Update [2005-6-19 20:26:26 by deano]: This diary was meant to act as a bridge between various perspectives. I don’t necessarily fully endorse each perspective but felt it was appropriate to approach the issue in an encompassing manner.

This diary was originally posted at the Daily Kos but has been edited since.

Since I have been writing on the Daily Kos I have noticed that there are certain issues that just are bound to divide people more than any others. Whenever Israel or Palestine comes up this certainly seems to be the case. While many times I hesitate to even get involved, I think it is important to point out the ambiguity of issue and at least attempt to complicate the issue from black and white perspectives that assign moral responsibility to only one side and hopefully provide a progressive prospective that strives to be free from cognitive dissonance.

In establishing a progressive prospective on how to frame the Palestinian-Israeli conflict we must address a) what are the values of progressives and b) how should we apply these to this unfortunate conflict. I believe progressives need to have coherent message to tell our leadership and the rest of the country and why not do it here, internally, on the Booman Tribune.

(much more..)

Establishing values amongst thinking individuals is not an easy task. I have come up with a laundry list of values that I think are commonly shared which would apply to this issue and then addressed their relevance to the topic.

Democracy & Self-Determination: Despite our leaders constant rhetoric about liberty and democracy, I believe these principles are essential to our perspective. Colombia historian, Richard Hofstadter wrote in The Age of Reform about the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century:

“Its general theme was the effort to restore a type of economic individualism and political democracy that was widely believed to have existed earlier in America and to have been destroyed by the great corporation and the corrupt political machine; and with that restoration to bring back a kind of morality and civic purity that was also believed to have been lost” (p.6).

A key component to any democracy is the idea of civil rights or more broadly the rights of the individual.  When we look at Israel and Palestine we notice that there are many elements of democracy as well as deficits in this arena.

In Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel he comments:

“Israel has become – through hard work, ingenuity, and most of all, dedication to freedom and the rule of law – a flourishing and diverse democracy with a bustling economy, a vibrant and critical media, a creative artistic culture, and a commitment to equality based on gender, sexual orientation, and race.” Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

While I tend to be critical of Israel’s democratic deficit, I think it is important to remember to look at the forest, there are many applaudable aspects of the society, and not only the trees, however many there are.  For further reading on this, there is the CIA fact book on Israel which discusses Israel’s parliament, the Knesset and other related topics.

There are other voices on the subject of Israel and democracy.   Michel Warschawski, an anti-Zionist professor, has dissenting views on Israeli

“Democracy for Israelis has always been restricted to two things: predominance of the majority over the minority by means of elections and the acts of the executive branch being based on laws adopted by a parliamentary majority….In short, fundamental rights exist–like the principles of gender equality and equality between citizens of different faiths–unless the parliament has decided democratically, that is, by a simple parliamentary majority, to infringe them.”

Gideon Levy, of Haaretz, is also critical of the concept of Israeli Democracy :

“Once Israel became an occupying state, it ceased to be a democracy. There is no such thing: Israel’s claims about its democratic character are empty boasts. Just as there is no such thing as a partial pregnancy, there is no such thing as a partial democracy, either.

No democracy exists only as far as a particular territorial line within the country, and no democracy is reserved exclusively for a particular religion or nationality. In a truly democratic regime, everyone enjoys his freedoms and rights in equal measure. That is not the case in Israel.”

Democracy under the Palestinian Authority is clearly underdeveloped. In a recent letter to President Bush, Human Rights watch wrote :

“Human Rights Watch has serious concerns regarding ongoing human rights abuses in the OPT, including violence against women, use of torture in interrogations and the continued presence of prisoners on death row, especially given the lack of due process in their trials. We urge you to raise these matters with President Abbas and call for immediate action on the part of the Palestinian Authority.”


While Israel has many democratic aspects that neighboring countries lack, I believe it is a progressive position to extend rights and promote equality within Israel proper and evacuate settlers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; as well as obviously supporting Palestinian national self-determination. Furthermore, I agree that the Palestinian Authority needs to be concerned with the comments expressed by the Human Rights Watch.

