Friday, November 13, 2009

The Jewish People, Zionism and Justice

The Jewish People, Zionism, and the Question of Justice
Mark Braverman, Ph.D.

When I was a boy in the 1950s attending Hebrew School in Philadelphia, we would receive little cardboard folders with slots for dimes distributed by the Jewish National Fund. On the cover was a picture of a tree being planted by handsome, tanned people in shorts. When the card was full, you sent it in and in return received a certificate with your name on and a bigger picture of a tree, which was the tree you had planted in Israel. It was fun and it was a thrill – I was reclaiming the homeland. I saw pictures of kibbutzim and orange groves filling the valleys and dreamt of going there someday.

Four decades later, now a middle-aged man, I saw pictures of Israeli bulldozers uprooting three hundred year-old olive trees and Jewish soldiers restraining Arab villagers crying hysterically over the destruction of their groves. I traveled to the West Bank – Israeli occupied Palestine – and saw the hillsides denuded of trees to build concrete Jewish settlement cities. I saw Arab houses leveled and gardens taken to make way for a 30 foot-high concrete wall cutting through Palestinian cities and village fields. I saw that this was wrong. I didn’t buy the story that this was for defense. I could see that it was a lie.

When I returned to the United States and began to talk about my horror, sadness and deep concern over what I had seen, I was told by many of my fellow Jews that I must not talk like this. I was informed that this makes me an enemy of the Jewish people and that I was opening the way for the next Holocaust. I was told by many Jews that I was disloyal to my people, that I had “gone over” to the “Palestinian side.” One Jewish rabbinical student informed his colleagues that I was obviously a convert to Christianity “masquerading” as a Jew in order to cause the destruction of the Jewish people. I have spoken about my experiences before many groups, almost all of them in churches. I have yet to speak in a synagogue. I am trying hard to make sense out of this and to figure out a way forward. Here is what I have figured out so far.

Jewish History: Survival and its Shadow

Zionism was the answer to the anti-Semitism of Christian Europe. The failure, despite the Enlightenment, to establish Jews as an emancipated, accepted group in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the rise of political anti-Semitism in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century gave birth to political Zionism under the leadership of Theodore Herzl. Zionism expressed the powerful drive of the Jewish people to establish ourselves as a nation among other nations, with a land of our own and the ability to achieve self-determination. This is why, in sermons from synagogue pulpits, in lectures on Jewish history, in classroom lessons for small children, and in spirited discussions about the Israel-Palestine question, you will so often here the preamble “throughout the centuries…,” followed by a description of the suffering of the Jews at the hands of our oppressors. Indeed, it’s in our liturgy, notably in the Passover Seder. The story of Jewish survival despite constant persecution is in many ways our theme song -- it’s in our cultural DNA, it’s the mantra of our peoplehood. It runs deep.

This unique Jewish quality is not the product of some cultural aberration or collective character flaw. Developing this particular brand of “character armor” has been part of our survival throughout long ages of persecution, marginalization, and demonization. We survived, in part, by creating rituals, habits and attitudes of insularity, pride and persistence that allowed us never to forget, never to let down our guard, and to always be proud of our stubborn vitality in the face of “those who sought to destroy us.” When, in our modern liturgical idiom, we talk of the State of Israel as “the First Flowering of our Redemption,” we are reflecting the reality of our survival, the meaning of the achievement of political self-determination in the context of Jewish history. It is good to have survived.

