I recently interviewed Yehudah Glick for the Forward. He’s, an Israeli Jewish activist who went on a hunger strike after being banned from the Temple Mount.
While writing the introduction for the Q&A, I tried to dot all my i’s and cross my t’s, making sure to mention that the Haram al-Sharif (as the Temple Mount is known to Muslims) is administered by the Muslim Waqf. I explained that although Israeli law enshrines free access to religious sites, the Israeli police are given discretion to control that access, and also why the Waqf is wary of people like Glick, who want Jews to be able to worship on the Temple Mount.
I was pleased with myself for covering all bases—providing context and avoiding one-sided or loaded language. However, that feel good moment was short-lived, as I realized that I have probably been less careful when writing other pieces dealing with matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One read through “Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” confirmed so.
The glossary, put out by the Vienna-based International Press Institute, is a useful tool and reminder to journalists to make sure they say what they mean and mean what they say. Although the guide aims for clarity, the identities of its authors have been obscured. Because of the political sensitivity of working together on this project, the six contributing Israeli and Palestinian journalists and media experts opted to remain anonymous.
There are many nuances behind common expressions associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, partisan writers deliberately choose to use loaded language. But journalists aiming to be as even handed as possible would be advised to keep this 60-page booklet handy. This is especially so for foreign reporters who might not have spent a lot of time on the ground in the region, or followed the conflict closely over the decades.
Jews and Arabs appaerently still can’t work out terms for a mutually acceptable nation for the Palestinian people.
But Saveur, an upscale food magazine, has it all figured out.
Throughout an opulently photographed feature headlined “Heart of Palestine” in Saveur’s December issue, writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins — who’s written cookbooks on the Mediterranean and Italy — matter-of-factly refers to Palestine as a country. By doing so, she’s taking an unusual step into volatile political territory for a magazine which usually stresses over grilling the perfect steak or truffle-hunting.
“Hemmed in on all sides by an opposing state, Palestinians’ small piece of the world consists of two discontinuous areas: The Gaza Strip’s 25 miles of coastline in the southwest and the Delaware-sized West Bank along the River Jordan in the northeast,” she writes. “In both areas, Palestinians continue to struggle to assert their rights to the land. Amid dangerous conflict, people find hope in the rituals of daily life, none more so than the growing and preparing of traditional foods.”
Jenkins spends a few days in a village called Beit Sahour with Fairouz Shomaly, “the best cook in town, according to everyone I’ve asked.” Shomaly instructs Jenkins on making sfiha, the Palestinian flatbread; maqloubeh, “a layered dish of rice, meat, and vegetables” that dates back to 13th-century Baghdad; and the Palestinian couscous called maftoul.
The rapturous prose about food gets punctuated by a pointed (and eminently disputable) history lesson. “Throughout its history, this valuable land has seen its fair share of conquests… but after the British mandate was terminated in 1948, the land was carved up into Israel and Palestine, the boundaries of which remain in dispute,” she writes.
Qatar’s two-faced policy towards Israel was on display this week, as Doha hosted a competition of FINA, the international governing body of swimming and other water sports.
Members of Israel’s national team were granted visas to the Gulf monarchy where Israeli passports are normally rejected, and there were no boycotts of competitions against Israelis. But the Qatari television that broadcasted the event worldwide, did not present Israel’s flag on screen, instead opting for a white rectangle every time Israeli swimmers competed. Israeli news website Ynet’s showed a screen shot of the bizarre political statement.
The incident reflects Qatar’s policy towards Middle East politics, which is best characterized as an ongoing balancing act, especially when it comes to the delicate region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
In 1996, Qatar became one of the first Arab countries to establish trade relations with Israel, but the alliance ended when as a response to the 2008-09 Gaza war – in which Israel’s military killed over 1200 Palestinians — the Qataris shut down the Israeli trade office in Doha and expelled all Israeli representatives. Recently, Qatar suggested a renewal of diplomatic ties, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government rejected the offer.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s on-and-off ties with Israel have not stopped it from being a friend and a financial supporter of Hezbollah and of Hamas — whose head, Khaled Meshaal, is currently based in Doha. Further emphasizing its contradictory alliances, Qatar is home to the largest American military base in the Middle East but also provides safe haven to hardline Islamists from all over the Arab world.
So why should we even care about the foreign policies of a peninsula half the size of New Jersey, that is located over a 1000 miles away from Israel and seems to be eager to please all sides?
Because the carbon-rich Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has been using its money to do much more than just build shiny skyscrapers in the middle of the desert. By cultivating broad relations with all main Middle East stakeholders, Qatar — a country with a population of less than two million people – has become an influential regional player.
