Affirmative Aliyah

A month-old article on has got me thinking again about differing levels of citizenship and equality in Israel. Laurence Louër highlights the growing minority of Arab Israelis, and how an increase in their numbers means an increase in their political power. This, he says, “is a challenge to the country’s very self-definition.”

Louër cites the legal organisation Adalah (with whom I have worked), who deal with Arab minority rights in Israel. Their campaigns centre around the fact that Arab citizens of Israel, be their Muslim, Christian or Druze, are not afforded equal rights as their Jewish fellow citizens. The charge, at its most ferocious, is one of apartheid. As I have found, this is a contentious word for a contentious issue – a more benign accusation might be something like ‘discrimination on the basis of ethnicity’. Either way, the complaint is that people are not all equal in the eyes of the law or the state.

Some might say that the inequalities are surely the result of social frictions, of the kind that we see in the UK. This might have some truth. Adalah’s complaint, however, is that the state also enshrines an imbalance in law. Inequalities are therefore magnified, ethnic conflict is exacerbated, and the idea of democracy is compromised.

To my mind (and Louër’s too), the most pertinent example of this inequality is the ‘Law of Return’, whereby anyone of Jewish origin may ‘make aliyah’ and take Israeli citizenship. No similar right is granted to those who might be relatives of Arab citizens, or indeed those who did, just a generation ago, actually live within the borders of what is now Israel. The justifications for this (when they are not biblical) cite the necessity of such a law to maintain the Jewish character of the state. I have written before on why I think states should not have an official religion or ethnicity. I also acknowledge that many see Arab Israeli issues as just once facet of the wider Palestinian population (indeed, Louër reminds us that most Arab Israelis define themselves as ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel’). For now, then, one observation:

Isn’t the ‘Law of Return‘ an example of Affirmative Action? The state is, after all, performing a kind of social engineering, seeking to influence its social demography. Certain ethnic groups are awarded preferential treatment, gaining admission by jumping the queue. The justification for this policy is that past injustices have been done to that group, and the preferential treatment redresses the balance. If the ‘Law of Return’ is indeed Affirmative Action, then don’t the arguments against Affirmative Action apply to the ‘Law of Return’ too? How do those who have made aliyah feel about jumping the queue?

Journalists in Trouble

Two journalists find themselves without liberty, in two very different situations.

First, via Mash at the Dr Strangelove Blog, we hear that prominent journalist Tasneem Khalil arrested by military police in Bangladesh. Khalil is only 26, and works for the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper. He also campaigns for Human Rights Watch, who have issued a statement regarding his detention.

There are rumours that this detention will be shortlived, and that he might be released by the weekend. Regardless, the Internet is already being used to co-ordinate a campaign for his release: There is a possibility of a protest outside the Bangladeshi embassy in London, and campaigners will be raising awareness within the Bangladeshi community in the UK, at the Brick Lane Mela this weekend. Pickled Politics has more information.

Meanwhile, BBC reporter Alan Johnston has been missing for 60 days. In his case, his captors are a local militia group in Gaza.

An online petitions has been created for Alan Johnston, with another planned for Tasneem Khalil. However, I wonder whether this is as important as simply spreading awareness on a word-of-mouth (or word-of-blog) basis throughout the relevant communities. In neither case are the captors (The Bangladeshi ‘caretaker government’; and the Jaish al-Islam group in Gaza) directly accountable to the populations they pretend to serve. But one hopes that a rising wave of discontent coming from within those populations will eventually persuade those who make the decisions, that releasing their prisoners is the best course of action. By contrast, disapproval from outside these ‘constituencies’ – say, from the BBC or the British Government – might not be as persuasive.

Good luck Alan and Tasneem.

Alan Johnston banner

Tasneem Khalil has now been released. Worryingly, his detention was apparently “not due to his journalistic work and had nothing to do with his functions at The Daily Star … In fact, it was because of the contents of his personal blog and some SMSs he had sent recently…” Hmmm.

Gay pride in Israel and Palestine

I see that another gay rights march in Jerusalem has been given the go ahead.

Earlier this year, a planned World Pride march in Jerusalem was cancelled, due to massive opposition from both Jewish and Muslim groups.

