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Tripartite autism and how to break out of it

02/22/2007

The abortive summit that was held on February 19 between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not a surprise. Coming against the ominous background of the Palestinian Unity Agreement it had little prospect. The result was not even a hot air summit, but rather a semi-public tiff. Reportedly, Abbas and Olmert told each other off and had to be calmed down by Condoleezza Rice, like errant children. The question many are asking is, "why was this summit held at all?" It only served to display the futility of current policies on all sides, as well as the lack of political horizon.

The political leaders who glibly promised the youth of One Voice, as well as the world, peace and a "political horizon" for the Palestinians, produced nothing at all except recriminations. Condoleezza Rice was left to bravely make a solitary statement and put the best face possible on matters.

The failure could not be blamed on the Palestinian unity deal. The results of a previous summit were in reality no different, and neither were those of any previous meetings. The only tangible result of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is a fictive "cease fire" in Gaza, that is characterized by daily rocket fire, at least one suicide bombing in Eilat, and frequent, foiled suicide bombing attempts in the center of Israel, along with continuing Israeli raids and pressure on the West Bank. Against the background of daily terror attempts, it is hardly surprising that Israel never implemented the relaxation of security that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert promised at the previous summit. However, Olmert knew that going in to the meeting, so why did he promise it? The only result is that it became a further bone of contention at the current summit. At least, nothing was promised at the recent summit, so there will be no disappointments.

There are many sorts of "political horizons" actually, and not one as Tzippi Livni and Condoleezza Rice seem to think, and all of them are shrouded in heavy fog at present. Israelis and Palestinians and Americans all need political horizons. The short term Israeli-Palestinian horizon includes return of Gilad Shalit and a real end to terror. The Palestinian short term horizon must include relaxation of security harassment and return of prisoners. The long term political horizon must include two states living in peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. For Americans, the short term horizon is getting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of the way so they can deal with Iraq. The long term horizon for the USA is maintaining their political influence in the Middle East, fostering democracy and extinguishing the monster of Islamist terrorism.

Israel, the Palestinians and the USA seem to be three societies suffering from a political version of autism. They are each consumed by their own problems, see only their own "horizons" and offer "solutions" that are "reasonable" only from their own point of view. They do not relate to each other or respond in normal ways, and pursue programs that have no relation to other political actors. Along with autism and other personality disorders, the individual also develops tics or perseverative behaviors that are not goal oriented or reality oriented. They are said to be "functionally autonomous" because they serve the needs of some unintegrated aspects of the personality or the workings of some parts of the nervous system. "Functional autonomy" is a concept developed to explain irrational behavior or repetition of some previously learned, but now inappropriate response. It doesn't serve a logical goal or an adaptive need, so it must serve some other goal. In politically autistic societies, there are such behaviors as well.

The Israeli unilateral disengagement, in retrospect, was an autistic act. It solved some internal problems for the IDF, which no longer has to defend undefendable settlements. It put the settler movement in perspective, and created, for a brief time, a political opening for a new beginning in Israel. As it didn't take into account what would happen in Palestinian society, or any Palestinian needs, it reaped the rise of the Hamas as a "surprising" result. Israeli policy in the West back represents perseveration or functional autonomy. In the West Bank, Israel acts like the widow who still cooks for her deceased husband. Everyone already understands that the settlement project is doomed in the long run, and that Israel will not be able to keep most of the territory in the West Bank. Nonetheless, investment in existing settlements continues, confiscation of lands continues, and nobody is thinking of removing the illegal outposts, which are still there and still illegal. There was even an Israeli attempt to start a new settlement in Maskiot, in the Jordan Valley. Maybe it was not really an attempt to start a settlement, but rather just a way of satisfying internal political pressures, or perhaps it was just a way of annoying the Americans or gaining leverage: making an outrageous proposal and then backing down as a concession. On the other hand, perhaps the entire continuation of the settlement project reflects the fact that the government is weak, and is afraid to upset the political applecart and provoke an election, which, according to all polls, would produce a more extreme right wing government.

The Palestinian Prisoner's Letter and the Palestinian unity agreement are also autistic acts. They do not take into account the reality of Israel, the existence of Israel, or of other countries who have opinions about the Middle East conflict, or of agreements that Palestinians signed. The expectations of even moderate Palestinians are apparently that somehow the world will accept the viewpoint of their elected government that a member state of the UN should be wiped out. This is called "justice" or "giving the Palestinians their rights." A recent poll of Palestinians by the Near East Consulting organization found that, "While principally 75% of Palestinians do not think that Israel has the right to exist, 70% support a one-state solution in historic Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together with equal rights and responsibilities." For a people who so vehemently resist occupation and insist on their right to self determination, this result, taken at face value, is certainly bizarre: 70% say they are willing to give up their national identity in a single state solution. However, this state would be an Arab Palestinian state, where Jews and Christians would live with Muslims as they have lived historically in other Muslim states. In that context and with that definition of peace, it was not meaningful that 70% support a peace settlement with Israel. Presumably the other 30% simply want to throw the Jews into the sea. It is an autistic "solution."

