As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, a sense of justice in many has brought with it high-pitched criticism and for some necessitates further examination. Obligated with a sense of justice, there is a shared instinctual understanding that economic stability can bring with it the moral decency to tackle social inequities, even if faced with normative relativism. Today’s dispatch explores the economic peace efforts that are actively being taken in the Palestinian territories, Israel and abroad. It also asks some important questions about the use of soft intervention versus hard intervention in conflicts, of this nature, and about human security as opposed to state security. In this investigation, the goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the reasons that have led so many people toward broad-stroke favoritism when it appears that a political solution would benefit tremendously from the opposite and would include accountability on all sides.
In the process of writing one article on the subject, it became evident that with all due respect to the veracious nature of those who were contacted for the dispatch, it would benefit from being presented as a two-part series, so as not to leave a stone unturned. This two-part series will start with an interview with Marc Gopin, director of George Mason University’s Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, who, as an author, professor, rabbi, and researcher, has been involved in numerous track II diplomatic efforts in endeavoring to use conflict resolution techniques that cultivate understanding and respect. The second part of this series handles matters of a more pecuniary nature with a look at economic peace efforts in the Palestinian territories by those who live in the region and importers, while also exploring efforts by social networkers toward deconstructing the negative effects of occupation and conflict on cross-cultural connections between everyday Palestinians and Israelis to build a better future given such dissonant circumstances.
Part I: Interview with Marc Gopin
Do you think there is any success that can be achieved by track II diplomacy efforts and can you suggest one that might be gaining some traction?
One of the things that is hard about responding to these things, I’ve read so many books about it, and I’ve spent 27 years on it so it’s kind of hard to get it down to size. Let me just say that, part of what you need to do is to define second track diplomacy. It has been defined in various ways, but there are more elite ways of second track diplomacy, which is immediately below officials, but it was meant to be the entire range of things that people do who are individual citizens. My latest book is called “To Make the Earth Whole – the Art of Citizen Diplomacy in a Militant Age” and there are a lot of definitions in there of what it means and what it entails specifically, and in my previous works I’ve talked a lot about citizen diplomacy.
I’d say the most important thing that needs to change is that the work has to be done on two levels: equality has to be the watchword on how people-to-people diplomacy works, and second, it has to be focused more on justice than it is on peace or more on basic human needs. Peace is the end result of good relationships and equality and social justice. If it becomes the subject of conversation, then the conversation shifts towards pacification, which means everyone should be quiet and everyone should be non-violent. While that is the ultimate goal, pacification and quiet, when one group has more than the other, are always a prescription for violence. The goal of people to people diplomacy is actually not a lot of talk about peace, but a lot of talk about social contracts, in its original form. I spent a lot of time in my last book on the concept of social contract in its original form for the last 2,000 years of philosophers and political thinkers who write about it. It is an agreement between people to live together based on rules of equality. So that is the basic goal.
The problem with a lot of people to people work has been that it has not been focused on that, it has been focused on dialogue, a word that I have been trying to extirpate, even though dialogue is a good thing in and of itself, but it has been bastardized by elites that just want to talk rather than do things. It’s really about doing, and it’s about transforming relationships, and it’s about relationships of equality.
The other thing that has missed the mark, is that all of this work is not really embraced by the political leaders on any side of the equation. There is not a single major power that truly embraced people to people work in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, all the funds, millions and millions of dollars that went in, actually went for corruption or security or to violence.
Wouldn’t you say that it all went to state security, rather than human security?
Never for human security. The money never went to human security, it always went for guns. On any side. On the Palestinian side and on everybody’s side. Even EU money that is going is all state funds. They are not allowed to give to individuals. So they end up giving hundreds of millions of dollars to systems that we know are corrupt and then they wonder what happened after they’ve discussed it and said the money really didn’t do anything. So there is a fundamental problem with the first track not really recognizing democracy in any sense of the term. No one is really invested in people to people work – not the Saudis, the Israelis, the Europeans, the Americans, the Russians, nobody. That’s my sense of what has been missing until now.
What is your perspective in terms of hard versus soft intervention in foreign policies as well as on the topic of state security versus human security? How do you suggest that policymakers implement both in policies so that they can provide an improved outcome?
