Towards Neutralizing the Jihadi Narrative: Settlement (No Pun Intended) of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
In this final substantive post of my Warholian week as guest blogger I offer a necessarily telegraphic summary of my long chapter on the conflict. Being telegraphic it will not even have the virtue of the chapter, i.e. even if it is clearly wrong, it won’t be wrong clearly.
For two reasons I devoted an entire chapter to a single neuralgic point in the long-seamed rub of the Judeo-Christian (and partially Enlightenment-Secular) West and the Global community of Islam. One is that the conflict brings together in one thrashing bundle most of the general issues I address in the book including the legitimate occasions for the use of force and cruel treatment of detainees and the limits of communal privileging in the face of the universality of human rights. The other is the important place the treatment of Palestinians particularly in the Occupied Territories has in the Jihadi narrative which the violent few use in an effort to rally support in the vast community of believers for whom they claim to fight.
I neither claim nor believe that the U.S. and the Islamic world would lie down together like the lion and the lamb in the Peaceable Kingdom in the event of a settlement. There are other neuralgic points and the baggage of history is not discarded in a moment. However, I do believe that in the absence of a settlement seen to be reasonably just, the Jihadi narrative will continue to resonate. In short I see it as a necessary but not sufficient condition for gradually cutting the cords between the violent few and a wide swathe of actual or potential sympathizers.
When two adversaries of roughly equal power negotiate a settlement, whatever they agree on is generally perceived to be reasonably fair because neither has the capacity to coerce the other into an unfair settlement and each is presumed the best judge of its interests. In a case like this where there is a huge asymmetry of power, a settlement will be perceived as just only if in the course of the negotiations a third party lends its weight to the weaker adversary or if the settlement satisfies external criteria of fairness. Since the relevant third party to this conflict, the US, has placed its weight at the disposition of the stronger party, that condition clearly does not obtain. So we are left only with the second scenario. And the only place where I can see respected external criteria is the corpus of international law.
Its relevant norms are incorporated in human rights and humanitarian law. The key norm is the right to self-determination as it has concretely evolved in the practice of states since 1945 (rather than as a shapeless abstraction which claimants of all kinds can shape Humpty-Dumpty-like to the needs of their particular causes). Palestine is the last of the Non-Self-Governing territories recognized as such at the inception of the UN. The others have experienced some process of self-determination, even if nothing more than “one person, one vote, once.” In the case of Palestine, the appropriate organ of the UN, the General Assembly, concluded (in 1947) that there were two People ( a politically sensible simplification, of course) in the territory and that in the long term interests of them and of international peace and security it was necessary to divide the territory in two and then allow each of those people to experience self-determination. One of those two People, the Jewish inhabitants of the time, determined themselves into the state of Israel. They did not then nor did they in the future until the Oslo Accords recognize the right of the other People to form a sovereign state and for decades it was dogma within Israel that there could not and should not be two sovereign states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But, I argue, if there is a right to self-determination, there must logically be a place to exercise it and that place is necessarily within the confines of the old Palestinian Mandate as it existed in 1947.
Hence the only issue is where within those boundaries the Palestinians should be allowed to determine their political future. One of the interesting historical questions, I have long thought, is why some lines of territorial demarcation initially seen as temporary expedients harden into widely recognized frontiers while others remain provisional. An example of the former is the border between North and South Korea. The 1949 cease-fire line between Israeli and Arab forces seems to me to be another. One example of the latter is the boundary between Indonesia and the former Portuguese territory of East Timor. Although for many years after its seizure by Indonesia, few persons envisioned a time when East Timor would become a separate state, the illegality of incorporation remained a living historical memory in the international community probably because the East Timorese resisted and the Indonesians responded to resistance with gross cruelty.
I argue that the same failure to normalize a change in de facto control shadows the Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, not because this initial occupation is widely seen to have been illegal (I join many but by no means all other observers in recognizing it as a defensive albeit preemptive use of force consistent with the Charter), but rather because of Israel’s subsequent colonization and the related close and often harsh control of quotidian life (all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which I think applies) that continued everywhere in those territories until 1993 and continues to this day in parts of those territories.
Looked at through a human rights optic, the current situation may fairly be described as follows: Gaza is the largest of a series of open-air prisons of various sizes from some of which the guards have been withdrawn to the periphery for purposes of minimizing the human and materials costs of incarceration. But ingress and egress are strictly controlled. And from time to time, in order to prevent the inmates from breaking out or otherwise threatening the state that is imprisoning them, the guards enter to arrest or assassinate selected inmates or they attempt to kill violent leaders of the resistance by bombing or shelling prison structures with much collateral damage in many instances. Persons merely arrested are transferred to smaller prisons for interrogation often by harsh means (found by the UN rapporteur on torture to be torture in some cases and found by Israel’s Supreme Court to regularly breach internal guidelines for the application of “moderate physical pressure” and trial by special tribunals or long term administrative detention. All of the People of the Occupied Territories except, arguably, those living in East Jerusalem live in one of these open-air prisons.
There is some analogy to the South African Bantustans, though obviously there is no racial element in this case. One part of the analogy is that the dominant group in both cases feels it is dealing with an existential threat. However, it seems fair to say that the existential threat the “Black” and “Colored” inhabitants of South Africa posed to their Afrikaner jailers was greater or at least reasonably appeared to be greater than the Palestinians are able to pose to Israel now or within the various security safeguards that have been mooted in discussions of how two sovereign states could co-exist without threatening each other and regional peace and security. Which is not to say that Israel does not face a genuine security threat. In my chapter I sketch the means by which that threat could be effectively and fairly addressed.