If Talks Fail, Boycotts Will Arrive “On Steroids”

by James M. WallC2Photo by Matty Stern:U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

John Kerry returned for talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week, bringing a warning that if the peace talks fail, Israel could confront a “boycott campaign on steroids“.

The U.S. Secretary of State also brought a “framework agreement” for the two sides to discuss.

Learning of the contours of the proposed agreement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quick to voice his  opposition.

The agreement reportedly calls for the stationing of Israeli military forces in the Jordan Valley under the noxious pretense that Israel needs that extra layer of protection for its security.

Ira Glunt, writing in Mondoweiss, offers more details on the Ramallah meeting:

As reported in Ha’aretz, according to a senior Palestinian advisor, the atmosphere at the meeting last night was not good because of “American pressure.”  

The Americans want an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for a period of 10 to 15 years.  The Palestinians have publicly stated that they would accept an international military presence in their future state, but would not agree to any Israeli military deployment on their territory. 

On his return to Jerusalem from Ramallah, the Secretary had his expected 30 minute drive delayed for more than two hours. Such a delay would be typical for Palestinians on the same journey, but it was not checkpoints that delayed the Secretary.  He was driving through the heaviest snowstorm to hit Jerusalem in decades.

Kerry’s proposed “framework agreement” is described by Ha’aretz as “an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in the impasse and to force leaders to reach decisions”.

Kerry has five months left in his self-imposed time frame to reach a peace agreement. He is trying everything in his diplomat notebook. He warns Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu of a flood of boycotts he could face. He warned Abbas of a delay in the scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of December.

The two threats are hardly comparable, but then, the status of the occupied and the occupier are also anything but comparable.

Kerry has since backed off the prisoner release delay, a wise move considering that the world’s most famous political prisoner, Nelson Mandela, has just been honored and buried in South Africa.

Kerry flew from Tel Aviv to Vietnam after his short visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem.  Before his departure, Ma’an reported that he told reporters:

“We are working on an approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty,”

Kerry also insisted his goal was for both sides “to reach a final status agreement — not an interim agreement.” He added that Israel will release as planned a new group of Palestinian prisoners on Dec. 29.

This is hardly a propitious time for Kerry and Netanyahu to bring more world attention to Palestinian political prisoners.  This is especially true after Israel failed to send a top-level leader to attend the Mandela memorial service.

Marwan BarghoutThe next group of prisoners to be released will most certainly not include the name of Marwan Barghouthi (at left), the man many Palestinians feel could become the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Following Mandela’s death, linkage of Barghouthi to Mandela takes on a new impetus. A long-time friend and fellow prisoner of Mandela’s, an Indian-born South African, Ahmed Kathrada, is stepping up his campaign to free Barghouthi.

Kathrada and Mandela were both released from a South African prison in 1990. In 1994 Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first post-apartheid President.

Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid leader, initially launched a Release Mandela Campaign, a project that lead to his imprisonment a year later. He joined Mandela on Robben Island and then spent a total of  26 years in apartheid jails.

On October 27, this year, Kathrada returned to Robben Island to launch the International Campaign to “Free Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Prisoners”.

Kathrada wrote of his experience in prison and of Marwan Barghouthi, in the Africa Report:

I think of my cramped prison cell and I visualise my fellow freedom fighter Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian prisoners. Since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians have endured imprisonment at some point in their lives.

This is a very striking example of mass detention, aimed at breaking the will of an entire people. Some of them have spent over 30 years in Israeli jails, setting shameful world records for the longest period of political detention. Others have lost their lives due to ill-treatment or lack of healthcare. Children in Palestine experience detention and apartheid, as several generations did in South Africa.

Anticipating the release of Palestinian prisoners later this month, the South African Kathrada wrote in Aljazeera:

Marwan Barghouti, a leading Palestinian political prisoner being held for life in Israel, has spent nearly two decades of his life in Israeli jails, including the past 11 years.

Approximately 30 others, who later this month are expected to exchange prison cells for larger prisons in occupied Palestine, are returning to a very different world – grown children, an even more dire political landscape, and a West that denigrates them while ignoring the crimes of their jailers.

Only a political prisoner can fully comprehend the ordeal of a fellow political prisoner. The experiences of solitary confinement, ill-treatment, separation from the outside world, and the progressive erosion of the concept of time, cannot be fully translated into words. Imprisonment leaves behind deep scars, both in your flesh and in your soul.

Not only does Israel face the threat of a flood of boycotts, it has also created what veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery calls its own “self-boycott” by failing to send any high-ranking officials to the Mandela memorial. Avnery wrote this week:

 By its voluntary no-representation or under-representation at the Mandela ceremony, it has declared that Israel is a pariah state.

Is there any possibility that John Kerry will bring the two negotiating parties to a peaceful solution? Avnery offers a reading of that possibility that is Neiburian in its mixture of hope and realism:

Netanyahu’s arguments presuppose that there will be no peace, not now, not ever. The putative peace agreement – which Israelis call the “permanent status agreement” – will just open another phase of the generations-old war.

This is the main obstacle. Israelis – almost all Israelis – cannot imagine a situation of peace. Neither they, nor their parents and grandparents, have ever experienced a day of peace in this country. Peace is something like the coming of the Messiah, something that has to be wished for, prayed for, but is never really expected to happen.

But peace does not mean, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, the continuation of war by other means. It does not mean a truce or even an armistice.

Peace means living side by side. Peace means reconciliation, a genuine willingness to understand the other side, the readiness to get over old grievances, the slow growth of a new relationship, economic, social, personal.