International Law and Human Rights: I don’t even know if I need to say anymore. Most progressives seem to advocate that countries should all respect international law. There have been many articles about the outrage over the use of torture, etc. However, it is true that people are going to disagree about specifics of international law, such as UN Resolution 242, and what this means.  Historically many countries have tried to shape law around their policies, as we see America doing by sending suspected terrorists to other countries to be tortured. This is inevitable, but I still think in many cases, such as Palestinian suicide bombers or Israeli tank and helicopter attacks on demonstrators, a reasonable person can be critical of both practices.

It seems fair to say that we are mostly all aware of Palestinian cases of violence against innocent Israeli citizens.  The BBC has a summary of these atrocities.  Furthermore, the Human Rights Watch has a well documented page outlining some myths about the legality of terrorism and the nature of the groups that perpetrate these crimes.

The General Assembly’s Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories which have been blocked by the Israeli government but has nonetheless written reports based on interviews and visits to neighboring countries has documented Israeli violations.

According to the UN reports:

“They have affirmed that, especially over the last two decades, Israel has continued its policy of de facto annexation through such measures as establishing or expanding settlements, confiscating property, transferring Israeli citizens to the occupied territories, deporting Palestinians from the territories, and encouraging or compelling Palestinians to leave their homeland.  Such actions, the report stated, have violated the obligations of Israel as a State party to the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Furthermore, on the United Nation’s website The Question of Palestine , the Security Council has affirmed its position  :

“The Council has set forth the basic principles for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, known as the “land for peace” formula, by its resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). the Security Council  has, on numerous occasions, expressed concern about the situation on the ground,  declared null and void the measures taken by the Israeli government to change the status of Jerusalem, called for the cessation of Israeli settlement activity, which it determined to have no legal validity, reaffirmed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem and  called for the return of Palestinian deportees.”

A peaceful solution to this conflict is ultimately going to embody dealing with issues that have a legal nature such as water in The West Bank or Israeli settlers on potential Palestinian land (as seen on these maps), as well as of course Palestinian suicide bombers and the use of mortar rockets.

Cosmopolitanism: Ok this may come across as a bit of a stretch, but I think one fundamental difference between progressives and conservatives, perhaps unacknowledged, is that the progressives have a more cosmopolitan perspective.  What I mean by this is that progressives espouse to see themselves as human beings first before other identities and to identify others in the same fashion. I think it is this basis which would draw us to respecting the United Nations Charter, The Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other forms of international law.  This may just be speculation or perhaps it is an ideal to strive for.  

Judicious use of the Military: This topic is probably going to be one of great disagreement, and it is a tough one. When I think of this topic I am reminded of David Ben-Gurion’s quote:

“And it should not be forgotten even for a moment that Israel’s security problem is quite unlike that of any other country. This is no problem of borders or sovereignty, but a problem of physical survival, in the literal meaning of the term. And it is a question of the survival not only of the people of Israel but of the Jewish people the world over.”

However, having been in touch with the news in the region in recent times I have noticed many sources complain of disproportionate use of force used by Israelis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The BBC reported that Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing warcrimes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as Palestinian militants targeting civilians.  

“Amnesty’s accusations against the Israeli army include unlawful killings, torture, extensive and wanton destruction of property, obstruction of medical assistance and targeting of medical personnel. Amnesty also says Israel has continued to use Palestinians as “human shields” during military operations, “forcing them to carry out tasks that endangered their lives”, despite an injunction by Israel’s high court banning the practice.”

It seems that the issue of how much force is acceptable or necessary is a subject of much dispute. I understand Israel’s unique survival situation, but think it makes sense to be critical of excessive force and inhumane practices.

