Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mashaal in Amman: Splicing Jordanian and Palestinian Identity

A major story in the Middle East this week that has not received significant attention is the appearance of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan, the first time a Hamas leader has appeared in Jordan since the Hashemite Kingdom expelled Hamas in 1999. Despite the meeting, Jordan's government has not lifted the ban on Hamas activity in Jordan, most likely because King Abdullah remembers his father's struggles against Palestinian "liberators" from the 1970s on.  Part of the discussion of this visit is to further Jordan's twenty year withdrawal from representing the Palestinians, which had its watershed moment in 1988 when King Hussein renounced all claims on the West Bank and asserted that the PLO and not Jordan was the national representative of the Arabs living west of the Jordan River.

We now very much take for granted that the PLO and/or Hamas represents the Palestinian people. During Israel's early years, when Jordan controlled the West Bank, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and the Arab states did not yet consider the "Palestinian" national identity as a useful means to attack Israel, many Arabs living in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon or Syria were specifically not integrated into those societies and were kept in refugee camps. Even though the PLO was not yet formed, those Arab states realized the importance of maintaining a refugee population that could be used against Israel in the court of public opinion. However, the creation of a separate Palestinian identity that necessarily required its own national representation separate from the Jordanians represented a significant departure from the historical origins of Arab identity in the former British Mandate.

As I have previously expressed, I am of the opinion that the Palestinian identity originated, from its earliest stages under Hajj Amin al-Husseini, from a political and not ethno-tribal-nationalist conflict with the newly formed Hashemite Kingdom of (Trans)Jordan. When the British placed Abdullah I on the Jordanian throne as a reward for his family's spearheading the Arab Revolt in 1916, they did so with little regard for the power structure that had evolved in the region during 400 years of Ottoman rule. This disregard put the Hashemites (who were from the Saudi Hejaz region, where Mecca and Medina lie) into immediate conflict with the prominent ruling Arabs in Jerusalem, Jericho and Nablus. Those Arabs had no interest in being ruled by foreign Hashemite leaders and sought to carve out a dominion for themselves. Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the heir to the powerful Jerusalem Arab leadership and British proclaimed "Mufti of Jerusalem" used his leadership position to instigate rebellions against both the British and the Jews living in Palestine. His intransigence and unwillingness to compromise with the Jews led to the British functionally renouncing the geographic promises of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 by issuing the White Paper in 1939, which advocated partitioning the British Mandate west of the Jordan river. The moment the British agreed to the idea of creating a second Arab state in the British Mandate, they lent some credence to the idea of separate Arab nationalities in the region. However, the competing political and power interests of both the Hashemites in Amman and the Husseinis in Jerusalem led to both sides claiming suzerainty over the entire Arab community of the British Mandate.

Tensions arose almost immediately after the 1949 Armistice Agreements ended the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By 1950, Jordan had annexed the West Bank, creating a situation where 1/3 of its population were pre-1948 "Jordanians," 1/3 were Arabs who fled east cross the Jordan river during the 1948 War, and 1/3 were Arabs living under Jordanian control in the newly named "West Bank" of the Jordan River in the newly annexed territory. Although Jordan was demographically an Arab state with a majority of its citizens originating from or still living in territory acquired during the 1948 War, the Hashemite kings significantly restricted the rights of that 2/3 of the population.  This hostility escalated when a "Palestinian" activist assassinated King Abdullah in 1957, ushering significant tension and hostility between the "Palestinian" nationalists and the Hashemite Kingdom. King Hussein became increasingly concerned that Palestinian nationalism would threaten Hashemite control over Jordan, especially as he saw Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser bankrolling and encouraging such nationalists. The situation grew even more complex when Jordan lost control of the West Bank during the Six Day War and was placed in a quandary over how to address both the large influx of Arabs fleeing new Israeli control of the West Bank and how to address the newly established Palestinian Liberation Organization because of the large number of "Palestinians" who now lived in Jordan. The growth of the PLO, and later Hamas, created significant and unique problems for Jordan because of the PLO's attempts to oust the Hashemite government in the 1970s and its attempts to assassinate prominent Hashemite officials for their perceived misdeeds against the "Palestinians" in their midst. Significantly, many Arabs who fled into Jordan were denied citizenship, political representation and in many cases had citizenship revoked because the Hashemites maintained a strong desire to control the demographic and political balance in Jordan.

After the PLO departed from Lebanon after Israel's invasion in 1982 and headed to far off Tunisia, the orchestrated First Intifada in 1988, combined with Jordan's decision to remove itself from controlling the increasingly violent Palestinians in the West Bank and the United States' decision to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Arabs west of the Jordan led to decisive split between Jordan and "Palestine." Indeed, the First Intifada's dual success was that it convinced the world of a separate Palestinian identity and forced the Jordanians to terminate all claims to represent the Palestinians because the PLO was now viewed as more effective in combating Israeli denials of Palestinian autonomy than the Jordanians were. Of course, the PLO and Hamas have taken on the historical mantle of not just opposing Israel's very existence, but also of attacking the legitimacy of Hashemite rule over Jordan. As a result, while Jordan is willing to let the PLO and Hamas fight the Israelis, it is very weary of attacks on Hashemite sovereignty and attempts by the PLO or Hamas to assert their legitimacy over Jordan as well as Israel.