Some people in Washington have been working on this, but it’s a very tricky thing because the moment that politicians get involved they are being lobbied heavily by special interests that want to keep the funds in win-lose dealings and thinking. Ideally, you want the Europeans and Americans and even the Saudis to invest in people to people work, but it’s a tricky process of how they would shift those funds and how they would allow that work to proceed without interference. The best model of this in modern history is the Ireland fund where you had a fund set up with tens of million of dollars that really had an excellent impact on creating the groundwork of peace and justice in Ireland. That was funded by states, but independent of states. So there are people in Washington who would like to do that, who want a Palestine-Israel fund along the same lines.
It’s a difficult journey to that goal, because the lobbies here in Washington are so intense in not allowing Congress to do anything creative whatsoever. So that’s #1. But that would be the ideal, and that would be a shift of the moneys that have been made available to Israel and Palestine – shifted to people to people and getting Israel to acquiesce to that and Palestine to acquiesce to that. It is easier conceivably to do that now in principle than it was in Arafat’s time. It would be hard for Netanyahu and Abbas to openly say no, but I think it would be ideal, because it would pull the money away from the corrupt system where they are having a hard time controlling the money and push it towards the people to people work.
By the way, people to people work is not always to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. In Palestine, there is a strong sense that many do not want to work directly with Israelis – anti-normalization – because the settlements keep taking away every single piece of land around them. I understand that. Constructive peace work doesn’t have to always be people to people. It can also be focused on social justice, focused on empowerment, focused on education, focused on jobs. All of these things, based on all of the research we have ever done and building middle classes, leads to peace. It doesn’t have to be that all the money goes to people to people, but to other constructive peace work.
Are there any civil society efforts that you think are achieving what Israeli and Palestinian foreign policies are unable to achieve that might lead to a more unified voice on the Palestinian side?
There are 300 organizations in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and I would say a large portion of them do excellent work, but they are completely impoverished. The mathematics of this is really simple. If they got an infusion of $50 million, we would see a massive transformation in Israel. On the Palestinian side, the money would have to go into human needs. All the basic organizations that try to work on women’s empowerment, children’s needs, and education, there are so many organizations, and the infrastructure is there for good work. Am I giving them a blanket endorsement? No, I’m saying they are good enough to get this large infusion of funds.
It’s arithmetic, the amount of money that is going into keeping the Arab/Israeli war going, from radical Americans to radical Muslims to radical Christians, to radical Jews in America, the amount of money that keeps this going is in the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there are all the billions of funds that are going into basic aid to Israel, which in turn is diverted into building the settlements in Palestine that continues to build a corrupt system that alienates people and drives them to join Hamas. Hamas is only too happy to accept funds from the Gulf and other places. We have a very destructive system at work, in terms of a complete imbalance of funds for peace and justice versus funds for the continuation of the conflict. If you ask me, it’s about arithmetic, give the peace side a fighting chance then you can say that none of this would help. But most evaluations of this do not acknowledge the complete imbalance of funds for war versus peace.
Wouldn’t those who are involved on a policy-level in the Middle East peace process benefit from acknowledging Palestinian local efforts to build and prosper?
There is no one acknowledging them on the official level. They choose to side with the Palestinian Authority, Fattah because they are fighting against Hamas. So they are not going to say anything problematic about the PA itself. Then there’s the delicacy of saying anything that is anti-Israel. For all of those reasons, the American leadership is quite biased and unable to speak the truth. The Arab countries are not speaking the truth either. There has never been a serious investment in Palestinian human needs and Palestinian human security. If you go to the Arab countries and see how the Palestinians are treated, there is clearly a long history of a real problem between Palestinians in these countries. There is a lot of hypocrisy here where the anti-Israeli position is very strong, but not a pro-Palestinian position. There is a lot of discomfort, I think, frankly that neither one of two states is being created, a Palestinian secular democratic state, which would be the first Arab truly democratic state, which is a threat to some Arab states, and a Hamas state would be a threat also. I think things are evolving in such a way that most Arab countries would be comfortable with a Palestinian democratic state under Abbas and Fayed, but I don’t see it.
