Has the Third Intifada Already Started?

Huffington Post UK 28/2/12

“Time is running out for the two-state solution” is perhaps one of the most over-used phrases in the diplomatic sphere today. For the past few years the chorus of voices chanting this mantra have increased and have warned of dire consequences if this hourglass run out of sand. One of the threats they foresee on the horizon is a third Intifada (uprising) in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Not withstanding whether the two-state compromise has a sell by date, one could argue that the third intifada is already underway. Unlike its violent predecessor, the third intifada is mirroring its original as a non-hierarchal mostly non-violent protest against the occupation and its by-products.

Signs of this uprising can be seen across the events of the past few weeks. Khadar Adan’s 67 day hunger strike put a spotlight on administrative detention orders and created parallels to Bobby Sands. Adan’s protest went global, trending worldwide on Twitter and gathering media attention. His success at getting a release date has lead Hana Shalabi – another detainee – to strike, which has now been going for two weeks.

Rock throwing and protests on Temple Mount are also on the rise. These can be traced back to a forged leaflet. The Electronic Intifada picked up this leaflet and created a Twitter rumor of imminent take over. Though the rumours were quashed, last Friday there were riots at Al-Aqsa as a group of religious Jews ascended Temple Mount. Jews and tourists ascending is nothing new, but in the current climate it was seen as a fulfillment of the rumor. Thinking that they were trying to take over the site, stones were thrown and the police got involved.

This past Friday also marked the anniversary of the massacre in the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and lead to the closing of Shuhada Street. During a demonstration to re-open it on Friday Fadi Quaran, a Palestinian-American who is a leader in the non-violent protest movement was detained. His case, like Adan’s has also gone global.

People visiting the West Bank have noted the tension in the air and the protests that are happening week in and week out, increases in rock throwing and spontaneous protests. The Israeli’s are also not deaf to this noting that the status quo is leading to violence. This awareness however has not stopped some parts of the government fanning the flames with plans for a rail network across the West Bank surfacing.

Like many of the protests around the region a big kick off event was not required. Tunisia had a single spark that grew into a conflagration and the West Bank is simmering. More important then noting its start, the real question is what will end this new intifada?

Diplomats like saying that the Middle East Peace process is like a bicycle, you must keep cycling or you fall over. To people on the ground the bicycle fell over in 2000 and despite various diplomatic efforts, has not recovered since. The first Intifada awakened Israel to the Palestinian national desires in a real way. The second Intifada killed trust between the peoples, what will the third bring?

The vacuum of vision and action at an elite level has led Palestinians to looking for new options. A leaderless, non-hierarchal movement can certainly motivate a frustrated people to protest and rise up, but the real challenge is to where.

Many in the non-violent movement focus on a rights based discourse and are ambivalent on the final political settlement. Protester’s experience will determinate their support for various positions rather then a vein hope of the establishment of a particular political goal.

Returning to the two-state compromise, this third Intifada could be the final part in the trilogy; all be it with two alternative endings. The first closes the circle that the first intifada started and manages to motivate the pieces on the map to move into the mutually acceptable two-state compromise that has the full backing of the international community and is enshrined in various UN resolutions and peace treaties.

In the other ending the third intifada implodes the two-state compromise, kicked off 20 odd years ago, with Palestinians moving away from self-determination and into uncharted territory.

The two-state compromise has not run out of time, the status quo of conflict management has. As true urgency and pressure returns alongside this new uprising, we should not see the removal of options, but the death of the status quo.


Political Failure Does Not Change Reality for Israelis or Palestinians

Huffington Post UK 1/26/12

Today, 26 January, will mark another line in the sand in the morbid negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Whether or not this is the date that the Quartet has stated its deadline to get each side’s documents presented to each other is currently under dispute by the sides themselves. Arguments about deadlines of document submission is as far as the sides have got in getting the decision makers into the same room together.

While many in the world are quietly pulling their hair out, others both outside the region and within are celebrating another milestone in the supposed death of the Two-State Solution. Not a day goes by without an expert opinion or a polemical activist declaring to the internet that the two state compromise was dead years ago, only now are we coming to terms with it.