The placement of the PLO and now Hamas as the representative of the presumptive second Arab state in the former British Mandate of Palestine represents a major about face from over 40 years of Palestinians being lumped in with Jordan. Given the circumstances that brought about what, in the grand scheme, represented a fantastic transformation in political representation. The idea that "Palestinians" went from being politically represented by another state to being represented by a non-state political entity. What is beyond dispute is that the separation of Palestinians and Jordanians and the establishment of Palestinian nationalism as separate from Jordanian nationalism is based on a political dispute and not a realization that Palestinian nationalism could not be realized in Jordan. Indeed, the question I find myself and will always ask is: if the Arab Spring takes Jordan and an Arabist or even "Palestinian" government, then what will be the compelling reason why Palestinian nationalism cannot be realized in Jordan, especially considering that the majority of Jordan's population (especially if one were to include the West Bank in the territory) is "Palestinian" as defined by those Arabs that left the British Mandate west of the Jordan River during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. So, aside from a fundamental displeasure with Hashemite rule, what is the compelling distinction between Jordanian and Palestinian identity? The formation of these two distinct "nations" is based both on creating a separate identity to maintain the Palestinians as a thorn in Israel's side while at the same time easing pressure on the Hashemite monarchy by directing Palestinian nationalist aspirations toward Israel.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Contradictions in American Jewry

CNN ran an article that raised some very interesting points, focusing primarily on the internal divisions in the American Jewish community, which are largely centered on differing views on Israel. American Jews, who in many ways feel strongly connected with the global Jewish community are also in many ways separated from it. Because of America's significant relationship with Israel and the prominent roles that many Jewish Americans hold in American society has created a unique role for Jews in America. Indeed, Jews have risen to power in the United States in a way that they were unable to even in Great Britain, where the Rothschilds held significant economic power. The difficulty, of course, has been to properly balance American Jewry's involvement in the United States with rising political activism with regard to the Jewish State of Israel.

The most common angle is well known. Many Americans are concerned that Jewish lobbying groups, most notably AIPAC, exercise extreme influence in American politics and cause the United States government to support Israel even if such support is not to the United States' best interest. Many Americans are of the belief that even if some support of Israel is appropriate, AIPAC and other Jewish interests cause an almost blind support of Israel which harms U.S. interests and relationships with Middle Eastern nations who are unfriendly with Israel. The central point, of course, is that Jewish organizations such as AIPAC put the interests of Israel over the interests of the United States.

This attack on American Jews is consistent with a well established pattern of nations characterizing Jews as outsiders who manipulate power in a particular state for their own benefit. Joseph Nasi, an Ottoman Jew who gained great power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent but was relegated and treated harshly after Suleiman's death for a perceived attempt to place Jewish interests above Ottoman ones. Indeed, many Jews who rose to power in foreign states were continually reminded of (and derided for) their Jewish otherness. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was born to Jewish parents but was baptized and lived as a Christian, was still referred to as "Shylock" and as "an abominable Jew" by those who criticized his policies. The point is that even those Disraeli was the Prime Minister of Great Britain and did not identify himself as a Jew, his opponents seized upon his Jewishness as a means of attack. Many of the early Bolsheviks were Jews, after the first generation lost hold of power and Stalin took over, the Soviet Union carried on antisemitic policies in ways that would have made the Romanov Tsars proud. Couched in the antisemitism through the ages and today is the fundamental notion that Jews are an exclusive group that feels greater allegiance to its own than too its nation state. The problem, of course, is that while some Jews do not feel this way and have attempted to strongly assimilate themselves, broad characterizations grouping Jews together as seditious or "other" have historically not varied based on the conduct of individual Jews.

American Jews are arguably the most assimilated of any in the Diaspora. Despite this, the issue of support for Israel divides the Jewish community and casts suspicion upon Israel's strongest advocates. Because of Israel's unique geopolitical situation, many Diaspora Jews, especially in the United States, feel obligated to advocate for it. Diaspora Jews who engage in hasbara (advocacy for Israel) and try involve themselves in lobbying in the United States risk being perceived as being un-American by those who feel that maintaining or strengthening relations with Israel is against America's interest. While at this point the number of people who harbor such strong anti-Jewish feelings based on perceived Jewish prioritization of Israel over America, the stage for countries turning on their Jews has often started from precisely such thinking. Combined with difficult economic times, the perception that American Jews are not as loyal and are also not economically struggling the way that others are leads to the "otherization" of Jews and has set the stage for anti-Jewish actions in Spain, in Russia and in Germany. While it is difficult for many American Jews, especially those who are not politically active and who are not Israel advocates  to see that America as a beacon of democracy, would ever turn on Jews in such a way. I am sure that Japanese citizens living in the U.S. in the early 20th Century and Jews living in Germany before 1935 felt much the same way. Perceived disloyalty to the U.S. and favoring of Israel is precisely the kind of issue that can strongly galvanize antisemitic elements in a nation, and supporters of Israel and Jews in many liberal democratic European states have likewise started to feel the pinch as anti-Israel sentiment has boiled over into frequent violence and intimidation.

