Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Israel Day Two

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet Khaled Abu Aker, a Palestinian journalist who runs Amin Blogs. Khaled began this site, as a way for ordinary Palestinians to express themselves. The blogging community also serves as a potential unifying force to overcome the challenging geographic barriers- to say the least- that currently exist. While the site serves as place to speak about the occupation, it also has become a place for Palestinians to speak on internal political matters, which Khaled believes a refreshing development. According to Khaled, 52% of Palestinians have access to the internet. Khaled sees these expressions as an important facet in bringing about a more egalitarian view within the Palestinian community, in addition to giving voice to those under occupation. I found it fascinating, maybe somewhat more of a fundamental purpose relative to the Canadian online experience.


We also met with Sara Miller, who is the online editor for the Haaretz, Israel's most influential "left" publication. Sara offered a rare glimmer of hope on the peace front. Overwhelming, most of our conversations to date have centered around this idea that Israel has moved philosophically, but Sara argues that the right have come to the former left position. It was an interesting perspective, using Netanyahu to show an evolution of thought, in that even Likud now accepts a two state solution, whereas in prior manifestations, the mere idea was considered outlandish. The obvious apprehension about how far Netanyahu would go, but Sara contends that a solution is only a matter of time, once the process is started an arrangement will come. Sara also thinks this dialogue could take 50-100 years, so it's not unbridled optimism.


I guess the shocking moment of the day, or more rightly my own ignorance crystallized, came as we met with Dr. Einat Wilf, member of the Knesset for the Labor Party. The Labor Party is considered the traditional center-left party, but it was clear from listening to Dr. Wilf that this is an outdated perspective- at least in terms of foreign policy leanings. As part of the coalition government, it was amazing to listen to a Labor politician speak of Netanyahu in such a positive light. If you didn't know the orientation of the speaker, you would have swore you were listening to a hardcore Likud loyalist, clearly the political lines are blurred. What Dr. Wilf's commentary really demonstrated to me was Israelis have virtually united behind a common front, when it comes to the peace process. Everyone we meet references Oslo and the second intifada, clearly this is where a evolution in thought has occurred, many former peace supporters re-examined their position and a more hard line sentiment developed. Dr. Wilf had a curious analogy, that of a jaded lover, who now views any future relationships with a jaundiced eye.

Dr. Wilf also expressed some disappointment with the Obama administration, contending that the recent controversies over Biden's visit, represented a true philosophical departure from the American perspective. I think it fair to say, that Israelis have reacted with a certain dismay, that the Americans have put settlements on the table, which are assumed to be part of Israel in any future agreement. We later toured Ramat Shlomo, the center of the recent debate, and it represents a massive, modern orthodox neighbourhood. Beyond the 1967 green line, but not considered part of any land transfer by the Israelis, it is clear the American position has met with much astonishment.


We visited the Israeli Supreme Court, which gave a better sense of the important role it plays within the country. The SC is a very controversial organ, seen by many as entirely to activist, challenging the elected government in ways that go beyond its intended purpose. Israel has no formal constitution, which allows for certain conflicts, and it is reasonable to say the court is viewed as "liberal". Within Israeli society, there is a tension between the orthodox community and the more secular Israelis, with some elements of the former ignoring the SC decisions, which are leading to serious confidence issues, as you can well imagine. One particularly fascinating aspect of the SC, all ordinary citizens can petition the court to challenge almost anything. This freedom results in a massive barrage of petitions, quite daunting for the court to deal with all matters in a way that allows the SC to function.


The visit to the Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs centered around a talk from David Taub, who has served as an important legal advisor during most of the peace talks. Again, this issue of a divided Palestinian leadership was discussed, as well as past failures.


All in all, I can say with confidence that we are being exposed to a wide cross section of opinion to date WITHIN Israel, with the obvious caveat being no visit to the occupied territories. The key word that comes to mind, which almost every conversation acknowledges is "complicated".


Malcolm Barry said...

Interesting articles and keep up the good work. Enjoy yourself.

Big Winnie said...

Thanks for the update Steve!!

Frankly Canadian said...


Savtadotty said...

Visiting your blog because Lisa Goldman recommended it. I've lived here for 22 years and I'm learning from your visit.

I wish you lots of wi-fi for the rest of your trip.