The Palestinians, and their Arab supporters, insist that the Western powers have an obligation to subsidize a Jihad against Israel, because the government that is making this Jihad was democratically elected. Oxfam points out that the Palestinians are suffering under this economic embargo, and claims it is "immoral." But the Hamas government has declared over and over that Palestinians would rather starve than make peace with Israel, and the Palestinians elected the Hamas government.

Both the "one-state solution" and the "resistance" are functionally autonomous. They are left over, inappropriate responses that are now exhibited not because they serve a national purpose, but because, like settlements in Israel, they serve the interests of specific groups or of institutions that were created to support them.

The Americans for their part, developed their own functionally autonomous reactions: negotiations, and the Quartet Road Map. There can be no explanation for the recent tripartite summit meeting without postulating an autonomous "negotiations drive" that is rooted somewhere in the workings of the State Department. The Road Map likewise no longer has any roots in reality. The date for a Palestinian state has come and gone, the date for removing Israeli outposts has come and gone, the date for unification of Palestinian security forces has come and gone. The date for ending Palestinian violence and for restoration of normal life to the Palestinians has come and gone. What is left?

The Palestinians are playing off Iran against the Arab league and the Americans against the Europeans, to get leverage, in order to use the Mecca agreement to break the embargo on aid to the Hamas government. Very likely they will "succeed," provided that the other countries are willing to provide the funds that would not be provided by the Americans. However, ending the funding embargo will not solve the problems of the Palestinians, who have anyhow gotten quite a bit of foreign aid since the Hamas government came to power.

The Israelis and Americans are going to try to "stonewall." Israelis are concerned with corruption, the Iranian threat, the possibility of a war with Syria, the sexual escapades of President Katzav and other such weighty matters.

By now, most Israelis view the settlements and settlers, the Palestinians and the American pressures as elemental forces, like heat and barchash flies, that must be ignored or overcome in order to continue business as usual. It doesn't occur to the Israeli government or to many Israelis that their own actions have anything to do with the problem, or that Palestinians might object to having their land confiscated. The Palestinians view the occupation and the "Jayish" - the army - and the internecine violence likewise as elemental forces that are for some reason preventing them from getting "justice" and moving on with their lives. It apparently doesn't occur to most Palestinians that Israelis or anyone else might object to their "democratic choice" of eliminating Israel or the habit that some of them have of blowing up in public places.

What is plainly needed is a new, honest and simple approach. Israel and the US must answer the challenge of the Mecca agreement with a genuine peace initiative, not just talk. If Mahmoud Abbas is really serious about peace, he will get on board as well, rather than allowing him to be coopted by the Hamas. If the Saudis really want to make Riyadh and Mecca the center of Middle East politics and peace making, this is their chance as well.

Condoleezza Rice and Tzippi Livni talked about a political horizon for the Palestinians. There should be a political horizon for both sides, and it needs to be spelled out. The Palestinians can get a state, a real state, and a viable state, if they will really give up the obsession with destroying Israel and with "one state solutions."

The solution should take into account the Arab peace initiative. The program, in detail, must be sold to the EU, the Arabs and the Palestinians. It must be backed by actions. Israel must remove the illegal outposts, not as a "concession to Hamas," but as an earnest of its support for the Road map and the US. Israel must also undertake a real settlement freeze for the same reason. The moderate Arabs must be willing to come up with a plan that meets Israel's needs as well, and puts an end to the perception that the "one state solution" or "resistance" in the form of suicide bombings are legitimate.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 8 comments

Idealy Abbas and Olmert would sit together without preconditions, come up with a complete two state peace deal, and then have referendums in both countries in which the agreement would be accepted, and then with this horizon visible, gradually implemented.

But in reality not only don't we know if Olmert and Abbas are personaly willing to offer each otrher acceptable terms (we know that Olmert does not), but they have little insentive (other than the future of their peoples) to begin negotiations, and every reason not to.

Olmert can't offer Abbas a ceasefire in the West Bank or removal of the fence or massive prisoner release, because terrorism continues and he would not want to be accused of redcing Israeli security. Removing or freezing settlements might be popular with the US and Israeli left, but will be considered as worth little by the Palestinians, and will cost Olmert a lot, especially if terrorism continues afterwards, which it surely will.