In early 20th century Great Britain, Chaim Weizmann's Zionist movement faced opposition from "assimilationist" Jews who felt that trying to convince Great Britain to support the Zionist vision would make it more difficult for Jews to simply become British people who practiced a different faith, rather than Jews living in Britain. The fundamental problem for the assimilationists was that even if they perceived themselves to simply be British subjects who practiced Judaism, the majority of British people and British government officials did not share this view. The rise of Zionism became a catalyst for differentiation because it revived the idea that Jews were not just a separate faith, but a separate nation. The realization of the Zionist vision has in that way pushed exacerbated the idea of Jews as being members of a different nation, not just people with different religious beliefs. Because of the violent opposition to Zionism in the Middle East and the fact that many people feel that Israel's existence is illegitimate, some Jews in the Diaspora have felt compelled to advocate for Israel and have created suspicion and distrust from others in their home nations. How the people and governments of those home nations react is an entirely different question, but at least now, Jews have somewhere to go.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Cart Before the Horse...Redux

In an earlier post, I highlighted the most tried and true Palestinian Authority negotiation tactic: putting the car before the horse. What I meant by this was that the PA has a tendency to make its negotiation points preconditions to the negotiations themselves. For example, while the final status of Jews living in the West Bank would be considered the subject of a final peace negotiation, the PA refuses to enter negotiations unless Israel concedes that Jews should not be allowed to live in the West Bank at the outset. Therefore, negotiations are bound to fail because the PA refuses to negotiate those issues that they create as preconditions to negotiations. In Israel's case, there are essentially only two "red line" issues at this point (points that are not negotiable): (1) Israel must be recognized as a Jewish State and (2) Arabs cannot "return" to Israel as part of any final settlement. Israel has proven that essentially everything else is negotiable and on the table at one time or another, most significantly under Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 1999. However, the Palestinian Authority imposes redlines all over the place in ways that are constantly changed.

Over the past few weeks, the Jordanian government hosted low level negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Palestinian negotiators left the talks after contending that Israel's proposals for borders were a "non-starter." While the issue of borders would theoretically be a major issue in attempting to impose some sort of two state solution, Palestinian negotiators simply walk out when the borders proposed are not at the outset largely the same borders that the Palestinians seek in a final settlement. Indeed, the 2010 negotiations broke down because of the Palestinian intransigence on the "settlement" issue, even though the resolution of potential Jewish-Arab population exchanges were a significant part of the negotiations. That does not even address the fact that negotiations went nowhere even when Israel imposed a six month moratorium on construction in the West Bank.

From a larger historical perspective, there were no negotiations between Israel and the Arabs with regard to territory until after the Six Day War. Indeed, only that catastrophic defeat caused the Arabs to shift their strategy from vanquishing the Jews in a grand battle to picking away at small bits and pieces of Israeli territory through the claims of the beleaguered Palestinian Arabs. In the era before "settlements," Israeli attempts to seek a long term peace agreement with the newly established Palestinian Authority failed largely because the PLO's main sponsors did not see any benefit in actually creating peace, but instead saw the PLO as a new weapon against Israel. Even after the First Intifada, the successive Israeli governments in the 1990s and early 2000s sought to promote the two state solution, only to find that the Palestinian leadership was not willing to negotiate peace at all, but wanted to dictate the terms of any peace. Even when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in accord with the Oslo Agreements and handed over power to the Palestinian Authority, uprooted all "settlements" and imposed Judenrein on Gaza, it did not create any meaningful progress in large scale negotiations. It is significant to note, that the blockade of the Gaza Strip did not begin until one year later, when Hamas violently seized power in Gaza after its electoral win over the PA.

While many, of course, believed that the disengagement did not go far enough, it is interesting that the Palestinians took no concrete steps to show good faith or willingness to negotiate. Indeed, the disengagement from Gaza, much like the recent comment that Israel's general ideas on borders are a "non-starter" perfectly illustrate the mindset of the Palestinian Authority negotiators: if we do not get everything we want, then we will simply walk away. Of course, even when the Palestinians got their best offer at the Camp David 2000 Summit, Yasser Arafat again walked away. Even in those negotiations, Arafat demanded that Israel first withdraw to from the West Bank and Gaza and only then would he negotiate dismantling Palestinian terror organizations. The ultimate non-starter, though, has an always will be the right of return, which remains and will remain the most significant hurdle to any two state solution. Quite simply, the PA giving the right of return claim would disarm the Arab world of its most powerful and effective way to once and for all end Jewish sovereignty, by simply overwhelming it with Arab immigrants, though this time without need for any war.

The PA's policy of demanding that Israel agree to their positions as a precondition for negotiations has doomed the two state solution for decades.  The main issue for Palestinian negotiators is a substantial fear of finalizing a peace agreement with Israel that would foreclose future claims against the Jewish state. Even in 2000, Arafat's criticisms that the map proposed by Israel was not appropriate did not yield a new compromise, it simply led Arafat back to his original demand of the entire West Bank and Jerusalem, right away. Interestingly, there is now a significant push among European states to include Hamas in negotiations, which is in many ways even more laughable because Hamas is even more entrenched and even less willing to actually negotiate with the Israelis than the PA was and is. The idea of adding Hamas, an element that would make negotiations even more of a "non-starter" as a way to create a peace agreement in the region just places another cart in front of the horse.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Abba Eban Interview

I wanted to post this video for the benefit of those who have not seen it. It is an interview between a young Mike Wallace and Israel's then representative to the UN, Abba Eban. Israel was very lucky to have a man of Abba Eban's intelligence and eloquence early in its existence. This interview is from April 12, 1958, almost a decade before the Six Day War, and yet it is amazing to listen and see how little has changed and how unwilling, as now, the Arabs were to make peace with an Israel that did not possess any "occupied territories" or settlements. With that, Abba Eban... 


