PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Wed, June 03, 2009 18:11:33
On the 1st of March, the International Tribunal for Lebanon opened in The Hague, with the responsibility for prosecuting those responsible for the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Al-Hariri. The Tribunal marks another milestone in the era of enhanced interventionism that began with the Dayton Agreement, for the first time an international criminal court will be responsible for trying a ‘terrorist’ crime against a specific person. Have the Lebanese traded sovereignty for justice in asking for this tribunal? Will we see the international community and the West in particular playing an increasingly interventionist role and using the instruments of international justice to bring about political ends? In what follows, I will describe the events that brought about the tribunal and argue that it a symptom of the general disorientation of contemporary politics in which sovereignty and self-determination have receded in favour of deterministic tendencies that stifle the political development of societies. Read more: http://www.karlsharro.co.uk/hariri.html
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Sun, May 31, 2009 21:57:44
على عكس ما يشاع، لن يستيقظ لبنان جمهورية إسلامية في الثامن من حزيران إذا فازت المعارضة بالانتخابات، كما انه لن يعيد إنتاج حلف بغداد في حال فوز الأكثرية. أجواء التهويل التي خلقها طرفا السياسة المتنافسان في لبنان لا علاقة لها بواقع الحياة السياسية في لبنان بل هي نتاج انهيار السياسة بمعناها العريض. قد يكون القاسم المشترك الوحيد بين المعارضة و الموالاة هو الإفلاس السياسي و محاولات التعويض عن ذاك برفع النبرة الخطابية من قبل الطرفين واللجوء إلى سياسات الخوف و السيناريوهات المهيلة كمثل التلويح باسلمة النظام أو ارتماء قوى 14 آذار بأحضان إسرائيل.
مما لا شك فيه إن تحالف 14 آذار قد ضعف كثيرا و خسر الكثير من مكتسباته السياسية منذ الانتخابات الأخيرة، وعاد معظم قيادته إلى أدوارهم كزعماء طوائف، في ما خلا المعتزلين كنسيب لحود و رجل الدولة شبه الوحيد فؤاد السنيورة. برغم ذلك يحوز فريق ١٤ آذار على مشروع سلطة و حكم، يفتقده تحالف حزب الله و ميشال عون على رغم ادعائه امتلاك مشروع إصلاحي، فهو يمثل نظرة وتطلعات البورجوازية اللبنانية بامتياز. حيازة هذا المشروع تمثل قاسما مشتركا بين جمهور و قيادات ١٤ آذار يؤمن لهما قدرا من الالتحام و صحة التمثيل يفتقده التحالف الأخر الذي لا يكاد يملك إلا ادعائه تمثيل طوائفه والمدافعة عن مصالحها بوجه الطوائف الأخرى.
مشروع فريق ١٤ آذار هو مشروع تحديثي يبقى موجودا و فاعلا رغم تبدل القوى و الشخصيات الفاعلة في قيادته على ما رأينا في السنوات الأربعة الأخيرة. وعلى رغم سذاجة البعض في صفوف اليسار اللبناني فان الخيار البورجوازي هو أكثر تقدمية من الخيار الإقطاعي التي تمثله زعامات الطوائف. وأكثر من ذلك فان أوهام القفز بلبنان من مجتمع يصارع ليجاري الحداثة إلى مجتمع اشتراكي تسود فيه العدالة الاجتماعية من غير اكتمال بورجوازيته هي أفكار مضللة و مخطئة. لا يعني ذلك إن اليسار في لبنان مدعو إلى الالتحاق بصفوف القيادات البورجوازية على العكس عليه إن يمضي في رسم خط فريد يميزه عن زعماء الطوائف.
إذا فريق ١٤ آذار لديه مشروع حكم و سياسة لكنه مشروع يرتبط تقدمه بالتحالفات المتبدلة التي تنتجها متغيرات السياسة اللبنانية. في المقابل يفتقد فريق ٨ آذار، وحزب الله تحديدا، إلى إي مشروع سلطة أو حكم. ما يخيف حزب الله اليوم هو احتمال تشكيله الحكومة المقبلة في لبنان مع حلفائه ومن دون الفريق الأخر، وهو احتمال لم يتحضر له الحزب ولا يمتلك أدوات وأساليب التعاطي معه. يخاف حزب الله مصير حماس في السلطة، حين استفاقت لتجد نفسها في موقع لم تنشده ولم تعرف التعاطي معه. فحزب الله كما حماس نشئا على أنقاض أحزاب حداثية و حركات تحرر وطنية كانت المقاومة العسكرية في نظرها وسيلة لا غاية و جزءا من سعيها إلى تقرير مصير شعوبها بنفسها وتحديث أحوال المجتمعات التي تمثلها.