To endure, peace must satisfy all parties. It requires a situation which all sides can live with, because it fulfils their basic aspirations.

Is this possible? Knowing the other side as well as most, I answer with utmost assurance: Yes, indeed. But it is not an automatic process. One has to work for it, invest in it, wage peace as one wages war.

Nelson Mandela did. That’s why the entire world attended his funeral. That, perhaps, is why our [Israeli] leaders chose to be absent.

As the song goes, is skipping the Mandela memorial a “lesson too late for the learning”?  Or is it an opportunity for Netanyahu to make a dramatic gesture and include Marwan Barghouthi in the prisoner release later this month?

Photo of John Kerry at  top is by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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5 Responses to If Talks Fail, Boycotts Will Arrive “On Steroids”

  1. Roy Hayes says:

    You’re full of insights today, Jim. Marwan Barghouthi has the capacity to unite the Palestinian side. Palestine needs a unified government in order to negotiate effectively with the Israelis. Peace, Roy

  2. Robert Assaly says:

    Jim, I fear that a dramatic gesture by Netanyahu, no strings attached, is out of the question. (Needless to say, I would be delighted to be wrong). He has so hardened the Israeli public that it could only cause unnecessary internal strife — Palestinians aren’t worth it in this view.

    Moreover, ignoring the long-term, his claimed achievements by deepening occupation and violence moot the need for another approach. He has successfully:

    *brought ‘relative peace’ to Israelis
    *de facto Judaized East Jerusalem
    *maintained the siege on Gaza, accompanied by bombing at will, without repercussion
    *made Palestinian daily life behind the wall miserable and hopeless such that emigration will soon become the most attractive option
    *increasingly Judaized the West Bank through settlements at the cost of only having to show up at peace talks and twiddle his thumbs
    *audaciously had himself crowned for a day King of Congress in Mr. Obama’s face, proving the captivity of American decision-makers (recalling another excellent article of yours)

    Indeed, I think he has proven that while might may not be right, it works if one is trying to permanently dispossess another people.

    The only mitigating factor is pariah status. In the face of anti-Semitism charges, the strength of Christian Zionism, Holocaust guilt and so on, isn’t that a small price for Israelis to pay for the whole pie?

  3. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim, for a POWERFUL article.
    Yes, Freedom for Marwan Barghouti will eject to the forefront a Palestinian Mandela. But, that is not what Israel desires. Far from it. Israel prefers to portray Palestinian leadership as rejecting peace and salutes with rockets, or ones who are subjugated and are only allowed to ask, “how high?” when Israel orders them to jump.

    Netanyahu and other high level Israeli “Neo-Nazis-in-suits” did not attend Mandela’s funeral, not for “saving budget funds” (outlandish hilarious line when America foots their bill, anyway), as they claimed.

    They refused because they knew that they were going to be faced with a barrage of worldwide media exposure that reveals them to the world, as the “New-old faces of Apartheid tyrants”. Reporters and journalists would have asked them most basic, yet, “real” and direct questions that US media cowers to ask.

    There would be direct comparisons between the pre-Mandela Apartheid regime of South Africa and the Apartheid Zionist regime imposed in East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza, as well as in Israel ’48.

    They would ask them how European Zionists of Israel dare continue to steal Palestinian lands and enslave Palestinian people for 65 years, when the European Apartheid “regime” of South Africa was “dismantled” despite the passage of a few hundred years.

    A good question for Goliath-Netanyahu and Co. should ask themselves as we approach the era and environment in the 21st Century.

  4. Fred says:

    The only hope that the Israelis will even consider the idea of peace and rights for non Jews is “boycott on steroids. Why would Israel strive for peace any other way? It has everything it wants–complete subjugation of a defeated people, any land it wants for the taking, blowing up non Jewish homes whenever it want to and the US in it’s pocket.

    Only dreamers can think that Israel will give any of this up unless there is a universal boycott of everything to do with Israel. If that doesn’t happen, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine will continue and be completed—just what most Israelis want.

  5. Quote from elsewhere in this issue:
    ” Menendez (Kerry’s replacement in the Senate) wrote in USA Today, “We cannot substitute wild-eyed hope for clear-eyed pragmatism given Iran’s record of deception.”Unquote

    What can he be thinking? Whom does he perceive his audience to be?

    Iran is certain to get nukes one way or another. {Personally I would be surprised if the delivery had not already been made.) Follow this logic: :1. Iran has money and wants nuclear weapons.
    2. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and needs money.
    3. Both are Islamic and neither has love for Israel.
    4. Much of Pakistan has been alienated by our drone strikes.
    5. Pakistan has shown its willingness to assist other (less deserving) nuclear wannabees – Ie., North Korea.

    On the plus side, we continue to pump money into Pakistan, and any fool understands that such largesse is “sometime” dispatched as bribes to curry friends in high places and buy favorable (in)actions.

    Taking one step closer to a “no fly list”: Senator Menendez may be a lot of things, but he is no student of the USA’s heavy handed post-1952 relations with Iran. WE AMERICANS, Beloved, are the duplicitous deceivers and bullies. A book: Stephen Kenzer’s “All the Shah’s Men|”.

    To stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons we would need to invade with at least half-a-million (more likely a million) troops spread across the Middle East: another several trillion dollars; and, maybe, 20 years.

    We may or may not win such a confrontation without resorting to our own nuclear arsenal, but the question raises its ugly head: What will our erstwhile friends and enduring enemies be doing (to us) while we are bogged down (again) in another avoidable quagmire?

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