The brutal murders in and around Oslo on July 22, 2011 by Anders Behring Breivik, the self-declared commander for the Knights Templar of Europe, are to be rightfully condemned, and due punishment must be accorded for his horrible crime. But his massacre of 76 innocent people and his 1,500-page polemical diatribe -- his European Declaration of Independence, with its obsession with multiculturalism and the threat caused by the Islamic presence in Europe -- must not be allowed to prevent a genuine, rational discussion of a complex contemporary problem.
Western countries are perplexed by the problem of the current immigration of
Aware of the potential positive value of immigrants, governments along with other agencies have subscribed to a set of policies and values that has become known as multiculturalism. They seek to diminish the difficulties the newcomers face: lack of respect, verbal abuse, and discrimination in general (and especially in housing and
However desirable some of the efforts have been, both for immigrants and for their new society, it is evident that Western policies of multiculturalism have drawbacks as well as benefits. Those policies encounter a number of intellectual and political problems. They aim at accommodating different religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions within a society, but societies require a common culture. The great 14th-century Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, was aware of this when he wrote that civilization arose only when there was solidarity. Today, this idea of solidarity, and commitment to the common culture and to the basic structures and values of democratic countries, is being challenged by identity politics and by advocacy of diversity.
Multiculturalism in Western societies confers benefits on an ethnic or racial minority, enabling it to maintain its own culture. This may lead to friction and to both physical and cultural separation from the majority of the society. It also disparages individual rights, fragments society, and supports the politicization of group identities. The French writer Pascal Bruckner has defined multiculturalism as racism of the antiracists. It tends to chain people to their roots and to imprison them in an ethnic or racial definition of their group. It may not only undermine individuality and self-reliance, but also may prevent people from liberating themselves from their own group traditions. Celebrating differences among people has become a means of enforcing group identity.
In recent practice, multiculturalism has led to restriction rather than protection of free speech -- e.g., to laws making it a criminal offense to make critical remarks about some religious, ethnic, or national groups. It has led in the West to tolerating minorities that are themselves intolerant.
Contemporary European politicians have understood the political problem. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in October 2010 declared that multiculturalism had failed in her country. She declared that it was not a humane formula to respect other cultures, but a device to deal with immigrant workers who were still committed to the culture of their homeland, not to that of Germany. The German state had accommodated the demands of immigrants, rather than promoting German values. German scholars have argued that, though differences may exist, European countries need a leitkultur, a core or guiding culture which was necessary for a democratic community, concerned with modernity, secularism, and human rights.
Political leaders in both Britain and France have been similarly troubled by recent developments. British Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear, in a speech of February 5, 2011, that "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream." Britain had tolerated those segregated communities behaving in ways completely counter to British values.
In France, President Nicholas Sarkozy has similarly declared that multiculturalism is a failure and has fostered extremism. France, he believes, has been too concerned about the identity of the new arrivals and not enough about preserving the identity of the country receiving them. Sarkozy since 2003 has been responsible for two bills restricting immigration into France. His belief is that Muslims in France must practice French Islam, not just Islam in France. However, it is still an open question whether Muslims want to be part of French society, or prefer sharia law and traditional behavior.
The contemporary belief that all cultural groups and religions should be tolerated and have a right to self-determination or autonomy may be salutary as a general proposition, but the degree of that tolerance should be relevant both to democratic values, whether or not the principles of human rights are being observed by those groups, and also to demographic changes. The monstrous action of Breivik may make it more difficult to criticize the multicultural practices that are promoting racism rather than eliminating it. Yet objective observers should not be too cautious or reluctant to criticize actions or non-actions of non-Europeans. There is no easy balance for democratic countries today between protecting their cultural values and protecting minority rights.
Michael Curtis is a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Negotiations, not Unilateral Declarations
It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians can be resolved only by negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral declarations by one side. A unilateral declaration as proposed by the Palestinian Authority to the United Nations in September 2011 would mean renouncing the many attempts made in many forums over the last 60 years to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict by a negotiating process to which the Palestinians have agreed on many occasions. It would constitute a breach by the Palestinians of their past agreements and legal obligations. It would avoid recognizing the state of Israel and would avoid ending the conflict. It would be an act of bad faith.