لحظة نشؤ حماس و حزب الله تزامنت مع انهيار تلك الحركات و فشل مشاريعها لأسباب متعددة لا مجال لتعدادها هنا. وتميزت ظروف نشأة الحركتين الإسلاميتين بتراجع القيم الحداثية مع ازدهار أفكار الخصوصيات الثقافية حتى في الدول الغربية. لا يمثل نشؤ حزب الله و حماس صحوة إسلامية بل وسيلة للتعامل مع زمن تسارعت خلاله وتيرة التبادلات على وقع انهيار أفكار الحداثة بأوجهها المختلفة. مثلت العودة إلى الإسلام استقرارا يوازي بترسخ جذوره التاريخية النمط السريع للمتغيرات الإقليمية و العالمية. لكن حزب الله رغم نجاحاته العسكرية اللي لا مجال للشك بها، أو ربما بسببها إلى حد ما، لم ينجح ببناء مشروع سياسي يتيح له إلقاء السلاح بعد التحرير لكي يصبح حزبا سياسيا يطمح إلى السلطة على نمط حركات التحرر التي سبقته.
طور حزب الله نظرته إلى نفسه و أعضائه على انه حركة عسكرية بامتياز، وحين اصطدمت هذه النظرة بتطلعات اللبنانيين الذين ساموا الحروب و ابتغوا السلام و الازدهار، كان الحزب يصر على مجتمع الحرب كي يرسم مجتمعا على صورته لا العكس. هذا العجز الهيكلي لدى حزب الله عن إعادة إنتاج نفسه كحزب سياسي أدى إلى فشله باقتناص فرصتين تاريخيتين لتحويل مساره هما الانسحابين الإسرائيلي والسوري. لكن تردد حزب الله عن الاستيلاء على السلطة بان على أشده بعد ٧ أيار الماضي حين اجتاح الحزب بيروت ثم استنشد اتفاقا مع الغالبية يؤمن له ثلثا معطلا لا مسؤولية القرار السياسي المطلقة.
لا يزال الحزب ينادي بتلك الصيغة الغريبة للحكم حتى بحال فوزه و حلفائه بالانتخابات التشريعية. يردد ممثلو الحزب اليوم خوفهم من الوصول إلى سدة الحكم عبر إلقاء اللوم على الغالبية التي أنتجت الفساد والديون المرتفعة محاولا تبرير عدم قدرته على الحكم حتى قبل فوزه. يمثل هذا التردد جبنا سياسيا وتخاذل عن المسؤوليات التي يفترض بأي حزب سياسي إن يتحضر لها. غير إن حزب الله الذي اختفت وثيقته التأسيسية عن الأنظار منذ اندماجه بالمنظومة السورية في لبنان قبل عقدين، لا يعرف اليوم سبيلا إلى السياسة و أفكار الحكم بعد عقود من التمرس بالحرب و امتهان البراغماتية عوضا عن العقيدة السياسية. أصبح حزب الله اليوم طرفا من مديري أحوال الطوائف يعرف أساليب كبت النقمة الشعبية لدى جمهوره، كما يعرف متى يذكيها لكسب صغير في بازار السياسة اللبنانية، لكنه عاجز كليا عن استلام مقاليد الحكم و السلطة.
يتخيل البعض في حزب الله اليوم إن تحالفهم مع ميشال عون قد يسهل مهمة ومسؤولية الحكم و الحكومة في حال الفوز بالانتخابات باعتبار إن عون يؤمن غطاء مسيحي ويوفر بعض لابسي البدلات الذين يجيدون استلام مقاليد الوزارات و الإدارة. هذا وهم لا سبيل لتحققه. فجنرال المارونية السياسية المخضرم رغم ما يبدو عليه من تعطش للسلطة ليس لديه هو الأخر أية أفكار في السياسة و الاقتصاد و الإدارة إلا شعارات شعبوية لا معنى لها. الجنرال ارتاح في دور قيادة و تمثيل المسيحيين في لبنان والتفاوض باسمهم لتحصيل أفضل شروط العيش المشترك مع الأخر الذي لا مفر منه. استوجب هذا الدور المستحدث تحييد القيادات الشبابية التي نشطت طوال فترة عزلته و استبدالها بوجوه مسيحية تقليدية تمكنه من مخاطبة مخاوف المسيحيين و عائلاتهم الكبرى بطريقة أفضل. عون في أحسن الأحوال سيكون شافيز أخر يستعيض عن السياسة بشعبوية خطابية لا قدرة لها على التحديث.
