Monthly Archives: November 2009

Agha and Malley get the problem, but not the solution

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley have produced another in a long series of articles for the New York Review of Books on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and this one is essentially a follow-up to a very controversial New York Times op-ed they published this summer which many people took to be an endorsement of a one-state agenda. Malley in particular spent a great deal of effort trying to clarify that this was not, in fact, what they were saying at all, and that they continue to believe, along with almost all other serious observers, that the only possible peaceful arrangement would be a two-state negotiated agreement. In the New York Review of Books, they are careful to point out that a one-state agenda is "politically fanciful," since "it fails the elemental test of any proposed solution, which is to fulfill both sides’ basic needs." They also dismiss the notion that the status quo is tenable and manageable, although it is the kind of one-state arrangement, but they agree that it cannot possibly be maintained in any kind of sustainable manner.

In the New York Times, they were arguing that the essential problem with the negotiating process as it has existed until now has been that it dealt with 1967 issues — borders, Jerusalem and ending the occupation — to the exclusion of the core issues of the problem, which they link to the war in 1948. In their new article, according to Agha and Malley, the central questions defining the conflict and precluding a resolution of it are the Israeli refusal to deal with the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 and the Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish right to national statehood in Palestine:
It promises to close a conflict that began in 1948, perhaps earlier, yet virtually everything it worries about sprang from the 1967 war. Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is essential and the conflict will persist until this is addressed. But its roots are far deeper: for Israelis, Palestinian denial of the Jewish state’s legitimacy; for Palestinians, Israel’s responsibility for their large-scale dispossession and dispersal that came with the state’s birth.

Like the other great critic of all existing ideas, Aaron David Miller, whose critiques are, if anything, even more biting and incisive, Agha and Malley are quite brilliant in anatomizing the malignancies that have rendered the "peace process" moribund and incapable of producing a solution. However, like Miller (and, I would add, almost everybody else), Agha and Malley fail to propose any serious alternative. To me this means that while their criticisms are interesting and occasionally brilliant, they’re also of no value at least in terms of policy. They don’t suggest any practical means for overcoming the problems they’ve identified. And, they don’t really propose any alternative method for correcting what is supposedly lacking. What are we to do with this, one asks. Answer came there none.

As they did in the New York Times, they now repeat the allegation that the peace process as it has been structured since Madrid has tried to deal with 1967 issues while avoiding the 1948 issues that actually define the conflict. I’m not sure this is entirely correct. True enough, the land for peace formula built into Security Council Resolution 242 which has defined every aspect of the peace process as it has developed over the past 20 years deals directly with 1967, framing the problem essentially as one of foreign military occupation, Arab hostility to and rejection of Israel, and the lack of statehood for Palestinians who live under Israeli rule without many basic human and no national rights. But I don’t think that that means that this process evades or elides issues springing from 1948 at all.

It’s true enough that Israel is not going to accept the mass return of millions of Palestinian refugees, and serious Palestinian negotiators have understood this from the beginning of the process. But I think it’s also true that no Palestinians are going to sign an agreement that allows Israel to avoid any sense of responsibility for the dispossession of the refugees. Every serious proposal I have heard linked to the peace process has involved some acknowledgment of Israeli responsibility, compensation for refugees, resettlement in Palestine or even in small numbers in Israel itself, and the creation of a state that can serve as a refuge, haven, advocate and representative of the refugees. Obviously, a two-state agreement is not resolve all the problems of the refugees, but it is also not going to ignore the refugees or fail to provide them with major benefits that they currently do not enjoy. I simply do not agree that the question of the refugees is somehow missing from the structure of negotiations built around 242. The various Oslo agreements, the Roadmap of the Quartet, and the terms of reference outlined by Pres. Barack Obama at his recent speech before the UN General Assembly all include the refugees as a core permanent status issue. To me it seems hard to imagine a mechanism for bringing the issue forward in a more proactive way, unless one is suggesting that Palestinians insist on the full implementation of the right of return as a fundamental condition for any agreement. Under such circumstances, we would never have an agreement and the occupation and the conflict would continue indefinitely.

I also think Agha and Malley are wrong in their assessment that the extant peace process doesn’t involve Palestinian recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. Obviously, Netanyahu’s latest bugaboo about Palestinians recognizing Israel’s Jewish character is a complete red herring. Israel, like all states, will and does define itself, and while most Jewish Israelis agree that Israel is a "Jewish state," there is very little consensus about what that means. Some people see it in religious terms, others as an ethnocracy involving the rule of a Jewish demographic majority, some see it in macro historical terms as the resurrection of some kind of ancient Hebraic kingdom, others as a "normal" ethno-national state along European lines, some as simply a state embodying their view of "Jewish values," and there are even those ultra-Orthodox who reject the entire project as a sin against the will of God pending the arrival of the Messiah. All of this is of direct concern only to the Palestinian minority in Israel which has every right to participate in helping to shape the definition of their own country.

As for the Palestinians generally in the occupied territories and living in exile as refugees or expatriates, this issue of the "Jewish character" of Israel is almost entirely beside the point. A two-state agreement means Palestinian recognition of Israel with the implicit understanding that Israel will define itself, just as Palestine will, and that both parties recognition of each other is not dependent on any agreement about the nature of each other’s states. A two-state agreement means precisely that in practice: Palestinian recognition of the reality, and hence the de facto legitimacy, of a Jewish Israeli state, however that is defined by its government and citizenry. As with the issue of the refugees, I don’t know of any way to bring this issue forward more decisively in the negotiating process without creating a situation in which the difficult negotiations are rendered utterly impossible. Palestinians are not going to become Zionists, any more than the Israelis are going to allow a mass return of millions of refugees to reverse the consequence of the 1948 war which was the establishment of a state with a substantial Jewish majority in a large part of Palestine.

Saying that these core issues need to be addressed fails to recognize first that they are being addressed through the process that exists (when it works, that is), or it least the process as it is structured to work, and second that any mechanism for re-emphasizing these essentially emotional issues at the expense of practical concerns such as the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem, the status of refugees, and both sides’ security requirements is likely to make a negotiated agreement less rather than more likely. Agha and Malley say that the process as it has been structured so far comes close to constituting something like a confidence trick, precisely because it supposedly avoids the core historical issues as they describe them.

They do not accept that a two state agreement would entail Palestinian recognition of a legitimate state of Israel that is free to define itself as "Jewish" whatever its citizenry believes that means. They do not acknowledge any of the obvious benefits short of the implementation of the right of return that such an agreement would, in fact, provide for the Palestinian refugees, most drastically the potential rescue (and I use that word advisedly) of the refugees in Lebanon who live under unconscionable conditions that have in the past and could once again degenerate into a matter of life and death. I simply think it’s false that 60 years of struggle on the part of the refugees would be, as they claim, "in vain" in the event of a two-state agreement, even though it’s almost certainly true that the ethnic cleansing in 1948 cannot as a practical matter be reversed.

Agha and Malley are, however, probably right when they describe the current negotiating structure and positions as a straitjacket in which both sides are locked into irreconcilable positions. From this they conclude:
As currently defined and negotiated, a conflict-ending settlement is practically unachievable; even if signed it will not be implemented and even if implemented it will not be sustained. Against this background, the idea of a long-term interim arrangement acquires some logic.

The problem is that any such arrangement will in fact constitute a continuation of the occupation. Israelis might be willing to go along with such an approach, but for Palestinians it would undoubtedly suggest an interim that would almost certainly turn into a permanent situation in which their human and national rights would remain unrealized for the foreseeable future, as the authors themselves acknowledge. It seems extremely difficult to imagine a long-term interim arrangement not creating the backdrop for another explosion of violence in the foreseeable future

They also consider the "Jordanian" option, but they do not, I feel, fully appreciate the absolutism with which the Jordanian government would, under almost any imaginable circumstances, oppose any formal ties to the West Bank as a matter of almost existential national security. Any form of this idea fails their absolutely correct dictum laid down at the outset of their article that "the elemental test of any proposed solution… is to fulfill both sides’ basic needs." Bringing Jordan into the picture in this manner would most certainly fail to meet its basic needs, whatever attraction it may have for Israel and possibly even the Palestinians

What Agha and Malley are really arguing for is some method of bringing the core grievances — Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish Israeli state and Israel’s refusal to acknowledge and take responsibility for the dispossession of the Palestinian refugees — to the forefront of negotiations. They don’t actually describe how this would be done or what it would precisely accomplish, but they do suggest that establishing Palestinian formal acceptance of a Jewish Israeli state (which I would argue has already been accomplished in 1988 politically if not emotionally) and Israeli formal acceptance of the tragedy that befell the Palestinians in 1948 would then set the basis for a return to the negotiations as they are now about security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. I fail to see the potential benefits from such an approach. Not only would it bring to the forefront the most difficult emotional issues, these rhetorical gestures are unlikely to accomplish anything.

Palestinian acceptance of Israel, formally through the PLO, has been on the table for 20 years. It doesn’t seem to have changed anything in the Israeli psyche. Similarly, I very much doubt that an Israeli acknowledgment of at least partial responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees would really be an equation changing development either. The occupation would still be in place, refugees would not be returning, nothing practical would change, and I find it very questionable that some kind of transformative emotional catharsis would be the result. They argue that such an approach would be "fresh," and that’s certainly true, but that’s not much of an argument in its favor. Both of these issues are, in fact, already on the table. Rearranging things to bring them to the fore and to bank on securing reciprocal rhetorical gestures acknowledging each other’s pain and fears would be not only very difficult to achieve if everything else is still in place unchanged, there isn’t any reason really to suspect that it would then allow all these other issues to be more easily resolved. And, they do not consider the consequences of the potential and possibly bitter failure of a round of negotiations focusing on these two emotional, rhetorical issues and what that would mean for any prospect of securing an agreement on substantive matters.