The Solution! Now, this is the hard part. Well for starters there are some reference points to investigate. There was the Oslo Peace Process that started in 1993 and went until 2000. A major document, that kicked off the process which was conducted between Ehud Barak and the Yassir Arafat, was the Declaration of Principles. The BBC has a timeline of this process and updates it until 2003. It seems fair to say that the Oslo process has fallen apart, although there are varying criticisms of the process which range from Amos Oz to Robert Fisk (he addresses it in the body of his column) to Noam Chomsky.

After this attempt there was a less known, less publicized process conducted by, former Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, former(?) Minister of Information and Culture for the Palestinian Authority known as the Geneva Accord. The BBC points out its framework. The strength of this process is that it deals with all the details and would cause both parties to make compromises. The compromises include the Palestinian’s Right of Return  for sharing Jerusalem as the capital for both states. For a good reference concerning the Geneva Accords look here and for a discussion between Rabbo and Beilin, you may want to check out this link at the Brookings Institute.

And alas, we have the Road Map which is a step by step process towards peace.  It declares:

“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below.”

The Road Map has received criticism of being vague, the same BBC link mentioned above notes:

“Q: How does the accord differ from the US-backed plan widely known as the roadmap?

The accord goes considerably further than the roadmap.

While the roadmap seeks to create secure conditions under which a settlement could take place, the Geneva accord reverses that, by agreeing on a settlement first. This should then lead to peace.

The roadmap provides for a ceasefire and a settlement freeze, then the creation of a Palestinian state with “provisional borders”. After this is what appears to be a vague process for negotiation on final agreements.

The Geneva accord, however, settles outstanding issues and is much more specific in its detail.”

Final Thoughts What I aimed to do was to frame this issue from a progressive point of view. When I think of different people’s relationship with the conflict I often find that many concerned people have their hearts in the right place but need to be engaged in other perspectives in order to adopt constructive views. In other words, I think, it is important for the reader who has not studied Israel but who has read about injustices done to Palestinians to lend an ear to Jewish history and the struggles of Israel, just as it is important for pro-Israeli folks to acknowledge these violations of human rights and the Palestinian perspective.  These are my thoughts and I write this more as a research topic than I do as any sort of expert on the subject.

Some Criticism I received when posted at the Daily Kos:

seesdifferent wrote (amongst other comments):

While realize that, by the laws of physics and computers, you can’t say everything simultaneously, I would find your presentation more palatable, if not more correct, if you initially pointed out that both sides have purposely killed considerable number of innocent people, and that the myth of Israeli “retribution” is just as bankrupt as is the morality of suicide bombers. I think you could do a real service by presenting the number of innocent men, women and children who have been killed on each side, both directly and indirectly. .

So I’ll include this link which states the unfortunate death toll since the beginning of the intifada:

Palestinians killed by Israelis: 3,135 killed by security forces in the West Bank and Gaza, 54 killed by security forces in Israel, 34 killed by Israeli citizens in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israelis killed by Palestinians: 431 civilians killed in Israel, 218 civilians killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 218 Israeli security forces killed in West Bank and Gaza, 83 Israeli security forces killed in Israel.

one of the people wrote (amongst other comments):

Respectfully, I would substitute “pluralism” for “cosmopolitanism.” We are not simply human beings: each of us is born into a particular society. We may be cosmopolitan in the sense that we affirm the right of individuals to choose to leave their birth-society and join another, but before that we are pluralists in the sense of affirming the right of particular societies, particular groups of people, to live free from outside coercion, at least so long as certain basic international norms are met.
Cosmopolitanism, as you’ve described it, would call for a dissolution of group identities that most Israelis and Palestinians neither want nor are ready for. Pluralism, in contrast, calls for a recognition of each people’s right to live (side-by-side) within its own state.

I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but by cosmopolitan I did not mean a dissolution of group identities. What I meant was that I would hope in having our own identities we don’t lose sight of the universal qualities of humanity. I may be wrong though, it is speculation and one of the people does make some excellent points.

There was some good discussion about the issue at the Daily Kos post. I think it’s very a very important issue. It shapes the way America is viewed in the region and subsequently affects the Occupation of Iraq.

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