I do agree at the abject failure of the process and the political leadership of the societies involved. Over the past 18 odd years the sides have each had the courage at one point to end the conflict, the only challenge is that these leaderships occurred at different points. The political failure however should not however be linked to the failure of the solution.

The two-state compromise is not something that either population wants. No one goes to bed and dreams of a compromise where each side’s rights will be limited. Yet it is the only formulation that gives each side access to their core needs, all be it limited access. A two-state compromise will not give the Israelis the security control they currently enjoy, a control claimed as necessary to their very survival. A two-state compromise neither will give the Palestinians an unlimited right of return, a right that has underpinned their resistance since the Nakba.

To those who are currently proclaiming its death, I ask what is a realistic alternative.

Maximalists on both sides share the one-state delusion. It is a recipe for civil war as two rival nationalist movements attempt to share the same domestic policy space and create shared rules in the shadow of perceived existential threats and decades of fear and oppression. I challenge any one-state supporter who can paint a realistic road map to their end point that does not require armed conflict. Israel will never accept the end of the Jewish state no matter how much pressure is applied. Conversely Palestinian’s will fight to the death for their right to stay on their land, with their destiny in their own hands.

There has been a move in both camps to try and paint the two-state compromise as either a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian position. It is neither. The two-state compromise asks each side to compromise on that which each holds as necessary and sacred. Those who paint it in these formulations do so in order to make it toxic to their own people and advocates. They are the maximalists who still hold out hope to win this conflict.

So today and in the days following I expect to read the torrent of articles decrying the death of the two-state compromise and the desire to move past it. There will be vague references to a different future, no plan to get there yet a quiet nod to dismiss any who still believe in the two-state compromise as naïve at best, traitors and collaborators at worst.

The desire to abandon the solution due to the death of the process will be immense. Yet the challenge to those who believe in dignity, justice, peace and security for those in that part of the world will be to help bridge the psychological gap within the majority in each society who are willing to accept the two-state compromise yet believe it will never happen.

The most important task is demonstrating to each population that there exists a similar silent majority that accepts the same compromise as you. With the repeated failure of the political process trust must be built from the bottom up rather then the top down. This work is neither glamorous nor groundbreaking. It gets harder every passing day and must be done within the shadow of a region in turmoil.

While in the past this might have been easy, in both societies today there are forces spending much of their energy making sure that this trust can never be built. This past week in Israel, the bereaved Parents Circlehas had its schools program suspended. In the West Bank there has been a sustained effort to clamp down on any civil society effort that does not work within the framework of ‘co-resistance’.

These are symptoms of the malaise from the leadership of both people being transmitted to their populations. If we are ever to move forward, we need the direction of energy to be reversed. If the populations continue to despair the occupation will only continue. The two-state compromise will not appear by magic, its inability to be realised will not create a one-state solution, rather an entrenchment of rights denials and siege mentalities. These paradigms are toxic to the health of each society.

If the leaders cannot succeed we need to spend our time, energy and effort energising the populations and communicating that energy upwards rather then waiting on the forlorn hope of change from above. Yes we need to name the practical obstacles that stand in the way: settlement growth, the rise in popularity of Hamas, an intransigent Israeli government and a radicalisation of religion.

Yet without the working on the psychological chasm between the two people, a reveling of a partner on the other side, the situation will never be able to drag itself out of the free fall it currently is in.

Israel-Palestine Peace Talks: Competing and Accommodating Will Never Deliver a Two State Solution

Huffington Post UK 4/1/12

With such low expectations, the outcome of Tuesday’s direct meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators – another meeting scheduled for a week later – has been seen as a positive step. Neither managed to do anything in three and half hours worthy of blowing up the process.

The 2012 predictions for the conflict have been grim pretty much across the board. With some desperate to break the cycle of failure, people are suggesting new solutions, decrying the death of the two-state solution compromise and predicting dire consequences for the continuation of the status quo.

Repeating the same operation again and again while expecting different outcomes is not only the definition of insanity, but it excludes any creative thinking from legitimate discourse. While some would change the players at the table and others would abandon the table all together, I would suggest a change in the style of the negotiations.

In negotiation literature, there are generally five different dominant conflict modes that people take: competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. I would argue that in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, those tasked with forming a successful outcome have been restricted to being competitive, accommodating and compromising.

