This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
The Manning acquittal on aiding the enemy is the big news of the day. The Times editors gets it right when they conclude:
When he entered his guilty plea, Private Manning said he was trying to shed light on the “day-to-day reality” of American war efforts. He hoped the information “could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.” These are not the words of a man intent on bringing down the government. On the contrary, Private Manning continues to express his devotion to his country, despite being held without trial for three years, nine months of which amounted to punitive and abusive solitary confinement.
Private Manning still faces the equivalent of several life sentences on the espionage counts regarding disclosure of classified information. The government should satisfy itself with a more moderate sentence and then do something about its addiction to secrecy.
On Egypt, the Times adopts the position that a negotiated settlement between the warring forces within the country is needed. They also chide the Obama administration for playing both sides off each other, thus avoiding making a principled and politically efficacious stand. American foreign policy has to make it clear that the direction the military is taking is a no-win situation. In fact, the stake-holders in Egypt have to understand this as well:
Whatever Egypt’s new military strongman, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, thought he was doing by summoning people to Tahrir Square last Friday to demand a “mandate” to fight terrorism, the result was to undermine Egypt’s prospects for stability even further. Whatever self-described pro-democracy groups thought they were doing by endorsing his call, the result was to strengthen the military and inflame raw divisions between civilian parties. And whatever the Muslim Brotherhood leaders thought they were doing by urging followers to challenge security forces, the result was to add to the bloodshed and give the military new excuses for repression.
The Times also puts a wrap on the first stage of the extended negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Overall, the article is cautiously optimistic. The Times notes that John Kerry is upbeat though wary of the naysayers: ““I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics. While I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it, and I don’t think we have time for it.”
The photo accompanying the article shows a smiling Kerry in the middle with Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat also smiling as they shake hands. Looking at the photo, I wonder if their smiles hide a passionate skepticism they have plenty of time for.
Do Palestinians on the ground – without the perks of leadership – have plenty of time for these negotiations? Is their passionate skepticism reinforced by these negotiation smiles?
If it’s not too strong, and even if it is, this and other photos like it disgust me. More than the photo, however, it is the negotiations themselves, the parameters of the settlement realistically being discussed and the total dominance of Israel that forces more than a passionate skepticism from anyone who knows anything about the situation in Israel/Palestine. Despite the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the negotiations the utter dereliction of Palestinian future prospects is evident. If the negotiations ever succeeded the result would be a sad end to a terrible chapter of Jewish and Palestinian history.
The Times multimedia presentation, “Challenges in Defining an Israeli-Palestinian Border” is interesting. Whatever is missing – the first missing piece being the origins of the “problem” itself, the very origins that are being negotiated away by both sides in the negotiations – the various angles are enough to show how overwhelmingly dominant Israel is in the negotiations.
No one who is involved in the Israel/Palestine issue can plead ignorance of what is going on. No one who keeps up with the news as an informed citizen can plead ignorance. The negotiators on either side cannot plead ignorance either.
Seated at the negotiating table as equals is worse than misleading, it is false. It is an affront to everyone’s sensibility. It is degrading. With such inequality and not even the hint of regaining a more equal footing, how can the Palestinian negotiators sit there, let alone prepare for further rounds? You don’t have to be a passionate skeptic to wonder what is really going on.
In the Manning trial, the Times correctly chides the Obama administration for its “addiction” to secretive operations and surveillance. The Times is also correct when it speaks of Egypt’s “dangerous slide” into martial law and extremism. What happens, though, when the negotiating table becomes an addiction and a dangerous slide into final decisions that silence the questions of history, justice and equality? Shall we sit on the sidelines and hope for the best?
“Passionate skeptics” is hardly the term to describe those who want more of leaders than photo-ops and symbolic gestures of respect. What we want is a critical appraisal of the road we’re traveling and a reckoning with history beyond addiction to false hope and a slide into oblivion.