My feeling was that Jerusalem could be a beacon of multiculturalism, and a World Pride march there could be a positive example for the future. The Intifada Kid begged to differ:

I disagree that holding this in Jerusalem, the Eastern part of which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, should be a cause for celebration. There is a growing movement against this idea, supported by progressive and informed activists for sexual rights based locally and globally. See:

I can understand how a boycotting of the march would follow from the idea of boycotting Israeli goods and travel to Israel in general, as a means of peaceful protest against the illegal occupation of Palestine. However, I wonder if larger (or, at least different) ideas are at work here, and whether an exception could have been made.

The acceptance of homosexuality is an anathema to all the Abrahamic religions, and the fundamentalists who seek to impose their world-view on others. Surely, therefore, the World Pride March acts in opposition to these people.

So, in reply to the Intifada Kid: Is an acceptance of homosexuality compatible with Zionism? If not, then allowing gays into Jerusalem would radically undermine that Zionism, no? Would World Pride in Jerusalem not be a temporary ‘liberation’ of the city?

(I supposed this argument could be reversed for the other side of the argument. If Islamic fundamentalists were the cause of the impasse, then a gay pride march undermines them, too. Of course, all this depends on an analysis of the conflict in religious terms, which is not a given by any means).

Not that any of this matters, really. As mentioned, the World Pride march in August never went ahead, and was replaced by a protest instead. That, in turn, was drowned out by the nasty conflict in Lebanon.

More on Gaarder

Nevertheless, Gaarder’s essay is highly problematic. “We do not recognise the state of Israel” is not clarified in the way I attempted in my previous post, which invites the criticism slung at him by Andrew Sullivan and (no doubt) many others.

We do not believe in the notion of God’s chosen people. We laugh at this people’s fancies and weep at its misdeeds.

Crucially, his mockery of other people’s beliefs makes him look arrogant. Jews have a history of persecution we know all too well, and the exodus of the Torah is mirrored by countless diaspora in modern times. An attachment to (and a desire to live in) the Holy Land is genuine and heartfelt. In itself, it is not a reason for scorn.

We do not recognize the old Kingdom of David as a model for the 21st century map of the Middle East. The Jewish rabbi claimed two thousand years ago that the Kingdom of God is not a martial restoration of the Kingdom of David, but that the Kingdom of God is within us and among us. The Kingdom of God is compassion and forgiveness … Two thousand years have passed since the Jewish rabbi disarmed and humanized the old rhetoric of war. Even in his time, the first Zionist terrorists were operating … For two thousand years, we have rehearsed the syllabus of humanism, but Israel does not listen. It was not the Pharisee that helped the man who lay in the wayside, having fallen prey to robbers. It was a Samaritan

For most of the ‘two-thousand years’ in question, there was no ‘Israel,’ so he must be talking about The Jews. This looks like ‘classic’ anti-semitism: Jesus and the Christians had it right, while the Jews (that depraved bunch) had it wrong.


Peace and free passage for the evacuating civilian population no longer protected by a state.

Gaarder does not consider the idea that the current Jewish residents of Israel might stay put after the anti-apartheid paradigm shift. Replacing one set of refugees with another solves nothing, it just reverses the problem. If he is saying that Jews are more suited to the refugee lifestyle than Palestinians, he is merely buying into the Old Testament tosh he refuted earlier.

Anti-semitism and apartheid

Andrew Sullivan at Time Magazine’s Daily Dish says that the author Jostein Gaarder is an anti-semite, quoting an article by Gaarder in the Norweigan Aftenposten.

Sullivan claims that Gaarder is calling for the “obliteration of the state of Israel”, but on reading Gaardner in translation, I think that’s a serious misrepresentation of what he is trying to say. Gaardner repeatedly uses the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies and structure. And if he, like many of us, sees an apartheid regime in Israel, then why should he not wish to call for its demise?

All too often “we do not recognize the state of Israel” is equated to mean “Jews into the sea”, or some variation thereof. When Hamas says it in their covenant, I think that’s a fair comparison… But there are many forms of non-recognition. A few months ago, I was chatting to a sixty-year old Palestinian woman, Ana, who used to live in West-Jerusalem. Her family was driven out of their house, without compensation. She fled to the Lebanon and then to Britain, and has no legal right to become a citizen of the state that currently surrounds her old house.