Agha and Malley reasonably complain that the Obama administration is following the same path previous administrations have in pursuit of an agreement. There has certainly been a new level of energy and commitment, but it’s also true that no fresh ideas are on the table. And I don’t think they’ve really provided any either. But there is one new approach recently developed that is genuinely fresh, and potentially very effective in changing the equation and the strategic conditions between Israel and the Palestinians.

Agha and Malley are, I think, wrong in seeing the PA government state-building plan as an example of a long-term interim arrangement, lumping it in with a number of implausible ideas that are supposed to be a substitute for diplomacy designed to produce a permanent status agreement. In fact, the PA State building plan is not an interim arrangement at all but a unilateral, proactive agenda for developing the administrative, bureaucratic, institutional and economic framework for an independent Palestinian state in preparation for independence. This is a completely different approach than anything the Palestinians tried in the past, and although left to its own devices Israel would undoubtedly block any such moves, this interference can be greatly attenuated by Western and especially American political protection as well as technical and financial aid to the project.

It is essentially calling everyone’s bluff: you say you want a Palestinian state, negotiations are stalemated, therefore we will begin peacefully, constructively building the institutions of our future state in spite of the occupation. This is consistent with Palestinian, Arab, American, international and even Israeli stated policies about what the Palestinians should be doing. But they cannot accomplish this on their own, both because they need aid and technical assistance and because they need political protection from Israeli interference. All Americans interested in real, potentially transformative progress should be sparing no effort in rhetorically, politically and practically assiting it. It’s the only game-changer in sight and it’s extremely serious.

But it strikes me that anyone looking for a fresh approach and a new option for salvaging the moribund peace process, saving the prospect of a two state agreement, creating improvements on the ground that encourage hope rather than despair, and ultimately transforming the strategic context in which Israel and the Palestinians negotiate should take this state-building agenda very seriously. It is complementary and parallel to diplomacy and negotiations and provides an alternative path for forward progress and positive change in the face of diplomatic gridlock. The one or two lines that Agha and Malley devote to the plan and their erroneous identification of it as part of a group of interim arrangements I think shows a considerable lack of imagination on the part of two extremely intelligent people who are trying to think imaginatively about how to find a way forward in a seemingly foreclosed space. Agha and Malley seem to have concluded that practical measures are less important than emotional breakthroughs. Personally, I can’t see the justification for this approach.

I find the relative indifference of so many of the most intelligent American commentators on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the PA government state building plan puzzling and slightly disturbing. If it’s true, as almost every sensible commentator seems to agree, that ultimately a Palestinian state is a sine qua non for Middle East peace, for goodness sake let us begin to create it in spite of the occupation and whether the Israelis like it or not.

The outsourcing of stupidity and worse, part two: Al-Ahram strikes again

The Egyptian state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, particularly its English-language weekly edition, seems to be on a determined campaign to corner the market on the most arrant nonsense printed in English in the Middle East. Most of its worst rubbish, significantly, is written by Westerners rather than Arabs or Muslims, and I have complained before that apparently in the minds of its editors this somehow makes these outrageous, pernicious articles more defensible and less objectionable. It does not. There is something very strange going on with that newspaper, as anyone who reads it on a regular basis will have readily recognized, and it’s extremely dangerous and disturbing.

The latest offering comes from someone called Stephen Lendman, whoever that is, who somehow convinced himself that it would be useful to claim that:

Post 9/11, America has declared war on Islam with the FBI in the lead at home. It notoriously targets the vulnerable, entraps them with paid informants, inflates bogus charges, spreads them maliciously through the media, then intimidates juries to convict and sentence innocent men and some women to long prison terms. Justice is nearly always denied. At times wilful killings are committed.

To bolster this preposterous allegation, Lendman cites the cases of Luqman Ameen Abdullah (aka Christopher Thomas) and Jamil Al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown), both members of the so-called "Ummah," which the government describes as, "a group of mostly African-American converts to Islam, which seeks to establish a separate Sharia-law-governed state within the United States." This may or may not be an entirely accurate characterization of the rather strange religious sub-community in question, but it certainly indicates that we are not dealing here with anything remotely connected to the mainstream American Muslim community.

Abdullah was killed in a shootout with FBI agents on October 28, 2009 under circumstances that certainly need further investigation and clarification. Al-Amin was convicted of murdering a police officer, although he has many supporters who protest his innocence. There is no need whatsoever to go into the details of these cases or the merits of the claims on either side. The point is that these rather strident, alienated converts to Islam are anything but typical of the mainstream American Muslim community, and their relationship with the police does not in any way reflect the generalized attitude of the government or the FBI towards Muslim Americans. The article even approvingly quotes one of their supporters as stating, " The FBI is not only tricky and devious…. they are extremely dangerous thugs and murderers."

To take these two highly unusual and related cases and extrapolate from them that, as the Al-Ahram sub-headline emphasizes, "Post 9/11, America has declared war on Islam, as a disturbing recent case in Michigan shows," can only be described as an outrageous lie. The United States has NOT declared war on Islam post-9/11, least of all here at home in the United States. Of course there are significant challenges facing the American Muslim community, and I’ve written about them extensively in numerous reports, essays, speeches and book chapters. I doubt there’s any significant aspect of the problems facing the Arab and Muslim American communities of which I am not aware, which I have not commented on, and on which I have been inactive.

There are serious civil rights issues, however the government, particularly the civil rights division of the Justice Department and the FBI, have been quite conscientious about prosecuting hate crimes and discrimination against Muslim Americans by private parties. The deeper concern, of course, is questions of civil liberties. As I’ve written many times post-9/11 discrimination in immigration and immigration law enforcement has been a serious problem that we need to address. And, of course, Islamophobia in our popular culture and political discourse is a grievous ongoing challenge and I take a back seat to nobody in confronting it with as much energy as I can muster. However to establish and agree that there are very significant problems and challenges, as well as opportunities, facing Muslim Americans does not change the undeniable fact that the United States remains an excellent country for Muslims to live in. The problems are serious, but manageable and correctable. The opportunities, on the other hand, are unparalleled, and the privileges in many ways unmatched.

It is a common exaggeration — to which I always object — to describe the Arab and Muslim Americans as being "under siege." I have a good sense of what it would feel like to live in a community that is genuinely under siege, and if that ever happens, we’re all going to know it without a prompter. Hyperbole gets us nowhere and only makes the problem worse by confusing the issues, creating ill-advised tactics and ineffective strategies. But if it is an unhelpful exaggeration to describe Muslim Americans as being "under siege," saying that the United States has "declared war on Islam" can only be described as a damned, odious lie. Whatever the merits of the two cases in question, there is simply no argument to be made that the United States has "declared war on Islam" in any sense whatsoever.

I know nothing and care less about Mr. Lendman, but there is a real question to be asked about what the editors at Egypt’s state-run newspaper are hoping to achieve by printing this kind of outrageous rubbish. The two cases could easily have been critiqued without leaping to this sort of grand indictment of the United States as a country that is completely unjustified and utterly false. They must know that the only effect of this kind of rhetoric is to inflame readers in Egypt, the Arab world and internationally and to stoke the smoldering coals of alienation, anger and indeed hatred. What, after all, is the difference between citing incidents like this and claiming "America has declared war on Islam" versus citing violent incidents such as 9/11 or the Fort Hood tragedy and claiming, as so many hate-filled bigots do, "Islam has declared war on America?"

Obviously people who say things like "Islam has declared war in America" are malevolent deceivers attempting to spread fear and hatred and play on chauvinism and paranoia in order to promote conflict and exacerbate tensions. These are the believers in a "clash of civilizations," those who think they are either is or should be a generalized conflict between the Muslims of the world and the West led by the United States. But is it in any way possible to argue that Al-Ahram is not doing precisely the same thing in reverse by printing this kind of hate-speech against an entire country? What do they imagine the effect on their readers will be? And how could they possibly accept the notion that two incidents spread out over quite a long period of time involving a very small group of fringe and alienated converts somehow demonstrates that "America has declared war on Islam?"

This is shameful, and it’s also a pattern. It’s a pattern here in the United States in the right wing media (and sometimes on the left too), and all of us, myself included complain about it all the time, and we are right to do so. But it’s a pattern that’s growing in the Arab media as well, and as I said before the English language Arabic papers are hiding behind authors with Western names in order to try to get away with it. The editors of Al-Ahram must be asked: how dare you? How dare you print such nonsense? How dare you deliberately try to inflame fear, hatred and alienation? How dare you be so irresponsible?

And there is a further question for whoever it is in the Egyptian government who oversees the activities of this newspaper: what on earth do you think you’re trying to do? This systematic undermining of your own government policies through your own newspaper — and not only in this instance vis-à-vis relations with the United States, but with reportage from Palestine and Lebanon by "journalists" whose thinly-veiled perspectives not only contradict but condemn your own policies, and regular commentaries from former politicians and others who similarly and passionately make the case against everything you have decided is in your strategic interest — how can you possibly explain it?