The deepest tragedy here–and it’s not just a Arab problem, it’s a western problem, it’s an Arab problem, it’s a problem with governments–is a lack of recognition that people are the answer. They know that people are a threat, that Hamas has popularity, they know Hezbollah has popularity, but for some strange reason they cannot connect in their brains that if people have been lured towards extremism by their human needs and their misery, then they should be the ones empowered to bring it back toward the center. This step is a threat especially to authoritarian leaders in the region to empower people. It’s also a blind spot in most Western investment. It is a continual investment in corrupt individuals. There is no multimillion dollar program for small businesses in Palestine. I think of (Minorities Affairs Minister) Avishay Braverman, who I wish could become the Prime Minister of Israel, who just announced a $50 million investment fund underwritten by Arab and Jewish businessmen for Arab businesses.
I hope this is going to get down to poor people. Usually, it does not. But it is a good effort to bring in private business to embarrass government into doing the right thing.
Have you heard of G.ho.st, the Global Hosted Operating System? They’ve been called an alternative to Windows since they are a single online file system. They are a business that outsources to Palestinian engineers and are an Israeli-Palestinian joint venture. (To read more about how they are narrowing the cultural gap, see this article)
Yes, I have.
Also, look up Mejdi.net I’m a co-founder. It stands for Middle East Justice and Development Initiatives and it is a Jewish-Arab for profit that is focused on promoting Palestinian products in the West and also in bringing tours to Palestine and Israel, whose profits immediately go into investing in honest businesses that pay good wages in Palestine. Tourism is one of the most hopeful industries in the world if it’s done in a way that benefits average people. Many small businesses can benefit from tourism. There are all sorts of corrupt forms of tourism in the Middle East where people just go for sex tourism for example that keep people in a hotel and they call it tourism. But most tourism, if you stay in modest hotels, and you have people shop, will be helping the local economy at the base level. We are trying to promote this as a new form of peacemaking.
This brings up my next question. I’ve read a few analysts that say that economic peace is a diversion from the real issues. Yet, if one of the core issues in the conflict is the poverty rate, which can lead to the conditions that breed anger and resentment and hatred, shouldn’t economic peace be seen as not avoiding the real issues, but trying to find solutions toward building human security, since this is not seen as a priority of leaders in the area?
I agree with you completely. What people do often in their intellectual thinking on this matter is that they choose one way or another, that if you go into the economics, you are avoiding the political problems; that you are trying to hide from the issues that Israel has to give back the territories or that you are serving the business elite. But the truth is is that the sophisticated people in Palestine absolutely know that boycott is not the answer, investment is the answer. Investment in the right people and in the right things. And that a boycott of Israel isn’t the answer either, but the investment in the right things and a political process that keeps the pressure up on a fair deal between Israelis and Palestinians are.
The two, politics and economic investment in honest business, are not mutually exclusive. The reason why we moved toward business as one of the things that we are doing is that we feel that a focus exclusively on advocacy of political change is actually quite disempowering, because you are facing these gigantic forces and you are left with nothing to do but to say no and scream and resist. I am a big believer in nonviolent forms of resistance, and we advocate that too, but we believe that people have to take the power for themselves through education, through a better financial system that puts money in the pockets of people who are deserving and that in itself creates a shift on the ground. The more disempowered the poorer Palestinians are vis-à-vis the Jews in the Palestinian territory, the harder it is going to be for them to win in the long run. Especially if the only way is by assistance that is corrupted. Corruption always encourages occupation. It’s as old as empires as can be. It’s called divide and conquer. You make some people rich and most people poor and you buy off the leaders of an occupied group.
The only antidote that we know in history for this is a massive infusion of money at much lower levels. If you look at the history of democracy and democratic struggles, it always involves a slow and steady empowerment of many more people, through politics, but also through finances. As bad as things have been in Iran, they have a bigger base to create yet another revolution against a corrupt regime than a lot of the other Arab countries. Why? Because there is a massive middle class in Iran that is highly educated. Education of men and women combined with money to take that education into jobs, is a powerful way that political systems can be changed.
Some say that the only way toward a political solution is to not favor the Palestinians or the Israelis, but we should hold both accountable to their commitments that have been made? How could this be settled in order to support one peace principle of mutual gain and mutual respect? How can resistance to that be countered?