Secretary of State John Kerry, just spent an entire press conference yesterday praising Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah for being one of the main forces behind the Arab Peace Initiative. Kerry also thanked Qatar for its decision to provide $150 million in much-needed debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.
It is not the Qataris seemingly endless money flow that makes them important. It is their stance as a major player that is on nobody’s side. Last year, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Qatari Emir, was the first head of state to visit Gaza since 1999, meeting Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and launching a humanitarian reconstruction project valued at $250 million. As the Kerry-led peace talks continue, Qatar could play the critical role of bridging between Hamas and Fatah, an essential step on the path to a sustainable long-term solution between Palestine and Israel.
Find Yermi Brenner on Twitter: @yermibrenner
The crisis in Syria, has overwhelmed discussion of other Middle East issues in the past month, not the least of them being the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Still, the passage of two decades with little or no progress in the peace process has not passed unnoticed. Analysts and former negotiators from all sides have tried to explain, in articles and think-tank gatherings, why, so long after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to reaching a peace accord than they were in the moments following Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat’s historic handshake.
“One of Oslo’s best legacies is that the majority of each population now favors a two-state solution, though each is convinced that the other does not share its convictions,” wrote David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a paper he published on Monday.
But as Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to revive long-dormant talks between the two sides, a surprising side show has also emerged — one that takes on not the question of Oslo’s failure, but the validity of its fundamental premise: the notion of dividing the land into two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
Those critical of this premise got their biggest boost last Sunday when the New York Times Sunday Review gave its lead story over to a scathing opinion piece, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, who portrayed the major players’ clinging to a two-state solution as one of the main obstacles to finding other, more productive paths to peace.
“The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned,” Lustick wrote.
Calls have been voiced in the past to abandon the two-state solution and the peace process whose stated aim is to reach that outcome. But these were largely limited to the margins of the discussion. Scholars such as [Henry Siegman] who have publicly given up on the viability of a two state solution, have been sidelined in the discourse over the future of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
Does the article by Lustick — a longtime skeptic of the two-state solution — herald a breakthrough of his perspective into the mainstream?
Response to the article, in hundreds of comments posted online, seems to suggest otherwise. While a broad sense of pessimism still dominates any policy discussion about Secretary Kerry’s attempts to bring about a peace accord, there is no visible shift within mainstream discourse toward a one-state solution.
That sense of things seemed reinforced during a September 16 debate hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. The discussion featured author Peter Beinart, who argued in favor of the two-state solution, and Israeli academic Yehuda Shenhav who spoke about the demise of the two state solution and the need to discuss instead the concept of one state in which Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal rights and some form of shared sovereignty.
Here too, the stage and the speakers were as noteworthy as the substance of their discussion: an Ivy League university’s Israel studies center hosting a debate challenging the basic idea of separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states, held between two prominent intellectuals.
But the venue, as it turned out, also provided an illustration of the limits of the one-state solution’s penetration into the broader peace process discussion.
The event, though coming on the heels of the Times’ highlighting of the issue, was held in a small lecture hall that comfortably seated an audience estimated at no more than 100 people. This could suggest that the one state solution is still a topic primarily of interest to a fairly limited coterie concentrated on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and other, comparable districts elsewhere — not a debate ready for prime time.
Is it “Palestine” yet?
Following the November 29 United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Palestinian Authority reportedly decided to officially change its name, and from now on to be referred to simply as “Palestine.” The term Palestinian Authority is a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords in which Israel and the PLO agreed to establish an entity which would rule the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is one of many monikers used by the international community to describe the Palestinians. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widely used by the U.N. and other international organizations. The Palestinian Territories is commonly used by the United States and European countries. The media, including the Forward, usually strives to simply refer to the Palestinians. Some Israelis call the West Bank by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which ignore the Palestinians and refers only to the area.
Should the U.N. vote put an end to this discussion? After all, if an overwhelming majority of nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, then one could deduce that it is a state, the state of Palestine.
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu once again avoided speaking to each other yesterday, as they have done for the past three years. Despite both claiming that they want to restart conflict-ending talks, there was little evidence of that in either leader’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly.
Abbas was on the attack from the outset. Speaking as the representative of an “angry people,” he leveled a familiar list of charges against Israel. Ethnic cleansing, settler violence, unlawful detention and the closure of the borders with Gaza all got a mention. Most were met with applause. So too, the call for Israel to be “condemned, punished and boycotted.” He noted that the Palestinian population is young and frustrated, hinting that violence could once again return. Yet, he claimed, Israeli policy and an aggressive brand of Israeli political discourse means that the Palestinian Authority, the guardian of Palestinian political and security relations with Israel, is under threat of collapse. There is only one way to understand this and only one conclusion to be drawn, he said. The Israeli government rejects a two-state solution.