In the claims and counter claims, the negotiators are looking to make sure that their core and sacred issues are taken into account when looking at the different packages of conflict resolution. The negotiators compete to see who can win more for their side.

In listening to each other, the negotiators also accommodate the view of the other, becoming less assertive in their own position and increase their cooperation passively allowing the issues of the other to be raised.

After both these operations the sides try and see where they can compromise. These compromises are seen by each of their own sides as what has been lost rather than what has been gained.

These modes of assertive non-cooperative competitiveness and non-assertive cooperative accommodation allow each side to listen to each other’s positions, but never really internalise them. Security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians are issues understood by both sides but are not seen as codependent. Each side looks to split the differences on issues that both people feel are sacred.

The change that needs to happen is a move from the competitive, accommodative, compromise to a collaborative mindset. Here the negotiators are both assertive and cooperative, rather then trading concerns they look together to try and create value together.

In order for this move to happen however, the issues of both peoples need to be internalised and a solution found that satisfies the concerns of both. While the power dynamics of this conflict are anything but equal, a solution will need to recognise the needs of both people if it is ever to be accepted by the populations. A deal will never work that is imposed onto an unwilling populace.

It is not the negotiators who lack the ability to be collaborative but the current toxic environments in both societies that honor those who oppose dialogue as heroes and patriots and condemns those who look to work with the other as a leftist fringe and normalisers. The inability to accept the viewpoint of the other is seen as a test of ones nationalist credentials today.

Collaboration to end the occupation and establish an independent viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel must be the aim of all those who want to see an end to this conflict. Collaboration means not looking for a transaction of rights, territory peace and security, but finding a solution that incorporates all of these facets. If this round of negotiations again looks to be a haggling match, trading Jerusalem for refugees, or security for settlements we will again end in failure.

The access and attitudes of the populations to the issues at the heart of the conflict need to change more than the solution does. 2012 begins with forces in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories aiming to push the populations further apart. Unless these are countered yet another year will be wasted in failure, frustration, disappointment and anger.


Betwixt and Between the Israeli Democratic Dream

Huffington Post UK 6/12/11

Over the past few years a steadily increasing chorus of voices have been warning about anti-democratic legislation finding its way into the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. Hillary Clinton joined these voices last week in remarks she gave at a conference. This evoked a furious response by various members of the Israeli government.

These new laws include restricting foreign donations to ‘political’ NGOs, allowing small communities to keep admissions panels to join their communes and creating an oath of allegiance. To some, these laws finally wipe away the democratic veneer that Israel advocates have been trying to push and reveal the monster beneath. To others it shows how an established democracy under threat tries to use the law to defend itself against new attacks.

Israel is very much still a work in progress. It is only one of three countries (the UK and New Zealand being the others) not to have a written constitution. To understand what is going on today in Israel one needs to understand the necessary contradiction that it exists within.

On one side we have Israel’s declaration of independence. This was signed as Israel was engaged in a war that would kill 1% of its population, proudly declares that, “it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” This declaration forms the basis of Israel as a liberal democratic state. The Supreme Court in its case law used this declaration when considering the legality of government actions.

On the other side we have what Israeli’s term ‘the situation’. The forever dominant security threats that Israel has faced since its inception challenges the declaration and puts pressure on these rights as they were declared.

Israel is not alone in having two contradictory pressures affecting it. In the USA the grand compromise that the founding fathers created between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the constitution of former and the amendments of the latter. The debate between states rights and that of the federal government still rages today and one can see it in almost every substantive issue that occupies the American public discourse. Though the American’s managed to codify their disagreement they never ended it.

The pressures on Israel today are between a liberal want and a security dynamic that challenges it to its very soul.

For those who wish to see Israel finish its task of building itself as a liberal democratic state, we need to do all we can to strengthen this call by helping to end ‘the situation’ which pulls against it. The threat does not come from a fundamentally anti-democratic impulse, but a situation that drives an anti-democratic agenda.

Additionally, ‘the situation’ creates the environment where those who do not share the same vision of a liberal democratic Israel, namely the ultra-orthodox, manage always to hold the balance of power within the Knesset. ‘The situation’ allows for the church vs. state legislative battles to be deferred and delayed due to the necessities of coalitional compromises.