برغم كل ذلك في حال فوز حزب الله و شركائه في الانتخابات يجب على قوى ١٤ آذار إن تترك لهم مسؤولية الحكم و تشكيل الحكومة المقبلة و تعزف عن ملئ الثلث الذي سيعرض عليها بدون شك. إن أفضل وسيلة لفك التحام جمهوري حزب الله و عون بمديري و ممثلي طوائفهما هي فشلهما في الحكم الذي سيفضح ضالة الأفكار و إفلاسها السياسي. في المقابل يجب على فريق ١٤ آذار إن يعيد بناء تحالفاته و أفكاره السياسية على أسس ارسخ و إلا سينفرط عقده سريعا إذا استمر النهج الطائفي على حاله.
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Sat, May 30, 2009 19:48:29
يواجه الكثيرون صعوبة في فهم السياسة في لبنان التي قد تبدو معقدة للمراقب الخارجي. لكن في الحقيقة تتبع السياسة اللبنانية قواعد بسيطة جدا. القاعدة الاولى و الاهم صممت لكي تمنع احتكار الافكار الجيدة من طرف واحد وهي تقضي بانه لا يجوز لاي حزب او طائفة او عشيرة او عر ان يعتنق خط سياسي معين لاكثر من خمسة اعوام متواصلة. عند انتهاء هذه المهلة يقوم الفريق السياسي بتسليم افكاره الى احد خصومه و يقوم بنفضة عقائدية و ياخذ افكار طرف اخر. يعني مثل لعبة كراسي موسيقية ينط كل فريق فشخة في كل جولة. على سبيل المثال, اصبح شعار ميشال عون, بعد ٢٠ سنة," امن المجتمع المسيحي فوق كل اعتبار" و اصبح سمير جعجع المدافع عن دولة المؤسسات. الموعد القادم للتبادل, يعني ideological recycling, حدد في ٨ حزيران ومبروك سلفا للجميع
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Tue, May 26, 2009 12:46:53
Cameron's response to the MP expenses 'scandal' illustrates perfectly what is wrong with this man, the blend of authoritarianism and lack of conviction and spine that characterises so many politicians today. This is an explosive combination, and I would say even more dangerous than authoritarianism mixed with a sense of purpose. At least in the latter case, say Margaret Thatcher, you know where you stand. Cameron stands for nothing, represents nothing, but does not hesitate to be authoritarian in the process.
Cameron's eagerness to please was evident in the aftermath of the non-scandal that was the MP expenses saga. A fake fury whipped by a newspaper on its last knees, and smacking of the nasty type of desperation that characterises the hopeless. Cameron in typical spineless style rushed to apologise before the extent of the problem even became clear. Unwittingly, he undermined politics further with his antics, discrediting himself and his colleagues, and the entire political establishment, with his buffoonery.
Cameron's hasty apology speaks volumes about his lack of conviction. Instead of 'shoot first, ask questions later' this man will 'apologise first, ask questions later', because deep at heart he knows that he stands for nothing, represents nothing, and his eagerness to please is quite honestly repulsive. I would have respected the man more if he had stood up for MPs, instead he was willing to bring down the whole house and not have the courage to fight for the establishment that he represents.
Politics is about leadership, and Cameron has shown none. This is perhaps pardonable in the Lib Dems, and their 'leader' Nick Clegg, a party that has no aspiration to be in power and is content to be on the sidelines constantly, but is completely unforgivable and in a party that has serious hopes of forming the next government. Of course, singling David Cameron is a bit unfair, after all Gordon Brown had a similar reaction, but Brown is already discredited and has shown his lack of leadership. Cameron has illustrated his incompetence even before attaining power, an achievement even by the standards of modern-day politics.
This rush to apologise, the automatic assumption of guilt, perfectly illustrates Cameron's authoritarian disdain for democracy and the mechanisms of justice, it is only a small example of the further erosion of liberties and politics that we can expect at his hands once he is in power. Cameron has come across, in his eagerness to please, as the pathetic teenager with no friends who will degrade himself in hope of making some friends and becoming popular. For this old Leftie, give me an authoritarian with a sense of Thatcher any day instead of this spineless spin-man.
