Risking Peace: A Follow-Up

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Last Friday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a “non-member observer state,” upgrading its former status as a “non-member observer entity.” The vote was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The United States voted against. Church bells across the West Bank rang out in celebration, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement congratulating the Palestinians and noting that “this step marks a significant shift to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and is an incentive for peace.”

The response from the Vatican was praise for the move and a call for the UN to go even further. In its press release, the Holy See said it “welcomes with favor the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non- member Observer State of the United Nations,” and quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks at Ben Gurion Airport in 2009:

No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream.

On the other side of the moral and mental universe, the Israeli government responded this morning by announcing that 3,000 additional residences will be constructed on Palestinian land in key settlements, including an area designated as E-1, which straddles the land connecting East Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank. If settlements are expanded in E-1 it will be a disaster for peace according to many observers, including Daniel Seidemann, who heads up a Jewish group called Ir Amin, which works to ensure cooperation and peaceful coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. Seidemann said that the Israeli announcement is a “doomsday scenario,” that would mean “the death of the two-state solution.” Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, noted that in punishing the Palestinians, the Netanyahu government was only harming Israel. As she put it, “the decision to build thousands of housing units as punishment to the Palestinians only punishes Israel … (and) only isolates Israel further.’’

So, here we have Israel once again thumbing its nose at the international community, including the Vatican and even the United States, which has called today’s move “counterproductive” and said it makes it more difficult “to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution.” The United Nations has passed 15 resolutions describing the settlements as a barrier to a permanent peace, and five successive American presidents have asked that settlement activity cease, yet this is precisely the cudgel Israel chooses to wield in its fit of pique over the UN vote last week. It is becoming impossible for anyone not frozen in ideological amber to avoid the conclusion that the Israeli government doesn’t really want an equitable peace at all, that what it hopes to achieve is more like a Pax Israelica anchored by a permanent de facto annexation of the West Bank. One state, Israel, ringed by pacified satellite territories and their impoverished, disenfranchised populations. That may be the plan, but demography, time and justice are not on Israel’s side. And those who defend such an arrangement, though they may not realize it, are in the same moral position as a physician who assists in a suicide. Friendly, but not friends.

NOTE: This topic brings out the worst in everyone, unfortunately. So once again I will be moderating comments very closely. No blanket statements about Jews, Arabs or Muslims will be tolerated. Rhetoric that merely indicts or insults without providing at least minimal argumentation and/or evidence won’t see the light of day.

  • Julia Smucker

    For American Catholics, there is a clear case of divided Church/State loyalties here. Our fidelity to the Church must always take precendence over national interest.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      How can you say that, Julia, and not also say that no Catholic should ever run for public office in this country? In other words, were not those Americans who feared JFK’s Catholicism right to do so?

    • Mark Gordon

      Let’s stay on topic, shall we? This is a Catholic blog and Julia writes as a Catholic. One should not be surprised to discover that a serious, fully formed Catholic doesn’t give the American “national interest” – whatever that is at any given moment – precedence over the universal applicability of justice.

      • http://www.tangdynastytimes.com Leanne Ogasawara

        Excellent piece, Mark. You have more guts than I do even touching on this subject online. Agree with every word.

    • Julia Smucker

      Indeed, Catholic Social Teaching – not to mention the Gospel – requires us to regard universal human dignity above the interests of any State. In that respect, Catholics should be more politically suspect than they now are. JFK, and more recently Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, were all deceiving themselves when they claimed not to see any conflict between American national interest and their Catholic faith.

      • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

        I agree, Julia. But the only conclusion then is that they should not be seeking elective office in a pluralistic, secular state.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    That’s fine for a private citizen. For an elected official, not so much. As we have just seen with the publilc reaction to the horrible, needless death of that woman in Ireland, there is no “universal applicability of justice’ outside of any given faith community. And, in this country, politics is outside of all faith communities, other than where the tenets of a given faith and the will of the people, as legislated by their elected representatives, happen to coincide.

  • http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/ crystal

    I’m not sure why Israel should care what the Vatican thinks, given the centuries of antisemitism from the church.

    Arguments could be made that it is the Palestinians who are not serious about peace.