“Do you recognise the state of Israel?” I asked her.

“Why should I?” she replied, and I had no answer. If your house has been taken away in the name of a State, why should you then regard that State as legitimate? Of course Ana doesn’t recognise Israel, but that doesn’t mean she wants all the Jews out of the Middle-East, and she says as much.

She just wants her house back.

I think Gaarder uses the phrase in a similar manner. At each step, he declares the framework of the State of Israel to be immoral, and advocates a paradigm shift. The comparisons with South Africa are apt here. Why recognise and perpepuate the apartheid system, when you can have a Rainbow Nation? South Africa implemented a new constitution in 1994. We could therefore say that South Africa was destroyed and reborn when the change took place. But no-one was driven into the sea. The whites were considered ‘liberated’ as much as the blacks. They all stayed where they were, political equals with their neighbours.

Andrew Sullivan chooses to sneer at Gaarder’s (admittedly divisive) rhetoric. In doing so, he completely fails to address the key question: “Is there apartheid in Israel?”

From the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2003)

The Committee reiterates its concern that the “excessive emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination and accords second-class status to its not-Jewish citizens.

When the state denies Arab Bedouin access to water and healthcare, while their Jewish neighbours live in in luxury, then something is wrong. When American or British Citizens, born and bred in The West, can make alyia at a moments’ notice, but Ana cannot visit the town of her birth (let alone be recognized as a citizen of that town), then something is wrong. When universities favour Jewish students over Arab students of other faiths, then something is wrong. When the state builds walls through school playgrounds in the name of ‘security’, and children are legitimate terrorist suspects, then something is wrong.

Should a country called ‘Israel’ exist? Sure thing – the millions of Jewish people who already live between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan should be allowed to live where their heart dicates. However, it must be achieved without recourse to an aparthied system. Otherwise, it is not worth the effort, and we would be right to shun it, as Jostein Gaarder advocates. It is inequality which defines the current status quo. Primacy should not awarded to one group over the other. If the current system does this, then it is unviable, and unworthy of support in its current form. This, I beleive, is the only genuinely pro-semitic position. Everything else is unwitting prejudice.

The religious idea that a group of people have a divine right to the Holy Land, can never be part of the philosophy of a state – be it Jewish or Islamic. The messy conflicts, and sticky diplomacy which will guarantee the safety of everyone in the region, can only begin once this central tenet has been agreed upon. We count the bangs as we wait.


I’ve made some more comments on Gaarder’s problematic essay.

Suicides and sling-shots

Jarndyce wonders if he has a “famous fan”. His point last year, asking when it is rational to kill yourself seems to be repeated by Timothy Garton-Ash at Comment Is Free. A fascinating point is that suicide bombings occur more frequently against democracies, rather than insurgencies against dictatorships who will deny them the oxygen of publicity. The fact that suicide bombers are not usually poor or uneducated is mentioned in both posts too.

A noticable phrase from the Garton-Ash redux:

Palestinian suicide bombers … preferred “sacred explosions”. “We do not have tanks or rockets,” said one, “but we have something superior – our exploding Islamic human bombs. In place of a nuclear arsenal, we are proud of our arsenal of believers.” That comment reflects another common feature: suicide missions are generally carried out by the weaker side, in conflicts marked by a sharp asymmetry of military force. They are a weapon of David against Goliath.

An ironic metaphor indeed: David was an Israeli, and Goliath a Philistine (in modern parlance, a Palestinian). Further irony in that a more common weapon employed by the intifada is the brick, thrown by teenagers at IDF vehicles. Not so different from the sling-shot David used to defeat Goliath. I’ve always thought that if modern Palestinians employed actual sling-shots, rather than suicide belts, against the occupation, they would gain far more sympathy from their Israeli neighbours, not to mention world-wide.

Voter responsibility

Last week we heard that a large proportion of voters in the UK are considering voting for the BNP (as many as eighty percent in Margaret Hodge’s constituency, she warns us). This prompted the following quip from the highly entertaining Pigdogfucker:

25% of English voters “might be” terrible cunts.

Meanwhile, Tim Newman comments on the nature of democracy in Palestine, and suggests that the Palestinians are stuck with their choice of government. If that has negative consequences for their international funding, as a result of electing a terrorist group to power, then that is their problem. (Via Devil’s Kitchen, who agrees.)