But we must also see clearly the shadow that this history casts on us today. We have striven to be the masters of our fate – but, having achieved this, we must also realize that we are responsible for our actions and for the consequences of these actions. Being free, we have free choice. The tragedy of Jewish Diaspora history, in our own cultural narrative as well as in reality, is rooted in our history of powerlessness and passivity. Zionism came to correct this, and it has undeniably succeeded, indeed far beyond the expectations of Jews and non-Jews alike. But if we now become slaves to the consequences of empowerment, then we are not free, and we are not truly powerful. The Nazi Holocaust in particular casts its shadow over our modern history and the history of the State of Israel. The Nazi’s campaign to eradicate world Jewry has become part of our uniquely Jewish “Liturgy of Destruction,” the way we Jews throughout the ages have made sense of our suffering by turning to the broader context of Jewish history. From this matrix of vulnerability, victimization and meaning-making comes the Zionist cry, “Never again!” But the modern State in its policies, carried out purportedly to preserve our people, and using the Holocaust as justification for unjust actions, is betraying the meaning of Jewish history. You cannot achieve your own deliverance, even from the most unspeakable evil, by the oppression of another people. Indeed, in this current era of power and self-determination for Jews in Israel, we face risks to our peoplehood that far exceed the physical perils brought by millennia of persecution.

Israel and Palestine: Reality Stood On its Head

The stormy controversy over the Israel-Palestine question today – a controversy that is splitting the Jewish community here in the United States as well as Israeli society, stands as evidence of this risk. The history of conflict and bloodshed between the State of Israel, its Arab neighbors, and the indigenous inhabitants of historic Palestine is the unavoidable and predictable result of the colonialist nature of the Zionist enterprise. Although Zionism, unlike the other European colonial projects, was not directed originally toward the occupation and exploitation of a subject people – the Zionists sought only to create a refuge for a themselves – it is no less a settler colonial enterprise for that. What is uncanny and tragic is that in the current discourse, the roles of the combatants are turned upside down: The Jews are portrayed as the victims, and the Palestinians as the aggressors. In truth, it is the Palestinians who are the victims: dispossessed, powerless, and pained. In every way, the Jews are victorious and all-powerful. The Jews of Israel are, to be sure, victimized by acts of popular resistance on the part of Palestinians, and the terrorizing effect of these acts is not to be minimized. But in the perspective of the current power balance, and in comparison to the effect of Israel’s military occupation on Palestinian society, these are pinpricks. At the same time, this resistance, fueled by the desperation and humiliation of a displaced and occupied people, has been amplified and exploited by political forces within and outside of Palestine. As terrifying as acts of resistance such as suicide bombings and cross-border shellings are, Israel’s current hegemony, power, and certainly her security are not threatened by these acts. Suicide bombings are horrible and terrorizing. But it is too easy, too convenient to tar an entire people with this brush, which is precisely what has happened. The image of the Palestinians as a violent people, as “terrorists” bent on the destruction of Israel, is not a true picture. The truth is that by and large the Palestinians are a peaceful, patient people – and at this pass an angry, humiliated and pained people. Their sin over the last 60 plus years has been their relative lack of organization – set up effectively by the British during their 30-year rule -- in the face of the highly organized and effective Zionist colonial project. They are paying for this now as they face the ongoing dismantling of their economy and their infrastructure, and the continuing program to disable their leadership and ability to self-govern. Israel has taken over where Britain left off – and with far greater efficiency and thoroughness.

The Jewish Discussion

Although it is painful and deeply troubling, I see the ferocity and depth of the current split within the Jewish community in the Diaspora as an opportunity for dialogue. This is an issue of crisis proportions for Jews, and we need to take it seriously. We must encourage this conversation -- we stifle it at our great, great peril. It is our responsibility as Jews to examine our relationship to Israel, rather than to passively accept the story fed to us by the Jewish establishment: the synagogues, Jewish Federations, lobbying organizations and the rest of the apparatus devoted to maintaining the mighty stream of financial and policy support for Israel from the US government and from private sources. We must examine our convictions and feelings about the meaning of the State to us personally, especially in relation to anti-Semitism. For example, do I, as a Jew living in America, believe that the State of Israel is important to me as a haven if I should feel unsafe or disadvantaged in my home country? Do I personally feel that the existence of a Jewish State is an essential or part of my Jewishness, or of the religious values and beliefs that I hold as a Jew? Do I believe that the world owes a state to the Jews because of the centuries of violence against and persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust? These are all important questions – they need to be asked, confronted, and measured against the realities of contemporary life. Furthermore, as Diaspora Jews we need to question where we get our information about the history of the State of Israel and about the current political situation. What news services do we rely on, what websites do we visit? What do we know about the discussion going on inside Israel today, exemplified by the active dialogue to be found in the pages of Haaretz, the organizations voicing opposition to Israeli government policy, and the accelerated pace of revisionist Zionist history being produced by Jewish Israeli historians?