Abbas cannot stop terrorism because he has no control over the organizations and cannot ask them to stop fighting and disarm without a concrete acheivment.

Both sides will find themselves in hot water if they negotiate while terrorism/oppression continues, and withot concrete acheivements prior to a final deal. So they will start heaping demands for confidence building measures o each other. These steps,even if implemented, will not increase confidence, but will seem to both sides as insufficient.

Under these circumstances, both Abbas and Olmert will find it difficult to negotiate or sell the deal to their dubious peoples.

We are at an impossible bind.

Posted by Micha @ 02/24/2007 05:14 AM CST

Perhaps it would be useful if Israeli society and its political leadership openly discussed the possibilities and practicalities of unlateralism to end the occupation, and thus create a void where a Palestinian state can establish itself. It seems that it is too easy for either side to bring negotiations to a halt. The barter deal "Land for Recognition & Peace" has grown stale and seems incapable of producing an acceptable outcome.

While I recognise the desirability of a negotiated settlement, it appears unachievable. But even if there were an agreement which both sides signed up to, it would be very easy for the Palestinians to appear to go along with it to start with and then recommence the conflict. Progessively Arab states are opening up to Israel even though a state of Palestine has yet to come into being. Were Israel to simply pull out and leave the West Bank, it may well be that Arab states simply ditch the Palestinians.

A unilateral withdrawal would herald victory celebrations by the Palestinians for a while, and that would be uncomfortable for Israelis. I believe that the subsequent economic and social crisis in Palestine would bring about their own debate about their future. They of course could choose to further the war against Israel.

I believe that the role of the media in this is crucial for getting over the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal. Some 25 years ago German TV3 produced a documentary which explored the possibility and consequences of throwing the Turkish Gastarbeiters out of the country, together with the other Scheissauslanders (of which I was one). The impact was tremendous and brought to an end the fantasy that the Turks could be expelled from Germany without the Germans having to pay a considerable economic, political and social price.
Perhaps it is time for Israel to do something similar relating what would life be like if the Gaza withdrawal was repeated in the West Bank. As Palestinians an no doubt receive and understand Israeli TV, the debate would include them. Following the German film the silence amongst the extremists was deafening.
Sadly I know nothing of producing films, don't work for TV production and have no money. Otherwise I would produce it myself.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 02/26/2007 10:53 PM CST

Hi Rod,
You wrote:
"A unilateral withdrawal would herald victory celebrations by the Palestinians for a while, and that would be uncomfortable for Israelis. I believe that the subsequent economic and social crisis in Palestine would bring about their own debate about their future. They of course could choose to further the war against Israel."
---
That is approximately the scenario everyone envisions in Israel, and therefore it is not a real option. Nonetheless, Peres talked about evacuating dozens of settlements (or did he say outposts?) this evening.

I think it is possible for Israel to evacuate settlements, but it is not feasible to end the military occupation at this point. Theoretically this could reduce the proliferation of checkpoints. Unfortunately, Israel will not evacuate settlements on this side of the security fence, probably won't evacuate Jordan valley settlements either. In the Jerusalem area, the situation is completely impossible. As long as a bomber can get from Jenin or Nablus to any Israeli city via Jerusalem or other crossings, and as long as the terror groups keep doing their stuff, most of the chekpoints would have to stay.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 03/04/2007 01:15 AM CST

The best thing for Israel would be if peole distinguished completely between the settlements, which are completely wrong regardless of what he Palestinians do, and the military ways of dealing with Palestinian threats, in which military occupation is a legitimate if temporary approach so long as it is conducted properly and possibilities of ending it are not ignored.

But this is not what is happening in Israel.

It is unlikely that Israelis will be willing to go through the probelms of settlement withdrawl in exchange for continued military problems from the Palestinians. It is unfortunate that Olmert and Peretz failed to show that Israel can do a better job dealing with enemies after withdrawl in a siginificantly easier way.

the fact that when israelis start contimplating withdrawl they don't think of complete withdrawl is also a problem.

"I believe that the subsequent economic and social crisis in Palestine would bring about their own debate about their future."

Unlikely. Palestinians don't believe in the future. Many Israelis also, but not to such a degree as the Palestinians.