Frankly, I have a lenient approach to this. Anything that I see that has a potential for positive, I will endorse. I don’t endorse a lot of funds that go to people who are known to be corrupt, because that is inherently destructive, but I will endorse anybody who says that they are willing to be held accountable, because in principle that would help the situation. This is what Mitchell did in Ireland. Unfortunately, he has not been able to do that here. In Ireland, he kept everyone to his or her commitments, and embarrassed them when they didn’t. If we had that, this might have been over already. Israel would have had to face the choice to lose the U.S. as an ally. Instead what they have done is manipulated the situation and made it impossible for an American president to operate by completely controlling Congress and that’s why this isn’t ‘Mitchell in Ireland.’ Until that happens, until somebody truly says that we are going to hold you to your commitments, that we are going to move from this spot, we’re stuck. That would be great. It’s not possible right now.
Are there small ways to do that right now? Steps?
Congress needs to be unlocked and that requires two groups to show a light between themselves and the extremists who have a lockdown on Israeli politics in Congress. That is the Jewish community and Christian communities. Both communities have to work on chipping away at Congress. J Street is doing that in the Jewish community and we need to see a much more aggressive Christian evangelical effort to counter the John Hagee extremists. Both of those groups, the extremist Jews and Christians who control Congress, need to be countered by other people equally aggressive in the U.S. to show Congressmen that there are other votes that they will lose and that there are other funds to be gotten by those who will invest in them if they show courage. Some Congressmen have been begging for that for years. A lot of Congressmen have been begging for this for years. There are lots of them who want to speak more freely about it, but they haven’t been able to because they would be voted out of office and they are kept ignorant by the lobbyists. You show them only one fraction of the story and bring them to conferences where they get standing ovations and they are kept ignorant.
And there are people inside Congress who really are villainous about this, like Joe Lieberman, but honestly a lot of the Jews in Congress, there are a lot who are ready for a different policy, but they are being strangulated by the lobbies. I’ve met these people and know what is going on. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a perfect example. He is a solid Zionist who is from a Zionist family and he can’t move from this spot right now, because of the lobbying and the radical nature of the Republican Party. So, we have a real problem in the U.S., which is why I’m not convinced that the U.S. may have the solutions here. I really think it might have to come from the ground.
What is the likelihood that we can see George Mitchell succeed? Do you think he should only play the part of an honest broker? I ask this because I have recently read an analyst on the topic, Sami Abdel-Shafi and his analysis can be found on the Palestine News Network
He’ll succeed more if they see more of an American popular commitment to this. I don’t see this happening. One of the things with politics, there are leaders and followers, but I don’t think there are leaders, unless there is a groundwork for people to lead. Very rarely do you find politicians who don’t care about being elected again like Jimmy Carter. Most politicians are part of an engine of election and they can’t afford to betray their party and those who got them elected by doing things that are reckless where there is no base. So I go back to the power of people.
What we are working on is a popular Jewish-Arab partnership to create a different model here. I’m very interested in the nonviolent resistance going on in Palestine. The Israelis are cracking down on it very hard, but in terms of the history of India that is to be expected. I don’t see the massive numbers coming to join them yet, and I don’t see a massive number of Jews coming to join them, because there has been such a history of violence between the two groups and a lack of trust by average Jews that they can go to Palestine and demonstrate. There is no sense of safety. There isn’t a massive movement of Jews and Arabs on nonviolent resistance and if there were more pictures of that there would be shifts in American public opinion. We don’t have that yet.