We must become willing to overcome our profound denial about the current reality and the injustices wrought by Zionism. Walter Brueggemann, the Protestant theologian, in his work on the prophetic imagination, writes about the prophetic call to grieve and to mourn, that only in this way can we hope to move on to a new and better reality. Only when we are able to cry, in Jeremiah’s phrase, for our own brokenness, and to confront the implications of the suffering we have caused, can we be the beneficiaries of God’s bounty. In other words, we must break through the denial about what we have done. The power structure, of course, is committed to the very opposite. The State turns the story on its head in order to paper over the truth: “This is done in the name of national security.” “These others are the terrorists, they are the obstacles to peace.”

One particularly “slippery” form of denial, of this failure to grieve, is how some Jews take issue with some of the actions of the Israeli government while still avoiding confronting the fundamental issues of justice. This can take several forms. The first is the “pragmatic” approach, which can also be called the appeal to “enlightened self-interest.” “The Occupation,” so this position goes, “was a mistake. It’s bad for Israel. Denying self-determination for Palestinians and subjecting them to the humiliation of a military administration breeds hatred and desperation, which is then visited upon Israelis in the form of violence.” Some American Jewish organizations, hoping to avoid being marginalized by the mainstream community, or labeled “Pro-Palestinian” adopt this position, ignoring the issue of justice.. “Israel,” they say, “should smarten up and change its policies if it wants to live in peace and limit the economic drain of unending conflict.” In informal conversations with some Jewish Americans who articulate this position, I have heard confessions that their position is really much more extreme with respect to their feelings about Israeli policy, but that they feel it important to hew to this line for strategic purposes, in order to maintain credibility with the Jewish establishment as well as with government legislators.

A second kind of denial, for me more serious and more disturbing, is to be found in the ranks of what has come to be called the Jewish Progressive movement. In his critique of this element of American Judaism, Jewish Liberation theologian Marc Ellis notes that whereas this element of Jewry critiques aspects of Jewish ascendancy by recognizing the validity of Palestinian aspirations, it limits the scope of the critique by accepting the need for this same Jewish ascendancy as a solution to Jewish history. This viewpoint acknowledges the issue of justice, but attempts to do this within the context of Jewish mainstream assumptions of entitlement with respect to the rights of the Jews to historic Palestine. “If we can just clean up this messy business of the Occupation,” say these people, “things will come out alright, and we will be able to enjoy the land with a clean conscience.” This viewpoint limits the discourse to actions post-1967: it denies the history of Palestinian displacement prior to that. Indeed, Progressive Jewish organizations avoid discussion of the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe” used to describe the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians from historic Palestine by Israeli forces between1948 and 1949. Indeed, progressive Jews have been known to become quite irritated with fellow Jews who raise it. Finally, it avoids the fundamental question, which is how a Jewish State, founded as a haven and a homeland for Jews, can be a true democracy, providing justice and fair treatment for its non-Jewish citizenry. It avoids the related and equally fundamental question of demography – the issue that, above all others, drives Israeli foreign policy and fuels the current political and military conflict. On the whole, Jews outside of Israel across a wide spectrum from “establishment” to “progressive want to avoid these questions – indeed, they are off limits.

This is denial – it is a fundamental failure to accept the consequences of Jewish actions in pre- and post- 1948 Palestine-Israel, and thus a failure to grieve over the particularly Jewish tragedy from which we as Jews suffer today. Returning to the pre-1967 borders (as if that will ever happen) will not make everything better. It will not make Israel a just society with respect to its Palestinian citizens. It will not erase what was done to the Palestinians who were driven out of their cities, towns and villages in 1948. It does not place the issue of justice as primary. Rather, it places the interests of Israel as primary, and promotes an entitled, supremacist, paternalistic stance with respect to non-Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine, on whichever side of the final status border they may reside when a political settlement is finally achieved. It pre-empts our horror over the crimes we are committing and the suffering we have caused. It muffles our own cries of pain over our sins and our cruelties. It squelches the agony of confronting the contradictions and the excruciating dilemmas. It blocks the discussion. It closes our hearts.