Posted by Micha @ 03/04/2007 04:38 PM CST

Dear Ami,
So if Israel stays in occupation there is violence and if Israel unlaterally ends the occupation there is violence. Israel continues to hold out for the promise of Land for Peace. Israel partially withdrew and was there partial peace? In reality no because the Palestinians are not party to Israel's dreams of Land for Peace.
Instead they appear to want to 1. Return to the territorial position of pre 67; 2. Reserve the right to prosecute war against Israel when and where they wish as a legitimate element of resisting occupation and the imperialist / colonialist nature of Zionism; 3. Collect financial assistance from any quarter as a matter of right; 4. To have the right to access Israeli labour and trade markets and infrastructure; 5. The right to enter into and then abrogate any agreement with Israel as and when it pleases the Palestinian nation, but to require that Israel abides by those agreements.
As long as Israel remains in "occupation" of territories captured in 67, it is obliged to behave as an occupying power, which severely limits its actions and provides the "rationale" for the legitimate acts of violent resistance by the Palestinians. What Israel must do is to deny the Palestinians that legitimacy and force them into the position where they must behave as a responsible nation.
Ending the occupation and recognising the Palestinian state is the first step. But recognition does no mean that the two states have open inter-governmental relationships, and therein lies Israeli power. Without diplomatic relations the borders cannot be opened to people or goods, nor should the Palestinians have access to Israeli utility or transportation infrastructure.
Some may argue that if this occurs then the West Bank and Gaza will be flooded with arms. That risks exists and the probability of it occurring is high. But I believe that it will happen anyway. Although these weapons would pose a serious problem for Israel, their acquisition poses a more serious problem for the Palestinians. In the first instance scarce resources would be spent on non-productive goods, and in the second the weapons are most likely to be turned upon the Palestinians themselves. However eventually the Palestinains will be forced to make a choice, either accept Israel and establish diplomatic links or ignore Israel and pretend it doesn't exist, or go to war with it. With the exception of the first, the future for the palestinians would be very bleak indeed. Something I suggest that would escape the notice of the average Palestinian.
It is not the job of Israel to manage Palestinian lives. Tnhey are sentient beings and fully capable of establishing a stable state. They are capable of acting rationally. So longs as Israel lets them get away with irresponsible policies, the Palestinians will never grow up.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/06/2007 10:57 AM CST

"So if Israel stays in occupation there is violence and if Israel unlaterally ends the occupation there is violence."

Only that unilateral withdrawl is most likely partial withdrawl because Israel cannot withdraw completely without peace + it is a pollitical improbability + the majority of Isrraelis do not support full withdrawl to 67 borders. so, when violence continues the Israeli right wing says it prooves that withdrawl is bad, and the left says it prooves partial withdrawl is insufficient. Since so far we only had partial withdrawls, all we can say for certain is that the Palestinians will not use partial withdrawl as a step for future withdrawls, and that vilence continues.

"Instead they appear to want to 1. Return to the territorial position of pre 67; 2. Reserve the right to prosecute war against Israel when and where they wish as a legitimate element of resisting occupation and the imperialist / colonialist nature of Zionism; 3. Collect financial assistance from any quarter as a matter of right; 4. To have the right to access Israeli labour and trade markets and infrastructure; 5. The right to enter into and then abrogate any agreement with Israel as and when it pleases the Palestinian nation, but to require that Israel abides by those agreements."

Yes. The Palestinianas are jerks. but what do the Israelis want? They don't want to withdraw completely to the 67 borders. They want to keep settlement blocks, Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley, and they want to have much control over what the Palestinians do to make sure they do not obtain more weapons. and of course they want the Palestinians to renounce the right of return prior to negotiations. They expect the Palestinians to agree to these terms, and if they do not, it prooves to them that peace is not an option and that the occupation must continue. They also expect to enjoy peace and quiet prior to negotiation and even while the occupation continues. If there is violence, they perceive that as proof that the Palestinians don't want peace, and as justifications for continued occupation. And all this is the position of the center. The right's position's are even worse.

"What Israel must do is to deny the Palestinians that legitimacy and force them into the position where they must behave as a responsible nation.
Ending the occupation and recognising the Palestinian state is the first step. But recognition does no mean that the two states have open inter-governmental relationships, and therein lies Israeli power. Without diplomatic relations the borders cannot be opened to people or goods, nor should the Palestinians have access to Israeli utility or transportation infrastructure.
Some may argue that if this occurs then the West Bank and Gaza will be flooded with arms. That risks exists and the probability of it occurring is high. But I believe that it will happen anyway. Although these weapons would pose a serious problem for Israel, their acquisition poses a more serious problem for the Palestinians. In the first instance scarce resources would be spent on non-productive goods, and in the second the weapons are most likely to be turned upon the Palestinians themselves."