Simply strengthening Israeli human rights NGOs will not be enough to ensure a victory for those who see the declaration of independence as the prophetic vision of the modern State of Israel.

The longer and deeper ‘the situation’ persists, the more a resolution looks remote, the stronger ‘the situation’ becomes. Only by getting to an end to the conflict can we allow the Israeli declaration of independence to become actualised in its entirety.

Middle East Conflict: Those on the Outside Continue to Bash Our Heads Against a Brick Wall

Huffington Post UK 20/11/11

In the past two years there has been far more effort put into attempting direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, than looking at how the negotiations would come out with a positive result.

Direct negotiations are not a solution but a tool, and a tool that has failed for the past 18 years.

I am not going to play the blame game – it is pointless and will convince no one who is not already convinced of the righteousness of their own position to do anything but stop reading, or send this article around to other supporters of their position.

Instead I want to focus on the international community. The continued existence of this conflict makes no sense to those who believe all that is needed is a rationally created series of gives and takes by each party. I know this, as every permutation around the final status issues has been mooted and spelled out.

In the past few weeks The Atlantic has even published a series of special reports titled ‘Is Peace Possible’and has great videos demonstrating the options and solutions to each of the intractable problems in the conflict.

The solutions exist, and the ability of the leaders of each group to deliver the necessary compromise come and go, depending on the political winds blowing through each society. We have yet to reach an occasion where there are leaders in place in both groups at the same time who have the necessary credibility to deliver a deal.

If this problem is not one of finding a rational solution, it must not be a rational problem.

Though the conflict flows around the poles of power and rights, essentially, all who know it well enough recognise that this is a conflict of two narratives which refuse to deal with each other.

This is where the parties involved really need help. Although, both groups want to live in peace, and both want a better future for their children than they have had, both are incapable of ‘losing.’

Losing here is not giving up a particular parcel of land or rights, but accepting the fact that you were wrong and they were right. The narrative that hangs on the deal is currently what is drowning it.

The international community in general is not a good place to try and find a meeting place for conflicting narratives. It is a dysfunctional family of nations with scars, alliances, feuds and hostilities all of its own.

Yet the parties on their own will never reach a place where they will be able to look at the other and accept that they do not hold 100% of the truth of history. The trust does not exist and the urgency of the situation is not conducive for it being formed.

The outsiders to this conflict will continue to bash our heads against brick walls, until we realise that the solution to this mess requires an interlocutor that can speak to both parties, but not be absorbed by either. Few, if any non-state actors have the ability to touch this conflict and not be infected by its partisan nature.

If states are going to mediate this conflict, as I feel they must, then they must also move beyond just a rationally acceptable model, and try and form a narrative framework which demonstrates that no one holds the truth in this conflict.

In order to break out of the death spiral both populations are in, the international community needs to make both of them lose, in order to free them from a contest neither can win.

Why the UNESCO membership is about more then Palestinian Independence

Huffington Post UK 1/11/11

The Palestinian Authority achieved another milestone on their quest for UN membership on Monday when UNESCO voted to make them a full member. Despite the fact that the organisation now stands to lose 22% of its budget as the US cuts its funding, this has been seen as a righteous victory for an oppressed people on their way to independence.

I would argue, however, that unlike the other UN bodies, UNESCO holds a particular role in this conflict that might be bigger then even membership to the general assembly. The major role of UNESCO for most people outside the diplomatic world is for the establishment of World Heritage sites. It lists different places and states their history and significance.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be seen as one of connection vs. control. Each people claim an undisputed connection to the land in which they live and which the other people live in two. Each pursue their historical narratives to justify their claims over various swaths of territory. One of the solutions to this conflict that I advocate is the splitting up of connection and control.

As a religious Jew I have a deep connection to Shechem and Hebron even if Palestinians’ call these cities Nablus and Al-Khalil. Yet my connection to these parts of the land does not lead to my control over them. I am a fervent believer and advocate of the two state solution and recognise that though I will never give up my connection to the land that falls in the West Bank, I have to give up my want to control it for the sake of peace.

This argument is the same for Palestinians who find their natural homes in what is now Israel. No one should ever deny their connection to the land, but for peace their control over it must be given up.

