it. The outline of the deal has been on the table for years (that, incidentally, is the topic of Conversation #2). Israel went back and forth, hemming and hawing. They waited. And when the time came, they kept their side of the deal.
If this is how Hamas acts, you can be pretty confident - no, very confident that the PA, or a Fatah-Hamas unified negotiation team, will be quite rational and responsible and businesslike when sitting down to a deal on Occupation, refugees and the rest. They will know approximately what they can get. They will have their red lines. They might be difficult. But they are as solid a negotiation partner as you can find.
Yesterday I gave a talk on the analysis of blinding in randomized experiments using 2x2 contingency tables. As the discussion progressed, I commented that there's a limited amount of tricks you can do to a 2x2 table. It's just 4 numbers, after all.
Similarly, there's a limited amount of viable political arrangements you can run through that tiny and crammed piece of the Earth, Israel-Palestine. The traumatic and dramatic displacements and immigrations of the 1940's and 1950's are long gone. Even the 45-year-long Settlement endeavor - Israel greatest national project since 1967, with successive government having poured billions and billions and immense efforts into robbing land, enticing Israelis to come live on it, and lying about the whole affair - even the Settlements have managed to do little beyond move the demographic lines a couple of km here or there. The Palestinians have learned the 1948 lesson; they are not going anywhere.
So the broad outline of a peace or other livable long-term arrangment in Israel-Palestine, given present-day constraints and mentalities, is well known. What is missing? The political will and incentive to do so, on the Israeli side.
Stalling Won't Work!
Unfortunately, this thinly-veiled Israeli rejectionism can also be viewed as rational, and this is why it persists. Extremely narrow-minded and short-sighted, but rational.
First, Israeli politicians have been lying to their constituencies about Occupation, Settlements and Jerusalem for decades. Walking back those lies is a political minefield. Not to mention actually removing the masses of settlers that - yes - do need to be relocated. The last Prime Minister to start even trying to really look at the whole structure and contemplate what to do about it - Yitzhak Rabin - was murdered by an Israeli wingnut before he got anywhere.
Second, at face value Israel can sit on its lead indefinitely. After all, we control the land, sea and air. We are wealthy and powerful and free and well-connected, while the Palestinians are - well - the opposite. So we can just keep squeezing them a bit here, a bit there, and finally a second Abbas will perhaps agree to something even better than what Olmert refused to consider.
It is S-O-O much easier for Israeli politicians to continue lying to the public, to lie with even more talent and gusto and joy to Diaspora Jews and the rest of the world, and to make those settlements even more well-entrenched, so that we can parade the tragedy of their removal even more convincingly and wail "Judenrein!" till people's ears fall off.
Finally, there is the simple dynamic of a gambler who, after having bet so much on a certain strategy, is unwilling to cut his losses. Successive Israeli governments have gambled big on the Occupation/Settlement structure, and nobody wants to be the "loser" who dismantles it, even when its dead-end, terminal-cancer nature is plain to see.
So in all these senses, the stances of successive Israeli government and the widespread support they receive in Israel, are rational.
But the prisoner deal proves that these stances will go nowhere. The time for Israel to "play for more time" is over.
Here were Hamas, as isolated, boycotted, deprived, bombed, whatever, as you can imagine. Seemingly, everything was working against them, including time. But they have stuck to their terms of the deal, very close to how it was outlined right from the start. And - 2006 bombing and lights-out, 2007 putsch attempt, 2008/9 Cast Lead, and 5 years of complete siege later - they have barely budged, until Israel finally relented and signed.
The same is true for the broader deals. The terms are more-or-less known, they will not change much in our lifetime. Also universally known is the illegal nature of the Settlement enterprise. Heck, even Israel's government knew it was illegal from the moment they started it in 1967. And that knowledge, too, tends to affect what would be seen as a fair deal - far more than yet another 100 tired rounds of deflective spin.
The only question for us now, progressive and liberal activists interested in Israel-Palestine, regardless of familial and emotional allegiance, is how to stop helping Israeli politicians avoid and postpone the inevitable. How to bring them to sign onto the end of Occupation/Settlement pipe-dream.
But Let's Nail it: "No Partner" has always been a lie.
As I said, Ehud Barak deserves special treatment. Without his "No Partner", who knows where we'd be now. I am proud to say that I knew from the very first moment that he was lying. I saw him live on Israeli TV in fall 2000, saying something along these lines:
I have turned every stone in my search for peace...but we have no partner.
Yes, Prime Minister. In your short one-year tenure before this speech, you spent maybe 10%, more like 5%, on the Palestinian issue, Israel's biggest and longest-lasting crisis. And at the time, you had de-facto peace on your hand - no terrorism, flourishing economy and tourism, and an accommodating and collaborative PA. That counts as "turning every stone" in your books.