The Myth of Israel as a Holocaust Reparation

One of the most subtly pernicious pieces of deceit perpetrated by Israel's detractors and opponents are those that view Israel's creation in 1948 as the outcome of European guilt over the Holocaust from 1939-1945. The idea behind this characterization was that Israel was thrust upon the Arab states for a crime that was committed by Europeans in the 1940s.  The underlying argument is that the creation of a Palestinian state is more legitimate than the creation of a Jewish state, which is argued to be created only because of Europe's misdeeds only a decade before the creation of Israel.

This argument, frequently raised, begs the question of how Zionism came about. It was more than just the manifestation of the centuries old desire for Jews to return to Israel. Zionism was the culmination of the Jewish response to global antisemitism, manifested more than anywhere else in Russia and with the Dreyfus Affair in France. In fact, while Germany's behavior during World War II spectacularly showed the world how far antisemitism had come, Russia was the leader in antisemitism for much of modern history. If the Dreyfus affair was the spark that awakened Zionism within Theodor Herzl, the Kishinev Pogrom created a true sense of urgency. The pogrom, the latest in an extremely long line of government sponsored antisemitic incidents in Russia, was the defining event in awakening the desire for statehood in early Zionists like Chaim Weizmann and Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Imperial Russia's open and pervasive antisemitism coupled with its simultaneous unwillingness to let Jews leave (a trend that continued with the Soviet government) demanded that Jews seize control of their own destiny.

The push for Zionism gained traction in World War I when the Young Turk government under Enver Pasha entered on the side of the Central Powers. This opened up the possibility of Great Britain or France seizing control of Ottoman Palestine when Turkey was defeated. Of course, while the Zionists were working in London, the Sharif in Mecca was working with T.E. Lawrence and British agents in Cairo to foment rebellion against the Turks from Mecca to Damascus. When World War I ended, the League of Nations granted Great Britain the Mandate over Palestine, which by then the British had explicitly promised to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and implicitly promised to the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca in a series of letters between the Sharif and British representatives in Cairo.


At this point, in the 1920s, large scale Jewish immigration into Mandatory Palestine began. When the Arabs of Palestine began to violently resist immigration in both 1923 and 1929, British policy suddenly changed, with immigration quotas imposed on Jews and a corresponding rise in illegal immigration seen in the 1930s. Around this time, Arab leaders such as Hajj Amin al-Hussieini began to crack down on Arab land sales to Jews, which had heretofore been the primary way that Jews had established footholds and built cities in Palestine.


Of course, Palestinian nationalists and advocates, when tracing their supposedly long and significant national history in Ottoman Palestine, never mention that the land they claim for their homeland was granted to the Hashemite rulers who would become the rulers of Jordan. More significantly, whatever the demographics of the situation, there had not been local Arab rule in that territory for over 400 years and nobody, least of all the Arabs themselves, was considering the creation of several states. The Sharif, at that time the premier Arab leader in the world, sought to create a unified Arab Kingdom from Damascus to Baghdad to Mecca. It was not until 1937, after over a decade of violent anti-Jewish rioting, that plans for a second Arab state were seriously proposed due to the Arabs' unwillingness to live in either a Jewish or Hashemite ruled state.

By the late 1930s, British policy had shifted strongly toward the Arabs and toward appeasing the unrelentingly antisemitic (and anti-Western) Arab leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini. Britain's desire to appease the Arabs was so overwhelming that the British famously turned back ships full of Jews fleeing extermination in Eastern Europe because of pressure applied by al-Husseini. Ironically, al-Husseini had already made overtures to the Nazis and visited Berlin during the war, ingratiating himself with Hitler and proposing to create a Nazi satellite state in Palestine when Germany ousted the British. Moreover, al-Husseini inquired with Goebbels and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop about the possibility of establishing concentration camps in Palestine to exterminate the approximately 550,000 Jews living there by 1944. The Jews and British Palestine were saved by Rommel's defeat at El Alamein and the Nazi focus on invading and conquering the Soviet Union.

As the Mandate was winding down, the British and the UN became convinced that the Arabs west of the Jordan river needed their own state separate from the Arab state east of the river Jordan, which for the first time in history created a distinct national identity there. Even at that point, the need to create a second Arab state in Mandatory Palestine had must to do with Hajj Amin al-Husseini and his successors' categorical unwillingness to be ruled by a foreign Hashemite from the Hejaz, Abdullah, the son of the Sharif of Mecca who cooperated with the British in World War I. The end of the Mandate was a violent period because the British utterly failed to resolve the underlying tensions between the Arabs and the Jews and the United Nations proposal for a divided state was rejected by the Arab leadership west of the Jordan river.