Whenever I hear someone make a throwaway remark of the format “God, I hate Americans,” I point out that actually, they probably don’t. In fact (I say), what they mean is that aspects of American culture annoy them. Those aspects are probably caricatures (gas-guzzlers, homogenising fast-food chains, the NRA, preposeterous statistics about how few Americans have passports) that are not representative of most citizens. At worst, I tell them, they actually hate exactly half the people in America (usually but not exclusively those who voted red). And moreover, they have no way of knowing who those people are, so to hate them seems rather counter-productive, not to mention a bit racist.

Surely the same applies to extreme national or local governments that may be voted in elsewhere. If the BNP do win council seats during the UK local elections, few will follow the Pigdogfucker lead and say “well obviously the people of Barking are… barking,” because for a large proportion of the population that will simply not be true. Not only will it definitely not be true for those who voted for someone other than the BNP… but we will be inclined to extend the courtesy to many of those who did. Rather than blame the voters for being generally racist and ignorant of what is actually good for them, we will instead cite the rise in racist politics as somehow a failure of the incumbent parties on a national and local level.

We do not extend this ‘courtesy’ to the Palestinians. Instead we write them off as people not interested in peace, forgetting that there are plenty of their number who did not vote for terrorism (only one third of the total electorate voted for Hamas, for example). Nor do we seem willing to appreciate any subtlety or difference of opinion within American politics: “God, I hate Americans…”

Remember the old saying, about how an Opposition never wins an elections, but Governments lose them? This is important with regards to how much responsibility the electorate must take for their government. The adage above implies that people vote retrospectively, casting their ballot not on what they expect the new government to do, but on what the old government has done. If extremists are elected to power, this analysis would place a much of the responsibility on the shoulders of the outgoing government! Only when we consider the electorate to be voting prospectively and not retrospectively, does the balance seem to tip in favour of blaming the voters themselves for a poor choice.

Clearly, people vote for a mixture of prospective and retrospective reasons. But the notion of blaming an electorate for the government it has chosen remains problematic. Personally (and I suspect, in common with many others) find it difficult to take any personal responsibility for the recent actions of my own government, because I did not vote for them. Likewise, pointing at a random Palestinian and saying “sorry mate, you brought it on yourself” seems spectacularly unfair, as is calling anyone from Barking a racist.

Democracy is a bizarre thing. Because governments take their legitimacy from the voters, we are encouraged (especially immediately after an election) to ascribe the policies and beliefs of certain sections of the population, to everyone within that population. In actual fact, we know next-to-nothing about the particular individual at the other end of our finger, other than where he lives. He is damned by the tyranny of the majority, and suffers our prejudice as a result.

Valentine's Day in Hebron

These are my hurried notes from the end of a long day, 14th February 2005, after witnessing some horrible things.

Walk through the old city of Jerusalem, from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate, and you walk from the first world to the third world. Only on the other side of the old city can you find a bus that will take you into the West Bank.

We take a car from Jerusalem to Hebron, to the south. The geography of the region is surprisingly small. In ten minutes we are outside the city, and passing Bethlehem. Not long after and the outskirts of Hebron appear on the horizon.

We meet G, a Norwegian, and D from Italy. Both work for an international NGO in the city. The peace process is like an ailing phoenix, which rises from ashes and then decends into flames on a regular basis. Back in 1994, a Jewish settler massacred 29 people in the Ibrahim Mosque in the centre of Hebron. The NGO’s mandate is to act as observers and report on the interactions – and conflicts – between the Israelis and the Palestinians here. They operate by trust alone. They are unarmed and can only provide an independent account of the events that transpire here. They hope that their presence has a calming effect on the settlers and Palestinians alike.

We descend into the centre of town. Modern, squat skyscrapers hold apartments and shops selling the light industrial goods that are made around the city. Textiles, shoes, jewelry. Taxis and minibuses clog the streets. We see old men in grey blazers and the old traditional Khafir scarves in red or black, a mirror of their dead leader Arafat, now a poster-boy who adorns the walls of the city, alongside his colleague and successor Abu Mazen. Other election posters are half visible too.