Even worse: after promising to continue Rabin's way, you had in fact adopted Bibi's strategy towards the process - and when your approach hit the first snag you go and dynamite it all in live broadcast on prime time, consequences be damned.
Thanks for 11 lousy years, 10,000 needless deaths and countless shattered dreams.
I knew Barak was lying, and for this I was banished from the "respectable" mainstream of Israeli opinion. Yes, for me this speech marks the exact moment when I parted with the Israeli mainstream. To be precise, my "sin" was not so much in disbelieving Barak, as in speaking out about it; I'm sure many more suspected the same but preferred to keep mum.
Well, now the chips are down. Barak is the most despised politician in Israel, hanging on by sheer corrupt tricks to his seat as Bibi's defense minister.
And still, most Israelis believe his "No Partner" lie!
So this is not really about Barak or about me, but about us all. There will always be liars who lie; the lies take hold, when there is a market thirsty to adopt them. A market (in Israel) afraid to walk back that political-mental minefield it has sowed and harvested for decades. A market (in Diaspora Jewry) still seeing everything through the lens of Holocaust, and clinging to Israel as a source of identity and pride in a rapidly changing world.
We need to destroy the market for those "No Partner" lies.
How about some solid evidence to help convince you? These were published in the Israeli print media last winter, to the sound of... crickets. Read for yourselves:
The first cliche we confronted was that "Barak was ready to give everything at Camp David," formulated by Ehud Barak and his advisers after that failed summit. The "mother of all cliches," if you will.
We discovered that Tal Zilberstein, one of the "no-partner archbishops," who is as far from the radical left as East is from West, already declared in the fascinating 2010 film by Uri Rosenwaks, "Dor Shalem Darash Shalom": "I was part of the 'no-partner' campaign, and it's one of the things I regret most, because I think it was a mendacious campaign ... It was too successful, it became a Frankenstein monster ... Ten years later, there are still people who say, 'We gave them everything at Camp David and got nothing!' That is a flagrant lie."
Eldad Yaniv, another retired "archbishop" who is currently head of the National Left movement - in addition to belonging to the civil-political forum being described here - has made similar remarks in these pages ["Left standing," Haaretz Magazine, Nov. 26, 2010]: "I was one of the people behind this false and miserable spin. It may have been justified to a certain extent, to stir the Palestinians to revive the negotiations, but it's false." And, "I was a cynical person ... I didn't really understand what a destructive impact it could have."
Yaniv and other former Barak advisers expressed themselves similarly at meetings of the forum that was coalescing in Ramat Gan. "I remember Haim Ramon running up to me shortly after Ehud's 'no partner' speech and shouting, 'What are you people doing? Have you gone mad?" Yaniv said. "We told him to stop talking nonsense, it was just local spin meant to solve a momentary problem. He was right and we were wrong."
So if you have been inadvertently promoting any variation of "No Partner", for example posting and recommending diaries with the "Palestinians want Judenrein" meme (yes, a couple of those diaries were published here) - this is not just idle talk or even a rule-violating offensive slander. Practically, you are helping create a protective buffer around injustice, bloodshed and continued war in Israel-Palestine.
Take your pick: either our diarying and commenting here is meaningless gossip, just a way to pass the time - and then I think we should all stop and go do something better, because anything is better, both for each of us personally and for the common good.
Or: this debating, analyzing and advocating does have some meaning and impact, however small, in the real world.
If so, then by now, late October 2011, it should be clear as daylight, at least for progressives and liberals, that the promotion of the "No Palestinian Partner" lie in any form, shape or style helps perpetuate war and postpone peace, perhaps even prevent us from seeing it in our lifetime.
Just like Bush's famous slip-of-tongue to his donors, "you are my constituency", the constituency for the Occupation regime is not located only among Israeli voters, but also among Congress members who play it safe, and their voters who watch their every word for any sign of "anti-Israelism" creeping into their opinions.
The Occupation/Settlement consituency can also be found among American MSM reporters, who prefer to parrot Israeli-government spin or express softball euphemisms, rather than report what their eyes see. Among their executives who instruct them to do so. Among the tireless legions of CAMERA activists, who keep this cowardly system going by intimidating it with thousands of faxes, phones and emails whenever some deviation from the Jerusalem party-line is detected in the American press.
Among otherwise-liberal bloggers who don't even realize where so many of the talking points they help distribute, originate. Among Jewish Federations worldwide, who have had their genuine concern for Israel's Jews been taken for a ride.
A very long ride. Time to get off.
It's okay, it happens to everyone. As I linked above, even Gideon Levy of all people, got fooled by Olmert in 2007-8.
But really, please open your eyes. You've been had.
Israel's government can sign a workable, viable, reasonably fair peace deal tomorrow, if it only wanted.
So stop supporting its intransigence by spreading its Crap around - and start giving it the Hell it deserves, until it changes its mind.
Thanks you. And Happy Simhat Torah for those who celebrate it.