That is the context in which Israel came about. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the fact that the British, the initial advocates and proponents of Zionism in the 1910s under David Lloyd George's government, folded to the violent protests of the Arabs and their desire for nationalism in a way that they never did in India or Sudan. Jewish leadership, and especially Chaim Weizmann, who worked extremely hard to convince the British of Zionism's merit and benefits, saw the British turn on their cause as soon as they saw what the situation on the ground was. In this way, the Zionists learned much more from the British and they did from the Nazis. The Nazis represented, in many ways, a manifestation of the kind of virulent antisemitism that Jews experienced in Russia, in Spain, and in many other circumstances. What the British taught the Zionists was that their "friends" could and would turn on them when circumstances became tough and the the Jews could really rely only on themselves for their protection. When Jews became too much of a burden or inconvenience for another nation, Jews could and should expect that nation to abandon their interest in protecting or advancing Jewish interests.

In this way, Israel's creation was not a reparation or even a gift from Europe for its sins. If anything, the creation of Israel and its continued existence is ambivalent at best and a problem at worst. As in the 1920s Arab riots over Jewish "encroachment" into Arab lands, outsiders find it much easier to appease the desires of hundreds of times as many Arabs as it would be bear the political backlashing of standing up for the Jews. In reality, Israel is not a reparation for what Germany did during the Holocaust, for what Spain did in the Inquisition, for what Russia did in its pogroms or what Hajj Amin al-Husseini hoped to do in Palestine, its creation and its existence represent the final understanding by Jewish peoples that the good will and friendship of others is often fickle and fleeting and that Jews had to become masters of their own destiny. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Apartheid Accusations and Arab MKs: A Study in Hypocrisy

Israel Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Arab Balad Party, recently addressed the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (one of the myraid international organizations the Palestninian refugee "problem") and levied the usual accusations against Israel: that it is a racist state practicing apartheid and that Zionism is an exclusionary nationalist philosophy that denies Palestninian rights and elevates Jews over non-Jews in the Israeli political and spheres. Zoabi's political leanings are well known, she rejects any notion of Israel as a Jewish state, she rejects all military service for Arab Israelis, she has openly and notoriously supported a variety of organizations that seek Israel's destruction and she, interestingly enough, fights vigorously to retain her Israeli citizenship. 


Haneen Zoabi is a rare commodity in the Middle East: she is an Arab Muslim female politician serving on the highest legislative body of her country. The very existence of her political career is something that would not be possible in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt. More interestingly, it is something that would probably not be possible in Hamas or the PLO government. Moreover, female Arab voters can choose to elect her or not to elect her because they have the right to vote in Israeli elections, a right that Saudi Arabia is now considering giving women, but only on local elections. 


The irony runs deeper, of course. Apartheid South Africa had a minority whites only government that controlled and exploited a country that was majority non-white. The South African government specifically imposed laws the precluded non-whites from having social, political and economic rights. Zoabi, however, is speaking as an elected representative of her ethno-religious minority, she is one of many Arab ministers who serve in the Knesset. Indeed, a variety of ethnic minorities, such as the Druze, receive political representation in Israel, while their kinsmen across the border with Syria receive none whatsoever. Arab political parties are legal and highly visible in Israel and Israeli Arabs not only have the right to representation in the Israeli govenment, they have the right to choose among a host of political parties. Of course, some may say that Arab representation is not ideal in Israel, as Arab representation in the Knesset is, for example, disproportionate with the total Arab population. However, there have never been allegation of Arab-Israeli citizens being systematically deprived of the right to vote or not being able to vote for their preferred candidate. 


There is further hypocrisy in what Zoabi is saying. Indeed, while the world tries to demonize Israel as a racist monster, there is little to no discussion of the very racist laws and policies of many of Israel's neighbors. For example, the Palestinian Authority (and of course Hamas) have indicated that they would prefer the Palestinian nation to be formed under a two state solution be free of Jews, while of course demanding that Arabs continue to live and be allowed to "return to" Israel. For example, in 2010 the Palestinian Authority upheld the propriety of capital punishment for any person who sells land to a Jew or Israeli. Jordan maintains similar penalities, and it is also illegal for Jews to be citizens of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or many other Arab nations. The PLO ambassador the United States stated in September that Palestine should be free of Jews while of course neglecting to mention whether that means Israel should also be free of Arabs. From a historical perspective, 800,000 Jews were evicted from the Arab states during the 1948 War. Almost all of those that remained had to flee in the wake of the Six Day War, as the previously poisonous antisemitic atmosphere in those nations became downright deadly for Jews that wished to remain. Indeed, both the Arab states and the Palestinian authority have repeatedly, publicly and intentionally stated their wish to establish apartheid states that not only disenfranchise Jews, but affirmatively ban their presence. Yet, these public pronouncements favoring apartheid and the creation of Judenrein in the Middle East is repeatedly ignored by the global media. 


But it goes even further. To the extent that Zoabi and her ilk are frustrated by Israel's disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, she needs to look no further than across the Jordan river to see how poorly her people are treated. In order to maintain power, the Hashemite authorities in Jordan have, over the past few decades, stripped thousands of Palestinians of their citizenship. Despite being a demographic majority in Jordan, Palestinians significant political rights and face significant discrimination from Hashemite authorities. In Lebanon, Palestinians are subject to de jure segregation and prevented from integrating into Lebanese society because the powers that be find it politically beneficial to keep the Palestinians as refugees and available for both political and demographic pressure on Israel. Refugees in Syria face largely identical conditions. Muammar Quaddafi famously expelled 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya when negotiations started between Israel and the PLO, ostensibly to increase Arab demographic pressure on Israel. More significantly, the Kuwaiti government responded to Yasser Arafat's support for Saddam Hussein's 1991 invasion by evicting around 300,000 Palestinians.  