Conclusion: Christians, Jews, Anti-Semitism, and Our Accountability

The issue of anti-Semitism is complex and deeply embedded in two thousand years of Western history. Among liberal Christian theologians and religious leaders, Supercessionism – the concept that Christianity, embodied in the Gospels, came to replace Judaism as God’s plan for humankind – has become the Great Evil. The argument, well supported by history, is that this idea, developed in the first centuries after Christ and central to Christian belief and doctrine, laid the groundwork for anti-Semitism. But in their zeal to correct the injustices of the past, and to in effect atone for anti-Semitism, Christian leaders and thinkers are in danger of losing sight of an important aspect of early Christian thought. Christianity, in its reframing of the relationship of God to humanity, produced a revolution -- in effect, it moved the concept of “Israel” from the tribal to the communal. In the Christian reframing, God’s commitment to humanity through his election of the seed of Abraham, assigned a special role in history, was transformed into God’s love for humankind and the invitation to all to become part of a universal spiritual community. This was a great contribution, a great step forward, and it has special relevance today, as all religions struggle to move from “Constantinian,” power-based religions to communities based on a commitment to diversity, human rights and Justice. The choice between religion based on and consorting with political power and oppression, and religion grounded in a concept of community is one that must be faced by all the faiths. Jews and Christians must talk about this, indeed they must come together with their Muslim friends and colleagues to together confront what may be the central challenge of our times. We stifle this discussion at our peril.

To our Christian sisters and brothers I say – do not, out of a sense of guilt for anti-Semitism, give the Jewish people a free pass. Do not confuse anti-Semitism with critique of Israel, and in so doing fail to hold Jews accountable for our choices and our actions, as members of the human community, as individuals, and as a nation state -- especially as a nation state. To make this mistake, to allow yourselves to be – I will use the word – bullied by the threat of the charge of anti-Semitism, is to commit a pernicious fallacy. As Jews we sought political self-determination, and we got it. Now we must behave in accordance with principles of justice and in accordance with international law as an expression of universally agreed-upon principles of justice. As Jews, we are confronted daily with this choice as we witness the illegal and oppressive actions of the Jewish State toward the Palestinian people it is so rapidly displacing. Empowerment – political empowerment – presents a mighty challenge to values. The Prophets knew this well, continually speaking this truth to the power structures of their day. To the crushed and exiled Jewish people of his time, Second Isaiah declared that redemption and comfort was coming, but only when the people acknowledged the divine meaning of their suffering. To my coreligionists in Israel and America, I say that we will ultimately survive as a people only to the extent that we can understand how our own suffering makes us part of humankind, and responsible for suffering wherever and whenever it happens. It was Roberta Feuerlicht, the Jewish ethicist who famously wrote, “Judaism survived centuries of persecution without a state; it must now learn how to survive despite a state.”

Mark Braverman is a member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and Jewish Voice for Peace. He serves on the Board of ICAHD-USA. He lives in Bethesda, MD with his wife, Susan. Mark can be reached at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jews Rethink Israel, by Thomas L. Are

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Jews Rethink Israel

After every conversation concerning Israel/Palestine, the question arises. Is it getting any better? Is there any hope?

Well, not from the prospect of those of us who live in the United States. We have a biased media which, for whatever reason, seldom even acknowledges the real problem of occupation and brutality. We have a gutless government afraid of AIPAC and its powerful lobby, and we hear on television day and night the idiotic and unbiblical views of the Christian Zionist who tell us that Jesus cannot come again until Jerusalem is purged of non-Jews and the temple rebuilt. There are days when it seems as though there is no hope.