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Wed, May 13, 2009 23:34:08
Tired of life in the materialist and consumerist West? Why not spend a few months in Palestine, away from it all, training the local population to keep their ambitions low and stay at the mercy of an agrarian mode of life? This is the vision that Green Intifada is promoting. A group of volunteers, mostly from the UK, "work in the community to implement initiatives for sustainable living and food production." For sustainable read pre-modern and backwards. These include "rainwater harvesting, vegetable gardens, tree planting, greywater reuse, composting systems and compost toilet building."
The days of solidarity with the Palestinian people based on a healthy notion of human solidarity and active human agency are long gone. Today, the Palestinians have been turned into our poor cousins that cannot fend for themselves and solidarity has been replaced with pity. Hannah Arendt pointed out that pity dehumanises its receivers, and this outlook towards the Palestinians is as dehumanising as Israeli aggression. The Green Intifada is an example of this patronising expression of the contemporary Western outlook towards the Palestinians. Rather than seeing the Palestinians as a people fighting for self-determination and national liberation, they are reduced to helpless peasants that need to be taught even the basics of a primitive agrarian way of life.
Time to start exposing these initiatives for what they really are: they are not motivated by concern for the Palestinian people but are an expression of western discontent with modernity. This is a form of escape from the demands of life in the west, a way of burying one's head in the sands of Palestine. In the process, the Palestinians are recast as pure, unspoiled peasants, the alternative to the modern corrupted western individual, the image of what could have been if modernity and industrialisation had not occurred.
In itself, the Green Intifada is not a sinister or dangerous operation, the Holy Land has always attracted all manner of lunatics to go and pursue their own brand of millinerianism. However, what it says about the state of politics and the outlook towards the Palestinians is quite revealing. The Palestinian struggle has been emptied of any meaning and completely de-contextualised. Instead of a cry for freedom and an aspiration for universal change, it is now treated as a parable for the wickedness of humanity. It is easy then to take sides not based on a genuine understanding of the political dynamics, but on the basis of cartoonish over-simplifications that are entirely wrong.
The Israelis are cast as the villains because they dared to spoil the virgin land with their western technology and intensive agriculture, while the Palestinians are the good guys because they retain the connection to the land. Aside from the fact that the relationship with the land is a Fascist invention that has its roots in Nazi ideology, it is also an extremely inaccurate depiction of Palestinian society. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination is the beginning of the process of by which the Palestinians can control their own destiny and build a modern nation. A modern nation, with modern infrastructure, not 'sustainable' compost toilets, there are plenty of those in the camps.
"People are being driven from the land, denied access to essential resources, closed into urban ghettoes and severed from their natural heritage". A process known otherwise as urbanization which every modern society goes through. The Green Intifada eco-imperialists are not resisting Israeli occupation, they are trying to resist the process of modernisation, a sentiment expressed clearly on their website. If their vision prevails, and I have to admit their is no real danger of this because the Palestinian people have not struggled for decades to end up in the 19th century, but if their vision prevails it would be entirely consistent with what Israel wants: a docile Palestinian population that is happy to live off the land with no aspiration.
Ain't gonna happen. Go look for your agrarian paradise somewhere else.
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Wed, March 11, 2009 16:13:10
The resettlement of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is an old preoccupation that keeps surfacing up. In the past few years, the Christian parties in the "8th of March" coalition have insisted on keeping this particular subject in circulation, warning that there is an international conspiracy to 'resettle' the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In the past month alone, there are more than 20 references to 'resettlement' on the Free Patriotic Movement website, tayyar.org. These come from statements by the leader of the FPM Michel Aoun, MPs and leaders in the movement, as well as other political leaders allied with the FPM, including the speaker of the parliament Nabih Berri. Why is this particularly old theme being kept in public discussion?
A bit of clarification. resettlement in English does not exactly convey what is intended by the Arabic term 'tawteen'. The Arabic term refers more to the permanent settlement of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and granting them the Lebanese nationality. The UNRWA figures show that there are 416,000 refugees registered with the agency in Lebanon, of which 220,000 live in refugee camps. The majority of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon came after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Six decades later, more than half of them still live in refugee camps with severe restrictions imposed by the Lebanese authorities on their rights to education, employment, property ownership and political rights.