Not so the Palestinians. Although time is running out, there is a chance — “maybe the last” — to return to talks. And he reassured the General Assembly that there is no need for marathon negotiations or to solve an “intractable riddle.” The solution already exists. All it needs is a return to the UN’s own terms of reference and the Arab Peace Initiative.
But even whilst calling for a “new approach,” Abbas actually drove peace efforts further up last year’s cul-de-sac. His announcement that he would be seeking a General Assembly resolution to grant non-member status to the Palestinians is anathema to Israel. It is also a pale echo of last year’s thwarted application for full UN membership. Abbas wants the support of the UN to draw the 1967 green line on the maps ahead of any negotiations, and for talks to then discuss changes to that line. Israel’s precondition for talks is that there are no preconditions, and thus rejects this approach. So, we can assume, will the next U.S. president.
Jon Stewart treads where others don’t dare: skewering America’s decision to defund UNESCO for recognizing Palestine. And this was no mere tweak: Stewart skipped his interview segment last night to air a special, two-part “investigation” by John Oliver on the UNESCO flap. Oliver actually traveled to Gabon in West Africa (not a fake blue-screen standup), which apparently donated an extra $1 million to the UN agency toward making up the U.S. shortfall. And he visited schoolchildren in Gabon who benefit from UNESCO’s programs – and suffer from the defunding. More innuendo than fact – it’s the Daily Show after all – but pretty harsh.
Note that they barely mention Israel, much less the, um, U.S. domestic influences that pushed for the defunding-UN-over-Palestine policy. Even Stewart isn’t that suicidal. Nonetheless, it’s very pointed. Here’s Part One:
Part Two (after the jump):
While I am not a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, I can’t help but be pulled into the controversy surrounding a prized neighborhood institution as it debates whether or not to take a position on boycotting Israeli food products. The coop will vote on March 27th on whether or not to hold a referendum for the coop to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. What I don’t understand is: What is the goal of the organizers of this effort? If their goal is to end Israel’s occupation and create a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, then this is the wrong way to go about it. If the goal is delegitimize Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state, then full speed ahead.
For months now, I have been dissecting communications and articles by BDS activists, for a range of reasons, both personal and professional. In one case, I was helping a friend to decide whether or not to perform in Israel. That’s why I found myself going through literally dozens and dozens of Facebook posts imploring him not to frequent Israel, posted by BDS activists all apparently reading from the same hymnal.
It was an illuminating exercise. I discovered that many of the emails were orchestrated from activists in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, much less so from the Palestinian Authority areas (which I usually call Palestine), and a good amount from inside Israel from Israeli Jewish BDS activists. The language was almost uniformly against “Israeli apartheid,” and never once against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the onerous conditions still partly the domain of Israel regarding border crossing and closures in Gaza. In fact, there was almost zero distinction between the occupied territories and what I consider to be Israel proper (as does much of the world’s powers), Israel within the 1967 borders more or less.
There is a reason for this. BDS’s prime motivation, if their messaging is to be believed, is not to end the occupation at all; rather, it is to end Israel. This plays directly into the very hands of those who are maintaining the occupation and who have an interest, even, in strengthening the occupation.
I give Hussien Ibish — a contributor to our pages — a lot of credit for even agreeing to get into the ring with someone like David Ha’ivri, an “extremist settler” (Ibish’s words, with which I concur) that he recently debated. Ibish recounts the encounter here.
In many ways, this type of interaction can only lead to head-banging-against-the-wall frustration. The two men share absolutely none of the same premises about the nature of the conflict. While Ha’ivri refers to the bible to justify where he lives and doesn’t even stop to consider that the millions of Arabs living alongside him should have any rights, let alone be entitled to their own national aspirations, Ibish looks at the current situation purely through the pragmatic prism of two peoples who desire the same small land and need to divide it up. They can’t even have a conversation. And they didn’t really. It sounds like they just lectured each other.
But Ibish had an interesting insight into their inability to speak the same language. Of all the dichotomies and binary choices that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents, it’s easy to forget this one. But it seems to capture a big part of the problem:
My main point was that this was not so much a debate between an Arab and a Jew, as one between a modern mentality and a medieval one. Modern thinking, I explained, recognizes both the inherent rights of individuals as human beings and the rights of self-defined peoples to national self-determination. Medieval thinking, on the other hand, relies on holy texts and symbols, and conceives of people not as individuals and groups of individuals, but as fixed categories in a divinely ordained hierarchy.