News  Next steps for Israel and Palestine

SPHR-McGill discussion explores options for peace

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR-McGill) held a panel discussion Tuesday called Israel & Palestine: The Next Step. The panelists included McGill political science professor Rex Brynen, Concordia political science professor Eric Abitbol, and Professor Jim Joyce of John Abbott College. The three professors discussed a variety of obstacles to peace – including ongoing settlement expansion, Israeli monopolization of West Bank water aquifers, and increasing religious fanaticism on both sides of the conflict. The Daily sat down with Abitbol, who specializes in peace studies and global governance, and Joyce, who is also Amnesty International Canada’s Coordinator for Israel and Palestine, to discuss the way forward for both nations.

Interview with Eric Abtibol, Concordia political science professor
McGill Daily: During yesterday’s panel discussion, you mentioned the idea of a conflict ethos existing in Israeli and Palestinian society. What exactly is a conflict ethos in this context?
Eric Abitbol: I would define it as an attachment to a particular interpretation of the conflict, and to a sense of victimization. It is a need for a strong sense of self-sufficiency, unity, and emancipation rooted in exclusivity and collective security, and a sense of delegitimization of the other.

MD: How can Israelis and Palestinians get past this mentality?
EA: By creating relational spaces with one another, in ideology and in practice, that reflect the desire to cultivate cross-boundary relationships, and by constructing, on the level of the imaginaire, a picture of future peace in the region.

MD: What are some of the organizations involved in this process, and what is their potential?
EA: I am particularly inspired by three of these organizations…. These three, specifically, are Friends of the Earth Middle East, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information.

These organizations, and others like them, situate their efforts on a trans-boundary level. They contribute to constructing a trans-boundary base of knowledge. They work at a grassroots level, and deal with eco-political sustainability as well as peace education. They engage in a relationship of advocacy and lobbying, and do a great deal of intra-civil society work.

They reflect very much the discourse of cultivating a political agenda with the “other” instead of in opposition to the “other,” and as such it can be argued that they are in the process of contributing to the development of a trans-boundary community, incorporating Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others in the region and worldwide. These organizations are doing some of the grassroots and multi-sectoral work that encompasses slowly building a security community.

MD: In what ways can this culture of dialogue enter the mainstream of Israeli and Palestinian civil society and government?
EA: There are many obstacles to making this an effective political movement. In a sense, we can begin by imagining how we may dismantle these obstacles…. There is a lack of inclusive regional civil space. Regional and international funders must attempt to build this.

Other obstacles include separatist visions of peace, militant terrorist attacks, and continued settlement activities.

The issue of leadership in civil society is very important. There are grassroots leaders who are taking risks and trying to facilitate dialogical encounters. We need this leadership to expand to encompass inter-generational work in the spirit of this culture. As well, these trans-boundary communities need to lobby the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas in order to eliminate specific obstacles.

The transformation of the attitudes and imagination of a society takes place through risk-taking. Individuals need to recognize their participation in political culture, and take the risks of encountering the other, without simply accepting societal frameworks of how to relate to the other, and do this in places that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. People need to set the table for dialogue, and take place in encounters where the table is set by the other, as well. If we can begin to do this, we can begin to transgress some of the material and ideological objects that prevent a culture of dialogue. This culture has the capacity to influence and shape dominant political relationships.

Compiled by Adam Winer

Interview with Jim Joyce, John Abbott College professor and Amnesty International expert
McGill Daily: During the SPHR panel discussion you mentioned the possibility of a “shared Jerusalem” and a more dynamic version of a two-state solution. Can you elaborate?
Jim Joyce: While Amnesty International as a organization will not express views about what are desirable political outcomes, it will continue to comment about such outcomes inasmuch as they are consistent or not with the human rights agenda. The human rights of one individual cannot be founded on the loss of rights of another individual. In the conflict over the final status of Jerusalem, partisans on both sides make maximum claims to the city, exclusive of the other. Within proposed two-state solutions, there is the assumption of a divided city, perhaps enshrining the green line between West and East Jerusalem. A third – or fourth – proposal would return to the original conception within UN Resolution 181 of a “shared” city, an international city, open to the citizens of both Israel and Palestine.

MD: Do you think it is more important to be critical of the injustices committed by Hamas and the Israeli government, or to push forward with a purely “relational” approach, as recommended by Eric Abitol?
JJ: Amnesty International, basing its work on a commitment to international human rights standards, understands that Israelis and Palestinians themselves must define and develop the human rights principles that will provide a just and durable foundation for peace. To account for past human rights violations should be part of the same process. The cycle of violence of the past decades has permitted both sides to justify their next act of violence as a legitimate response to the act of violence of the other side. The Goldstone Report, by calling for both the Government of Israel and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza to undertake credible, impartial investigations of the possible war crimes committed in Gaza and southern Israel from December 2008 to January 2009, is an important step forward in ending the impunity which has so long fed the cycle of violence. Peace based upon justice would be served, not hindered, by such a process.

MD: The panel discussions did not touch on the influence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wider Middle East region. What impact do you think the currently stalled negotiations will have on other countries in the area?
JJ: The State of Israel is not currently recognized by most countries in the region. Its borders with Lebanon and Syria are not mutually agreed upon. The territorial integrity of a possible Palestinian state is not determined. In the Madrid Process of the early nineties, the rights of Palestinian refugees were part of the discussion as well as the bilateral relations between countries – Lebanon-Israel, Syria-Israel, as well as the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In all subsequent bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks, the concerns about Palestinian refugees have been pushed to the side, and no agreement has been reached. Canada undertook within the Madrid Process responsibility for guiding possible outcomes on the refugee issue – and made considerable progress on possible mechanisms. This work was put on the back burner when the Oslo Process became the only game in town. Oh yes, the Israelis and Jordanians did achieve mutual recognition after the Madrid Process. The ongoing “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians will continue to flounder until it is located in a truly and fully regional context.

Compiled by Julia Pyper