Perhaps the thinking is that publishing a newspaper that stridently and often angrily contradicts your entire foreign policy on a regular basis can help offset any calls for a genuinely free press. If so, this is a poisonous policy. Perhaps the thinking is that it is useful to keep people riled up and angry, so that you can appear to be nobly and courageously persisting with your foreign and security policies in spite of the fact that they are unpopular (in large part because your own media in effect denounces them, and you never even try to explain them honestly to your public) and thereby get more credit with the international community, the West and the other Arab states. Perhaps the left hand simply doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, although I find that hard to believe even in the case of an Arab bureaucracy. Whatever the explanation, there is madness going on at Al-Ahram in almost every issue. Pure, unadulterated madness.

Much ado about quite a lot, actually

I recently complained rather bitterly, and with plenty of justification, about the Shakespeare Theater Company’s embarrassing, terrible performance of Ben Jonson’s classic The Alchemist. This negative evaluation was only intensified by the contrasting modernized performance of Much Ado About Nothing approaching the end of its run at the Folger Elizabethan theater (without question the most charming stage in our nation’s capital). While the Shakespeare Theater Company got just about everything wrong in its modernization of The Alchemist — effectively ruining Jonson’s masterpiece for cheap laughs and extravagant, irrational and often inexplicable costumes — the production at the Folger is a textbook example of how to get it right in modernizing and adapting the context in which Elizabethan theater can be effectively revivified with a contemporary feel without damaging in any way the integrity of the original and, indeed not only adding but recovering lost meanings to the play.

Timothy Douglas’ inspired decision to reset the action of the play from Messina to an unspecified Caribbean milieu quite literally puts the Carnival in the carnivalesque of one of Shakespeare’s most freewheeling, giddy comedies. The main atmosphere of the setting is Afro-Caribbean, but the multiracial cast calls to mind more the cosmopolitan immigrant neighborhoods of large US cities then the West Indies themselves (though they, too, are multi-racial societies of course). Not only does the Carnival atmosphere work perfectly with the script, the reggae and hip-hop influenced soundtrack is also surprisingly effective and the recasting of the singer Balthasar as a DJ is positively inspired. It may have been a fairly simple exercise, but it was a pretty brilliant gesture to perform his famous song from Act II, Scene III as a reggae/hip-hop rap:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

[You’ll simply have to imagine the backing chorus of three ladies chanting, "Hey nonny, nonny, Hey nonny, nonny, Haaayeeeeeeeee" in the contemporary hip-hop/soul manner, but trust me, it completed the effect hilariously and doing nothing less than justice to the original.]

The cast deserves enormous praise, particularly Doug Brown’s impeccable, dignified Leonato, Rachel Leslie’s delightful and deliciously feisty Red Stripe-swilling Beatrice, and Roxi Victorian’s well-calibrated vulnerability as Hero. But the show-stealer clearly is Alex Perez as Constable Dogberry, one of the more challenging of Shakespeare’s clowns to perform effectively. Dogberry is a standard Shakespeare character, a low-born, officious and exceptionally foolish officer given to a stream of non sequiturs and malapropisms (think Elbow in Measure For Measure, and his immortal denunciation of "a notorious benefactor.") But Dogberry’s lines in and of themselves cannot carry the day as with some similar characters in some other Shakespeare plays. This character requires a performance of comic panache, and sufficient bravado and physical absurdism to fill out the relative weakness of some of his dialogue. When performed well, Dogberry is an immensely memorable character, but is otherwise forgettable at best. Perez, strutting, dancing around, gesticulating wildly and continuously resorting to his expandable metal pointer as an impotent symbol of empty authority, carries it off beautifully.

I began by referring to the recovery of meaning, and one of the most important aspects of recasting Much Ado in a Caribbean setting with many of the characters employing West Indian accents (to a greater or lesser degree), and even introducing some elements of demotic West Indian English (referring to "she" when standard forms of English would employ the word "her," for example) recaptures a crucial pun central to the title and the fundamental conceit of the play itself. The "nothing" in Much Ado has multiple meanings, some of which are obvious, but others less so.

It most obviously refers to the fact that Hero’s alleged infidelity is untrue, and that therefore the narrowly averted tragedy was based, literally, on nothing. Second, it refers to the comedy’s own triviality, an announcement at the start that what we are going to enjoy is a light soufflé of enjoyment rather than anything heavy and ponderous. Third, and this is perhaps less obvious now than it was during the Renaissance, nothing in this instance is also plainly a reference to "no thing," which is in both Elizabethan and Freudian terms, a reference to the vagina as signified by absence (the whole play, of course, is about romance and coupling).

A fourth, and largely lost — but in this production I think marvelously recovered — meaning, of the "nothing" in the title comes from the homonym that existed in many parts of England during Shakespeare’s time between the words "nothing" and "noting." In a sense, the play is much ado about noting, since it is a comedy of misrecognition, misapprehension and false impressions. The Caribbean setting and the West Indian accents restore this homonym: i.e., in much West Indian English, "there’s nothing going on over there," would be phonetically indistinguishable from "there is noting going on over there." The new setting therefore restores a sense that what we are watching is much ado about noting, a comedy about the interplay between recognition and misrecognition, apprehension and misapprehension.

Finally, this recovery of the original homonym adds a fifth dimension to the play on words built into the title of Much Ado, that noting also refers to music and musical notes, which play such a strong role in the play (especially in this production). When Don Pedro, tried of wooing Hero on Claudio’s behalf demands a song as a form of relief, Balthasar at first demures:

Don Pedro: Now, pray thee, come;
Or, if thou wilt hold longer argument,
Do it in notes.

Balthasar: Note this before my notes;
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.

Don Pedro: Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks;
Note, notes, forsooth, and nothing

It is at this point that Balthasar launches into his legendary, "Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more" performance ["Hey nonny, nonny, Hey nonny, nonny, Haaayeeeeeeeee"].

Don Pedro has it: "Note, notes, forsooth, and nothing," are the puns at the heart of the conceit in Much Ado and already announced in its title: perception, misapprehension, music, sexuality, and the lightness of a carnivalesque in place of an incipient tragedy. Everyone involved in the Shakespeare Theater Company’s lamentable massacre of The Alchemist should get their sorry behinds over to the Folger before the final performance of Much Ado this Sunday and learn how it’s done.

Islamophobia and anti-Semitism

The essential character of Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon at all, but is actually re-inscription of many traditional forms of prejudice and fear attached to minority and immigrant groups in the history of many countries, including the United States. In our own history, American Islamophobia is virtually a verbatim cultural reenactment of the historical anti-Semitism of the first half of the 20th century. It is, of course, hardly a new idea that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are intimately linked in western culture; Edward Said called anti-Semitism the “secret sharer” (invoking his beloved Conrad) of western orientalist prejudices. But the details of the way in which the heavily politicized post 9/11 Islamophobia has evolved into a strikingly and disturbingly precise re-enactment of the equally politicized anti-Semitism in the United States between the two world wars has yet to be widely recognized, let alone properly analyzed.

In the present moment, Islamophobic discourse is based on the explicit or implicit allegation that immigrant Muslim communities represent an alien and hostile political movement, in this case the so-called ?jihadist? international terrorist front led by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. In other words, the idea is not just that Muslims are alien, other and ?bad,? but that, as an immigrant group, they are a stealthy vanguard of a hostile political and alien cultural movement that seeks to destroy American society and civilization.

It is often forgotten now that much of the worst anti-Semitism in the United States in the first half of the 20th century drew on paranoid fantasies about Jews and Jewish immigrants as a supposed subversive ?fifth column? of Marxist revolutionaries and Bolsheviks dedicated to plotting and carrying out the violent overthrow of American capitalist and Christian society. The notorious forgery and plagiarism ?The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,? which defined most anti-Semitism in the 20th century, originated as a czarist and ?White Russian? calumny designed to blame revolutionary political forces and developments in Russia and other parts of Europe on a supposed ?Jewish conspiracy.? Anti-Semitic discourse of the period was replete with endless allegations about communism as some sort of ?Jewish plot,? and the link between various ?red scares? and anti-Semitic discrimination and defamation was explicit and extremely influential. The fact that in contemporary American culture Muslims are seen as synonymous with Arabs who are, like the Jews, a Semitic people, adds further depth to this uncanny and disturbing parallel.

Certainly the essential themes and tropes of contemporary American Islamophobic discourse as it has developed post-9/11 has more than a striking resemblance to the traditional forms of anti-Semitic defamation that characterized the periods between the First and Second world wars in the United States. The anti-Semitic literature of the period relied mainly on the following essential defamatory allegations, which thankfully in recent decades have been pushed to the margins of American society but can still be found on fringe, extremist websites:

* Jews believe themselves to be superior to all others and are bent on world domination.

* Jewish beliefs and values are inimical to those of Western civilization and the two are locked in a global battle to the death.

* Jews are religiously authorized to lie to, cheat, steal from and murder non-Jews whenever possible.

* Jewish immigration to the United States is a weapon of this war and a mortal peril.

* Jews have already conquered or seized control of large parts of Europe (through socialism, communism or control of financial markets) and the United States is the main redoubt of western civilization and values.

* Jews employ a division of labor between the wealthy few who finance subversion and conflict and the radicals who carry the battle into the streets, and that these two apparently contradictory classes in fact work hand-in-glove.

* ?Good Jews? should be grateful to the anti-Semites whose ?exposés? would help them ?clean house? in the Jewish community.

These are exactly and precisely the charges leveled at American Muslims in contemporary Islamophobic discourse in the United States, as most recently demonstrated in aftermath of the Fort Hood tragedy. And, unlike anti-Semitic rhetoric of this kind, analogous Islamophobic ideas are much closer to and sometimes even found in the mainstream of contemporary American discourse, just as these anti-Semitic ideas were once considered, if not fully respectable, at least commonplace and unremarkable. It is also entirely clear that the purpose and the intention of these calumnies was not to convert or engage in a serious theological dialogue with Jews, but rather to stigmatize and scapegoat Jewish communities and individuals in the United States. Their intention and inevitable effect was aimed at attacking human beings and not religious precepts, doctrines or practices.