The price that the Arab regimes are paying for continuation of the deterioration of Israel and more extremism in Israel is higher and higher and I am very happy to see that a place as ultraconservative as Saudi Arabia came out with a very forward thinking peace plan. I’m happy that Syria is on board and that there is pressure on Israel from all of these regimes. I don’t think it’s quite enough yet to get them to the table, and the Arab regimes feel that they’ve done enough overtures to get Israel to the table, but I feel that once again the regimes and the political leaders do not face people power and the power of psychology. They are not reaching out in deep ways to Jewish people to try and create a division between progressive Jews and the reactionary policies of Israel. They don’t invite in droves of rabbis all over the Middle East. I’ve done really hard work in Syria to make these kinds of openings. We still can’t go to Saudi Arabia. There is not a recognition in the Arab world that if the Jews and Christians are the problem in the U.S. and Israel, then Jews and Christians can be the solution if they are embraced. I haven’t seen the Arab governments do that in a deep way. They’ve done it in spots, but not in a way that would make the news or shift public opinion in Israel and the United States. Why would they? They suppress public opinion and people power in their own countries all the time. See, it’s a slow process where Arab countries are far ahead of where they were 40 years ago in terms of Israel and Palestine, far more rational about a solution, yet they have still have not gotten or trusted people power.
What is the political attitude right now in the region?
They are all involved in an extreme realist position, or really a neoconservative position. They blamed America and the Brits for being neoconservative. The truth is everybody is neoconservative, because they all believe that punishment and force are the only way that their enemies understand them. It’s not true with all the regimes, but it is true with certain problematic regimes and the whole dynamic of the situation is that we’ll use these terrorist groups, this kind of pressure on the Jews and then they are going to give up. The evidence is overwhelming that that just keeps conflicts going. But we have not been able to persuade them of that. They think that any sign of softness, this is a real feeling among the leaders, that when you are soft with the Jews, then they recognize the weakness and then they pounce or say that you are irrelevant. The truth is that the Jews, like all other groups, are deeply divided and the softness and the pro-Jewish response would further isolate Netanyahu and Lieberman, if it was done systematically and aggressively. We have even seen this after 9.11 in America where among leadership there was a tendency to fall back on military or aggressive approaches to enemies, which is a very typical male response to conflict.
Our experience in the field is the opposite. I prove this in my own work, I think you can see it in the book and if you look at the Jerusalem Post article that came out on me (last month), when I apologized about Abu Ghraib on national television in Syria, it had a profound impact nationally and politically, because even in a place as tough as Syria, with as tough a leadership as that, Abu Ghraib was a deep wound. It mattered to get an apology from an American and apologies are cheap. But people on the other side of politics here will think ‘well, then they (the Arab states) are winning somehow, you’re rewarding them when they themselves are guilty of these crimes also.’ But these neoconservatives in America and Israel don’t see the power of gestures and embrace and how it changes people.
I’m interested in soft intervention in response to neoconservative hard interventions and so when I was reading one of your articles where you talk about gestures about respect, gestures of tolerance, gestures of friendship, have you seen any signs of this in political relations in the region?
I know that Bashar al-Assad was moved by what the Mufti and I did at the mosque, we know that, it is part of that fateful time in 2006. I know that the gestures in Syria that were made to me as an American and a rabbi had a deep impact inside the State Department and an impact on the debate on whether to attack Syria or not. I know that there was a grand war going on in Washington about the ‘axis of evil’ and whether or not to attack Syria or get Israel to attack Syria, and a lot of the way that we fought in that war was by showing that gestures mattered and undermined the image of the enemy. See, undermining the image of the enemy is a very important part of fighting this war. I had 100 rabbis of a conservative nature sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan, even though he is basically pro-Israel and he has a lot of Palestinians in his country. On one level, he helps Palestinians a lot. But on another level, he has been certainly cooperating with Israel on security matters for a long time. Even he, who is an Arab and a Muslim, and these conservative rabbis who had never sat down with an Arab in their whole life, when I sat them together and we had it on television in pictures, it had an impact on them. He said such beautiful things about Judaism, this makes an impact.
It’s just, how much money do you think I spent on getting King Abdullah of Jordan together with those rabbis? I spent nothing because I have nothing. I did it all through political dialogue, through political negotiations for six months, with a wonderful group of partners. This is a joke, this is nothing in comparison with what good moneys invested in this type of work could do. As good as it is what I did, and I’m not the only one, there are so many gestures that have taken place, it’s nothing by comparison to what a serious investment in this work could do. We would have Jews and Palestinians in every city getting together with wonderful meals and a whole organization dedicated to it, with good earnest debates and projects together – it’s all possible. There are many organizations that are dedicated to this in the U.S. and in Israel, yet this is not funded, because the major leaders of the world do not take this type of work seriously.
