Tag Archives: Menahem Begin

Why don’t the Abraham Accords look like peace?

It has often been noted that it’s easier to represent war visually than it is to represent peace. When did you last go to see a peace movie? But peace agreements provide photo opps of the signing of peace agreements by leaders who synecdochically stand in for whole nations. This has certainly been the case for previous peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbours under the auspices of the USA.

Consider two previous occasions on which peace agreements were signed at the White House, first in 1979 between Israel and Egypt, then in 1993 between Israel and the PLO. The hands of the leaders portray reconciliation and the relinquishing of weapons in different ways. President Carter demonstrates his mediating role by joining hands with President of Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel, just six years after the two countries fought each other in a bitter war. President Clinton’s outstretched arms and tall stature seem to create through magnanimous power the space in which Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin come together in an allegedly reluctant handshake. Clinton was also there to observe a much warmer handshake between Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan when the two countries signed a peace agreement on their border in 1994.

If this is the simple iconography of peace agreements, it should be straightforward to represent the agreements signed at the White House between the governments of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as peace. Yet, it doesn’t look that way to me.

Perhaps its the absence of hand-shaking, which might be attributed to Covid-19 precautions if there were any evidence of such precautions being taken throughout the event. As it is, it looks as if Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan have all just received a certificate of good behaviour from Trump.

This picture of peace is lacking not simply because of an absent iconographic element, but because of what is missing from it as what scholar W.J.T. Mitchell calls an “imagetext.” An “imagetext” is a hybrid of picture and text and the accompanying texts to the pictures of signing these peace agreements are the stories and dramas for which the pictures are culminating events. If a picture is going to speak a thousand words, you have to know the story. In 1979, the story included wars between Israel and Egypt, the media event of Sadat’s surprise visit to Israel in 1977, and the setbacks and breakthroughs of the negotiations at Camp David. The backdrop to the signing of the Oslo accords was the first intifada, revelations about track-two diplomacy behind the scenes, the apparent conversion of two main protagonists, Rabin and Arafat, from men of war of to peacemakers. To some extent then, as many have said, this doesn’t look like a peace treaty because Israel has not been at war with the UAE or Bahrain. So there has been little drama – other than surprise – to provide the text for this image.

There is more to it than that. This doesn’t look like peace because, even while the agreement claims that the normalization of relations between states is intended to contribute towards peace in the region, including a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it does the opposite. Not only is its context the conflict between the Gulf States and Iran, but like its predecessor, Trump’s “Vision for Peace,” it undermines the prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Normalization of relations with Arab states was one of the diplomatic carrots held out in the 2002 Arab peace initiative for Israel to end its occupation and creeping annexation of the Palestinian Territories. As things stand, the occupation has become normalized by Israel, especially under Trump’s administration. Israel no longer pays any evident price for its relentless and continuing injustices, except perhaps for erosive moral corruption, as remarked by Raja Shehadeh. On the same day that the agreement was signed in Washington, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a Jerusalem court had ordered the “eviction of dozens of Palestinian residents from their homes in East Jerusalem. The beneficiaries will be settler associations who argued that the homes belonged to Jews before 1948.” Needless to say, Palestinian refugees who owned property in Jerusalem until 1948 are not eligible to reclaim their homes as they are not Jewish. That is one of the injustices that the “Abraham Accords” sanctions, seemingly taking inspiration not from mythical shared ancestry but from the Biblical story of Abraham’s expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, depicted here by Israeli artist Jakob Steinhardt in 1950, with the refugees of 1948 in mind.

When an Arab man and a Jewish man kissed (almost).

