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Monday, June 27, 2011

NPR's Fresh Air on the Arab Spring- skip it

So I was listening to this Fresh Air piece. It certainly is no Diane Rehm Show:

Terry Gross seems to think things like protests inspired by the Arab Spring and the Palestinians' bid for recognition at the UN is going to undermine peace talks. She makes that clear right off the bat. She's not the only one, true, but it's her job to try and tear things like this apart, not get behind them and toe the line and push it on us (like Iraq and the media was- not necessarily Fresh Air specifically in that case).

Annoyingly, Terry Gross is fixated (and I mean really wouldn't let it go!) on Hamas, but on the other hand, her guest was pretty cool.

The guest and his NGO, International Crisis Group sounded pretty interesting, though. The NGO makes recommendations to governments about various conflicts (in Malley's case, ME and N Africa). For Malley's part, his father was Jewish and an Arab nationalist. He was not a fan of the US, but wanted his kids US educated. He moved to France, but was so critical of them he was expelled.

They did discuss something interesting in that the Palestinians leadership has played a role in quelling the uprisings and protests because they aren't completely sure the people won't turn against them as well as Israel. I guess this is the problem with the Arab leadership in most cases, though.

One item Gross brought up was the UN Resolution for a Palestinian state. What is it meant to do, she asks. Membership in the UN will be blocked by US. I guess this is her point. The best they can do is get General Assembly countries to recognize the Palestinian state. I say go for it.

The resolution is being discussed because of Arab despair about the process- so the guest says. For one thing, Netanyahu won’t recognize the infamous 1967 borders, saying they are “indefensible.” He also goes into Israel’s reaction. The resolution will make Israel mad since they believe it to be circumventing negotiations- which seems to be the opinion of many in the US and any other "expert" out there. I think that's a bunch of garbage.

Well, I take that back. Maybe it is actually circumventing negotiations, but when that is absolutely the only way, why demonize those who want to move forward (or circumvent)? Are negotiations really the way to go? Not to mention going to the UN makes total sense. Why not go to the very body that the British went to when they were tired of governing and wanted to partition it (between and owners and a minority)? Why not go to the body who recognized Israel? Why not go to the body that told Israel to give back what it took in 1967? Why not go to the body that guaranteed refugees the right of return and said settlements were illegal before they were even built? 

(And negotiations! Funny one should talk about and be so attached to those when you think about the history of this thing. Jews come in, decide they want land and take it. So, the fair thing would be to send them packing, but that's not going to happen. In my book, that's already quite a concession. Israel has been dealt with more than fairly; let's see what Palestinians can be offered. Maybe I misunderstand negotiations, though. Maybe it's more about what you can trick people into accepting more than it is about fairness and justice in the give and take?)

Why not go to the UN when Palestinians have offered to give away the right of return (besides a symbolic number), Jerusalem, allow all settlements but a few, and everything else and Israel's answer is still no, we want those settlements, too?

And then Israeli despair is mentioned – because they have discussed Palestinians' despair for awhile, after all. Malley seems to think Israeli despair is warranted and they have a right to wonder when Palestinians will seize the opportunity? Seize the opportunity!? What opportunity are they talking about? You mean the time(s) Palestinians have offered to give up Jerusalem, all but one settlement, all but a symbolic number of refugees returning, the transfer of all Palestinian Israelis to a tiny , non-contiguous, permanent state of occupation- and have been refused because they didn’t meet all of Israel’s demands?? Is that the opportunity we’re talking about, here? If justice were ever on the table, perhaps there would be something to seize!

A common theme (both sides are to blame) reappears when Malley talks about both sides’ despair causing the deadlock. Maybe this is true in a way, but saying both sides are at fault and believe this or that ignores what is truly going on, the power dynamic, the biases, the actual possibilities, etc. It equalizes a situation that is very definitely not equal.

I did appreciate the nuance when it came to the American position. Of course we have the usual reason(s) to veto this thing, but Malley discussed two interesting reasons a veto might be a bad idea:

1. Obama has worked harder than some at repairing US-Arab relations. He gave some great speeches for sure, but action has been a little hesitant and sparse. If we veto something Arab nations support 99%, our words will mean nothing.

2. Obama may be "forced" to veto a resolution on a Palestinian state at the very time he said he'd love to welcome one- Sept 2011. He said that in 2010 in the General Assembly, I think.

And, here, our friend Terry takes it back to Hamas.

She is concerned that one thing that might make the UN vote complicated is the unity government with Fatah and Hamas since Hamas doesn't recognize Israel or its right to exist. If Hamas is part of the Palestinian government, she wants to know what that would mean for relations with Israel.

Good question, Terry. Or not. I was happy to see her effectively shut down on this point. Malley tells her this is a pretext. There hasn't been a peace process for some time, so Hamas isn't the reason things are going wrong.