However, something is changing that may have a most significant effect on Israel’s imperialism. That is the changing attitude of the American Jew.

For many years, I have tried to pay attention to the American Jewish writers who were seeking to hold Israel to the moral standards of their Jewish faith and theology. My reading was limited to Marc Ellis, Michael Lerner and Noam Chomsky. In spite of their heart felt attachment to biblical Israel and the security of identity, these powerful critics kept calling Israel to accountability. In previous blogs, I have referred to each of them. Typical is Michael Lerner, editor of the leading Jewish magazine, TIKKUN:

Israel’s attempt to regain control of the refugee camps by denying food to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, by raiding homes and dragging out their occupants in the middle of the night to stands for hours in the cold, by savagely beating a civilian population and breaking its bones---these activities are deplorable to any civilized human being. That they were done by a Jewish state is both tragic and inexcusable.[1]

This Jewish writer amazed me. Then I read Marc Ellis:

Can Jewish Israelis continue to torture and kill Palestinian youth ad infinitum? Can North American Jews continue to support these horrible acts?[2]

Noam Chomsky was more specific in spelling out Israeli atrocities.[3]

All of these were writing twenty to twenty-five years ago.

These leaders spoke to me but they seemed to make little impact upon their own Jewish community which continued to give Israel a pass on any treatment of its neighbors, no matter how abusive.

Now, suddenly, Ellis, Lerner and Chomsky have company. There are more Jewish writers than I can keep up with, such as:

Joel Kovel, who writes on the very first page of his book, Overcoming Zionism, published in 2007, “I write this book in fury about Israel and the unholy complicity of the United States and its Jewish community that grants it impunity” He goes on to condemn Israel’s theology and practice for its imperialist behavior.

Normal Finkelstein seeking to cut through the myth of ‘Purity of Arms,’ quotes the former director of the Israeli army archives, “In almost every Arab village occupied by us during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murder, massacres, and rapes.”[4]

Tanya Reinhart writes, “Israel can continue to imprison the Palestinians, to bombard them from the air, deprive them of the means of substance, steal their land in the West Bank --- and still be hailed as the peacemaker in the Israel-Palestine conflict.”[5]

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian writes, “The 1948 War of Independence involved one of the largest forced migrations in modern history. Around a million people were expelled from their homes at gunpoint, civilians were massacred, and hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called ‘ethnic cleansing’”.[6]

Last Saturday, I attended a conference in Atlanta and met Mark Braverman, the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew who spoke of the “civil war” taking place in the hearts of many Jews, a war between their love for Israel and their recognition of the price paid by Palestinians for Israel’s “right to exist.” Growing up in Pennsylvania, he visited family in Israel for the first time as a teenager and was devastated by what he saw. After holding that pain inside for decades, with courage and scholarship, Braverman writes about Israel’s destruction of Palestine. “A growing number of Jews in Israel and outside the state see this, and for us the effect has been shattering; the shock, horror, and crisis of identity I experienced as a Jew witnessing the crimes being committed in my name are not unique.”[7]

I scratch my head and think, Wow, what is going on?

Then, the latest issue of THE NATION features as its cover story: American Jews Rethink Israel:

This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel. In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israeli writings about the “rot in the Diaspora,” and it’s little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.[8]

All this is new. Several years ago, I was invited to speak about the history of Zionism to a study group in Jacksonville, Florida. I had just begun when suddenly I was interrupted by a loud and dynamic voice. “Politics! This is all your politics and I resent it. I have a Jewish friend and if he were here, you would not be saying these things.”

He may have been right. I may have been intimidated if there were a Jew sitting in the room. However. I would have been wrong to be silent. What Israel was doing then and is still doing now is wrong and we are equally wrong to remain silent while it’s being done.

These authors are brave and they pay a great emotional and personal price for speaking out even when their concerns are for and not against Israel. They need our support.

Also, there are many authorities on Middle East affairs who tell us that unless something is done to curb Israel’s expansionism, Israel may be dragging us into a long disastrous war with the Muslim world that we are not going to win.