The elements of American anti-Semitism listed above are virtually identical in every respect to the principal tropes, themes and claims of contemporary American Islamophobia. Just as the target of anti-Semitism was not Judaism but Jews, the target of Islamophobia is not Islam, but Muslims themselves. These two themes should guide the further study of this newest form of bigotry in the United States: first that Islamophobia is not an attack against Islam but an attack against Muslims and their civil and human rights; and second that Islamophobia is a virtually verbatim reenactment of the anti-Semitism in the United States in the first few decades of the 20th century.

As we consider the substance and the effect of contemporary American Islamophobia, we could not be better guided than by keeping in mind the main themes of traditional American anti-Semitism listed above. Both the anti-Semitism of the ?red scare? era and the Islamophobia of the present moment were based on a perceived subversive threat ? left-wing revolutionary and Islamist plots respectively ? that were attributed to entire ethnic and religious immigrant communities.

In the 1920s and 30s, anti-Semites typically defended their bigotry, and distinguished it from traditional folkloric and religious Western Christian anti-Semitism, by citing the supposed threat of subversion by ?Jewish revolutionists, ?anarchists,? and ?Bolsheviks,? just as today Islamophobes cite the threat of “jihadists” and ?radical Islamists.? In neither case was the danger fictional, but in both cases threats of political subversion were attributed to entire identity communities in an irrational manner reflecting much deeper prejudices and hatreds. Then and now, discrimination and bigotry has been rationalized on the grounds that either most people in these communities were somehow implicated in or supportive of the subversive threat, that subversives were hiding in or being sheltered in these immigrant communities, or that it is simply impossible to tell the difference between dangerous subversives and well-meaning citizens from these ethnic and religious communities, and that therefore discriminatory attitudes and practices are necessary, sensible and justified.

It will be objected, no doubt, by the purveyors of contemporary American Islamophobia that while there indeed may be some superficial parallels between the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the 1920s and 30s and the present anti-Muslim discourse, in fact the perceived Jewish link to leftist subversion of that era was a paranoid fantasy while the threat from radical Muslims is all too real. However, it is crucial to recognize is that in the period between the First and Second World Wars, to have suggested to the anti-Semites of the era, and even to conventional wisdom, that the Communist movement was not a real and clear and present danger to American society and its system of government would have been generally regarded as an absurdity. This threat was perceived as every bit as real and menacing, indeed probably more so, as the violent and subversive threat posed by Muslim extremists is today.

The idea that Communism, anarchism and Bolshevism were in any serious sense ?Jewish,? or that Jews in general were the epicenter and mainspring of a subversive Marxist plot against Western civilization, Christianity and capitalism, was a paranoid illusion, although many left-wing and radical leaders of the day were, in fact, Jewish. The threat from a violent and extremist fringe of Muslims is all too real today, just as there were, in fact, numerous violent and radical Jewish revolutionists in the first half of the 20th Century. However, it is no more reasonable or accurate to conflate terrorists with Muslims and Islam in general now than it would have to describe Communism as some sort of ?Jewish conspiracy? then.

It is a sad irony that some of the most enthusiastic and vicious purveyors of these familiar, almost clichéd, anti-Semitic slanders that have now been transferred onto Muslims are themselves Jewish, just as it is a sad irony that some of the worst forms of European anti-Semitism have found a new and historically improbable home in parts of Arab and Muslim discourse. This tragic development is, for the most part, an appalling byproduct of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sympathies that people in both communities share with the respective parties in the Middle East, and the false but widespread sense of a zero-sum relationship between the two. An additional irony is that by smearing Muslims as inherently and irredeemably anti-Jewish, contemporary American Islamophobia has the effect of transferring onto the Muslims, and especially the Arabs, what are in fact Western traditions of anti-Semitism that lack historical corollaries in the Islamic world, and thereby effects an implicit transfer of guilt for this tragic history, including the Holocaust in Europe during the Second World War, away from Western Christian societies and onto Arab and Muslim ones.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that just as Islamophobia finds some of its most passionate promoters in the American Jewish community, so too is some of the worst anti-Semitism in the United States to be found emanating from or aimed primarily at Muslim-Americans. The fact that in both communities these are distinctly minority attitudes and that this ironic, tragic and frustrating situation is primarily an unfortunate side effect of passions arising out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not mitigate the urgent need for the responsible majorities among both American Jews and Muslims to take a more proactive role in combating these reciprocal and closely related prejudices.

Is the Palestinian relationship with the United States really important?

A regular Ibishblog readers asks me to, “Please cite a single benefit which the Palestinians have enjoyed due to the US’ chimerical support for the principle of Palestinian independence. If the US’ toothless and duplicitous ‘support’ is one the main cards the hapless Palestinians hold, they’d better find another game to play-this one is obviously rigged. What in the world are you smoking in that shisha of yours?”

I’m sure this reader speaks for many, many Arabs and Palestinians in being skeptical that the slow but steady and, when viewed in terms of the past two decades, striking development of US support for the most fundamental Palestinian national positions, and the evolution of US-Palestinian diplomatic relations generally, is a useful thing. However, I would argue that this is a shortsighted and emotional reaction based on frustration (sentiments I, of course, share), rather than a strategic analysis that has any merit. To seriously assess the nature and the value of the US-Palestinian relationship, we need to consider first the fundamental political realities with which the Palestinian national movement has to contend, and second the alternatives to cultivating the strongest possible ties with the United States.

The fundamental political realities that define the context of Palestinian efforts to end the occupation and establish their own sovereign, independent state are the essential Middle Eastern regional and global international circumstances. The first point that needs to be faced is that in the Middle East at the moment and for the past several decades, the main regional power is, in fact, the United States. There is currently a growing challenge from Iran as a rising potential rival regional hegemon, but at present and for the foreseeable future, for better or worse, the United States is the most potent actor in the Middle Eastern region. It’s also the most significant country in the world, and with all due respect to the Chinese president, as yet it has no equal on the global stage.

There is no doubt that US power is declining in relative terms from a peak at the end of the Cold War, but rising potential global rivals such as China, India, Russia, Brazil and possibly the European Union are still developing their international presence and all of them remained largely mercantile powers devoted to trade with limited interest or ability in real power projection through military and diplomatic coercion, especially at the global level. Moreover, none of these powers either can or seem to desire to play the central role of third party in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The “Quartet” essentially reflects international support for US efforts. Therefore, while the international power of the United States is often exaggerated both here at home and in many countries around the world, and its ability to enforce its will is of course highly constrained (as demonstrated most recently in Iraq), from a diplomatic perspective there is no substitute for American support as a practical matter if the occupation is in fact to be ended.

It could be argued that for the Palestinians, the Arab states constitute a first line of crucial diplomatic and political support, but that commitment has never been seriously called into question. Obviously there are many complaints Palestinians have about some of the policies of some, or perhaps even in some cases all, of the Arab governments, but the generalized Arab commitment to the Palestinian cause is really beyond question. Therefore, even if it could be argued that Arab diplomatic support is the most important for the Palestinians, since it is virtually guaranteed, the real question is the relationship with the United States.

Obviously, the American special relationship with and commitment to Israel, which is not at the moment subject to any serious political challenge within the American system, makes the US an even more crucial player from the Palestinian point of view. Palestinians can only achieve their ultimate objectives through an agreement with the Israelis, and it is really only the United States that Israel trusts to broker such an agreement. Therefore, if there is to be any such thing as Palestinian diplomacy or a Palestinian diplomatic strategy, the centrality of the relationship with the United States is obvious. It’s plainly the case that both because Israel enjoys such a powerful set of domestic political interests that advocate on its behalf in the United States and because Israel is a sovereign state with its own policies, the American ability to influence Israeli decision-making is significant but ultimately limited. The ongoing flap about Israeli settlement activity, Jerusalem and other issues significantly dividing US and Israeli policies is the most recent demonstration of this limitation.

One of the most common mistakes to be found in analyses of international relations is the notion that because the United States has no global rival, it can therefore be considered omnipotent. The least that can be said is that its power is greatly exaggerated in many people’s minds. In some conspiracy theories around the world, including among some Arabs, almost anything that takes place is considered to be a reflection of the American will. This is, of course, ridiculous. So is the idea that if the United States really wanted an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, it could simply force all the parties to agree to its agenda and the whole thing would be resolved in short order. Again, this is a misreading of both what is possible given the domestic political considerations in the United States and the reality that American power over both allies and rivals, while unmatched by any other state, is nonetheless seriously constrained by rather obvious limitations.

What I’m arguing here is that while the United States is indispensable as a broker to Palestinian-Israeli agreement on just about anything constructive, it is unreasonable and wrong to think of American policies as a panacea. Not only has this been demonstrated by the recent inability of the Obama administration to shift Israeli policies it does not agree with, the fact that the most fundamental Israeli-Palestinian agreement to date, the Oslo statement of principles, was largely negotiated through a back channel which bypassed the Americans (this could be taken as an indication that the US is not really needed, or, as I would argue, that its absence was a part of the real failings of Oslo from the outset). However, implementing these agreements, correcting the drastic flaws in everything that emerged from the Oslo process, and taking the diplomatic process further almost certainly requires an American role as a third-party. Moreover, I don’t think there is a real substitute for American financial and technical support and political protection for the PA State building plan and, indeed, many efforts to develop Palestinian society, economy and infrastructure.

