Saturday, June 15, 2013

The right to be pessimistic

Perhaps the most important event of this week is what did not happen.  US Secretary of State John Kerry did not land at Ben Gurion Airport, and did not go by helicopter back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and the reporters did not cover any press conferences of his, and commentators wrote no learned comments about the chances of his crucial peace mission.  
All of this should have happened.    Some weeks ago Kerry had stated explicitly that he would visit the  Middle East in the second week of June, and that unlike in previous visits “this time he would expect to hear clear answers."  But when the time came near, Kerry just quietly announced that his visit would be “put off”, and no new date was announced. So quietly was it announced, and so little was his mediating mission regarded to begin with, that most of the Israeli media did not even bother to tell their readers that after all he would not be coming.

The non-arrival of Kerry left some vacuum on the political and diplomatic correspondents’  agenda – but it was promptly filled. By Danny Danon, of all people.  Danny Danon, by no means the brightest star in the firmament  of Israeli politics. A Likud party hack who industriously went up in the party hierarchy and got into the Knesset and finally got upgraded to Deputy Defense Minister (Not that Defense Minister Ya’alon felt any special need for having a deputy, or any inclination to give him any function).  Danon had established for himself a clear niche on its extreme right flank  which he helped make. Still the general Israeli public hardly noticed his existence.

Danon got his chance for a moment of fame with Netanyahu’s speech last week, when the PM stated on the Knesset floor his great longings for negotiations to resume and  movingly implored Abu  Mazen “Give Peace a Chance!”.  Danon was quick to get his oar in - incidentally giving a scoop to The Times of Israel, an English language news website which is not very highly regarded. “We are a nationalist government, not a government that will establish a Palestinian government in the 1967 lines. There was never a government deliberation, resolution or vote about the two-state solution. If anyone  brings it to a cabinet vote  – nobody will, it would not be smart – but if there is a vote, a solid majority of ministers will be against. (…) The international community opposes construction in East Jerusalem? They can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want.  Netanyahu wants to talk with the Palestinians? Sure he wants it, he knows nothing will come of it anyway”.

It got  into the headlines, and Netanyahu was quick to dissociate himself from the truculent Deputy Minister.  And Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who got the plum job of conducting negotiations with the Palestinians (if and when) actually threatened to resign (but will she?).  All in all, it’is not such a big deal.   Danny Danon didn’t reveal  something we did not already know. Nor did he tell Kerry something which was not yet well-known among the analysts in Washington.  At most, it might have helped  to dot the i's and cross the t's in the confidential situation report which had already landed on the Secretary of State’s desk.

And what now? Is it really all over, so quietly and prosaically?

It is still quite possible that in two or three weeks we would still see Kerry landing  here with great fanfare, rushing and shuttling to and fro with enormous energy and doing his utmost to pull some kind of rabbit out of the hat he is not wearing.  Even remotely possible that it would be rabbit with teeth. But with every passing day, the other possibility becomes more likely:  that this is indeed  The End,  not with a bang but with a whimper. That there would be no  further announcement,  but  Kerry would just not come by again, nor (certainly) Obama. After some weeks or months we would  suddenly notice Kerry putting all his energy into another issue on the other end of the world.

If so, it could it be that we have just passed, unnoticing, a major historical turning point. That historians would one day point to the second week of June 2013 as the time when the US finally shrugged off and abdicated its self-appointed role as the mediator and not quite  precisely honest broker between Israelis and Arabs. The time when Barack Obama and John Kerry closed the door which had been opened exactly four decades ago by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  And if so, it might even be that Danny Danon would get a footnote or two all to himself in the future history books…

Would it really be so bad if turned out that Uncle Sam had cut us adrift, Israelis and the Palestinians and our tiresome, interminable conflict? Re'uven Kaminer, at least,  thinks it might offer a wonderful new chance. Kaminer left his native Chicago in the 1950’s in order to avoid service in the Korean War, and in the following decades made a name for himself in the Israeli Left as a staunch and uncompromising opponent of the imperial ambitions of his former homeland.  "Through the cracks in the American hegemony,  the sun is  shining" is the title of the article he published this week on the Radical Left website Hagada Hasmalit (The Left Bank).