Reviewing the historical narrative illuminates the present reality and shows that the only way to resolve the conflict is through negotiation between the two parties. This truth has been self-evident since the armistice agreements that established the cease-fire lines following the 1948-49 war between Israel and Arab states. Those agreements, Israel-Egypt of February 24, 1949, Israel-Lebanon of March 23, 1949, Israel-Jordan of April 3, 1949, and Israel-Syria of July 20, 1949, all stated that the cease-fire lines, established through the armistices, were to remain in force until “a peaceful settlement between the Parties is achieved.”
The cease-fire lines were made irrelevant as a result of the dynamics and consequences of the wars of 1967 and 1973. Following the wars the basis for resolution of the conflict became United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, and UNSC Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973.
Resolution 242 called for efforts to achieve a settlement based on a “just and lasting peace,” and on the right of states in the Middle East to live in peace, within secure and recognized boundaries. The essential problem was that the armistice lines of 1949 and the cease-fire lines of 1967 were not “secure and recognized boundaries.” According to the Resolution the armistice and cease- fire lines were to be replaced by boundaries which would be determined by negotiation, not by force or by unilateral action of any of the parties or states, nor were they to be imposed from the outside. Resolution 338 repeated the call for negotiations between the parties concerned, and restated the objective as establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East through negotiation.
What negotiation has taken place and what are the results? So far negotiation has achieved two peace treaties. The treaty between Israel and Egypt on March 26, 1979, encouraged further negotiation by inviting “the other Arab parties to the (Arab-Israeli) dispute to join the peace process with Israel.” The Israeli-Jordan treaty of October 26, 1994 reaffirmed the need to replace the temporary armistice and cease-fire lines with secure and recognized boundaries, and stated that disputes arising out of the application or interpretation of the treaty should be resolved only through negotiation.
However, Palestinian authorities have not yet agreed to a peace treaty with Israel nor to “secure and recognized boundaries” despite 30 years of arrangements and stated obligations. Though no resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has occurred, the international community throughout those 30 years has continued in different formats to make efforts to help resolve the conflict and the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries. The preamble of the Camp David Accords, signed by President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, and witnessed by President Jimmy Carter, on September 17, 1978, which led to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of March 1979, provided a framework for negotiations to establish an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians were urged to join in discussion of the autonomy and the election of such an authority. However, despite this invitation the Palestinians did not take the opportunity to join the discussion.
The next attempt by an international group to foster a peace process between Israel and Palestinians, as well as with other Arab countries, occurred at the Madrid Conference convened on October 30, 1991. The Conference, lasting three days, was hosted by Spain and co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union. Palestinians did participate in the Conference, at first indirectly and then as an ”advisory delegation.” The objective of the Madrid Conference was to foster negotiations on two tracks, bilateral and multilateral. It led to the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994. It was also important because it was the first set of public bilateral discussions between Israel and its neighbors, except those with Egypt fifteen years earlier.
The discussion with the Palestinians consisted of two parts; negotiations on an interim self-government arrangement, and permanent status negotiations. Bilateral discussions on self-government were continued in rounds in Washington between December 1991 and January 1994. Multilateral negotiations beginning in January 1992 in Moscow, and later in other places, concentrated on a number of issues, water, environment, arms control, refugees, and economic development.
The Oslo Accords
The Madrid Conference may not in itself have been a dramatic success, but it did invigorate the search for a peaceful, negotiated settlement. Most importantly it led to the Oslo Accords of September 13, 1993. These Accords (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements), were the first public face- to- face bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The hope was that they would lead to further negotiations in which “final status issues” would be resolved.
The Accords, the outcome of secret negotiations between the parties that had taken place in Oslo in August 1993, were signed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, and by President Bill Clinton, in Washington. They provided for the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA) that would have responsibility for the administration of territory under its control. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. By the exchange of letters of mutual recognition between Rabin and Arafat, the former recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while Arafat acknowledged the right of Israel to exist and renounced the use of terrorism and other violence.