The old argument often rehashed in defence of this arrangement is that a permanent settlement of those refugees in Lebanon would mean an effective recognition of Israel and giving up their historic right to the land of Palestine. Presumably, the more uncomfortable they are made, the more zealous they would be in trying to reclaim their land. For the Christians in particular, the threat of being 'overwhelmed' by Muslims demographically was an important factor, as the majority of Palestinian refugees are Muslims. And in a country like Lebanon which is based on strict quotas for religious groups, this causes concern.
Yet, it is hard to understand why the subject of resettlement is being constantly pushed into the limelight, when there is no indication that there are any such projects being proposed, not by the Palestinian Authority, nor by the international community, and certainly not by any of the members of the 14th of March 'pro-Western' coalition. The illusion that Aoun and his allies try to give is that the 14th of March leaders are in secret contact with Israel to allow the permanent resettlement of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, stirring up old apprehensions to shore up Aoun's support among the Christians. The elections will perhaps tell if this is a successful tactic, but this important issue needs a more mature discussion that the 'politic of fear' tabloid-style discussion we're getting now.
The more enlightened voices in Lebanon, a minority by any measure, have argued for better living conditions and more rights for the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, and this is certainly a good starting point. The situation did improve slightly since 2005, but there are still huge restrictions on Palestinian refugees. Even if all the current restrictions were to be lifted, the Palestinian refugees would still not have any political rights, and consequently no say in the running of a country that the majority of them has been born in and lived all their lives there. Insisting that granting them the Lebanese nationality would in effect mean giving up 'the right of return' to Palestine is meaningless.
There are precedents in Lebanon for large groups of refugees being granted Lebanese nationality, the largest of which was the Armenian refugees that fled Turkish persecution in the aftermath of World War I, and the smaller Christian groups that came to Lebanon around the same time such the Assyrians and the Syriacs. The Armenians form about 5% of the Lebanese population and have integrated well in Lebanese society, albeit by following the 'Lebanese model' of confessional politics. The overtly racist claim in Lebanon is that this is because they are insular, in fact it is a sign of how well they have integrated in Lebanon.
The fear of the prospect of the Palestinians being naturalised in Lebanon that all parties stoke is irrational. Nor will it mean giving up the right of return. After the Oslo Accord, many Palestinians who had immigrated to the West came back to the West Bank and Gaza and invested in local industries and businesses. To claim that all that keeps that hope alive is the misery in the diaspora is a miserable view of the Palestinians and their cause. But regardless of that, the naturalisation of the Palestinians in Lebanon is an essential part of the modernisation of the country and a way to build politics that break away from sectarian determinism.
The aftermath of the 'cedar revolution' has taught us that the sectarian system always reinvents itself to meet the demands of the moment. It is capable of restructuring itself and its alliances, but maintains its effective grasp on politics all the time. The most effective tool it has is fear and the claim of protecting 'cultural identity'. This pre-modern idea of politics needs to be challenged, not by removing reference to our sect from our identity cards, but by building a new sense of politics that rejects irrational fears and deterministic ideas about culture.
Thus, if we are to behave as a civilised nation, it is imperative that the subject of the permanent resettlement of Palestinians be removed from this poisonous context, by naturalising the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and granting them full civil rights. Those who claim that Lebanon is a fragile country that cannot handle such shocks are only expressing how little faith and belief they have in their country and how little they trust its citizens. If you believed that Lebanon is so fragile, why do you want to live in it?
More on this subject at: http://www.karlsharro.co.uk/out_of_breath.html
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Thu, February 12, 2009 13:32:46
If the political categories of Left and Right have lost their meaning in the West, in Israel they have become absolutely erroneous and misleading. Yet, it is quite astounding how commentators everywhere are oblivious to this fact. The so-called lurch to the right has been accepted universally, by the Israeli media, Western and Arab journalists, even Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam saw it as a sign of Israeli society becoming more extremist. Yet, in reality, the four main parties that between them got 70% of the vote are much more similar than they appear. Their differences lie in very subtle shades of grey.
In the build-up to the elections, the candidates themselves and the media were desperate to exaggerate their differences. Netanyahu proclaimed that he will never give up the Golan heights, Livni and Barak claimed commitment to peace but played it tough on Hamas and Iran, and finally, the one that everybody is talking about, Lieberman wants Israel to be for the Jews and has declared that the Arab citizens of Israel are not loyal to the Jewish state. In the heat of the electoral battle, these might sound like radical differences between the different parties. With a bit more historic perspective and through the prism of where Israel is today and the fate of Zionism, the four parties are equally at loss to know what they actually stand for and how that would shape their policies.