“This week the Peace Camp marked  46 years of occupation. Among participants there was a deep sense of disappointment and pessimism. A  lack of any chance of progress, even the tiniest, in the struggle to end the occupation. Where does this pessimism come from? Its source is the feeling of many in the Peace Camp that achieving peace, and with it an end to the occupation, depends primarily on the willingness of the U.S. to put massive pressure on Israel. If anybody had a lingering illusion that such a miracle can still take place, the latest mission of Secretary of State Kerry slapped them in the face. By all signs, it is a total failure. It is hard to know why Kerry and Obama deluded themselves that this time it would be different. Israel regards itself as a senior partner in regional politics, due to its  military might.  In the present sensitive situation in the region, Washington can’t afford a break with the Netanyahu government -  and without such a break there can be no resumption of negotiations. Kerry cannot get from Israel even the slightest concession to the Palestinians, and they for their part cannot  afford a total submission to the Israeli demands”.

Kaminer  does not share in the left’s  pessimism. “The Israeli-Palestinian issue is decisively affected by developments in the Middle East, primarily the cracks in the American hegemony .  True, though forced to give ground, the U.S. remains a mighty force whose interest must be reckoned with. Still, the option of an Israeli-Palestinian peace founded entirely upon American hegemony and tutelage is fading fast. The Americans can no longer achieve, all by themselves, peace in our region. If they want peace at all, they would need to rely on a wide European and global consensus. Precisely these changes herald the possibility of a better balance between the parties to the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict. It is such a balance which is needed in order to lay the foundations of real peace”.

Meanwhile, Knesset member Orit Struk got interviewed in the weekend Ma’ariv. Struk is a prominent leader of the religious-nationalist settler enclave in Hebron. In recent  years, she became known as a Human Rights activist – i.e.  an activist for the Human Rights of the settlers,  which  she asserted were being terribly trampled on. Since being elected to the Knesset a few months ago, as part of Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home Party, she already distinguished herself in promoting a bill which would allow settlers in Judea and Samaria to “act in self defense and shoot to death any intruder to their properties”.  But would not such a law also allow Palestinians to shoot at settlers invading their property? Had such a law been in force a year ago, might it not have had an adverse effect on Struck’s own son Tviki, now serving a two and half years’ term for having severely assaulted a Palestinian shepherd? “Oh, of course this law would not apply to Palestinians” the Human Rights activist answered without blinking.

Orit Struk does believe in peace. “Peace will come when the Arabs come to terms with the fact this is our country and they are no more than tolerated guests here”.  And until they come to such a realization? “Well, until then there is nothing to do but sit on out sword, and sit securely”.  It was Napoleon Bonaparte, who knew quite a bit of military matters, who said that “You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it”…

This week also marked the passing of Yoram Kanyuk – veteran soldier of the  war  in which Israel was created,  and a lifelong dissident writer and activist. His last major act was a prolonged struggle to remove from his entry in the population registry the notification: “Religion : Jewish” and replace it with “Religion : Undetermined”.  But it was not taken as a class action, opening the way to others. Anybody else applying to the Ministry of the Interior for a similar change would have to take his or her own lawyer and go all over again through  an individual  years-long struggle through the courts.

In the past decade he had become increasingly bitter and disillusioned.   Daphna Baram in her article in The Guardian quoted Kanyuk’s words – perhaps not his very last, but ones which reflect his mood in the last part of his life: "The state I took part in founding had ended long ago, and I am not interested in what it has become. It is ludicrous, blunt, vile, dark, sick, and it will not last. We used to think it would be different."

And meanwhile, Peace Now once again published a call upon all who are worried - to come out into the streets, specifically, into the street outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu will not actually be there tonight, he spends his weekends in the luxurious private home at affluent Caesarea – but he would not have listened anyway). 

Saturday night - demonstrating against the government of diplomatic fiasco!

Despite the unprecedented efforts of John Kerry to renew the process, despite the peace initiative of the Arab League, which includes recognition of the settlement blocs, Despite all this, the Government of Israel says NO!

It's time to go out and make it clear to Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett that they and they alone are to blame for the political stalemate and rejecting the option of peace.

They are guilty of a major diplomatic fiasco which would severely damage the vital military, political and economic interests of the State of Israel.

Israel must not miss the historic opportunity open to us, Only if Netanyahu and Lapid feel the public’s accusing finger pointed at them, only then is there a chance that something will move.

The demonstration will take place on Saturday, June 15, at 20:00,  in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

For updates and registration for the ride from Tel Aviv, contact Inbal: 

Peace Now is no longer a mass movement, able to bring tens of thousands into the streets, and no one expects such a turnout  tonight. Still, those who still did not give up will be there.

P.S.  While this article was being written, results started to come in from the Presdiential elections in Iran,There are not final results yet, and it is too early to estimate the influence of these elections on Netanyahu’s designs - to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. One thing is clear, already: whatever may be wrong with Iran, it is the kind of country where the elections results are not known until the votes have  been counted.