Thursday, December 27, 2012
This May be Just the Beginning...
I was pleased to be asked recently to blog at PPI. As this week is one of the more peaceful ones in the year, at least for American Jews and academics, it is a good time to start.
First, a brief introduction: I’ve been affiliated with various organizations of the Zionist left in the US and Israel for several decades now, including a stint on American Friends of Meretz’s National Board in the 1990s, and am now on the ‘National Advisory Board’ of J-Street. I am a Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland (my day job) and am also Managing Editor of the Israel Studies Review, an academic journal.
In 1989 I set up the first Washington, D.C. office of Americans for Peace Now and was its D.C. representative for a year and a half before I fell victim to intra-organizational politics. From 1996-2002 my family and I lived in Jerusalem while I coordinated joint Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Jordanian research and civil society projects at the Truman Institute for Peace at the Hebrew University, also spending a lot of time in Jordan, and becoming part of the Israeli-Palestinian “Peace NGO” community. Having arrived in Jerusalem at the height of the peace process – in earshot of the first of the February 1996 suicide bombs – we moved back to the US in the depths of the second Intifada in 2002.
I’ve written a lot about Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives, and my second co-edited book on the subject is coming out this summer. I’m also interested in the role of Islamism in the Middle East, and am currently working on a new paper exploring Israeli options for dealing with Hamas.
My wife Sandra is a Middle East archaeologist who writes on heritage issues and other aspects of archaeology, and my daughter Anat is a college freshman. We live in Washington, D.C.
I look forward to writing frequently here on a variety of issues concerning Israel and hope to be corresponding with many of you, whether you love or hate what I say, so long as you’re not indifferent.
I’m particularly disgusted this week at the attacks on former Senator Chuck Hagel, whose name has been floated as a possible new Secretary of Defense. While it's still a largely inside-the-Beltway matter (I’ll be happy to hear if I’m wrong about that), I've felt for awhile that it has the potential to become a watershed issue. Thus, I'm gratified that just in the last day or two, several strong pieces have appeared on the subject, including by Tom Friedman, Bernie Avishai, MJ Rosenberg, Trita Parsi, and a particularly important and timely piece by Elizabeth Drew. And those are just the ones that arrived in my inbox.
So I’m not going to bother discussing the possible nomination itself as I had planned, but rather want to look at it as part of what I see as a fundamental change in the conflict that is manifesting itself in this country as well, and perhaps (in real time) in American policy. I always tell my classes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed fundamentally several times, such as in 1948, 1967, 1979, 1993, and 2000. I think we may be at another of those points, not necessarily because of a war or a peace agreement, but because the regional situation and the political situation in Israel are changing rapidly, and American politics and policy are not immune. The various pieces of the ‘Arab Spring’ (an expression in serious need of an update) include: the developments in Hamas, Egypt, and Syria; the widespread (and wrongheaded) Israeli perception that Israel lacks a peace partner; the consequences of Israel’s recent mini-war in Gaza; and the near-collapse state of the Palestinian Authority and more. These likely mean, taken together, that the stalemate that has prevailed since the petering out of the second Intifada is ending.
While I have not been among those who predicted Obama would take up this issue in his second term, I now wonder if the Jewish rightwing in this country has seriously overreached in trying to block Hagel's nomination. While many of us felt that Obama could not challenge the near across-the-board consensus (with honorable exceptions) that led to his futile opposition to the PLO’s recent UN bid, it may be that enough challenges are being laid down, very much including the new settlement plans in Israel, that he may not be able to ignore the issue as he may have hoped. The Republicans are in increasing disarray since the election, and however the financial cliff bottoms out, they are not likely to come out of it with increased unity, and may not make as much noise on this issue as we have feared.
Thus, I am beginning to wonder if we may be facing shortly an Israel-Palestine spring in which a number of these factors become active, together creating a new and different situation. Of course, the results of Israel’s upcoming election on January 22 will be a large part of it. It is unlikely to be pretty. I don’t challenge the consensus that Bibi will be the next Prime Minister, but the composition of his next coalition is not necessarily engraved in stone.
For the last year or more, diplomatic and other initiatives have been put off pending the US elections, but tectonic forces have been building. For all of the reasons I mentioned and more, we may see them bursting out in fairly short order. The campaign against Hagel may turn out to be the straw that breaks the (American) camel’s back.
Dec. 27, 2012