We can also look the other way. Islamic societies, especially modern Islamic societies, are notoriously discriminatory against those who do not subscribe to their religious beliefs in ways that most Western nations have evolved beyond. Jews are not allowed in Saudi Arabia. It is a crime punishable by death to sell land to a Jew in Jordan. Islam's spread into Iran led to the widespread persecution of Zoroastrians and, in modern times, of the followers of Baha'i (so much so that the Baha'i are now headquartered in the only Middle Eastern state that grants them religious freedom). The violence and discrimination faced by Christians in Egypt, Nigeria, Lebanon and often bubbles over into extreme violence while those Christians face consistent discrimination. Even democratic Turkey, a key Western ally and member of NATO has engaged in systemic discrimination against its Kurdish population with the specific of intent of preventing Kurdish secession and independence. 


The point of these comparisons is not to show that Israel is perfect. Israel is, however, a state that faces political and military challenges that are unique in the modern world, primarily in the form of a minority population that not only seeks its own separate nationalism but seeks to establish that state in place of an already existing state, which is distinguishable from Irish or Tamil nationalism, which sought independence in part of the territory of a larger state, not in the entire territory. 


The better question relates to the alternative. It goes without saying that there is a substantial subset of Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza, under de facto Israeli military control who lack significant political rights. What would be a satisfactory solution? The desired outcomes for the left, either the two state solution or the one state binational solution are both impossible, the former because of Palestinian unwillingness to compromise on the right of return issue and the latter because the creation of a binational state would represent the end of Israel as a Jewish state, especially when one considers that Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would immediately evict their Palestinians into such a state. The other route would be turn the Arab state's Judenrein policy on its head and turn Israel into Palestinerein by simply evicting the Palestinian Arabs into Jordan, Egypt, Syria and/or Lebanon (side note: I will always maintain that Israel would have been well served by creating a Palestinian state in the Sinai Peninsula instead of returning it to Egypt. After the Yom Kippur War, Israel's government knew it was not keeping the Sinai and it was shortsighted to think that the Egyptians would end up a greater threat than the Palestinians in Israel's midst would be). While the creation of Palestinerein would be a short term political disaster, under the current political and strategic circumstances, it is about as viable an option as the others. 


But in the absence of a particular solution (which I go into in greater depth in other posts), the importance of challenging and undermining the intellectually sloppy comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa cannot be understated. The desire of the media to simplify and paint conflicts as "good guy" "bad guy" clouds the inherent complexities and context of particular conflicts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Iran, Sanctions and the Strait of Hormuz

With growing tension rising over Iran's planned closure of the straits of Hormuz in response to Western sanctions, many pundits have described Iran's threat as mere posturing or sabrerattling because of the economic damage the closure of the Straits would bring upon Iran's oil dependent economy. To Iranians, however, in the absence of the nuclear element, the current political situation must be a bleak reminder of events between 1952 and 1953.

Back then, a charismatic leader named Mohammed Mossadegh came to power on a platform of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry. Since oil was discovered in Iran in 1908 by British engineers, the British backed Anglo-Iranian Oil Company maintained a strangehold on the Iranian oil industry by essentially buying off the ruling Qajar Dynasty. When Reza Shah took control of Iran as the first Pahlavi Shah in 1925. Anglo-Iranian ran its Iranian much the way the British East India Company ran its operations in British India. Years of repression, poor conditions and economic stagnation for Iranians despite the tremendous oil wealth that Britain was generating brought to power a charismatic nationalist leader named Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh was an intelligent lawyer who took his country's case to the United Nations. He also nationalized the Anglo-Iranian oil company and demanded that the Company renegotiate with Iran to mirror the 50/50 profit sharing arrangement that the United States had struck with Saudi Arabia. Anglo-Iranian refused to change the agreement it made with Reza Shah Pahlavi, and then blockaded Iran's coast in the Persian Gulf to prevent any other merchants from buying Iranian oil while Anglo-Iranian. The blockade did significant damage to Iran's economy because it could not sell its oil and was no longer receiving its royalty share from Anglo-Iranian. Yet, Mossadegh remained a powerful and influential leader, far more so than Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who fled Iran during much of Mossadegh's reign. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company continued to be highly profitable and changed its name to British Petroleum.

Of course, British would not stand idly by and watch millions of pounds disappear due to Iran's decision to nationalize. Winston Churchill returned to power in England in 1951 and pressed for a plan to depose Mossadegh. However, once the Iranians caught wind of the plan, Iran suspended all diplomatic relations with England and evicted all non-essential British citizens from Iran. So Churchill looked to the United States. While Harry Truman opposed overthrowing Mossadegh, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sworn in in early 1953 and his two key aids, John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, began to plot the overthrow of Mossadegh on the grounds that Iran was likely to enter the Soviet sphere of influence while he remained in power.