Looking at the common denominator, all of those parties, and the other smaller ones as well, continue to see Israel as 'work-in-progress.' Israel's main problem so far has been that it has no recognizable borders, partially as a result of the 1967 war and the acquisition of territory that had been hitherto in the realm of fantasy. Decades on, that particular problem persists, compounded by the notion of land-for-peace which Israeli elites accepted, and the public at large do support. With the Oslo agreement and the peace process, the notion that the borders of Israel are open to negotiation has intensified. Today, this frames the actions and utterances of Israeli politicians across the board, whether they are in power or in opposition.
For those that have forgotten Netanyahu's term in power, it might be a moment to remind them that in fact his actions fell very short of his rhetoric. In fact, the catastrophic actions of Barak and later Sharon, actions that the Lebanese and the Palestinians suffered terribly from, were far more destructive than Netanyahu's. This is by no means a defense of the man, he was no dove, but to point out that in reality he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. It is also useful to remember that Netanyahu signed two agreements with the Palestinian Authority during his term, and although he did his best to slow down the 'peace process', he did not effectively over turn the agreements or put an end to the process.
That same pragmatism is what characterizes the other men and women at the top of Israeli politics today, even Ariel Sharon himself had abandoned his ideological stance on his comeback, Kadima is the proof of that. A motley crew of characters assembled from all sides of Israeli politics, not for any great political purpose but because the re-definition of the boundaries of Israel had acquired an urgency that they intended to solve with physical measures on the ground rather than by answering the political questions that were raised by the decline of the Zionist project and attempting to fill the void in Israeli politics. Cue the withdrawal from Gaza and The Wall.
Barak, Livni and Netanyahu will invariably continue that line of thinking and action, and attempting to illustrate their differences through meaningless gestures. To give up the Golan or not give up the Golan is not a priority that any of them will have long term, it is easy to say that now when there is no real prospect for peace with Syria, but once the opportunity presents itself, no doubt that even Netanyahu will not hesitate from handing it back if the 'mood was right.'
What of Lieberman? How could he be likened to those other politicians with his tough stance and radicalism? This another case of rhetoric passing for a real political agenda, but a closer examination of Lieberman reveals that he is only louder than his colleagues, if not substantially different. In fact, Lieberman's particular stance might represent an even bigger challenge to the boundaries of Israel as it stands today. The quartet of parties at the top of Israeli politics are all reacting to demographics, attempting to re-draw the line that separates from the Palestinians where they think it will guarantee them a longer period of Jewish statehood. Lieberman is taking that to its logical conclusion.
Calling Lieberman an ultra-nationalist is a bit misleading, this is not a man that will take Israel onto new conquests to acquire more territory or fulfill any historical promise between 'the river and the sea'. On the contrary, he exemplifies the lack of confidence in any political projects that is characteristic of politics today. He is driven by fear of demographics and the fragility of the Israeli state. And this the paradox that Israel is experiencing today: a mighty military machine and advanced economy that are still not capable of inspiring any confidence of the ability to defend that state.
Why? The response can ultimately be traced back to the decline of Zionism. Or call it the end of Zionism as a historic project, in the sense that it has fulfilled its aim of establishing a Jewish state, although it has failed in its task of providing security for Jews everywhere. The question for Israel today is how to move beyond Zionism. The absence of any political project that can guide this process will mean that the pragmatism of Israeli politicians will continue, fuelled by fear and particularly fear of demographics. The results of that are catastrophic, as we have seen recently in Gaza, with thousands killed and devastation wreaked for no obvious reason.
For the time being, the politicians will continue their horse-trading and political games, oblivious to the historic task that demands their attention. But don't fool yourselves in thinking that there is any significant difference between them. Ultimately, I wonder if there is any secure future other than one brought about by a secular and democratic state. What that will represent for the Jewish character for Israel is up Israelis to determine, but the numbers game will not bring about security or stability. As long as Israel continues to be a malleable state, one with elusive boarders, its troubles and those of the Palestinians will persist.