The Declaration of Principles laid out a five year timetable, an interim period during which permanent status negotiations would take place in stages. During this transitional period a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority and an elected Council would be established by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The transitional period, not exceeding five years, was to lead to a permanent settlement of the conflict. It would start with Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area. The Palestinian Authority would have power over education, health, culture, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. Other subjects, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security, and borders were to be negotiated at a later stage.
The declared intention was that Oslo was to be followed by confidence building measures. These measures have taken a number of forms, the more important ones being the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of August 29, 1994, Oslo II of September 28, 1995, the Hebron Protocol of January 17, 1997, the Wye River Memorandum of October 23, 1998, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum of September 4, 1999, the Camp David Summit of July 2000, and the Annapolis Conference of November 2007.
The Gaza-Jericho Agreement dealt with the preparatory transfer of powers and responsibilities. Internal security for the two areas was divided between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel would be responsible for Israelis and the settlements in the areas; the Palestinian Authority would be responsible for public order in general and for many civil matters. Israel was to withdraw from Gaza and Jericho while retaining control and supervision over air space.
On September 28, 1995 the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, known more familiarly as Oslo II, between Israel and the PLO, provided for redeployment in the West Bank, including Palestinian self-rule in a number of cities, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Tulkarm, and others. The West Bank was divided into 3 areas, A, B, and C. Area A was to be under full control of the PA; area B under joint Israeli and Palestinian control; and area C under Israeli control. The powers and responsibilities of each side in the respective areas were defined. The Palestinian Council would establish a strong police force, while Israel would be responsible for overall security.
The Hebron Protocol, signed in Jerusalem, by Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu, provided for withdrawal of Israeli forces from most of Hebron within 10 days, and then further withdrawal from the West Bank, apart from settlements and military locations, before mid 1998. This was followed a few days later, on January 21, 1997 by another agreement, the Temporary International Presence in the city of Hebron, which called for international monitoring and reporting on the situation in the city, but did not provide for military or police functions. What is significant in Israeli politics is that the Protocol was signed by the essentially Likud government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, a government had had been assumed by the international community to be unlikely to make concessions. The Hebron agreements were approved by the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, by a vote of 87-17, an outcome far different from the Knesset’s narrow approval of Oslo I by a majority of one, and of Oslo II by two votes. Israeli authorities had manifested their willingness to negotiate a solution. The city of Hebron was divided and the assumption was that each side would maintain peaceful order but Arafat did not crack down on terrorism against Israelis.
The Wye River Memorandum, at a meeting brokered and witnessed by President Bill Clinton at a center near Wye River, Maryland, was signed by Netanyahu and Arafat on October 23, 1998. It focused on implementing the September 1995 Interim Agreement. The two sides agreed to resume permanent status talks, to reach agreement in a step- by- step process by May 1999. The main provision was that Israel would engage in a staged withdrawal in the West Bank of 13% from area C and 14% from area B. In return the PLO agreed to act against outbreaks of terrorism and violence. What is most important for the analysis here is the statement in the Memorandum that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement.” Thus the principle of mutual agreement for change was maintained. Though the Knesset approved the Memorandum by a substantial majority, it remained unimplemented because of the outbreak of the second Intifada, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, in September 2000 that led to conflict causing over 6000 casualties.
Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum and other Meetings
In spite of ongoing violence another meeting between the parties took place on September 4, 1999. Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labor party who became prime minister in 1999, and Yasser Arafat at Sharm el-Sheikh signed a Memorandum, witnessed by President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Its stated purpose was to implement Oslo II of 1995 and other agreements between the two sides. They agreed to resume permanent status negotiations to reach a permanent settlement. They agreed on a number of Israeli redeployments from areas C and B, the release of 350 Palestinian prisoners, and the opening of safe passages between the West Bank and Gaza. The principle of mutual agreement was reaffirmed. The Memorandum reiterated that neither side would initiate or take any step alone that would change the status of the West Bank or Gaza.
