Few things make me more suspicious than when a “think tank” dedicates itself to “conflict resolution.”
The International Crisis Group is probably the best known of those outfits; it has a proclivity for recruiting rogues.
Tzipi Livni is a recent addition to the organization’s trustees. As Israel’s foreign minister a decade ago, she demanded that troops demonstrate “real hooliganism” during a major offensive against Gaza at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009. By doing so, she approved the targeting of schools, ambulances and mosques.
Livni’s role in that attack was so reprehensible that she is afraid to set foot in Brussels lest she be interrogated. The Crisis Group has its headquarters in Brussels; too cowardly to visit that office, Livni presumably performs some of her duties as a trustee over the Internet.
But the “conflict resolution” industry has other players than the Crisis Group.
Some of its participants spend a lot of time promoting dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. One trend that can be detected among these “think tanks” is that they point to Ireland as an example of where violence can be halted through negotiation.
A London-based group called Forward Thinking has helped set (or at least shape) this trend.
For the past couple of years, it has arranged for Irish republicans in Sinn Féin to have chats with Likud, Israel’s largest governing party. The arrangement has drawn opposition from within the membership of Sinn Féin, which officially supports the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Forward Thinking has been involved in other activities that appear dubious. Last month, it hosted a trip to Dublin and Belfast for women from Israel’s “national religious community,” the term used on the Forward Thinking website.
The website failed to spell out that the “national religious” is a term usually applied to those involved with or supporting Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
A headline chosen by Forward Thinking for an article about the visit to Ireland refers to the “need for a seat at the table.” That is highly disingenuous.
Israeli settlers are not excluded or marginalized; they have a marked influence on government policy. The “national religious” – through the Jewish Home party – are represented in Israel’s ruling coalition, where they have lately been pushing for a fresh bombardment of Gaza.
Like the International Crisis Group, Forward Thinking has relied on the counsel of people whose commitment to conflict resolution is doubtful.
Jeremy Greenstock, an adviser to Forward Thinking, was Britain’s ambassador to the UN in the early years of this millennium. In that capacity, he tried to sell the war against Iraq as a reasonable course of action.
The misgivings which Greenstock has subsequently raised about the war’s legitimacy do not absolve him of responsibility for his own role in enabling state violence. If he had any principles, Greenstock would have made plain his opposition to the war at the time it occurred.
The only British diplomats who displayed any integrity over the invasion were the small number who resigned in protest. Greenstock was not among them.
Although the situations are by no means identical, parallels can be indeed drawn between Ireland and Palestine. For a start, both have a shared history of being under British control.
An inquest now underway may finally bring a little justice to people from the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, whose family members were shot dead by the British Army in 1971. Belfast was used as a laboratory for “counter-insurgency” tactics during that period. Some of these tactics had previously been tried out by British troops in Palestine.
Examining these parallels would be a worthwhile exercise. Yet it is not an exercise that the conflict resolution industry appears to be undertaking – despite the interest in Ireland shown by that industry.
The Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives is a group nominally committed to “just and sustainable” solutions. As part of its work, it has brought what it calls “politically active Jerusalemites” to Belfast.
None of the material available on the group’s website criticizes Britain for the harm it has caused in either Ireland or Palestine.
The group’s activities belong in the category of normalization. Dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis is encouraged, without the imbalance in power between them being properly challenged.
Normalization is the very antithesis of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Supporters of that call insist that Israel be isolated until the basic rights of Palestinians are respected.
I asked Liel Maghen, a director of Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives, why he had rejected the BDS call. He argued that BDS has failed to have an economic impact as Israeli exports of surveillance equipment and other technology have grown. “We should think of alternatives [to BDS],” he stated, claiming “we try to impact policies from within through advocacy and lobbying, with the hope that slowly we would manage to shift the reality towards a different direction.”
If Maghen really believes BDS has been a failure, he should watch the documentary on the pro-Israel lobby, which Al Jazeera made, though refused to broadcast. The documentary illustrates clearly how Israel and its supporters fear the growing strength of the BDS movement. The lobbyists are especially irked by how BDS activists have succeeded in raising awareness about the Palestinians’ plight, particularly among young Americans.
Lack of transparency
Maghen and his colleagues’ activities in Belfast have been funded by the Irish government. But Maghen declined to give any further details about his group’s other sources of income.
The lack of transparency is telling. The group has known links to institutions involved in the oppression of Palestinians.
Maghen himself holds a post at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As well as having its main campus situated in occupied East Jerusalem, Hebrew University has developed partnerships with weapons manufacturers.
Self-proclaimed “Northern Ireland expert” Ariel Heifetz Knobel has worked on the aforementioned activities connecting Jerusalem and Belfast. Before setting up a “conflict management practice” – her term – she headed the “public diplomacy” division of the Israeli consulate in New England. “Public diplomacy” is an Israeli euphemism for propaganda.
The European Platform for the Middle East Dialogue is a newer entrant to the conflict resolution industry. Claire Payne, one of its key players, has studied how “former combatants” have contributed to “peace-building” in Ireland and Palestine, according to her résumé.
With that background, I asked Payne if her organization was critical of Britain’s state violence in Palestine and Ireland. “The activities we have held so far have not brought Britain into the discussion,” she stated. “However, you can rest assured that should this topic come up we would be the first to publicly recognize and criticize violence and injustice.”
Her comment encapsulates much that is wrong it with the conflict resolution industry.
Britain has been instrumental in partitioning both Palestine and Ireland to disastrous effect. People who seriously want to understand a situation would address its root causes at every opportunity. A vague promise to denounce imperialism if the topic should “come up” is not good enough.
Inclusive dialogue was indeed important in resolving the conflict in Ireland. But citing Ireland as an example of successful dialogue which could be replicated in Palestine misses a salient detail.
The Good Friday Agreement, which brought an admittedly imperfect peace to Ireland, was thrashed out in 1998. Nobody would argue that it could have been negotiated during the plantation of Ulster – as the colonization in Ireland’s north-eastern counties is called – more than three centuries earlier.
Nobody can seriously expect a durable peace to emerge while Israel keeps on gobbling up the West Bank and subjects Gaza to a medieval siege. The proper response to these outrages is to heed how the Palestinians demand a boycott of their Israeli oppressors.
So long as the oppression persists, calling on them to embrace each other is futile.