It has been a difficult week in which to remain optimistic about the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Whether or not one is committed to a two-state solution, the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians – daily acts of the ongoing Naqba – push the chances of a just peace further over the horizon. Measures taken by different branches of the Israeli state upped the pace of creeping annexation of Area C of the West Bank. The military served notices – if being pinned to an iron post counts as serving notices – to some 300 Palestinian families from Ein Al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal in the north Jordan Valley that they must evacuate their homes and take all their possessions with them within a week. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ruled that it is legal to confiscate private Palestinian land to build roads to thirteen illegal outposts. That legalization of dispossession would reduce yet again the land in Palestinian hands and increase the fragmentation of Palestinian presence in Area C while solidifying the process of exclusive Jewish settlement.

Perhaps what got to me most this week wasn’t even that bad news. The steady flow of information I have about the harassment of Palestinian farmers in the north Jordan Valley by settlers and soldiers comes mostly from Guy Hircefelds’s Facebook page. Guy records what the grassroots activists of Ta’ayush  and other groups encounter when they go to work in partnership with the Palestinians there. There are some good days when his photos are of pastoral scenes of shepherding. There are much worse days when buildings have been destroyed, when the army block access to land, when a settler breaks an activist’s arm.

Guy leaves his page open for comments and by now he is well known to right-wing advocates of exclusive Jewish settlement. There have been some extended exchanges, mostly full of mutual insults and accusations, but the occasional hint of openness. Guy invites adversaries who claim there is no violence against Palestinians to come and see for themselves, and some settlers invite him to come and see how they live. Well, invitations of sorts.

hircefeld.ein al hilweh.18.11.17

Solidarity visit to the Jordan Valley, 18.11.17. Photo Guy Hircefeld

But the comment on his page that made me most glum came in response to his report of a relatively large solidarity action – the visit of a group of Israelis, including Combatants for Peace,  members of the Israeli Parliament, and Palestinian leaders. On Facebook Lital Miller mocked the activists as miserable, self-hating traitors, adding that their action would make no difference. And I thought she’s probably right about the last point. There will probably be a concerted legal campaign that will delay the expulsions, maybe similar to the one that has so far prevented the removal of Palestinian Sussiya. Perhaps some European consular staff will come to visit and their Foreign Ministers will send a rebuke to the Israeli government. But sooner or later, the creeping annexation will creep further, Area C will be emptied of Palestinians and so why (according to the Israeli consensus) shouldn’t it become part of the State of Israel? She could be proved right.

I couldn’t even comfort myself with the thought that Palestinian allies in the Arab world will muster to block this coming dispossession. It looks as if Prime Minister Netanyahu has succeeded in his goal of turning Saudi Arabia – and other Sunni Arab states – into a regional ally. So what if this relationship of common enmity to Iran might drag Israel into an unnecessary war with Hezbollah and maybe Syria, so long as it means the autocratic monarchs will let Israel do what it wants in the West Bank? Just as 40 years ago in 1977 when the Likud-led Israeli government opened itself up to a peace accord with Egypt, another Likud-led government seems to be doing better at making friends in the Arab world than the Israeli ‘left’. In other words, the Israeli government is going to get away with its intensification of the settlement project and its gradual Naqba.

Flickr_-_Government_Press_Office_(GPO)_-_Sadat_and_P.M._Begin

PRESIDENT SADAT AND PRIME MINISTER MENACHEM BEGIN IN SERIOUS TALK AT THE KING DAVID HOTEL DINER IN JERUSALEM.

So is there any hope, even dark hope, as Ta’ayush  activist David Shulman calls it. Yes, precisely in the determination and commitment of activists such as Guy there is hope not only for the future, but more significantly hope in the present. Hope because I can see in his photos what peace looks like – the partnership of Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Not all of them, of course, but enough righteous people for it to be worthwhile not to give up. Hope too in the memory of 40 years ago, when Israeli jubilation about Egyptian President Sadat’s visit showed what lies in Israeli hearts – to be accepted, to be understood, and maybe – as the wonderfully angled shot of Begin and Sadat apparently about to kiss suggests – to be loved in the Middle East. But goodness, most Israeli Jews, including those making nasty comments on Guy’s Facebook page, have a very odd way of showing that they just want to be loved by their neighbours.