One should consider the alternatives:

* Were the Palestinians better off diplomatically 20 years ago when there was absolutely no contact whatsoever between the United States and the PLO?

* Were they better off before the United States established a formal and increasingly respectful relationship with the Palestinian leadership?

* Were they better off before the United States adopted ending the occupation as a foreign policy goal under Bush and a national security priority under Obama?

* Would they be better off without the UN Security Council resolutions calling for Palestinian statehood?

* Would they be better off without the new Palestinian security forces that have brought a new measure of law and order to Palestinian cities like Jenin and Nablus and formed the basis for significant economic improvement?

* More importantly, would they be better off if the United States withdrew its support for the goal of ending the occupation?

* Would they be better off if the United States closed the PLO mission in Washington and ceased all contacts with the Palestinian leadership?

* Would they be better off if the United States abandoned any interest in the Palestinian cause and issue and simply left the Palestinians and, perhaps, the other Arab to deal with Israel completely on their own?

* Would it really make any sense for the Palestinians to allow Hamas to replace the PLO as the primary political and diplomatic arm of the Palestinian people and throw in their lot with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood parties that are both (and separately) challenging not only the American role in the Middle East but the regional order itself and almost all of the Arab states as well?

* Could the Palestinians even consider proceeding without any international support from the US, the Arab states, the UN and everyone else?

* Is there any possibility for Palestinian self-sufficiency given the reality of the occupation and the present state of Palestinian society?

Obviously, the reader and plenty of other frustrated people might rashly and precipitously be tempted to answer in the affirmative across the board. But I don’t think any serious person, upon the calm reflection, can answer yes to almost any and certainly not to most of these questions.

The other consideration is whether or not there is a non-diplomatic option for advancing the Palestinian cause and, most importantly, securing an end to the occupation. In my view, the state-building plan is just such a practical, complimentary and effective extra-diplomatic option, but it too requires American support and protection from Israeli interference in order to succeed. Boycotts and the like can be useful, especially when targeted against the occupation and used in harmony with the PLO’s national strategy, as can other grassroots efforts, but I very much doubt that civil society protests can secure the Palestinian national aims. They can cause pain and raise awareness, and could even have a small contribution to the overall political context, but I cannot imagine that they can fundamentally transform the strategic situation as the state-building option could. As for violence, it has proven its inefficacy and counter-productive qualities definitively and beyond serious dispute. Armed struggle is no answer for either side, and for all of the magnificent, heroic efforts at non-violent resistance against Israel’s giant wall in the West Bank there does not seem to be a serious chance that a widespread campaign of non-violent resistance would characterize a third intifada, as I have explained in detain in recent articles and Ibishblog postings.

Therefore while there are many useful tactics the Palestinians might employ to advance their cause, the strategic goal must be ending the occupation and all of these tactics need to bolster and support that overriding imperative. Since the only way this can in reality be accomplished is ultimately through diplomacy supported by state-building efforts, grassroots actions both in Palestine and internationally, and other measures, all roads ultimately lead back to the need for the best possible relationship with the United States.

Of course the ultimate objection raised by the reader is that for all of the increasing American sympathy for and support of the goal of ending the occupation and securing other crucial Palestinian national interests, the situation has, in many ways, continued to deteriorate and has certainly not been resolved. Fair enough. But this same charge can be made against any and all of the extant realities, strategies and approaches to securing Palestinian human and national rights that have been employed since 1948 (and indeed before), since none of them have produced the anticipated and required results. Obviously the relationship with the United States that has been steadily and in some ways dramatically improving over the past two decades needs a lot more work both to realize its broader potential and to undergird ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. But it is quite difficult to imagine the Palestinians achieving their aims in the face of American antipathy or even ambivalence.

Therefore, what I’m suggesting really is a nuanced understanding that recognizes the indispensability of American engagement and support for the Palestinian national project while recognizing both the limitations of American power and what is possible given the domestic political circumstances in the United States. I’m asking people to accept that this reality is subtle, complex and includes apparent paradoxes such as the twin facts that while American power is highly limited, it is also absolutely indispensable.

Jerusalem’s undying ethnic strife deepens urban divide

Worldfocus: How would you characterize the current situation in Jerusalem?

Hussein Ibish: Jerusalem is the most divided city in the world. Israelis in West Jerusalem and the Jewish quarter feel like normal citizens of the Israeli state living under Israeli law. For them, life is very normal.

But East Jerusalem is more than 80 percent Arab. The situation is similar to that in the rest of the occupied territory, but it’s starker in Jerusalem because they’re living in such proximity. Insofar as an analogy to “apartheid” applies, this is more stark in Jerusalem than anywhere else, where separate and unequal is almost universal.

Most Jerusalem Arabs are not in effect subjects of Israeli law but practically live under martial law. In many cases, they’re technically residents of Israel — but not citizens. They can’t vote in national elections. And they generally don’t vote in municipal elections. Jerusalem is the flash point for the conflict.

Worldfocus: Why can’t the leaders on both sides reach a rational agreement about sharing the city?

Hussein Ibish: The cultural, religious and political importance of the holy places means that Jerusalem is central to both populations. Both sides are becoming increasingly influenced by right-wing religious rhetoric. The conflict is transforming from an ethnic struggle over land and power in a small area — into a religious struggle between bearded fanatics on both sides about the will of God and holy places.

The Old City of Jerusalem requires a creative solution and the unique formula like the Vatican City. It can’t be the exclusive preserve of any of the religious or ethnic groups. A unique formula has to be found. But it’s not beyond the wit of man to come up with a solution for this, because the national interests of all parties require it.

Worldfocus: Are there certain deal-breakers on the issue of Jerusalem?

Hussein Ibish: For the Israeli side, the “right of return” (for Palestinian refugees) is a deal-breaker just like the claim that Jerusalem is the undivided and eternal Israeli capital is for the Palestinians. This kind of rhetoric acts as a political narcotic: it makes people feel good, but it’s extremely damaging.

But when you get into the final status agreement, these are all issues that can be negotiated successfully. Both parties have a stake in making it work. That could keep Jerusalem united and parts of the city jointly administered — although with separate sovereignty. All it takes is political will and some creativity. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m a skeptical person, but it seems possible to me. It’ll be an unusual arrangement reflecting the unique character of the place.

There are reciprocal bitter pills on the right of return and Jerusalem both sides must swallow in their own existential national interests.

The only serious player really resistant to this idea [to create two capitals in Jerusalem] is the Israeli government, which is trying to prevent Jerusalem from being a topic of discussion in any the final status talks. But Obama made it very clear that the terms of reference need to be clear and precise — and involve security for both parties, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The U.S. position on Jerusalem is closer to the Palestinian view than to the Israeli one. There is implicit understanding in the U.S. that most of East Jerusalem needs to be the Palestinian capital.

There will also clearly have to be a land swaps. The Palestinian people accept that, and the leadership accepts it. Not every settlement in and around Jerusalem must be evacuate. I don’t mean that the Palestinians will be unwilling to have Israelis [in Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem] or elsewhere in the Palestinian state. But the Israel government would probably not want to face the crisis of some incident involving Israeli citizens living in newly sovereign Palestinian state, and I think it will be they who push for
evacuation in the event of an agreement.

Both sides should be creative and flexible and Israel should be willing to evacuate settlements that make Palestinian statehood impossible. It’s politically problematic but not impossible. These are painful concessions for both but they are obviously necessary. It’s all about a series of complicated quid pro quos. This is not a menu where you can go through and choose what you want based on your tastes, its a delicate pattern of concessions. It’s also a kaleidoscope. Every time you move the image a little, the whole pattern shifts.

Worldfocus: Do you envision that Jewish Israelis will be able to stay on in the areas that become Palestine in East Jerusalem and the West Bank?

Hussein Ibish: Palestinian citizenship or dual citizenship for them is possible, but I don’t think the Israeli government will allow it in the West Bank, though they might find a way to make it work in East Jerusalem.

An agreement is in the core existential national interest of both parties. Settlements will be evacuated according to a variety of formulae. At least 75,000 [Jewish settlers] will need to be removed. That means perhaps up to 200,000- 300,000 will be staying where they are in the small parts of West Bank such as Ma’ale Adumim that will become part of Israel.

The bottom line is that the Palestinians cannot be denied 22% of Mandatory Palestine — the equivalent of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. I think they need and deserve that.

Worldfocus: What role will Palestinian Gaza play if it continues to be a separate entity from the Palestinian West Bank?

Hussein Ibish: Gaza has no independent future from the rest of Palestine. The idea of a political status that is separate is completely wrong. Very few people in the Gaza Strip want that. Israel is strategically trying to emphasize these divisions, but it’s not something that will take.

I don’t think we’re looking at a scenario yet where Hamas can really succeed in replacing the PLO. They’re quite far away from that. All they hope to do so is for negotiations to break down. Hamas are weak and isolated — only able to maintain control in Gaza through brute force and oppression. Hamas thrives on chaos, stalemate [in talks] and a rhetoric of confrontation and violence. Their core constituency — at most 13-15 percent of the Palestinian population — believes in the Muslim Brotherhood model. But that’s not really a major political force unless there is no hope for peace.

Worldfocus: How about fresh alternatives to the Fatah-Hamas split?

Hussein Ibish: Salam Fayyad a very serious actor on the scene, yet he’s not a politician. Fatah is a dysfunctional political party but commands major support. The PA could use Fatah’s political authority to facilitate Fayyad’s state-building agenda and technocratic prowess. This is crucial because Fayyad’s plan provides another avenue for progress, change and momentum towards ending both the occupation and the conflict. If 1/20 of Fayyad’s plan could be implemented, there would be a serious transformation of the strategic environment, greatly enhancing Palestinian interests and the prospects for peace.

