MESG Affiliate Member Jon Allen agreed to share with you segments of a speech he delivered on May 14, 2021. Jon served as Canadian ambassador to Israel.
Let me begin by making it clear that what I have to say is not about justifying the almost 2000 rockets that have been launched against Israel over the past few days. I condemn Hamas’ rocket attacks as pure political opportunism as I will explain later. Nor does it justify Arab on Jewish violence in Israel’s mixed cities, the shocking new dimension to this conflict. Not only are these actions terrifying for all Israelis, men, women and especially children – and they must stop, but they also feed the belief that there is no, and never will be, a partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and that an independent Palestinian state would be a constant threat to Israel. I don’t agree with either of those suggestions but many Israelis and many Jews in the diaspora do and the violence this week further fuels the mistrust and in some cases hatred that are major obstacles to peace going forward.
In my view, the causes for the disturbances leading up to and including the rocket fire are multiple: they are secular and religious, they are long standing and immediate and they are political. But they are ultimately centered on the question of Palestinian rights and the lack thereof.
Let’s begin with the immediate causes. The first was the barricading of Damascus Gate during Ramadan. This is an area where young Palestinians traditionally gather while waiting for the evening meal and after. I don’t know why the decision was taken to do it. (There is some speculation that the commanders of the police were new and inexperienced.) At any rate, it was a provocation and it set off the first demonstrations and acts of real violence on both sides. It brought out radical Jewish extremists, and innocent Jews and Arabs were attacked during the protests and police actions that followed.
The second was the intervention by the Kahanist MP Itamar Gvir. According to the Times of Israel, Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the extreme-right MK was responsible for ongoing riots in Jewish-Arab cities. He said that every time police appeared to be getting an area under control, Ben Gvir, the Kahanist member of the Religious Zionism party, showed up to fan the flames.
The third cause was the pending, now postponed, Supreme Court decision on whether a number of Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah – homes they have lived in since 1948. Derek will explain this issue in detail. Let me just say that scheduling the court decision and possible evictions during Ramadan was not well thought out. The evictions are perceived by Palestinians and others as part of a larger effort to surround the Old City with “Jewish only” settlements and thereby cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The proposed march to celebrate Jerusalem Day that was intended to finish at the Damascus Gate, but which was re-routed at the last minute, also did not help. The simultaneous expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the celebration of Jerusalem Day, which for the marchers means all of Jerusalem, both East and West, are also perceived as an effort to unilaterally settle one of the most sensitive of the final status issues between Israel and Palestine – the status of Jerusalem. The Trump Peace Plan’s formal recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol and his encouragement of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem are controversial backdrops to Palestinians concerns.
The fifth and by far most provocative cause, especially given that tensions were already high and that violence on both sides had already erupted, was the use of force by the police on the grounds of the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa. No one in the Israeli government seemed to recall that it was a visit by Ariel Sharon to this same site that provoked the Second Intifada, or to realize that it’s violation, especially during Ramadan, was guaranteed to provoke a strong reaction, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Israel and the Muslim world. The media coverage of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators further stoked the flames.
As a result, even secular Muslims and non-Muslims could easily identify with these issues.
So why did Hamas act when it did and why with such force. The easy answer is that Hamas gave Israel an ultimatum to leave Al Aqsa and Israel didn’t comply. A more likely reason is far more political and opportunist. Hamas sought to take advantage of the Palestinian’s anger and long-standing frustration and fill a vacuum at a time when Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas were silent. Recall also that this was taking place shortly after Abbas had cancelled the Palestinian elections – the first in almost 15 years – elections that many predicted Hamas would win. Another possible reason for Hamas’ reaction is that Hamas (and some say Bibi Netanyahu) believed that a conflict of this nature and magnitude would disrupt the efforts of the anti-Bibi bloc to form a government in Israel. As we know, that bloc could have succeeded in forming a government only with the support of one of the Israeli-Arab parties. Hamas, you see, prefers a Netanyahu government just as Bibi prefers to quietly support Hamas. Both want to weaken Fatah, and neither are interested in a two-state solution.
Just how long did Israel think that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would put up with military rule and military courts; with house demolitions and evictions; with settler expansion and daily settler violence ignored by the IDF; with severe restrictions on their movement, both within the Territories and between the Territories and the outside world? How long would the residents of Jerusalem – they are denied Israeli citizenship – accept their third-class status? Did Israeli government officials think that Palestinian Israelis in Lod, Akko and Ramle were either ignorant of or immune to the treatment of Palestinians in the territories or the provocations at Al Aqsa? For how long do Israelis and we Jews in the Diaspora think that this situation is sustainable? If nothing is done to fix this larger problem, I fear we will back here in a few years having a very similar conversation.
I published my own thoughts on my Blog, Israel: Democracy, Human Rights, Politics and Society, http://almagor.blogspot.com
Affiliate Member Joel Singer shares: My First Encounter With Yasser Arafat
Singer recalls his first encounter with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, back in 1974 – nearly twenty years before we met on the White House South Lawn during the signing ceremony of the Oslo Agreement. In the three years that followed that ceremony, Singer spent so many days and nights negotiating the details of the Oslo Accords with him that some came to consider Singer an expert on Arafat – one of the most controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century.
Call for Papers: Post-Pandemic Politics: Perspectives and Possibilities
The Editors of Public Governance, Administration and Finances Law Review are inviting contributions to their online conference Post-Pandemic Politics: Perspectives and Possibilities (30th June 2021) to approximate some post-Covid-related political dilemmas. The deadline for abstract submission is 31st May 2021. Be sure to check out the full call at: https://ludevent.uni-nke.hu/event/938/
Prominent scientists say the transformation of Israel from a COVID-19 hotspot to a vaccination success story underlines that any developed country can subdue the virus.
They estimate that a relatively small number of vaccinations are needed to take a country out of crisis mode. The moment that half of the population aged 60-plus is inoculated, authorities can expect a dramatic drop in cases and hospitals are safe from being overwhelmed, they conclude.
Dr Sina Hakiman, a retired psychiatrist who is living in Hull and is a member of the Baha’I community got in touch following Dr David Rutstien event. Sina wishes to explore whether if as a volunteer there is a possibility to collaborate on some community building activities in a neighbourhood in Hull as a project.
Those interested are welcome to contact Sina directly:
Dr Sina Hakiman
Invitation to my Talk: “Arafat, Barak and Clinton at Camp David: Clashes of Characters and Conduct”, Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation in conjunction with the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
Chair: Dr Joanne Murphy Date: Wednesday 2nd June @ 4.30 pm – Via Zoom
The Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation in conjunction with the Mitchell Institute invite you to attend a seminar by Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, DPhil, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford; Professor and Chair of Politics and Founding Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull. The discussion will focus on all three parties: Israel, the PLO and the USA being responsible for the summit failure. This paper holds that convening the Camp David summit was ill-timed and ill-prepared. Israel and the PLO were not fully resolved to end the conflict and to sign a peace treaty. The parties – Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the USA – came to the summit unprepared, with impossibly wide gaps between the sides. The negotiators were not familiar with details of possible solutions to problems. In the focus of analysis are the three leaders: Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. The paper focuses on their conduct they were the first among equals and much was dependent on them. It is argued that all three of them made crucial mistakes that undermined the talks and brought about the summit’s inevitable failure. The analysis exposes inherent problems in the search for peace in the Middle East: the bad design and timing of the Camp David summit, the asymmetric power relationship between the negotiating sides, the poor human relationships, the yearning for public consensus at the expense of reaching results, the unbalanced mediation role of the USA, perceived to be biased by all three sides (Israel, PA and the USA itself), and the lack of leadership.