PoliticsPosted by Karl Sharro Fri, February 06, 2009 15:58:33
Now that the situation in Gaza has calmed down, and nothing has been resolved, I think it's time to discuss that episode to explore what can be learned from it. During the Israeli attacks it was almost impossible to say anything meaningful, with both sides trying to outdo each other in the 'propaganda' war, and more specifically in the victimhood game. To be very clear from the onset, the Israeli war on Gaza was barbaric and unacceptable in this day and age, but that sentiment is not enough to understand the situation or learn how to proceed from there. This is not the only war being waged in the world today, and we are still a long way away from a world where wars would be unnecessary.
Condemning aggression alone is not enough as a political act, for that we must understand the dynamics of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict and the fate of the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination. Unfortunately, very few commentators and people involved in the struggle offered any real insights into the nature of the conflict. I will attempt to do that in what follows.
A few months ago I spoke at the Battle of Ideas in a session entitled 'Israel at 60: What happened to the Zionist dream?' (Watch here.) I made the point that because of Israel's lack of a political project to replace the declining Zionist project, the frequency of its violent confrontations with the Palestinians and its other neighbors will increase. Most Arabs still do not recognize that Israel is no longer being driven by the expansionist Zionist agenda, and still attempt to understand its actions based on old models of analysis that are no longer useful. This doesn't mean that Israel has become a benign society or state, on the contrary with the loss of the project that brought it into being, it seemed to have lost any capacity to control its actions and give them a political framework.
I will not repeat the detailed analysis that I introduced in the discussion, but I will pick up on one aspect of it. Israeli political elites from all shades are pursuing pragmatic solutions to their troubled relationship with the Palestinians and the other Arabs. In specific, the withdrawal from Gaza, and before that from Lebanon, and the building of the wall are all signs that Israel is seeking a de-facto two state solution that will keep the Palestinians out and give Israel the borders that it still lacks 60 years after its birth. This is driven by the fear of the anticipated Palestinian demographic superiority, but is an extremely deluded notion. By running away from a political solution, Israel will never have the peace that it claims it wants. And this will not stop it from initiating those attacks that have no specific purpose more than illustrating that the elites have a clear agenda of defending Israel. Ironically, with the decline of Zionism and the lack of a political platform that can describe a rational way of dealing with the Palestinians, the intensity of the conflict is likely to increase, as well of the senseless violence.
But what about the Palestinian side? I want to argue that there is an equal sense of disorientation and lack of a political sense of purpose that intensified after the death of Yasser Arafat, whose force of character and single-mindedness in pursuing Palestinian liberation for long gave the Palestinian cause a clear sense of direction, although by no means one that was universally agreed upon or one that made the struggle easier for the Palestinians. For those that will rush to blame the current Palestinian situation on Oslo and the PLO, bear in mind that the Palestinians did not negotiation out of a position of strength and they had to do that at a very low point in their struggle which was clearly a moment of defeat. The tactical move at that point was the success in moving the struggle back to Palestine rather than conducting it out of Beirut or Amman. But no one said it was going to be easy.
The death of Arafat alone does not explain the disorientation on the Palestinian political scene. The Palestinian people cannot be reduced to one figure, even though he had become a symbol of the cause. In many respects, the Palestinian people showed that they are more politically aware than any of the other Arabs, most of whom still live in authoritarian systems that they do little to challenge. After years of the intifada and the devastation of their society, they managed to hold democratic elections, an achievement by any standard. For comparisons, the Lebanese suspended elections for the duration of the civil war, and they are still far from transparent almost two decades after the end of the war.
The key to understanding the Palestinian political disorientation is to bear in mind that it is above all a historic struggle for self-determination, a fact that neither the PLO nor Hamas seem to realize today, and they certainly don't act as if they are pursuing that aim. To start with the PLO, or more accurately, Fatah, has been extremely weakened in power, and it did not show a capability for producing leaders that could continue the struggle or rule the territories under their control successfully. This was not easy to achieve under Israeli occupation and harassment, but was made even more difficult by the transformation of the political mentality from one that pursues the aim of national self-determination to one that seems to be seeking to invite outside intervention, especially from the west. The Vietcong did not seek to attract the sympathy of the world with pictures of their dead, they fought single-mindedly to achieve their political aims.