I think his plan could serve as a crucial augmentation of diplomacy and a parallel track that is constructive, serious and transformational. The biggest threat to it at the moment is the idea of dissolving the PA and going back functioning strictly through the PLO as a diplomatic but not a governing entity. With international financial support and political protection, it would be very difficult for Israel to block this institution-building plan. In short order, this could really change the Palestinian political scene and the strategic environment for the better.

Should the Palestinians issue a unilateral declaration of statehood?

The question has been asked of the Ibishblog by numerous readers whether or not I think that the PLO should follow through on their ideas and actually make a formal declaration of independent statehood. Damn good question.

Obviously, this is a highly fraught topic, filled with both opportunities and dangers for the Palestinians. First, even as a threat it is clearly a double-edged sword. It reminds Israel and the international community that Palestinians have agency and that their whole national agenda is an effort to realize an international consensus, and that Palestinian statehood is in the general interest and should become a reality. It would be pursuant to a small mountain of Security Council resolutions and other international instruments of legality. The threat in a sense calls the bluff of all other parties, saying, in effect: "we’ve tried everything we can think of for almost 20 years and gotten no where. If you really believe what you say, and support our independent statehood, support us now in this. If not, maybe like Israel you never really wanted it at all." It also demonstrates that Palestinians could, potentially, act diplomatically without regard to Israel’s concerns and demands.

The question, of course, is: to what effect? The cost-benefit ratio seems extremely tight, making it a bold, indeed risky move. The argument, of course, is that Palestinians have no choices left other than moves that are both bold and risky. And, as a very well argued commentary in today’s edition of the Arab News points out, "If both Israel and Hamas condemn the proposal of a UN declaration of independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, as they have, it suggests it must be the right idea." I’m not sure I can imagine a better argument for anything then an Israeli-Hamas consensus that it’s a bad idea.

Even as a threat, the move involves serious drawbacks. It has already been met with counter-threats from Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, which as a practical matter might be more easily accomplished than Palestinian independence. It also more or less runs counter to the national strategy of the PLO since the late 1980s, which has been to seek an negotiated agreement based on the understanding that major changes between Israel and the Palestinians require mutual agreement and cannot really be accomplished by unilateralism on one side or the other.

The biggest problem is that in the end, there is still no serious prospect of ending the occupation and the conflict except through a negotiated agreement, no matter how remote that seems at this point. Therefore even the threat, while it does serve to concentrate minds, also hardens positions and undermines the basic strategy. But Palestinian frustration, the ongoing stalemate in talks, and the generalized sense that something drastic has to be done to change the strategic environment have apparently led to serious consideration of what can only be seen as a drastic measure.

As for acting on the threat in some formal manner, whether unilaterally or through the UN, the stakes would clearly be even higher. There are obvious appeals to the idea, making it extremely tempting. But the potential costs are very grave indeed. First, a unilateral declaration that, like earlier efforts of this kind, would, at this stage, be little more than an empty rhetorical gesture, ignored by Israel, the US and other powers. It could prove to not only be pointless, but also serve as a demonstration of Palestinian weakness and desperation. True enough that the UN General Assembly has the power to recognize and admit new members, one of the few meaningful powers not assigned to the Security Council, but as a practical matter, without the prearranged approval of the United States, even a formal gesture in the General Assembly would probably fail to yield significant results.

Moreover, if the threat alone carries strategic risks as well as benefits, acting on the threat is even more potentially dangerous. Were it done in defiance of rather than in cooperation with the United States, such an act might risk US support for the principle of Palestinian independence, which is one of the main cards the Palestinians currently hold. To cast it aside in gesture that proves wholly ineffective would be a dreadful mistake. It is not really within the power of the Palestinians to "call the bluff" of the United States, so to speak, in such a dramatic manner, if the Americans are dead set against it.

It would, therefore, require tacit and prearranged coordination with and approval of, or at least no ardent objections from, the United States for such a step to prove more productive than damaging. At this stage, that seems highly unlikely, with not only Washington, but also the EU and others warning against any such action. There are reports that there is an unpublished annex to the PA state and institution building program proposed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that suggests a potential declaration of statehood at the end of the two-year development and administrative project. This makes infinitely more sense than any such steps now, since if the PA plan is actually carried out, the framework of the state will be in place and declaring its existence, as Fayyad himself put it, would become essentially a "formality."

But many Palestinians obviously feel they cannot wait, and with good reason. In the face of stonewalling and continued settlement activity (most recently this unbelievably irresponsible announcement of 900 new settler housing units in Gilo), bellicose rhetoric and other provocations from Netanyahu, and complete dissatisfaction with Obama administration’s inability to shift the Israeli position, the sense that something dramatic is required is now almost universal. Hence the flurry of trail balloons about Abbas not running again, resigning, dissolving the PA, shifting to a single-state strategy, and now this talk about declaring statehood. Because it all reflects obvious desperation and a very limited set of options, none of it is very convincing except as an indication of despair.

But there might be a way of approaching this idea that has a little more substance and creativity, and its clear that at least some thought is being given to it in Ramallah at present. It’s important to consider that going to the UN need not involve a unilateral declaration of statehood or even seeking the recognition of a Palestinian state as a de facto or fully realized entity. It strikes me that there ought to be, even if this is unusual, or conceivably unprecedented, a means of filing something that amounts to a claim of sovereignty in the occupied territories. It’s important to remember that other than East Jerusalem, only the PLO has a formal claim of sovereignty on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has never made any such claim, Egyptian and Jordanian claims have been formally renounced years ago, and no other party has any legitimate or extant sovereignty claim.

Under the terms of Security Council resolution 242, Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories, and there is no other entity other than a Palestinian state which claims the right to assume sovereignty and responsibility. Without a concept of Palestinian sovereignty, the land for peace formula outlined in 242 makes no sense. The international recognition for the need for a Palestinian state has been implicit since the Madrid conference in the early 1990s, and has been made explicit by a number of UN Security Council resolutions passed over the past five years. However, formal recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in the occupied territories in all of these circumstances is implicit and conditional on an agreement with Israel.

However, Israel’s founding was legally based on the UN partition plan of 1947, and therefore it could be argued that Israeli sovereignty was recognized in parts of Palestine by the UN before the creation of the state of Israel or its admission to the UN as a member state. This same partition plan, it could also readily be argued, is as much the birth certificate of Palestine as it is of Israel. However, given the passage of time and transformation of circumstances, as well as the emergence of the PLO as the governmental representative entity of the Palestinian people, a reiteration of Palestinian sovereign rights specifically linked to the occupied territories would reconcile the logic of in 1947 partition plan with that of the 1967 land for peace formula in a manner that is harmonious and consistent with the needs and desires of the international community. Moreover, any claim of sovereignty of this kind can be linked to the Arab Peace Initiative, providing added diplomatic gravitas, and framing the gesture in terms of the broader drive for peace in the Middle East generally.

Of course, Israel has implicitly claimed sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem by extending its civil law to the territory it defines as municipal Jerusalem, which includes East Jerusalem. However, this action was explicitly rejected in 1980 by more than one UN Security Council resolution (voted for by the US, I might add) which not only rejected Israel’s efforts to effectively annex east Jerusalem but also explicitly called for Israeli withdrawal from the city (it’s the only part of the occupied territories that has been specifically designated by the Security Council as an area Israel must withdraw from). Therefore, given that there are no other extant sovereign claims on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel’s claim of sovereignty in East Jerusalem has been explicitly rejected on more than one occasion by the Security Council, it strikes me that a mechanism for filing a formal claim of sovereignty by the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people would have considerable merit.

I should be very blunt about this: I’m not an international lawyer, and I’m now talking about something quite technical and complex that is beyond my professional competency. I would be the first to admit I’m a little out of my depth in postulating that there is a potential to develop a mechanism that functions as a formal claim of sovereignty on behalf of the Palestinians that can be recognized by the UN but that deliberately falls short of another declaration of statehood that will be recognized mainly by developing countries and have little if any practical effect. It seems to me that the international community, and even the United States, under the right circumstances would have a very strong interest in backing any such claim of sovereignty in order to rescue the possibility of a two state agreement in light of Israel’s efforts to stonewall on its roadmap obligations vis-à-vis settlements, and its apparent refusal to agree to meaningful terms of reference for permanent status negotiations (persistently trying to take Jerusalem off the table, for example). Obviously, supporting any such move, even tacitly would be politically costly for the Obama administration with a number of important domestic constituencies, but with patience and coordination such an eventuality is, I think, definitely not outside the realm of possibility.

At any rate it’s pretty clear something drastic has to be done by somebody to shake up the present situation, which is not only an untenable stalemate, but in the long run is simply a recipe for another eruption of violence. The unbelievably reckless and irresponsible attitude of the Israeli government on settlements, Jerusalem and permanent status terms of reference have left all other parties with very few options within the existing framework. Obviously something has got to give, and I think it’s either going to be some action such as bolstering Palestinian statehood through a of recognition of sovereign rights or major action to support the PA State and institution building plan (which I think is even more important), or it may be impossible to prevent the complete breakdown of the entire system of relations between Israel and the Palestinians and another outburst of intense violence which will be to the enormous detriment of all parties.