Another attempt to negotiate a “final status settlement” was made at the Camp David Summit in July 2000 in talks between Barak, Arafat, and Clinton. After two weeks the Summit ended without agreement. President Clinton later expressed his regret that Arafat had missed the opportunity to bring the Palestinian state into being. Instead a statement was issued suggesting that the principles to guide further negotiations must be based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Again, the two sides avoided unilateral actions. They agreed that such actions would prejudice the outcome of negotiations, and reaffirmed the decision that their differences could be resolved only by good faith negotiations.
During the second Intifada a further attempt at settlement was made through talks conducted for a week in late January 2001 at Taba, in the Sinai Peninsula. This Summit, between Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israeli Foreign Minister in the government headed by Ehud Barak, and Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator of the PLO, focused on four main themes: refugees, security, Jerusalem, and secure and recognized borders. Though it was hoped that this Summit was help build trust between the two sides, the talks were discontinued on January 27, 2001, partly because of the reluctance to compromise on the part of the Palestinian delegation, and partly because of the preparations for the special Israeli election for prime minister which led to the defeat of Barak and to Ariel Sharon, leader of the Likud party, becoming prime minister of Israel, thus altering the political scene in Israel.
In the attempt to end the hostilities caused by the Al-Aqsa Intifada, another Summit meeting was convened at Sharm el- Sheikh in February 2005, attended by Sharon, President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah II, and Mahmoud Abbas, now President of the Palestinian Authority after the death of Arafat in November 2004. All called for the end of the hostilities. For our present purpose even more important was the fact that President Abbas continued to adhere to the principle of negotiation rather than to unilateral decisions. In his speech of February 8, 2005 he reiterated in the name of the PLO and the Palestine National Authority (the new name of the previous PA) “our adherence to the peace process points of reference, the resolutions of international legitimacy, the agreements signed between the PLO and the government of Israel, and the roadmap (of the International Quartet).”
Yet another peace conference was held at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in November 2007. The United States hosted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the leader of Likud who became prime minister in 2006 after Sharon had suffered a stroke and was incapacitated, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting attended by President George W. Bush, and foreign representatives. The objective of the conference was to reach a peace settlement along the lines of President Bush’s roadmap for peace which would lead to a two state solution, a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, and the resolution of all outstanding issues. For the first time both Israeli and Palestinian representatives acknowledged that peace would entail a two state solution.
Still involved in the search for Middle East peace is the Diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, consisting of the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia established in Madrid in 2002 by the Spanish Prime Minister to help, by a “roadmap” to move the peace process forward and to work for a two state solution. This means the creation of a Palestinian state that would recognize the state of Israel without prejudging grievances or claims, and would renounce violence as a means of achieving its goals. In essence this approach was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1850 of December 16, 2008, which was passed by 14-0, with the abstention of Libya. The Resolution noted that “lasting peace can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and a two state solution building on previous agreements and obligations.”
If Palestinian authorities introduce a unilateral declaration of independence and attempt to create a Palestinian state without recognizing the state of Israel it would be a breach of the obligations to which they have agreed, especially those of Oslo II. Furthermore, it would not in itself resolve any of the outstanding issues between the parties. It should be recognition of necessity, as well as adherence to moral obligations, for Palestinians and the international community to accept that direct negotiations with Israel are the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace and the establishment of secure and recognized borders.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.
Is a Palestinian State Viable Today?
Beyond the issue of bad faith and irresponsibility of Palestinian authorities in calling for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is the question of whether such a state is politically and economically viable. Politically, would it meet the four qualifications for statehood mentioned in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States signed on December 26, 1933: a permanent population; a defined territory; a government; and a capacity to enter into relations with other states?
Were a Palestinian state to be established today few of those qualifications would be met, and it is probable that it would become a “failed state.” Consider the question of population. Over two million Palestinians live east of the 1947 armistice lines, another million in the Gaza Strip, and about a million in Israel with Israeli citizenship. Over half of Jordan’s population is Palestinian in origin. That hardly epitomizes a “permanent” population within a defined territory. Hundreds of thousands more are located in surrounding Arab countries.