Into the old city. Past a road-block first of all, followed by a checkpoint with a nonchalant and bored IDF sentry lurking alongside it. We take a turning down an alley, and in the half-light we can see more old men outside their stalls – fleeces, food, metal work, and a barbers. G and D say “Salam Aleikum” and so do we. Soon I become confident and say it to everyone who passes, and they respond with a smile and a squint.

Halfway down the alley, we look up to see a Israeli settlement that has been built over the old town. A wire mesh has been stretched over the of the alley to catch the rubbish that falls from the settlement into the souq below.

At the other end of the alley, the souq, we encounter another sentry post. Inside I see the soldier playing a game on his mobile phone. We have arrived at the Ibrahami Mosque, the scene of the massacre a few years ago. While G says that they will wait outside because they are wearing a uniform, we are free to wander into the holy place. Although, we cannot wander straight inside. We must first have our bags searched, and pass through a metal detector. Confronted by the IDF solider who is manning the checkpoint, I am struck first of all by the fact that she is a She… and then by the fact that she is a spotty, plump eighteen year old. Our assertion that we are without religion seems to annoy her, but nevertheless she and her two cohorts (lanky boys, also acne-riddled, also with guns slung over their chests) do their duty and check our bags.


Inside the mosque, all is quiet. Three men with the traditional headdresses sit and read, while a couple of young boys lounge against a pillar. At the back of the chamber we can see the tomb of Abraham, enclosed behind bars. Across the crypt though, we can see some young Jewish men, also standing behind bars, praying at the tomb. After the massacre the tomb was enclosed and split in two, so that the two communities would be able to pray separately at the same place. When we go outside again, we see the Jewish entrace to the same building.

In the plaza in front of the temple I can see more IDF solidiers. A pretty girl stands admonishing her friends lightheartedly. If it were not for their green fatigues, I mght think they were just about to go and hang out in the mall together.

We amble up to higher ground to get a good look at the city from above. We can see the white buildings that coat the hillside like molluscs and barnacles on an upturned fishing boat. A few men are rebuilding a wall that has been bulldozed for some reason. G says that these building are many hundreds of years old.

As we talk about the architecture, the lunchtime silence is shattered by an ambulance that speeds down the road behind us. At the same moment, D’s radio tactlessly blurts out the reason why the ambulance was there. The IDF have just shot dead a twelve year old boy, down at the checkpoints near the Ibrahami Mosque. It is difficult to imagine what possible threat he could have posed that required such lethal force. Down in the city we know a mother will be soon be crying. We know one young man will never send a Valentine card, or feel the rush of his first soft kiss. And we know that another boy or a girl with a gun has become a killer. An eighteen year old has killed a twelve year old. This will not make the morning papers.

Wary of what may happen next, we avoid the mosque and take a back route down into the souq again. There seem to be so many children on the street, teenage girls in groups of three or four, gossiping about the strangers walking through their town. I consider saying Salam Aliekum to them, but now it seems inappropriate. Do they know what has just happened less than two hundred yards away?

If they were unaware of any incident, a grenade goes off, and the explosion echoes around the city. As we descend and retreat to the new town, a voice begins to rant over the mosque speakers. Emerging from the same dark alley at the old town boundary, I see that the IDF sentry has become more alert. No longer playing on his mobile phone, he is leaning against his concrete barricade, and his rifle is aimed directly at us. From this angle it is hard to make out the shape of the gun. I can just see a hole at the top of the barrel. There is nothing to do but ignore the soldier, and find the car that we came in. The local residents seem to ignore him too – an old man steers his donkey and cart past us and the gun, into the souq and towards the Ibrahmi mosque.

Once again, I see for myself the capacity of people on this planet to dehumanise one another. Another glimpse into the eyes of the only devil I believe in.

I don’t feel sick. I feel nothing. G and D take their leave of us, and go to collect information for their report of the incident they could not predict, and did not prevent. We on the otherhand, go back to the new town. We get a cup of sweet Arabic coffee, then buy a couple of beautiful woven shawls in red and green. Pure lambswool, you know.

We were wrong, it was not a twelve year old boy. It was Sabri Fayez Al Rjoub, aged 15.