    The idea that Israel would build more settlements simply to thumb its nose at the international community or to punish the Palestinians seems unlikely to me. I think the problem is a really difficult one and that most of us find it easier to blame the Israelis …. they have more money, more power, and they are fairly unrepentant about using those to maintain their state … but with the international community ranged against them and with what I think is their sincere belief that giving up land will make them more vulnerable, they have really nothing to lose in going their own way … they probably feel pretty much doomed no matter what they do.

  • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

    I honestly don’t believe that the Israelis give damn what the Vatican, or the Pentagon, or anybody else thinks. What they care about is “Never again” and they will do whatever it takes to enforce that. Unfortunately, what this boils down to is “might makes right.” Israel feels justified in their persecution of the Palestinians, since they see that persecution as necessary to the security and the continuance of the Jewish state. If I were an Israeli I might well feel that way too. If I were a Palestinian I would almost certainly feel wronged and justified in fighting back, using whatever limited means were available to me. Asymetrical warfare is not a pretty thing. But we must be realists: all contemporary warfare is “terrorism,” if terrorism is defined as attacks on civilian population for the purpose of inducing a military to surrender. That is now how wars are “fought.” Neither the Israelis, nor the Palestinians are morally right in what they do; in both cases what they do is understandable.

  • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

    Crystal, I will repeat what I and a large number of young, former IDF veterans, recently demobolized, whom I met in a little village in north India, have said–and which is echoed by many “dovish” Israelis–and recently by the Jewish mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel: this expansionism means the failure of Israel as a democratic state and its eventual destruction as a Jewish one.
    In fact, as it dooms the “two-state solution,” it opens up to the Palestinians the only alternative, which is a massive, non-violent Gandhian-style movement by the displaced, the expropriated but the not yet “ethnically cleansed” to achieve full civil and property rights in a pluralist and secularist Israel which is as much “Jewish” as the United States is “Protestant”–that is, with the country’s roots in the Jewish religious and cultural traditions, but its laws democratic and non-theocratic.
    You saw, in the last few days, a premonition of what the world’s response will be: because of popular sentiment, including mainly LIBERAL Jewish sentiment, in Europe and America, it will be the complete isolation of Israel, until she surrenders to the Palestinians’ demands. Because of the expansionism and the “ethnic cleansing”–the demolition of homes, the widely-attested harassment, beatings and humiliation meted out to peaceful Arab citizens of Israel (and vouched for by those young demobilized IDF veterans I wrote about), their precarious property rights (and even the dubious status of Catholic and Orthodox priests, monks and nuns serving the Christian Arabs), if the Palestinians were now to produce EVEN ONE leader of the stature of a King or a Gandhi, who would lead his people in the direction I’m suggesting, I believe the Zionist experiment, neo-colonialist and Jewish-exceptionalist at its core, could be ended in a decade.

    • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

      And here’s WHAT I SAID –just two days later!

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

    Not in any significant disagreement, but two minor points:

    (1) That the United States called the settlement plan ‘counterproductive’ is not really of much interest: the US called the UN vote counterproductive, too, (literally, using that exact word) and regularly calls “counterproductive” anything that doesn’t depend entirely on direct negotiations. This is so regular that I’m pretty sure Israel and everyone else simply takes it as a sign that they can ignore what the US is saying at that time, it being little more than the US’s indirect way of abstaining, refraining from any active commitment.

    (2) I think it is a very definite error to take this as a “fit of pique”; Israel has been warning for quite some time that this sort of thing is exactly what it would do under this circumstance. This was quite deliberate, premeditated, with prior warning given long before, and not pique at all. In general, I think it is important to grasp the fact that Israel isn’t acting in these matters in ‘fits of pique’ but in a deliberate game of seeing the stakes and raising them. This is certainly a game Israel cannot win, but it is a game that the current government is gambling it can play indefinitely — whenever the Palestinian hand is strengthened, increase the number of things that the Palestinians can later be forced to make concessions to undo. I think one reason it’s important to recognize this is that the ‘pique’ interpretation simply fails to grasp what Israel is doing and why: Israel is already expecting these kinds of moves and already has its responses planned for them. It’s not an accident that this comes out just days after, rather than weeks or months after, the vote.

    • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

      Israel is, in the long run, destroying herself: she cannot remain a functioning, viable democracy this way, If she keeps this up, even the United States will one day desert her.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ digbydolben — I fully agree that Israel cannot long survive with her current m.o. That said, however, she could not long remain a democratic Jewish state without curtailing her Arab population. What we see is the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place. There is that fundamentalist element (both Jewish and Christian) that firmly believes that God gave that land to the Jews. If they are driven underground, they will become the terrorists to whatever replaces the Jewish state now giving them relative security, and there will still be no peace. I wonder if you see a viable solution to all of this?

        • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

          She could have “curtailed her Arab population” by giving the Palestinians the land she took from them in 1967. Instead, she has chosen to “ethnically cleanse” them from those lands and annex them. Now, her only means of survival is to cease to be an exclusively “Jewish state” and become a secular, pluralist democracy. What does a “democratic, Catholic state” or a “democratic, Buddhist state” or a “democratic, Muslim state” sound to you, other than an oxymoron in the actual, modern world?

  • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

    @ digbydolben — And then the Jews quite quickly again become a vulnerable minority as they were in every country in Europe–persecuted and expelled, over and over again– throughout history? If you were Israeli would you go for that proposal? I think we really have to recognize that the Jews have had a unique history and that it may call for a unique set of priorities. We must also remember that it doesn’t do a Jew any good to say, as some tried to do under the Nazis, “I’m a German first.” It didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter if a Jew had converted to Christianity. If the world is going to treat you as a “race,” you have to accept that and deal with it accordingly.

    • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

      There’s more to Jewish history than the Holocaust, and I’m very, very tired of having that particular event used as the excuse for what goes on in the MIDDLE EAST! The Holocaust of the Jews was a European phenomenon, and, if anybody should pay for it, EUROPEANS, not Arabs, should.

      And one more thing: I lived, not too long ago, in the dreadful, state-fascist land of Western Germany, where EVERYBODY BUT the Jews who is an “outsider” is treated with xenophobic bitterness–Turks, non-EU citizens trying to live and work there, etc. Some of the MOST despised and persecuted, however, are their own Eastern German population, for whom, along with the Turks, the lowest-paying and most despised jobs are reserved. It gradually dawned on me that the probable reason why such a cult of the Holocaust is made among certain bien-pensant left-fascists in Europe and in America is so that the atrocities committed against Poles, Czechs, Latvians, Lithuanians, Russians, Greeks, Estonians, Macedonians and all manner of other Eastern Europeans may be conveniently FORGOTTEN.

      I am by no means a “Holocaust denier,” but it is a fact that the Germans, during World War II, genocided far more Slavs and Eastern Europeans than they did Jews, and nobody–absolutely nobody–talks about “reparations” and re-drawn national borders for THOSE people in Modern Europe. My own brother told me that, during the time he managed a large multi-national pesticide concern from the UK and had to go visit agribusiness clients in Eastern Europe, they told him that to this day when their bulldozers plow into some huge barrow piled up on top of tens of thousands of corpses planted by the Nazis, they have to cover up the gashes made in those mounds, because the stench of all those mostly decomposed bodies is still so overpowering. Very few of those bodies are those of dead Jews; they’re of neighbours and family members of the folks driving the bulldozers, and nobody talks about “justice” for them!

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ digbydolben — Oh, come on. I wasn’t referring only the the holocaust. What, for instance, was happening to the Jews in Spain while Columbus was sailing around looking for new worlds? How many pre-holocaust pogroms were there all over Europe, long before there were Nazis?
        My point was that Jews have never been safe and secure in either eastern or western Europe for any length of time. And during the Crusades, if they weren’t being slaughtered by Muslims, they were being slaughtered by Crusaders. I understand why they want a homeland where they are the majority and where they don’t have to rely on the tepid goodwill of a largely anti-Semitic majority for their safety and their livelihood. I don’t find this difficult to understand, even though I do recognize that the Palestinians are getting screwed in the process. And I also understand why many Jews are less than sympathetic.

        • Mark Gordon

          Thanks for the dialogue, gents. Can we call a truce?