Millions are registered as “refugees” in the camps run by UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Organization). UNRWA defines a “refugee” as a person descended from those displaced in the 1948-49 war irrespective of current citizenship or place of birth. There are two other problematic factors. It is unclear what part of the diffused Palestinian population would want to live in a Palestinian state; certainly Israeli Arabs have no such desire. Also, the politically explosive issue of Palestinian insistence on the right of return for refugees makes demographic counting futile.
Palestinian geography is no more identifiable. In spite of constant references by political actors to the “1967 lines” as the defining borders, the territory of a Palestinian state still remains undefined. The geography and borders can only result from good faith negotiations between Israel and appropriate Palestinian representatives.
The immediate problem is the nature of those representatives. Certainly, Hamas does not qualify, and negotiation is impossible if Hamas is included in any Palestinian governing entity. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993 the Palestinian Authority (PA) exists as a quasi-government, exercising authority in the West Bank and, for a time, in Gaza. However, no real infrastructure has been created, and full autonomy did not follow Oslo. Instead, Yasser Arafat, as president of the PA, created both a mukabarat (secret services) which absorbed 60% of the PA’s budget, and a corrupt and unaccountable regime. Which largely remains today. The PA does not have the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. It was defeated politically and militarily by Hamas which controls Gaza with its own security forces, provides some services for the population but above all engages in militant aggression against Israeli civilians. In essence there are two Palestinian “governments” in continuing conflict.
At present the fourth qualification, that of living in peace with Israeli neighbors, appears improbable. Although Yasser Arafat, as part of the Oslo Accords, appeared to recognize the state of Israel, the Palestinian Covenant, containing the statement that the “partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal” has never been formally amended. Even more starkly, the Hamas Charter advocates the destruction of Israel by jihad. Hamas has tried to implement this by its constant attacks by rockets and missiles against Israeli civilians.
Equally important as the political problems is the economic outlook. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have issued optimistic, if misguided, reports in recent years, noting that if the PA maintains its performance in nation-building and in delivery of public services it is well positioned to establish a state in the near future. One can accept that the PA has strengthened some institutions and developed certain services in the territory it controls, and that the Palestinian economy has grown, a growth estimated at 9.3% in 2010.
But is the PA’s economic performance record fundamentally sound? First, the growth stated is from a very low base established in the second intifada in 2000. It does not appear to be sustainable. It is still primarily confined to the non-tradable sector, in which the fastest growing parts are agriculture, hotels, and restaurants, and the payroll of the PA. Manufacturing output, in contrast, has fallen. Finally, the growth is largely the result of funds given by donors who are more reluctant to supply funds because of the extremism of Hamas.
Unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza is among the highest in the world It peaked in 2002 at about 30%; now it is 16.9% in the West Bank, and 37.4 % in Gaza. The situation is particularly serious for youth whose unemployment reached 25% in the West Bank and 52% in Gaza. GDP per capita has fluctuated widely but real wages have decreased in value. Paradoxically, Israel and its settlements are a major employer of Palestinian labor, now numbering about 80,000, who account for about ¼ of Palestinian payroll. Equally, the main trading partner is Israel which accounts for 89% of Palestinian exports and 81% of imports. About one-fifth of the Palestinian population lives in poverty.
Because growth is largely donor-driven, a vibrant private economic sector is lacking. It is unlikely that outside funding, from the United States, the European Union, and Arab states, would be maintained at present levels, let alone increased, while Hamas is part of any Palestinian governing authority. In recent years Arab states have become less generous: in 2009 they gave the Palestinians $462 million, in 2010 $287, and so far in 2011 $78 million. Of the $971 million pledged to the Palestinians only $330 million has actually been given. Consequently, the PA is heavily in debt.
No doubt some improvement in the Palestinian economy would occur if Israel reduced restrictions on movement and access, imposed for security reasons. But such changes would do little to remedy the fundamental systemic problems of the Palestinians. Would a Palestinian entity automatically become a “failed state” akin to Somalia, Chad, or Zimbabwe, where anarchy, civil war, and ethnic and religious strife prevail? If the fundamental issues concerning Israel are resolved and if Hamas is prepared to accept the state of Israel, both highly unlikely at the moment, a state of Palestine could be as viable as other struggling Arab states. But if the state is established under present conditions the outcome is likely to be less felicitous. To attempt to establish such a state now might well jeopardize the chances of its viability and success in the future.