By contrast, the Palestinians today seem to rely more on attracting the sympathy of the outside world to support their cause than on their own efforts, that for example would seek to find sections of Israeli society with which they could find common cause. This is not such an alien idea, in fact Arafat himself had nurtured connections within Israel itself. But today, we live in a different world where the cultural and identity politics have replaced progressive politics making it very hard for Palestinians and Israelis to find political commonalities. To put it differently, the decline of class-based politics makes the idea of one-state secular state a fantasy notion today, but it wasn’t that long ago when that was a legitimate political aim for the PLO and even Israeli progressives.
A few months ago, I attended a discussion between Palestinian and Israeli politicians in London, about the long-term prospects for peace. What ensued was a pathetic spectacle of both sides trying to show that they are the real victims in this struggle and trying to convince the audience with that. At the end I asked the panel about the possibility of a one-state solution, and it was dismissed outright. Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian politician who’s well-respected as an ‘independent’ replied that this was the original aim of the Palestinians, but that they were ‘told’ that to abandon it for the sake of a two-state solution. On one hand, this is an accurate representation of how western intervention had a big impact in enshrining the divisions between the Palestinians and the Israelis by insisting on separating them physically, but also on the ease with which a Palestinian politician would not argue with the demands of foreign powers on a matter of self-determination.
Sadly, this is a much more prevalent attitude among Palestinian elites. Rather than seeking self-determination according to their own terms, they are today willing to gamble on the west being able to hand them their state. This is above all an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of politics as above all an exercise in self-determination and shaping one’s destiny. Yet it is important to note that this is a wider problem that politics is suffering from around the world. In a sense, the decline of the PLO is a symptom of a world in which progressive politics based on the capacity of human beings to shape their own world has declined severely and has even been under attack by various thinkers. Instead of the universalist progressive politics of the past, identity and cultural politics have come to the fore to the detriment of politics in general, in Palestine the rise of Hamas conforms to that trend.
Many leftists in the west (and around the world) see Hezbollah and Hamas as radical movements that are fighting imperialism. In reality, this characterization is not straight-forward. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have the legitimate right to fight Israel, which after all is occupying their land. But I want to question the political aims of Hamas in conducting its struggle with Israel and the particular way in which it does that. To start with, the main difference between Hamas of today and the PLO of the past is not that one is secular and the other religious, this is only a superficial distinction. Much of the PLO’s efforts in the past went more often against Arab regimes than against Israel itself. In a sense, under the leadership of the Arafat, the Palestinians had to fight the Arab governments in order to get the freedom to fight Israel. Conversely, Hamas seems to be doing the exact opposite today: instead of leading the Palestinian people towards liberation, having a democratic mandate from them, it is surrendering whatever left of Palestinian sovereignty to external powers by linking its fate to Syria and Iran. Both countries do not necessarily have the interests of the Palestinian people as a priority: Damascus has for long tried to use the Palestinian cause as a means of legitimization and as a negotiating card with Israel, while Iran is more concerned with extending its regional influence and, unlike what some fantasists may think, is not going to challenge Israel militarily.
In terms of what Hamas represents, it is a mistake to think of it as a religiously motivated organization. It is primarily a movement born out of the failures of progressive politics in the Arab world, and the demise of the aspirations for modernity and radicalism. In that sense, Hamas is a post-modernist organization, concerned more with identity and culture rather than with progress. Religion in this case is only the vehicle, not the aim. Much like Hezbollah, the discourse of Hamas is founded on grievances and a sense of victimhood, not on political aspirations. The ultimate symbol of that is the suicide bomb, it is not meant to achieve a specific political aim, but has become an end in itself.
Equally, launching rocket attacks on Israel will never liberate the Palestinian people, and any act that attracts such a disproportionate response shows a complete disregard for the lives of Palestinian people. Hamas have fetishized the instruments of resistance at the expense of a genuine political struggle. They are in the process of surrendering the hard-won right to self-determination that the Palestinians fought for and handing it to outside powers. Their attacks on Fatah and the murder of hundreds of Fatah supporters are unforgivable, and show the extent to which they can go in their attempt to replace Fatah. Bearing in the mind that they have in the past offered Israel a 100-year truce, effectively recognizing Israel, one wonders if all they are seeking to replace Fatah at is the negotiating chair?
With this set of dynamics in place, the conflict is bound to erupt again sooner or later, and once again people will be at the mercy of events that they cannot control. And no doubt that we will hear the same rhetoric about Israel’s right to exist, Israel as an expansionist state, and above all the repeated pleas to be recognized as the victims. This can only stop when Israelis and Palestinians stop thinking of themselves as victims, and understand that it is within their own power to solve their own problems.