Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Burg, Falk on Peace and International Law in Israel and Palestine

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Burg, Falk on Peace and International Law in Israel and Palestine

Article excerpt

As part of its Advocacy Week, the World Council of Churches (WCC) held a public seminar on "Peace and International Law in Israel and Palestine" in New York Nov. 11. Avraham Burg, current member and former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, began by informing the audience that, because the absence of the core of normative life in the area made the application of international law problematical, and as a politician, he would circumvent the topic. Instead he addressed two questions: What is the war about? and who are the warriors?

Describing the war as a "conflict of the icons," Burg identified its most troubling aspects as incitements to violence from mosques and schools on the Palestinian side, and the doubling of settlements by the Israeli side. Each challenges the other on the level of symbols, he argued: when a suicide bomber attacks, even though their country is so powerful, Israelis feel that "the Holocaust is back." For Palestinians, Israeli settlers trigger the trauma of colonialism. In such a situation, Burg said, the solution is not a real estate deal. In the recent Geneva accords, representatives of the two sides made an exchange of symbols: Israelis agree to give up sovereignty over the Temple Mount and Palestinians agree to give up the Right of Return.

According to Burg, there is in fact a clash of civilizations, but it is not, as Samuel Huntington posited, between the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam--nor is it limited to the Middle East. Rather, he said, it is between those who promote democracy and those who favor theocracy, and that clash exists within each region, religion, and nation. He characterized President Bush's "evangelical" mission to introduce the light of democracy in the Middle East as top-down democracy. Had Bush asked Burg for advice, the Knesset member would have told the U.S. president to begin with the Palestinians. Having learned from Israel, he said, they are ready for democracy. It's the only good thing that has come from 36 years of occupation.

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, served on the U.N.-appointed Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories in 2001. He pointed out a contradiction in the WCC premising its positions on international law and U.N. resolutions, while at the same time giving qualified support for the Oslo accords and subsequent plans. …

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