Exactly this time last year, UNESCO declared that the Tomb of Rachel, the biblical matriarch, which lies just outside Bethlehem, is to be recognised as a mosque. Nowhere in its deliberation did it point to its historical significance to the Jewish people, only that to the Islamic residents of the land. This historical scrubbing out of Jewish connections to different parts of the land is what the Israelis base much of their fear on and use it as proof of a grand Palestinian plan to uproot the whole of Israel.

In any peace deal, the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron will have to be under Palestinian control. This is the second holiest site in Judaism. Will the PA insist on it being seen as a site of Islamic and Christian worship only to UNESCO? Looking at President Abbas speech at the UN last month where he purposefully ignored the Jewish connection to the land, it seems that this is a distinct possibility.

More than any other UN agency, UNESCO has the ability to further this conflict by reclassifying different sites in the West Bank to ignore their Jewish heritage. If they do this, they will make the painful compromises that the Jews of Israel need to make even harder to get to.

No-one has the right to deny Jewish, Islamic or Christian connections to the land. I hope that UNESCO and its newest member recognise this and do not proceed to rewrite the Bible.

Palestine: What Now?

Huffington Post UK 24/9/11

With a week of non-stop op-eds offering different views of the goings on in Turtle Bay, it’s time to focus on practical, real-world solutions if we are still dedicated to the Two State Solution.

As the high stakes diplomacy at the UN starts coming to an end, we need to re-focus on tangible actions that each side can take to solidify the Two State Solution on the ground. Normally this discussion quickly morphs into confidence building measures (CBMs) that each party can do in order to demonstrate how serious they are about the solution.

The inability to get negotiations started these past two years has rested on the fact that these CBMs could not be agreed upon and were held up as pre-conditions to the negotiations themselves. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of some of the demands, the process froze and it will now take some creative thinking about how to solidify the end point- a Two State Solution- in ways that can work alongside bilateral negotiations but are not dependent upon them.

There are actions each side can take within their own societies and in their own interests that will, by their very nature, help the Two State Solution be realised.

In 2010, house prices in Israel went up a huge 16.4%. The high cost of housing in particular started off the largest social-economic protests in Israeli history this past summer. The #j14 protest movement managed to get over 5% of the entire population of the country marching.
Lack of housing is a serious issue, but no one worked out what another 30,000-70,000 people (lowest estimate) with government compensation would do to the market. These 30,000-70,000 people are those settlers who would, even according to Prime Minster Netanyahu, not be able stay where they are in the event of a Two State Solution.

The experience of those evacuated from Gush Katif (84% in 2010 still not in permanent housing) has lead to skepticism among West Bank settlers of the Israeli government’s ability to relocate their communities successfully. While certainly not happy to move, many would be far more comfortable talking about leaving if they knew where they would have a place to go.
Even if one goes by the lowest estimates of settlers who would have to move, 30,000, this still is more then triple the amount of people who were evacuated from Gush Katif. These communities need somewhere to go.

Meanwhile Israel is worried about areas in the North and South of the country. In the Galilee and the Negev there is systemic underdevelopment and demographic worries that the high percentage of Arab and Bedouin populations could lead to secession issues. Rather than population swaps (or in its post cold war terminology – ethnic cleansing) as has been proposed by Israel’s Foreign Minster, Israel could start building communities in these areas ready to house these settlers.

These communities would solve the concerns that some in the Israeli policy sphere have without the need to transfer or swap anyone. It would also offer a great opportunity to develop these two regions and lengthen Israel’s strategic economic zone away from just its narrow coastal plane.

This development is necessary regardless of the demands of the peace process, but it would certainly help, as these communities would be proof of Israel’s real intent to move settlers out of the West Bank to make way for a future Palestinian state. It shows the settlers that the government cares and thinks of them as people as well as pawns on the negotiation table and it shows the Israeli left that the government is doing something to make the Two State Solution more of a reality.

The costs of building these communities- it is more then just houses, but schools and transportation links- could be met in part by the new leviathan gas field that has been discovered just off the Israeli coast.

This is just one of many steps both sides must do to make the Two State Solution a reality in the region. While these steps can never be replacements for bilateral negotiations, they need the encouragement of the international community just as much. While the focus on September was necessary, we need to also start on the long-term infrastructure necessary to realize the will of the peoples of the region and the world.