It gets back to state security being more important than human security in some ways. State actors versus people-centric priorities.
I was in the Saudi embassy and we looked at some of these programs and they just said, well we invested in Gaza, and Israel blew it up. They were talking about all the roads – this is the way they think, about infrastructure: cement, hotels, and mosques. This is what they invested in, not the people. They asked, why should we build the roads again if they are just going to get blown up? I agree with them. But they didn’t invest in the people. It’s also very self-serving. Look at how the rich operate, most of their generosity really benefits their own companies, their own workers, their citizens. 90% of the aid that the U.S and Britain give stays with their own citizens who are paid 10:1 to local people. That’s reality. Mostly, this is about state interests and wealthy interests that have not been seriously investing in people.
I honestly think there is a lot of soul-searching under Obama, under AID and others on how to fix this and how to change the system. And I think if it wasn’t for the crazy atmosphere in the U.S. constantly assaulting the new approach, we might see some development on this. And honestly, if the economy ever recovers and Obama is still in office when it does, we might see a lot of the results of a new way of thinking. But this is a slow hard slog on human learning, particularly on democratic leadership. How can they in the American administration expect the Saudis and the Syrians to invest in people when they are not doing it? How can they say to the Saudis, don’t invest just in the roads in the Palestinian territory, when they’ve given all their money to the corrupt PA? So, the EU and the U.S. have to take a good hard look at themselves before they go tell the Arab regimes what they should be doing.
Just getting back to basics on negotiations and finding and realizing objective criteria, until the self-interest falls on the priority list, the objective criteria will not rise to the top, in order to lead toward a political solution based on objective criteria. Otherwise, positional bargaining constantly hampers the political situation and the people. On this issue, positional bargaining prevails from politicians’ mouths, the media, all over the place and little is being said about objective criteria.
You talk about the idea that “enemies can often be quickly made into allies.” Can you elaborate? And what will be necessary culturally for a successful Arab/Israeli peace process?
The idea of the quickness of it is that most people dismiss this work as being long-term, and they think that the more serious issues are short term and political, in negotiations. I’m attempting to undermine that psychology, because it is absolutely false, because it’s an excuse not to do anything. If you look at the work in Northern Ireland, once they invested the $50 million, fairly quickly there was a groundswell of people who were making the extremists more and more isolated, within 10 years, and that’s all you need. Ten years is not a long time.
By contrast, I write in one of my books and I teach this all the time, the Liberian genocide proceeded at a slow pace and the Swiss were negotiating with war lords and they negotiated 27 failed agreements. And I’m asking myself, in all of that time – and later we learned that they turned to the women in society to be peacemakers – I’m asking myself in the 27 failures, did they ever stop to ask themselves whether to ask people in the society, like people who were traditionally involved in peacemaking, what THEY think they should do, and they didn’t. They just went along with their negotiations, because that is the extremely narrow, legalistic mindset of people trained for politics and diplomacy. The contrast to that is that when people are seriously invested in, the results can be seriously dramatic. I give examples from my own work in Palestine, in a single conversation, even within minutes, if you say the right things to someone, and you acknowledge their identity, their attitude to you as an enemy, completely disappears. I’ve sat with people from Palestine and everything disappears, all the animosity, even by those who have relatives who have been killed by Israelis. Fairly quickly you find that people who have been wounded by the war are eager to meet an enemy, so that they can have a different kind of relationship.
Look up the group Combatants for Peace. They are all military people – all Palestinians who have been warriors or Jews who have been warriors. Combatants are interesting people. They are not nearly as extreme as ideologues, neocons and others who are terrified little people who hide behind ideology and getting other people to kill for them. They are actually quite terrified people whose whole identity would be shattered if they found and discovered a nice innocent family on the other side. So that group, which you see a lot in politics in the U.S., Israel and many countries, that group is harder to crack than the actual people who use guns. I find that people who use guns and have killed to be a more sober group, when you honestly reach out to them, you find people who know what it is to have blood on their hands, and they do not necessarily want their children to have blood on their hands. It’s an interesting way that these gestures help you turn enemies into allies, just by acknowledging their name, by showing them respect, asking about their history. The transformation happens in minutes.
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Part II of this series coming soon!