Michael Curtis is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.
A Unilateral Palestinian State
In recent weeks Palestinian spokesmen have called for a unilateral declaration of a state of Palestine and for international recognition of it on pre-1967 lines, including East Jerusalem.
This is not the first time that such a statement has been made by Palestinian authorities. On November 15, 1988 Yasser Arafat at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers proclaimed in a Declaration of Independence the “establishment of a state of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital, Jerusalem.” Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, (PLO), assumed the title “President of Palestine.” This Declaration did not specify any territorial borders of the state but it did refer to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947 for its legitimacy.
This was a surprising basis for a Palestinian claim. Resolution 181, the Partition Resolution, called for the establishment of two states, one Jewish, one Arab. The Zionist organization accepted the Resolution and on its basis established the state of Israel in May 1948. But the Arab parties not only did not accept it, but also strove to overturn it by attacking Israel on the day of its creation. The Arab League on April 12, 1948 declared its intention to liberate Palestine which would “be handed over to its owners to rule in the way they like.”
The 1988 unilateral Declaration described the entity to be established as the state of the Palestinians “wherever they may be.” Following this the UNGA adopted , by a vote of 104-2-36, Resolution 43/177 on December 15, 1988 which acknowledged the proclamation of the state of Palestine and authorized the PLO delegation , an observer body, henceforth to be called “Palestine,” though it did not say it was a state. About 90 nations did however recognize it. The Palestinians twice proclaimed they would form a state: in 1999 and in 2008 when Kosovo had unilaterally seceded from Serbia.
About any present Palestinian declaration two factors are pertinent. The first is the reality of whether Palestinians are ready and whether the criteria understood in international law as necessary to create a state have ben fulfilled. Several issues present problems. There is an absence of independent governmental control and sovereign authority with sole right of decision-making independent of foreign control. With the division of power between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, stability is not assured, nor is the certainty of central control over a permanent population. Constitutionally, there is an uncertain, perhaps improper, situation since the term of the President Abbas expired in January 2009, and no one has been legitimately chosen to fill the position which he still occupies. So far a state of Palestine has no defined borders nor have crucial issues, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, boundaries, been agreed upon between the Palestinians and Israel. Relations between the more moderate Muslim Palestinians and the extreme Islamist forces in Hamas and in the Middle East remain tentative. The necessity of security guarantees for Israel has not yet been generally acknowledged by Palestinians.
The second factor is even more crucial. A unilateral action would be contrary to the legal understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinians. It is ironic that the Palestinian argument should be based on Resolution 181 which the Arabs rejected , and which goes counter to their familiar argument for a one state solution. More important, since 1949 all resolutions and agreements , from Resolutions 242 and 338 on, have rested on the assumption that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by negotiation is the foundation of the peace process.
The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the PLO in Washington on September 13, 1993, agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian Authority for an interim period of not more than 5 years pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations based on Resolutions 242 and 338. The Interim Authority was to be given a limited number of powers previously exercised by the Israeli Military Government. It would have only the agreed upon powers, responsibilities, spheres, and authorities that were transferred to it. Israel would withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza. In a mutual exchange, the PLO was recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist.
The second Oslo Accord, the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement of 1995, set up the Palestinian Authority which was given certain powers while all others were reserved for Israel which withdrew from many of the West Bank towns. The Accord defined the powers and responsibilities of both sides. The 1995 Agreement specifically stated (Article 9) that the PA “will not have powers and responsibilities in the sphere of foreign relations.” What is particularly important is that the Agreement also said (Article 31) that neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” A unilateral action by the Palestinians would therefore mean the unraveling of the agreements made, and negate the validity of the compromises reached so far. It would signify an act of bad faith.