This is what happened in Gaza. Many Israelis see this as a bad thing, a deterioration in the Israeli position. Israel cannot prevent the Palestinians from getting weapons, and they are still pressured over the problems caused to the Palestinians by refusing diplomatic contact. Israelis perceive it as a failure if violence occurs from an area they withdrew from. And because of the failure in Lebanon and in dealing with Gaza, they have not seen a good example of how Israel is better off strategically dealing with threats from its own borders ratther than by occupation.

"However eventually the Palestinains will be forced to make a choice, either accept Israel and establish diplomatic links or ignore Israel and pretend it doesn't exist, or go to war with it. With the exception of the first, the future for the palestinians would be very bleak indeed."

The Palestinians have a very good way of dealing with this connundrum. They do all of above.

"It is not the job of Israel to manage Palestinian lives."

Yet the current strategy in the west Bank, and to a lesser degree in Gaza, is to control Palestinian lives. Worse, in the West Bank this system seems to have successfully reduced terrorism, so the IDF is reluctant to give it up. But it also gives the Palestinians an excuse and, to be honest, a justified reason why they are unable to take full responsibility of their lives. It never occurs to them to try to take some responsibilty under the current limitations, and then try to improve things and hope for more.

"They are sentient beings and fully capable of establishing a stable state. They are capable of acting rationally. So longs as Israel lets them get away with irresponsible policies, the Palestinians will never grow up."

Israel cannot take onn the role of educating the Palestinians. It is also not going to work.

1) Israel must offer a fair peace deal to the Palestinians along the Ayalion-Nusseyba initiative. It should also state its willingness to negotiate based on the Saudi initiative, but with reservations.
2) Israel should be willing to negotiate with any Palestinians immediately and unconditionaly.
3) They should unilateraly stop any aspect of the occupation that is unnecessary, especially the settlements, and state willingness to withdraw them.
4) But it should not give tangibal things in exchsange for empty promises. So long as terrorism continues the fence continues, the military operations continue, the roadblocks continue, and most prisoners are not released (except maybe as a gesture to abu Mazen if there is no risk). The same way that the Palestinians cannot dismantle there terrorist organizations or stop the incitement and take responsibility for the actions prior to the completion of negotiations, Israel must assume that terrorism continues and that the only way for it to protect itself is by military force. Israel should not expect the Palestinians to stop terrorism before peace, but they shouldn't expect Israel to stop defensive measures while terrorism continues.
5) Israel should reshape its military strategy from one that depends on occupation to one that depends on quick massive strikes into enemy territory followed by temporary ceasefires in which both sides rearm themselves in expectation of future conflicts. Ultimatly it is a better strategy. This should have been the strategy in Lebanon. If Israel withdraws from the occupied terrotories, at it should, it should prepare for the possibility of it becoming like Lebanon, and construct its military strategy accordingly.

Posted by Micha @ 03/06/2007 03:30 PM CST

Micha,
I think the caveat on all that either of us might argue is whether the Palestinian political parties can actually deliver peace? My own view is that they are neither politically willing nor actually capable of delivering on an end to violence. I am aware that many pundits have drawn comparisons with N. Ireland but in my opinion at least such parallels are misplaced.
Perhaps also our comments are less possible solutions and more expressions of frustration and disappointment at the failure to progress to a position where both states exist and both peoples live and work alongside each other.
It would be an interesting project to assemble all the articles and comments into a timeline and see how much attitudes have changed since Oslo and what it can tell us about the prospects for peace.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/08/2007 10:17 AM CST

Yes, it is easy to loose hope in the possibility of peace when you look at what the Palestinians have said and done since Oslo, and say and do now. Looking at what Israel's did and does will not encourage any of us either.

One of the things we learned from the events from Oslo to this day, is that there is no guarentee that peace can be acheived with the Palestinians, nor can you be certain that their behavior will always correspond to rational choices or their best interests. Yet I'm also not willing to accept the reverse assumption that there is no chance of peace with the Palestinians. Despite Barak's claims, and the claims of the right, I don't think they have proven that it is impossible to make peace with the Palestinians. It is difficult, but Israel also has a share in the blame for the failures of peace initiatives.

In any case, for people who do not consider continued occupation as a long term option, there are only two options left: negotiate with the Palestinians or end the occupation and learn to deal with a Palestinian state that is a hotile but independant entity (like Lebanon) without the desire to transfer te Palestinians or rule over them as subjects while building settlements. It is quite possible that the first option will fail, but it still make more sense to try it first or in conjunction with the second, both for diplomatic reasons and fbecause of the hope of improving the situation.

Posted by Micha @ 03/09/2007 02:37 AM CST


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