Intifada Fatalities 2000-2005 (Source: B’Tselem)

Zero Sum

Intifada Kid’s Letter From Ramallah sparked an interesting response and debate at Devil’s Kitchen. I’ve had this draft sitting around for a couple of days – updated to take in some of Katy’s comments.

Another aspect of the conflict between Israel and Palestine which annoys me, is the universal insistence on treating it as some sort of zero-sum game. It is as if there is some kind of kudos, a finite substance which travels back and forth accross the mythical and derided Green Line, which both sides try to win back from the other. Perhaps points, or “political capital” would be a better analogy. Acts of violence lose you points, while any kind of olive branch or positive manoeuvre will gain you points. At present, the Israeli Government is ‘up’ (Gaza withdrawl) but the Palestinians are ‘down’ (Hamas voted into power).

The concept of ‘political capital’ or points scoring operates widely in Westminster and Washington (indeed, anywhere with a recognisable leglislative district, I assume), but it is essentially an unjust system that bears no relation to the way the world actually operates. Indeed, just like global warming, it creates a sort of ‘positive feedback’ which actually makes a situation worse, and serves to keep the problem burning.

Consider the situation in Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, the two sides have mutually exclusive dreams on what should come to pass, in the Holy Land they reluctantly share. Since Hamas are branded terrorists, this bizarrely increases Israel’s political capital, and they will soon begin to spend it, moving towards their own vision of a shrunk-in-the-wash West Bank. They move away from reconciliation with the Palestinians, and thus the cycle continues.

And it is retaliation, vengeance, which dominates the region (An Eye For An Eye?). It is this desire, something that both sides have in common, which is the destructive force in the region. I saw the Israeli Ambassador to the UN interviewed on the BBC earlier this week, engaging in a very undignified and slightly sickening numbers game with the news presenter. “But the 4000 we killed were terrorists you know” or some such flawed logic to moralise state sponsored death.

Build bridges not walls

How much better if the conflict was not considered a zero-sum game at all. A vote for Hamas, with covenant couched in fervent fundamentalism, reflects poorly on the Palestinian populous. That should not mean that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank gains extra credence, but somehow it does. Conversely, bulldozers in townships or the death of another stone thrower reflects poorly on the Israelis… but its not an excuse for blowing up a Tel Aviv omnibus. Far better for the two sides to play for the same team – humanity – and shoot towards a common goal. “We will not deal with Hamas” will achieve simply nothing. “How may we help you?” might be a better response. “Your problems are our problems” must be a mandatory mantra.

This is frightfully idealistic, of course. Many will say that neither side has the ability or the desire to have those kinds of conversations. The Hamas covenant certainly precludes this, as do the fundamentalist conceptions of a Jewish state. I agree, and I weep, but merely point out that the political game being played is a flawed one. The exchange of political capital may continue, but the only score that rises is the number of dead bodies on the borders and buses. I am reminded of the tagline for the 2005 box-office gore-fest Alien versus Predator: “Whoever Wins, We Lose”. Humanity cannot win the game being played at present.

Changing the rules of the game must be the answer, because it is the only answer. Everyone must be transferred over to a single team, a single political group called homo sapien. Giving priority to a common humanity, rather than balancing the competing needs of two or more religions, is indeed an idealistic dream. But it is the only possible game that humanity has a chance of winning. Negotiations must begin from this position. Nothing else matters – not religion, not terrorism, not retaliation.

Letter from Ramallah

I think an alternative voice is required to continue the analysis of the Palestinian election result (My Edinburgh armchair opining will resume shortly).

Intifada Kid lives in Ramallah, and observed first hand the recent elections. Here he presents a blistering response to those who would write off the Palestinian people.

Ok, I’ve had enough of reading the amateurish and/or wrong-headed analysis provided by people like Devil’s Kitchen and Emanuele Ottolenghi. Both effectively make the same point: that Palestinians democratically electing Hamas vindicates Israel’s argument that there is no peace partner. As Ottolenghi writes:

“[u]nless Hamas reneges on its ideology and endorses a new course, then Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner is vindicated. The resulting Israeli policy of unilateralism is vindicated. Israel’s argument that the Palestinians do not want peace is vindicated. Israel’s argument that Islamists’ nuances and differences of opinion are just tactical, not strategic, is also vindicated. And the prospects of a Palestinian state will become even more remote.”