Fort Hood Tragedy Is Being Exploited To Bolster Discrimination (with Brian Levin)

In the aftermath of the appalling attack at Fort Hood, one of the most important questions is how this rampage by a twisted fanatic has affected relations between Muslims and other Americans of different faiths. For some, Hasan’s obvious fanaticism is not simply a starting point for thoughtful analysis about the harmful effects that splinter extremism poses in general, or specifically on an alienated, unstable individual. An aggressive and vocal group of Islamophobes are seeking to exploit the tragedy as a siren call to bigotry, a springboard to legitimize the marginalization of not merely extremists, but rather Muslims as a whole from meaningful participation in society, starting with military service.

These bigots should listen to the words of the daughters of murdered Fort Hood physician assistant Michael Cahill. Kerry Cahill told CBS’ Early Show, “You can’t blanket a whole group of people. There’s extremists in every religion, and there’s extremists all over the world…when this man was obviously ill, I think.” Another daughter, Keely Vanacker said, “The death of our father or any of these victims shouldn’t be an excuse or a reason to begin to hate an entire group of people.”

For a slew of odious bigots, the massacre was simply too big of an opportunity to pass up. To them, it is not Hasan, or even the twisted minority of extremists who inspired him, but either Islam as a whole or all Muslims that must be incapacitated.

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters shared his forthright analysis of what threatens American society on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor Tuesday evening: “Its clear that the problem is Islam.”

His new novel, The War After Armageddon, recounts how a revitalized Christianized United States government dispatches a reorganized National Guard called the “Military Order of the Brothers in Christ” to crusade against Muslims who have attacked the United States and destroyed Israel and Europe.

Pat Robertson, who once blamed secularists like abortion doctors, gays, and People for the American Way for fomenting the 9/11 attacks, has narrowed his broad bush to mostly focus on Muslims for the Fort Hood attack on the November 9 broadcast of the 700 Club on CBN:

“If we don’t stop covering up what Islam is, Islam is a violent, I was going to say religion, but it’s not a religion. It’s a political system, it’s a violent political system, bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination. That is the ultimate aim and they talk about infidels and all this but the truth is that’s what the game is. So you’re dealing with a, not with a religion, you’re dealing with a political system and I think we should treat it as such. And treat its adherents as such as we would members of the Communist Party or members of some fascist group.”

Dave Gaubatz, a leader of an organization that has called for illegalizing Islam in the United States, overtly called for what he described as “professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders,” and some of his supporters in Congress, including Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), have declined to condemn or even distanced themselves from his appeal to hate and discrimination.

American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer said, “We should not allow Muslims to serve in the US military and we have got to raise questions about whether we can afford to allow Muslims to immigrate into the United States at all.” Not surprising since his overall perspective is “While Christianity is a religion of peace, founded by the Prince of Peace, Islam is a religion of war and violence, founded by a man who routinely chopped the heads off his enemies, had sex with nine-year old girls, and made his wealth plundering merchant caravans.”

That Hasan was born in the United States and serving as an Army psychiatrist only exacerbates the potential for this incident to spread unjustifiable fear of Muslim Americans in general. It may exacerbate irrational anxieties that the Muslim community is threatening because it is supposedly very difficult to distinguish between extremists and mainstream Muslim Americans.

Obviously, the alleged killer’s ethnicity, religious affiliation, name and other signs identifying him as both an Arab and Muslim American are all the explanation needed for some. However, if we truly wish to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself, it is crucial to examine the totality of the personality of the offender, including not only his sick ideology, but the role that personal dislocations and fears may have played in his eventual spiral toward violence.

These include fear and conflict over an impending first deployment, unresolved distress over the loss of his mother, difficulties with his colleagues and in finding a mate, a cross-country move, and repeated exposure to traumatized soldiers. After two of the main support systems that he knew all his life, namely job and family grew distant, extremism apparently filled the void. A comprehensive analysis of Maj. Hasan suggests a religious and political fanatic, motivated partly by idiosyncratic madness and partly by these extreme beliefs.

In America mayhem caused by deranged violent individuals intoxicated by a twisted ideology is nothing new and certainly nothing particular to the Muslim American community, let alone being typical of it. Obvious, examples include the Branch Davidians at Waco, an offshoot of Seventh Day Adventist Christians; accused abortion doctor killer Scott Roeder; and the Klan bombers of Birmingham’s 16th Street Church who killed four young girls. Another obvious and well-known example would be Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, an angry, isolated and politically extreme former serviceman motivated to a significant degree by the infamous Turner Diaries that inspires a great deal of the ultra-right wing “militia movement.”

To their credit, Muslim and Arab American organizations were almost instantaneous and absolutely unanimous in their condemnation of the act, forming relief funds for victims and their relatives, and sparing little effort to express their outrage. With the exception of a small group of vocal and dangerous extremists — some already wanted by the United States on criminal charges — Muslims in the Middle East also reacted with horror and loud condemnation.

Proponents of profiling — systematic discrimination and heightened scrutiny against Muslim Americans simply on the basis of their identity– have seized on this incident to press their case. What these people of ill will fail to consider is the warning signs about Maj. Hasan’s instability and extremism were known to the government, but wrongly ignored. Obviously, methods of evaluating extremist behavior, of whatever variety, that might lead to violence in the Armed Forces and other institutions need to be seriously reviewed.

However, the notion that this tragedy justifies discrimination in the military or elsewhere must be categorically rejected by all persons possessing common sense and decency. Targeting people on the basis of warning signs of obvious political or religious extremism makes complete sense, but targeting them based on their identity obviously does not. Credible national security analysts reject crude systems of profiling based merely on ethnicity or religious affiliation as both unworkable and counterproductive.

Moreover, the requisite mechanisms in the United States simply do not exist, and would probably be unconstitutional. In the United States we generally do not officially classify individuals by religious affiliation, except in certain limited cases and then on the basis of self-identification. Enforcement could not exist without instituting a system of government categorization of people based on religious sectarian identity. Moreover, the Census Bureau categorizes all persons of Middle East origin as “white,” so there is no mechanism for identifying Arab-Americans (a majority of whom, by the way, are Christians).

As an extremist, Maj. Hasan was as much of an oddball among Arab and Muslim Americans as he was in the military. The proper and reasonable basis for identifying him as a potential danger was his behavior and extremism, not his identity.

While there is certainly now a small but dangerous extremist subculture among Muslims, that’s also been true for a small number on the Christian right, as well as Jewish extremists like those in the Jewish Defense League, among other violent fanatics. Law enforcement activities and national security policy must be focused on these extremist subcultures, wherever they may be, and not broadly on mainstream people of faith or entire communities.

It is pointless and incorrect to deny that Maj. Hasan’s actions were, in part, prompted by a violent extremist ideology existing among a small subculture of Muslims throughout the world. The Muslim mainstream here and overseas must spare no effort in marginalizing and denouncing this fanatical, hateful worldview.

But, as the McVeigh case and so many others demonstrate, it is hardly the only dangerous ideology that exists on the fringes of various parts of American society that can erupt into atrocious acts of inexcusable violence.

Our law enforcement and national security policies need to deal with all of these extremist perspectives vigorously and vigilantly, but there is no justification for a “backlash” of any kind against Arab or Muslim Americans in general. To do so would abandon our long cherished American values set forth by none other than George Washington, who in 1790 described the ideals of a government that gives religious “bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Are we beginning to have an open debate about the one-state agenda?

The latest article on the Electronic Intifada by Ali Abunimah is an unacknowledged response to arguments I have been pressing, first in my book, What’s Wrong with the One-State Agenda?, and most recently in my interview with the Atlantic website. In both places, and on many other recent occasions, I have made the point that one-state advocates have been ignoring the fact that a virtual unanimity of Jewish Israelis is totally opposed to any notion of a single state (even though it’s perfectly true they are enforcing a de facto one at present), and that one-state advocacy as it has existed to date among pro-Palestinian activists has made no serious effort to appeal to Jewish Israeli interests, concerns or perspectives. The obvious corollary is that until it does so, it really doesn’t have much chance of becoming a viable political agenda, since in the end any such arrangement is clearly going to have to be voluntary.

The issue was pressed when, on twitter, Ali accused me of saying in the Atlantic interview, in effect, "the one-state solution is bad because Israeli Jews don’t want it." I responded on Prof. Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, that
this is to misread not only my analysis but the fundamental political reality, which is extremely simple: a one-state solution will be impossible as long as an overwhelming or even a solid majority of Jewish Israelis don’t want it. The added irony is that most one-state advocates have not only done nothing to try to create a message that can appeal to mainstream Israelis, they have crafted one that encourages the greatest possible fear and suspicion.

There is no doubt that this latest offering from EI is an interesting effort to take the argument a step further, and calls for a serious and thoughtful counter-response, which I offer here. This can and should be the beginning of a much more direct, serious and responsible debate on the subject, and I hope it is. I have no trouble explaining my point of view in the context of the ongoing conversation in a frank and direct manner, and I think everybody’s readers deserve the same respect.

Abunimah makes a manful effort to respond to this aspect of my multifaceted critique, without acknowledging it, but falls well short of the mark because he misses, or rather elides, too many crucial points. In my view, if he and his one-state colleagues were serious about their agenda, they would be spending their time trying to craft a rhetorical framework capable of appealing to what in the end is going to have to be their main target audience rather than writing articles that in effect argue this isn’t necessary. But that would mean essentially moving past what amounts to a very strident version of the Palestinian narrative, and taking the perspectives, interests and concerns of Jewish Israelis seriously. I just don’t think the present crop of one-state advocates on the Arab side appear remotely interested in anything of the kind. This latest article, which is called "Israeli Jews and the one-state solution," but which does not in fact spend any time or energy considering Jewish Israeli interests, perspectives or concerns and treats the entire problem as an analogy and an abstraction, only reinforces this suspicion.