By the way, Marc Ellis has just published a new book. Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, which I have not as yet had time to read.

Thomas L. Are
October 27, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Line in the Sand

Uri Avnery
07.11.09 (November 7, 2009)

A Line in the Sand

MAHMOUD ABBAS is fed up. The day before yesterday he withdrew his candidacy for the coming presidential election in the Palestinian Authority.

I understand him.

He feels betrayed. And the traitor is Barack Obama.

A YEAR ago, when Obama was elected, he aroused high hopes in the Muslim world, among the Palestinian people as well as in the Israeli peace camp.

At long last an American president who understood that he had to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only for the sake of the two peoples, but mainly for the US national interests. This conflict is largely responsible for the tidal waves of anti-American hatred that sweep the Muslim masses from ocean to ocean.

Everybody believed that a new era had begun. Instead of the Clash of Civilizations, the Axis of Evil and all the other idiotic but fateful slogans of the Bush era, a new approach of understanding and reconciliation, mutual respect and practical solutions.

Nobody expected Obama to exchange the unconditional pro-Israeli line for a one-sided pro-Palestinian attitude. But everybody thought that the US would henceforth adopt a more even-handed approach and push the two sides towards the Two-State Solution. And, no less important, that the continuous stream of hypocritical and sanctimonious blabbering would be displaced by a determined, vigorous, non-provocative but purposeful policy.

As high as the hopes were then, so deep is the disappointment now. Nothing of all these has come about. Worse: the Obama administration has shown by its actions and omissions that it is not really different from the administration of George W. Bush.

FROM THE first moment it was clear that the decisive test would come in the battle of the settlements.

It may seem that this is a marginal matter. If peace is to be achieved within two years, as Obama’s people assure us, why worry about another few houses in the settlements that will be dismantled anyway? So there will be a few thousand settlers more to resettle. Big deal.

But the freezing of the settlements has an importance far beyond its practical effect. To return to the metaphor of the Palestinian lawyer: “We are negotiating the division of a pizza, and in the meantime, Israel is eating the pizza.”

The American insistence on freezing the settlements in the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem was the flag of Obama’s new policy. As in a Western movie, Obama drew a line in the sand and declared: up to here and no further! A real cowboy cannot withdraw from such a line without being seen as yellow.

That is precisely what has now happened. Obama has erased the line he himself drew in the sand. He has given up the clear demand for a total freeze. Binyamin Netanyahu and his people announced proudly - and loudly - that a compromise had been reached, not, God forbid, with the Palestinians (who are they?) but with the Americans. They have allowed Netanyahu to build here and build there, for the sake of “Normal Life”, “Natural Increase”, “Completing Unfinished Projects” and other transparent pretexts of this kind. There will not be, of course, any restrictions in Jerusalem, the Undivided Eternal Capital of Israel. In short, the settlement activity will continue in full swing.

To add insult to injury, Hillary Clinton troubled herself to come to Jerusalem in person in order to shower Netanyahu with unctuous flattery. There is no precedent to the sacrifices he is making for peace, she fawned.

That was too much even for Abbas, whose patience and self-restraint are legendary. He has drawn the consequences.

“TO UNDERSTAND all is to forgive all,” the French say. But in this case, some things are hard to forgive.

Certainly, one can understand Obama. He is engaged in a fight for his political life on the social front, the battle for health insurance. Unemployment continues to rise. The news from Iraq is bad, Afghanistan is quickly turning into a second Vietnam. Even before the award ceremony, the Nobel Peace Prize looks like a joke.

Perhaps he feels that the time is not ripe for provoking the almighty pro-Israel lobby. He is a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. It would be possible to forgive him for this, if he admitted frankly that he is unable to realize his good intentions in this area for the time being.

But it is impossible to forgive what is actually happening. Not the scandalous American treatment of the Goldstone report. Not the loathsome behavior of Hillary in Jerusalem. Not the mendacious talk about the “restraint” of the settlement activities. The more so as all this goes on with total disregard of the Palestinians, as if they were merely extras in a musical.