She interrupts - laughing, clearly unconvinced by this argument and determined to have Hamas denounced as often as possible - "it certainly can't help!" She really wants agreement and discussion on how bad Hamas is, here. She continues on about how having Hamas in the government is a setback. After all, how do you negotiate with someone who refuses to recognize your right to exist?

I don't know, Terry. Ask the Palestinians! Israel doesn't seem to think even the Palestinians within its borders (let alone those in a future Palestine) deserve human/equal rights and yet Palestinians are still expected to come to the table, make concessions, recognize rights and characteristics of Israel that Israel won't, in turn, recognize for Palestinians. No one (considered credible, pro-Israel, non-anti-Semitic, that is) ever asks, "how can Palestinians take talks seriously unless Israel does x, y and z."

Malley responds well in that he makes a broader point about the Palestinian division being bad for all- they can't implement agreements or speak for all of their people, etc- rather than just agree completely with Terry's anti-Hamas rant. But then again he's an expert in conflict resolution... :)

She asked the guest about his conflict resolution process, which actually involves talking to all sides, imagine that, and asked why on earth he'd want to talk to Hamas. What is his "ambition" in that? He did explain that he hadn't recommended the US talk to Hamas (I bet Terry was jumping up and down), but he thought there needed to be a channel of communication so that they knew what was expected should they be included in discussions at some point. This is much more sensible than some previous messages out of Washington- if you're not with us, you're against us; we don't negotiate with terrorists; and other such nonsense that aims to exclude (some of the) people that have to be a part of any solution.

Malley also makes a great point about the Arab Spring and domestic vs foreign policy. People thought that the proof that the Arab Spring was about domestic rather than foreign policy was that no American or Israeli flags were burned, but that's not quite the whole truth. If it wasn't about foreign policy (and Israel-Palestine) as well, regimes like Egypt wouldn't be changing like they are- becoming more representative of the population- and choosing to open the border with Gaza, broker a unity deal with Fatah and Hamas, and have better relations with Iran. Again, good point. I've also heard people try and say the Israel-Palestine thing has nothing to do with the Arab Spring. How much the conflict is affected by it remains to be seen- Palestinians have to figure out whether to get rid of their leadership first or Israel. And there's yet another division to dilute the movement.

Malley has made a ton of great points, but I don't agree with this next one. He talks about Netanyahu's stance and the deadlock and then about taking a step back, finding out what went wrong, find out what the parties want that they haven't been getting in negotiations. This is obvious to me. For Palestinians: JUSTICE! For Israel, they've proven they want all of their demands met or they will say no. I don't think it's time to step back. It's time to pressure Israel.

When asked about the future, he says a few things that people generally don't mention, at least specifically, which was refreshing. He says Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers are usually talked about rather than to and that these people need to be represented in talks. Iraq and Afghanistan are mentioned and I cringed, but perhaps he's talking about how we took a step back and changed course- then I'd agree. The other two items or suggestions were considering internal Palestinian politics and the less specific getting past feeling like we know what the solution looks like, let's finish up. I know he's probably not thinking along these lines, but the last one made me think about one state. It is not the shape people are thinking the solution will take anymore, but it is the most fair and sensible. When you look at how many problems it solves, I think most people could really get behind it. Both people would absolutely have to be committed to the survival of the other. Some people might think that's unrealistic or naive. I don't.

Either just before or just after the talk of future direction, they talk about the UN Resolution again. It won't mean much on the ground, but more will recognize Palestine and that it is under occupation. True, but I think it's a step. Palestine could possibly go to the UN and officially accuse Israel of occupying it, petition for redress, Israelis would face more fears for arrest while traveling in Europe, etc. Good stuff. Then, Malley states that he wants a resolution more like Obama's recent speech. A whole lot of nothing. No way!

Terry then tries again with the Hamas thing and the UN Resolution fears. Inspired by the Obama speech nonsense no doubt, she asks if a resolution that is less damaging to Israel (as though the one proposed pushes Israel into the sea!), one that also recognizes Israel's right to exist, would be less scary for the US, less likely to be vetoed. She laughs when she asks if Hamas would support such a thing. Perhaps if a just solution were ever on the table, we'd see a different side of Hamas, but we haven't had to worry about that. I'm glad she's not a negotiator! I disagree with Malley that this sort of resolution is a good idea- he and Terry love the idea. He does come through with a sensible point, though. What is usually demanded is that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence, abide by past agreements and they respond (or non-respond) by saying Israel doesn't do these; why should we? I don't think Malley really takes this as a serious argument like I do, but he at least realizes there is a way around it; re-frame it so that you call for mutual recognition, mutual cease fire, mutual abiding by agreements (which involves referendum by the people). Now that's actually replacing a kind of silly approach where you pack up and go home because Hamas (and hence all Palestinians of course) won't do what you want, with an actual solution.

I think I would have enjoyed this interview much more had someone like Diane Rehm or Dick Gordon done it. Someone who didn't have to ask about Hamas every other time. I mean, really. Give it up. Maybe there are other reasons for the failures. I'm no fan of Hamas, but maybe Israel had something to do with it? No?

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