This is a re-branding of that old Israeli argument: “Palestinians are genocidal anti-Semites who really don’t want peace, and so (even though we’d love to) we can’t reward them with statehood.”

In one stroke, Israel is absolved of responsibility for occupying and colonising Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past 38 years, for displacing Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, for continuing to discriminate against its own Palestinian citizens in a blatantly racist manner, and for rejecting the appeals of Palestinian leaders like President Abbas to return to negotiations. Instead, the onus is once again on the Palestinians to prove that they are “moderate” enough to deserve a state. If they fail, well, we’ll be forced to keep colonising and occupying their lands, demolishing their homes and shooting their kids- ensuring that they “taste Israeli steel,” as Ottolenghi puts it. And of course, we have to accelerate construction of the Wall: the animals must be encaged.

First off, let’s remember that it is the PLO – not the PA or PLC – that remains responsible for negotiating a final status peace agreement with Israel. Israel isn’t supposed to negotiate with Hamas simply because they are in the PLC, a body elected by the minority of Palestinans who happen to live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel is required to negotiate with the legitimate representatives of all Palestinians everywhere – the PLO.

Hamas may become members of the PLO’s Palestinian National Council by virtue of being in the PLC, but Fateh remains dominant in the PLO. And the PLO has, since the Declaration of Independence in 1988, accepted a two-state solution. To read more about PLO positions on peace, negotiations and final status issues, visit, the Negotiation Affairs Department of the PLO.

Secondly, far from vindicating Israel’s unilateralist approach, Hamas’ victory is in part a Palestinian response to the relentless occupation and colonisation of their land and Israel’s refusal to negotiate with President Abbas – a man who was, you may remember, elected on a platform of peace and the resumption of negotiations by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian living in the oPt a year ago. Israel’s stubborn refusal to return to negotiations, or even honour its agreements with the Palestinians (the Condoleezza Rice-brokered agreement of November 2005 is only the most recent example) served to undermine President Abbas’s message that Palestinians’ liberty, peace and prosperity could be achieved solely through negotiations with Israel.

One major reason why Palestinians rejected Fateh was that it is the party responsible for leading the PLO’s recognition of Israel in 1993 and a 10 year ‘peace process’ that brought with it no peace. As Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian Negotiator wrote in the Financial Times, Israel’s unilateralism and constant refrain that there was no partner on the Palestinian side was nothing but ‘Bypass Diplomacy’, designed to protect Israel from negotiating with Palestinians before imposing a final-status arrangment on the Palestinians. This would/will probably take the form of a number of cantons with “transportational contiguity” which Israel could label a “state”, but which would lack the natural resources and viability to function as such.

Another reason Fateh were ousted was that their leaders were considered corrupt and self-servicing while Hamas’s leadership has spent over a decade building a functioning network of social services that the PA should have been providing.

Hamas were not voted into office for suicide bombings. Hamas have not even carried out any suicide bombs since 2004. If Palestinians wanted a leadership committed to suicide bombings, they would have followed Islamic Jihad’s call to boycott the elections. It is the (highly marginalised) Islamic Jihad who claimed responsibility for the past few suicide attacks in Israel.

In fact, Palestinians have actually never been more willing to compromise than they are now, as a recent report for the US Institute of Peace concluded.

So how do we resolve the apparent contradiction that the overwhelming majority of Palestinans support the resumption of negotiations with Israel, leading to peace on the basis of a two-state solution, and yet voted Hamas into office at the PLC? Perhaps the Palestinian electorate is very much like the Israeli one. Although all polls suggest most Israelis also want a two-state solution, and peace with Palestinians, they elected the war criminal Ariel Sharon and his ultra nationalist Likud party into office in their last elections. In situations of conflict perhaps people trust their toughest leaders most to make the difficult compromises and display pragmatism.

For Israel to claim now that, after arguing for years that it does not have a Palestinian partner, Hamas’ win only confirms their claim is disingenuous, hypocritical and, worst of all, damaging to the prospects of reaching a peaceful two-state solution – a solution that both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support, and certainly deserve.


Regarding the need for strong leaders, Andrew Sullivan points to a similar sentiment by Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community: The American public wants a Democratic policy, enacted by Republicans.