Not only has Obama given up his claim to a complete change in US policy, but he is actually continuing the policy of Bush. And since Obama pretends to be the opposite of Bush, this is double treachery.

Abbas reacted with the only weapon he has at his command: the announcement that he will leave public life.

THE AMERICAN policy in the “Wider Middle East” can be compared to a recipe in a cookbook: “Take five eggs, mix with flour and sugar…

In real life: Take a local notable, give him the paraphernalia of government, conduct “free elections”, train his security forces, turn him into a subcontractor.

This is not an original recipe. Many colonial and occupation regimes have used it in the past. What is so special about its use by the Americans is the “democratic” props for the play. Even if a cynical world does not believe a word of it, there is the audience back home to think about.

That is how it was done in the past in Vietnam. How Hamid Karzai was chosen in Afghanistan and Nouri Maliki in Iraq. How Fouad Siniora has been kept in Lebanon. How Muhammad Dahlan was to be installed in the Gaza Strip (but was at the decisive moment forestalled by Hamas.) In most of the Arab countries, there is no need for this recipe, since the established regimes already satisfy the requirements.

Abbas was supposed to fill this role. He bears the title of President, he was elected fairly, an American general is training his security forces. True, in the following parliamentary elections his party was soundly beaten, but the Americans just ignored the results and the Israelis imprisoned the undesirable Parliamentarians. The show must go on.

BUT ABBAS is not satisfied with being the egg in the American recipe.

I first met him 26 years ago. After the first Lebanon War, when we (Matti Peled, Ya’acov Arnon and I) went to Tunis to meet Yasser Arafat, we saw Abbas first. That was the case every time we came to Tunis after that. Peace with Israel was the “desk” of Abbas.

Conversations with him were always to the point. We did not become friends, as with Arafat. The two were of very different temperament. Arafat was an extrovert, a warm person who liked personal gestures and physical contact with the people he talked with. Abbas is a self-contained introvert who prefers to keep people at a distance.

From the political point of view, there is no real difference. Abbas is continuing the line laid down by Arafat in 1974: a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The difference is in the method. Arafat believed in his ability to influence Israeli public opinion. Abbas limits himself to dealings with rulers. Arafat believed that he had to keep in his arsenal all possible means of struggle: negotiations, diplomatic activity, armed struggle, public relations, devious maneuvers. Abbas puts everything in one basket: peace negotiations.

Abbas does not want to become a Palestinian Marshal Petain. He does not want to head a local Vichy regime. He knows that he is on a slippery slope and has decided to stop before it is too late.

I think, therefore, that his intention to leave the stage is serious. I believe his assertion that it is not just a bargaining ploy. He may change his decision, but only if he is convinced that the rules of the game have changed.

OBAMA WAS completely surprised. That has never happened before: an American client, totally dependent on Washington, suddenly rebels and poses conditions. That is exactly what Abbas has done now, when he recognized that Obama is unwilling to fulfill the most basic condition: to freeze the settlements.

From the American point of view, there is no replacement. There are certainly some capable people in the Palestinian leadership, as well as corrupt ones and collaborators. But there is no one who is capable of rallying around him all the West Bank population. The first name that comes up is always Marwan Barghouti, but he is in prison and the Israeli government has already announced that he will not be released even if elected. Also, it is not clear whether he is willing to play that role in the present conditions. Without Abbas, the entire American recipe comes apart.

Netanyahu, too, was utterly surprised. He wants phony negotiations, devoid of substance, as a camouflage for the deepening of the occupation and enlarging of the settlements. A “Peace process” as a substitute for peace. Without a recognized Palestinian leader, with whom can he “negotiate”?

In Jerusalem, there is still hope that Abbas’ announcement is merely a ploy, that it would be enough to throw him some crumbs in order to change his mind. It seems that they do not really know the man. His self-respect will not allow him to go back, unless Obama awards him a serious political achievement.

From Abbas’ point of view, the announcement of his retirement is the doomsday weapon.