In 1953, the CIA launched Operation Ajax, and after initial failure, ousted Mohammed Mossadegh and returned Mohammed Reza Shah to power in Iran. While the U.S. and Iran had enjoyed good, if strained relations until that time, the overthrow of Mossadegh and the imposition of Mohammed Reza Shah upon the Iranian people forever put a dent in U.S./Iranian relations. Over the next 25 years, Mohammed Reza became an increasingly brutal autocrat whose repressive regime came to a spectacular collapse in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomenei returned from exile and the Shah fled Tehran. What really put the Islamic Revolution on the map in the West was the seizure of hostages at the Iranian embassy. Many scholars of the Revolution and many participants in the Revolution contend that the reason that U.S. hostages were taken was that many of the revolution's key players feared that the U.S. would attempt to overthrow the 1979 Islamic government the way it overthrew Mossadegh's government in 1953. In either case, the hostage crisis and the revolution brought to power a government that thrived on anti-Western ideology that remains in power until today.

What are the lessons of 1953 for 2012? First, while many contend that the economics of Iran's reliance on oil make it unfathomable for the Islamic Republic to shut the Strait of Hormuz, Mohammed Mossadegh remained popular in Iran despite the crippling effect that nationalization of the oil industry and the consequent British blockade had on the Iranian economy. While most modern Iranians were not alive in 1953, the coup orchestrated by the U.S. with British support is viewed as critical moment in modern Iranian history as an attempt by Western powers to put down a nation seeking to free itself from Soviet, American and British exploitation. To the extent that Iran's national consciousness sees nuclear weapons as a means to achieve true independence, it is strange to believe that economic sanctions will convince Iran to stop its path. In the 1950s, British sanctions had a galvanizing effect for Mossadegh, and British and American meddling in Iran only produced an explosion of anti-Western sentiment in 1979.

Western foreign policy toward Iran, as with much of its foreign policy, takes no stock of Iranian history and the historical context that drove Iran to its current anti-American stance. Indeed, until the hostage crisis in 1979, most Americans had no idea why Iran would do something like this to Americans because they did not know the details or simply did not think about the 1953 coup.

Of course, none of that history necessarily vindicates or justifies the current Iranian government's push for nuclear weapons, nor its threatening and confrontational posture toward Israel, which had nothing to do with the 1953 coup. Yet, to the extent that U.S. strategic judgments necessitate action against Iran to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons, the sanctions option or the belief that Iran will not cut off its nose to spite its face by closing the Strait of Hormuz ignore Iranian nationalist history. Moreover, they ignore recent history in the Islamic world. In 1956 and 1967, for example, Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran despite the fact that those actions were detrimental to the Egyptian economy and were casus belli for the 1956 Suez Campaign and the Six Day War. Those ideological stands made Nasser an Arab hero until his armies failed to back up his posturing in the Six Day War.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Israel's Future: The Demographic Dilemma

Israel is distinct from many other nations in the Middle East for two reasons: one, it is a Jewish state, where Jews are a demographic majority and to where Jews from anywhere in the world may immigrate and two, it is a democratic state under which the government is elected by the people and represents Israel's diverse ethnic and religious citizenry.

Many scholars and Israeli politicians see Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state compromised by three related threats: the first is the potential absorption of millions of Arabs as Israeli citizens if Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza as part of a permanent move to eliminate the PLO, Hamas or both, the second is the potential threat to Israel from any right of return granted to Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a peace agreement with the PLO, Hamas or both, and the third, much more in the long term, is the potential for Israel's 20% Arab minority increasing to 40% or 50% of Israel's population.

The demographic concern has been an issue since before Israel's existence. When Jews began immigrating to Ottoman Palestine in the 1880s with the dream of creating a Jewish state, it was abundantly clear that Jews represented a significant minority of Ottoman Palestine's population. Even on the eve of the 1948 War, Israel had only 600,000 Jews, as compared to millions of Arabs in surrounding Jordan, Syrian, Lebanon and the hypothetical Arab state that compromised 45% of the British Mandate west of the Jordan river. After defeating the Arabs in 1948, Israel benefited from the Arab states' decision to expel their own Jews, and Israel's population more than doubled within a few years of the 1948 War. Israel was again aided by smaller scale airlifts of Jews from nations as far afield as Ethiopia and Yemen, the largest of which was the massive airlift of 125,000 Jews out of Iraq in the early 1950s. But the big break came in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when millions of previously trapped Soviet Jews suddenly became free to leave the crumbling Soviet Union. When the USSR formally collapsed in 1991, the United State ceased to grant automatic refugee status to fleeing Soviet Jews, who now saw Israel as their escape destination from an unknown future in Russia, Ukraine or other newly independent states. Israel absorbed more than one million Soviet Jews in the early 1990s, which not only radically changed many aspects of Israeli culture, but also strengthened Israel's Jewish demographic.

At this point, the only other country with more than 500,000 Jews is the United States. Barring some largely unforeseen turn against America's Jewish population, it is not likely that a large scale Jewish emigration from the United States will occur. As such, Israel has likely seen the end of its Jewish population being augmented by large scale immigration from the Diaspora. The question that arises is, given the current demographic situation, how can Israel retain its character as a Jewish and democratic state.

The reason for this concern is that both an Arab majority would not be interested in maintaining either a Jewish or democratic state. More than 80 years of history have shown that Arabs have no tolerance for Jewish sovereignty for even a single inch of "Islamic territory" and that Jews should certainly not exercise political control over Muslims and especially not over an Islamic holy place like Jerusalem. An unfortunate reality is that many of Israel's Arab citizens are opposed to Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state.