Ali’s article mainly is devoted to a largely accurate recitation of the history of white resistance to ending apartheid in South Africa. Fine. It’s most instructive, but about South Africa. What he doesn’t acknowledge, however, is a crucial distinction between the two circumstances: the primary pressure faced by white South Africans was an overwhelming demographic imbalance favoring black and other South Africans. As I point out in my book, in the end this imbalance meant that the best deal white South Africans could possibly get was to secure existing rights, privileges and property that were not based on continuing legal systems of racial discrimination in exchange for in effect surrendering power to a black majority.

No such equation presents itself between Israel and the Palestinians. In this case, the occupation presents an unmanageable problem for Israelis, but with a fundamental difference: we are talking here about relative demographic pluralities rather than overwhelming majorities. Moreover, this fundamental calculus of preserving the maximum of what had been acquired during colonial process, which militated heavily in favor of ending apartheid among white South Africans, militates heavily in favor of ending the occupation for Israelis, but also heavily against any form of unified statehood with the Palestinians.

One-state rhetoric often presupposes that there is a perfect parallel between the Israeli occupation and South African apartheid models, but it seems to me that this huge distinction in terms of demographic pressure, among other things, means that not only is the problem fundamentally different, the solution is extremely unlikely to be similar. Israelis who reject ending the occupation seem to feel that they can maintain their abusive, discriminatory policies in the occupied territories for the foreseeable future and do not face a grave enough threat from the Palestinians to mandate choosing Israel over the occupation. There is no question they are laboring under a severe delusion. Ali and I agree on one thing: the occupation makes a mockery of Israel’s self-definition as a "Jewish and democratic" state and is fundamentally unmanageable. However the facts that Israel cannot be meaningfully either "Jewish" or "democratic" as long as the occupation is in place, and that Palestinians will not accept the occupation in peace and quiet, do not translate into reasons to believe that a drive for a single, equitable post-national state shared by both peoples in relatively equal numbers can or would succeed. Not, at least, without a frightful conflagration.

Simply affirming, as Ali does, that whatever concerns Jewish Israelis might have, even though "change is scary" nonetheless "change will come," bears a lot more similarity to an article of religious faith than to the conclusion of an analysis based on the facts pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic as it exists at this moment (as opposed to some alternative fantasy version, of course). That change will come, there can be no doubt. That it will be the change I want, or that Ali wants is very much open to doubt indeed. He avers that, "there are few reasons to believe that it [establishing a single state in place of Israel] cannot be a well-managed process." On this point, we part company fairly dramatically.

One of the main reasons for doubting all of this is another of the more significant factors missing from Ali’s analysis: the fact that both sides are heavily armed and increasingly driven by religious extremists. I would argue that there are few reasons to doubt that Jewish Israelis would resist this agenda virtually unanimously and, if necessary, violently. Ali’s article does not mention at all the presence among Palestinians of large, heavily armed and well-organized Islamist groups led by Hamas that in reality are the primary alternative to the nationalists in the PLO who have sought a negotiated two-state agreement with Israel. One-state rhetoric tends to ignore or dismiss the Islamist factor in Palestinian political life, but it seems almost inevitable that as the fortunes of the nationalist project dwindle, momentum shifts primarily not to an international, grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions agenda but rather to an agenda of armed resistance on the ground led by the Palestinian religious right (facing an Israel increasingly dominated by its own religious right).

The ANC continuously appealed to the white South African narrative — linking the anti-apartheid struggle with Boer resistance to British rule — and white South African interests as well. However, one should note that resistance by the ANC, not to mention more extreme South African organizations, was by no means limited to, or even primarily defined by, BDS tactics and in fact relied heavily on various forms of armed struggle, including urban terrorism, and other, shall we say, more direct forms of violent resistance (the ANC paramilitary force, Umkhonto we Sizwe or "spear of the nation," was, of course, co-led by Joe Slovo, a white, Jewish, Communist ANC leader). The logic of violence held sway until an alternative logic, which held very real, direct and undeniable benefits for both peoples was fully fleshed out and became irresistible, based on self-interest. Developing such an equation of self-interest in a single state between two peoples of relatively equal numbers is an infinitely more difficult proposition than developing an equation between a privileged but small minority seeking to retain its property and, insofar as possible, status and a large majority willing to forgo any revanchist tendencies in order to secure legal equality and political power. The logic of self-interest in a single state between Israel and the Palestinians has yet to be clarified at all, and seems very difficult to explain, which may be why no one has ever attempted to do so.

Ali and I agree that the present condition is untenable, but the distinction is, at its heart, about what we think the future is likely to hold without a negotiated agreement to end the occupation. Ali seems to think that it will almost inevitably give way to a single, democratic state that will be voluntarily accepted by Jewish Israelis. If I thought this for one second, I would be all for it. However, I am sad to say that I think the most likely scenario involves a huge amount of violence, which I think is almost inevitable given the violence of the occupation and the commitment to armed struggle by those Palestinian organizations who are the primary rivals to those seeking a negotiated agreement.

Moreover, I find it almost unimaginable that a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, even if it were to be effectively organized throughout the West (which I very much doubt), against Israel would bring it to its knees. I can see no other way of arriving at a one-state outcome than decades, and possibly longer, of brutal armed struggle that is increasingly fanatical and increasingly religious. Even though everything is in place for precisely such a scenario on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, Ali and most other one-state advocates don’t seem to take it very seriously, or perhaps, prefer not to think about it. I would very strongly argue that none of us can afford not to think about what is actually likely to occur if there is to be no negotiated end to the occupation and no Palestinian state. I have met people who argue that they don’t care what kind of bloodbath would follow, or what kind of atrocious process of mutual massacre, exhaustion and possibly decimation would be required in order to compel both peoples to abandon their national agendas. I don’t know if it’s more disturbing to see people unaware, or pretending to be unaware, of the consequences they welcome than openly embracing them

The equation one-state rhetoric such as the new EI article presents is a choice between pointless, debasing negotiations that lead nowhere versus an enlightened, inspiring and uplifting campaign of international grassroots activism. Unfortunately, the equation on the ground points in a very different direction, and I think any analysis that pretends otherwise is providing false comfort, because it inhabits a fantasy world rather than the stark, cruel realities that actually exist.

Palestinian despair for peace

It is almost impossible to adequately convey the present degree of Palestinian despair, but the recent announcement that President Mahmoud Abbas might resign and that the rest of the Palestinian Authority leadership may follow — in effect dissolving the PA — should provide some indication.

This seems to many to be the only real weapon the Palestinian leadership has left, albeit something of a doomsday scenario. President Abbas and the others clearly feel all their other options have been systematically foreclosed. They embraced the roadmap and — at considerable political cost — fulfilled their responsibilities on security to the best of their abilities, as acknowledged by both the United States and Israel. When the Obama administration began its peace initiative, Palestinians were given every reason to expect that Israel would be compelled to fulfill its own roadmap responsibilities and end settlement activity.

From the Palestinian perspective, all of their substantive efforts have been met with stonewalling and disingenuous rhetoric from Israel’s new prime minister, and deeply damaging ineffectiveness on the part of the Obama administration.

All of this was compounded by the PLO’s own mishandling of the Goldstone report, as it was unable to balance demands from international powers to back off with domestic political sentiments to push forward. The Palestinian leadership was therefore always going to pay either a domestic political or international dramatic price over the Goldstone question, but managed to end up paying both, almost in full.

It would appear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments in Israel that appeared to imply a certain American satisfaction with the Israeli position were the final straw.

The Palestinian leadership is ready to give up because it feels it has done everything possible to accommodate the peace process established by the international community, and has gotten nowhere. Denied the slightest political accomplishment to which it can point as a measure of the success of its policies, it clearly came to feel that only the most drastic measures might communicate its political desperation to the outside world.

The attitude among many ordinary Palestinians is, if anything, even more grim.

For them, the 16-year era of peace talks has meant 16 years of further occupation, settlement building and land confiscation, bitter disappointment and denial of basic human and national rights. In addition to Israel and the international community, ordinary Palestinians also blame their own leaderships — both Fatah and Hamas — for not reuniting after the violent split in 2007, and blame all parties for the ongoing human catastrophe caused by the siege of Gaza.

Under such circumstances, it should be readily understandable that the concept of a viable peace process now seems like a sick joke to so many Palestinians.

This is the political context in which the Palestinian leadership has to operate: an exceedingly skeptical public and international actors that don’t seem to comprehend the limitations of Palestinian patience.

At last, it seems, even the most die-hard adherents of negotiations have concluded that either the dynamic must be changed or abandoned.

From the point of view of the Palestinian national project, the most serious threat posed by the present crisis is obviously to the Palestinian state and institution building program proposed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The plan could enact a dynamic, unilateral, nonviolent and constructive resistance to the occupation, creating the necessary framework for Palestinian independence, and constituting a dramatic transformation of the strategic environment in favor of both Palestinian interests and the prospects for peace.

Obviously, for this plan to succeed, it would require not only the financial and technical support of the international community, and most especially the United States, but also direct and vigorous political protection as well. It would be very difficult for Israel to block the project were it under international political protection, and almost impossible to interfere with specific projects that were being jointly pursued with American and European cooperation and involvement.

However the present crisis plays itself out, it is essential that this state building enterprise continue. It is the only thing on the horizon that offers a serious path forward towards ending both the occupation and the conflict, and can create hope in the midst of despair.