The Bizarre Alliance against Israel
The Bizarre Alliance against Israel
The Arab Spring has lengthened into Summer. Hoped for political changes and reforms have faltered with the result that the fundamental political, economic and social dysfunction of Arab countries in the Middle East remains. The most committed idealist can find no more comfort in the present behavior of the 21 countries of the Arab League than in the past, divided as they are by civil wars and religious tensions, as daily displayed in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon. They are beset with Islamist insurgencies, enmity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and even discord between mainstream and extremist Sunnis. All their governments suffer from a deficit of freedom and political rights. All are non-democratic in character, often corrupt, and are still based on systems that are autocracies, military dictatorships, hereditary family rule, presidencies for life, tribal elders, or edicts of Islamic dignitaries in a theocratic regime. This results in policies that deny basic human rights to women, minorities, and even the general population.
Yet much of the focus of European and American commentators on the Middle East remains concentrated not on the glaring problems of the Arab societies but with Israel. George Orwell offered the pertinent remark that “even an idealistic politics, perhaps especially an idealistic politics, can pervert itself.” Armchair revolutionaries, in San Francisco, New York, London, and Paris, in the recent past saw Yasser Arafat as the embodiment of anti-colonial heroism, and of the ideology of Third Worldism. In their common hostility to Israel, the European and American self-proclaimed idealists are now allied with Arab groups and causes, the most important of which is the condition of Palestinians. Both sides tend to see Israel as a formidable, even sometimes as the greatest, threat to world peace.
One of the many ironies in this situation is that, with the end of the hateful regime of apartheid in South Africa, radical leftists, many in the academic world, the media, and Arab spokesmen, have shifted their image of the most demonic state to Israel, which they see as an apartheid nation. The result is a bizarre “red-brown-green” alliance of Western leftists and liberals, including Christian humanitarians, anti-globalists, and environmentalists, with Islamic fundamentalists and Arab nationalists. They share a common motif, dislike, even hatred of Israel. They depict Israel as a criminal state and the accomplice or lackey of American imperialism.
This attitude goes so far that academics in European and American universities even register more support for Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, than does the Palestinian population in the West Bank. Some of the most extreme critics have suggested not only that the actions of the Islamic suicide bombers in New York on 9/11 and elsewhere resulted from alleged control over the United States government and media by Jewish interests, but also argue that Israel provoked the wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States is involved.
The kindest thing one can say about the bizarre alliance is that it stems from an idealist ideology to rectify the wrongs of European and American colonialism, an ideology of Third Worldism. Few today are likely to echo the extravagant rhetoric of the famous writer H.G.Wells that “The Soviet Union upholds the tattered banner of world collectivity and remains something splendid and hopeful in the spectacle of mankind.” Now that the bloodbaths of the Stalinist era and the brutal murders of 70 million Chinese people by the revolutionary hero Mao Zedong have become known, pessimistic critics of Western culture have redirected their enthusiasm for change to the cause of revolutionary insurgencies and violent energy in non- Western countries.
This ideology of Third Worldism postulates a hypocritical, even violent, West eternally to be held guilty for its colonial activity that is alleged to have been destructive of non-Western indigenous cultures. It is noticeable that in this blanket condemnation the proponents of this ideology pay little attention to the important differences among the individual indigenous cultures, but rather lump them all together in one vast “Third World.”
The main guilty party is Israel, a country which critics see as the embodiment of present day imperialism. The essential irony is that for members of the bizarre alliance the non-West is lauded not for positive reasons, but because it is not Western and does not adhere to Western practices such as liberal democracy, an open economy, rule of law, free elections, personal autonomy, individual and sexual freedom, emancipation of women, and constitutional rights, all which Israel embodies if sometimes in imperfect form as do all nations.
Critics of Israel and European and American values posture as idealists with high moral standards, but their actions or non-actions, reveal a lack of consistency about those standards. Western radicals have shown more compassion for Arab dictators, especially in Libya, than for democratic Israel. Western feminists, gay and lesbian groups have been silent about the place and treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim Arab countries. No woman in an Arab country has yet been elected to a prominent position as was Golda Meir in Israel, the first woman prime minister elected anywhere who was not the wife or daughter of a previous head of government.
Criticism of the actions of the state of Israel and its personnel is wholly appropriate but it serves no purpose if it is based not on objective appraisal of those actions but on the endless search for new saviors of humanity who will overcome the imagined evils of Western civilization.
Michael Curtis is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University