More interesting is that most of the strongest political movements in much of the Arab world and especially in Palestine are decidedly anti-democractic. The PLO essentially forced itself on the Palestinian people, and Mahmoud Abbas has remained in power years after his elected presidential term expired. Hamas was brought to power in Gaza through elections in 2005, but it promptly evicted all Fatah/PLO representatives (even those who were elected) and violently took control of Gaza. There have been no significant elections in Gaza or the West Bank because each party has violently suppressed its opponents and well as other dissenting voices. It would be foolish to believe that the Palestinian governing forces of Hamas and Fatah could forge a democratic government even if they could somehow put aside over twenty years of violent rivalry.

Given these realizations, the question arises of what to do about the inevitable demographic problem that will arise. Certainly, other nations have already considered this possibility. Jordan, for example, has refused to grant citizenship to many Palestinians because it does not want to change the demographic situation to Israel's favor by permanently resettling Palestinians. This also contributed to Jordan's decision to withdraw its previous territorial claims on the West Bank 1988 even though it had demanded the return of the West Bank as late as 1974. Thus, the West Bank went from disputed between Jordan and Israel an area under Israeli military control. Israel retained military control of the West Bank without formally annexing the territory, thus establishing a situation similar to what which exists in Morocco and Western Sahara, though Palestinians in the West Bank arguably have greater rights to self determination than do Sahrawis, and Gaza's status is roughly equivalent to the status of the Polisario-controlled segments of Western Sahara. Nonetheless, it is clear that Arabs living under Israeli control would remove Jewish sovereignty if given the opportunity.

Even though the crisis point may be years or even decades away, the Israeli government has to have a plan in place to address the situation before it becomes critical. Whether Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza or not, it will have to face the prospect of a growing and hostile Arab minority. Some, like JDL founder Meir Kahane, advocated a policy of first offering Arabs in Israel compensation to leave the state and then evicting them if they refused to depart of their own accord. Kahane, however, did not believe that Israel could not survive as a democracy and a Jewish state because the demographic problem. Kahane therefore saw no issue with evicting Arabs from Israel because he was less than concerned about the perception that such actions would be "undemocratic" or otherwise problematic. Another idea that has interested me was proposed by tourist minister Rabbi Benny Elon, who advocated dismantling the PLO and making the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan the sole representative of the Palestinians. Israel would then annex the West Bank and Gaza, while all Palestinians in those territories would become Jordanian, not Israeli citizens.

While this plan, in my view, has some problems, I believe that the core of solving the demographic problem is to look at some combination of these ideas. The central tenet of any solution requires that the Palestinians assume some national identity that is not Israeli but that also extinguishes their attempts at return. However, it is less than likely that the Jordanian government would be thrilled with an influx of Palestinian refugees considering Palestinian antipathy toward the Hashemite monarchy. Yet, the solution must involve a reversal of Jordan's 1988 about face on its role in governance of the Palestinians. The problem from both a demographic and political standpoint is that Jordan and other Arab states have entrenched themselves in the idea that the only way to realize the goal of Palestinian nationalism is to create an Arab state on top of Israel. The more likely way to accomplish a lasting peace is to return to the original two state solution: Jordan for the Arabs, Israel for the Jews.

The real solution to the demographic problem is a lot of Elon's idea and a little of Kahane's. Perhaps it makes sense for Israel to pay Jordan to "encourage" Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to relocate east of the Jordan river. Jordan would realize King Abdullah I's vision of "Jordan is Palestine," despite the current King's unwillingness to fill that role. By making the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Jordanian citizens, they would be foreclosed from claiming to be Israeli citizens, resolving some aspect of the demographic problem. By annexing Gaza and the West Bank, Israel could clear out terrorist cells and key attack bases, reducing the danger to Israeli citizens and to Arabs caught in the crossfire. Some Arabs in the West Bank in Gaza would be resettled in Jordan proper, but even if some stayed in those territories, they would be Jordanian citizens who could legally receive limited rights from Israel and who would no longer be able to claim a right of return.

This solution is obviously not perfect, but it would have several advantages. First, it would place responsibility for the Palestinians in the hands of another nation instead of having a variety of sub-national political factions bickering. Second, it would resolve all issues relating to the right of return and would not require the creation of a third state in the former British Mandate. Third, it would allow Israel to reestablish control over the West Bank and Gaza without depriving the Palestinians of their nationalist vision. Fifth, it would be dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror cells that have grown up in the lawlessness and anarchy of the Palestinian Nationalist Movement.  Lastly, it would be a major step in solving Israel's demographic problem because all Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza would be citizens of another nation and could not claim citizenship or voting rights in Israel.

Obviously, the X factor in all of this would be the Jordanians. Given current political volatility, it is unlikely that Jordan would like to take on such a hot political issue. Yet, Jordan is the best candidate both because it has political relations with Israel and because of the fact that Jordan was the national representative of the Arabs of the West Bank from 1948 until 1967 at least, and claimed political sovereignty until 1988. While King Abdullah II denies it now, the history of the region puts the onus squarely on the Jordanians to assume their appropriate role as the representatives of the Arabs of the former British Mandate of Palestine. In the long run, the only other way to maintain Israel as a Jewish state would be Kahane's expulsion plan, which Israeli politicians would most likely be unwilling to undertake until the situation reached a true crisis point and would likely involve significant death and bloodshed.