Newsletter 180 - December 6, 2023
What with Thanksgiving and associated travels, we have fallen behind on posting readers' comments on the Israel / Hamas War. In order to catch up, we will be increasing the number of newsletters we send out each week. But we will try, starting next week, to focus at least one newsletter per week on the threatened democracies and hyper-polarization problem, and reserve at least half of our Colleague and Context posts for those topics as well.
Of course, these two topics overlap substantially. Conflict over who is right and who is wrong, who should be supported (and how) in the Middle East has now become a major source of tension here in the United States (and we suspect elsewhere) both between the Left and the Right, and, especially, within the Left. As we wrote earlier in Newsletter 176, the fissure on the American Left over whether to support Israel or Hamas has hurt President Biden's approval ratings and may be reducing, his chances of beating Donald Trump (the presumptive Republican nominee) for the Presidency next November. Needless to say, this is a significant and very concerning issue for people worried about threats to democracy in the United States. So it is an issue that we will be discussing in both threads — the Israel / Hamas thread, and the Hyper-Polarization/Democracy thread.
This week will be all Israel, since we haven't had the time to work on a non-Israel post. We want to start by sharing a summary of Lisa Schirch's "5-Point Peace Plan to Protect Civilians, Address Trauma, Invest in Democracy, and Dismantle Hamas and the Israeli Occupation." We had listed this in one of our Colleague and Context posts earlier, but we wanted to give it more attention than that. Lisa is Senior Research Fellow for the Toda Peace Institute where she directs the Institute’s “Social Media, Technology and Peacebuilding” program. She is also the Richard G. Starmann Sr. Chair and Professor of the Practice at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs where directs the PeaceTech and Polarization Lab. The Toda Peace Institute published Lisa's peace plan in early November 2023 as one of it's Policy Briefs.
Since we have a bit of space left here, following our summary of Lisa's plan, we are including a short comment sent by reader Katja Rieger, founder and CEO of Rippleffect, a Swiss organization that helps to "reconnect companies with their purpose and reconnect leaders with their authenticity." Katja wrote us on November 15, saying that "she liked [Lisa's] 5-point plan," but she wasn't sure it can be achieved. Her full comments follow our summary of Lisa's plan.
— Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess
Lisa Schirch's 5-Point Peace Plan to Protect Civilians, Address Trauma, Invest in Democracy, and Dismantle Hamas and the Israeli Occupation
Summarized by Heidi Burgess
December 5, 2023
Background of This Plan
As Lisa explained in a very important footnote on the first page,
This proposal was first drafted in 2011 during the Israel-Gaza conflict when I presented it to the Obama White House which convened a group of peace process experts to advise on their peace talks in the region. This proposal also grew out of the 3D Security Initiative’s Israel-Palestine Congressional Forum which sought to translate peacebuilding expertise to the US foreign policy community to develop alternatives to the Global War on Terror. The Israel-Palestine Congressional Forum brought Palestinian, Israeli, and American Jewish policy experts to inform Congress of policy alternatives. This proposal draws on ten years of work with US security officials to understand how best to end terror groups and support democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. This proposal also draws from 4 months of research with a wide range of Palestinians and Israelis while living and traveling throughout the West Bank, Israel, and the villages around Gaza. Special thanks to multiple Palestinian, American, and Israeli peace experts for generating elements of this plan. Many asked not to be publicly named so I have excluded all their names.
Clearly, Lisa's proposal has a long background behind it, and we could discuss at length the degree to which current events may have made certain aspects of it unwise, unworkable, or impossible. Certainly the events of October 7 particularly, but also Israel's response over the last two months, has created a situation which is both qualitatively and quantitatively different from what has come before. While we agree with many of Lisa's suggestions, we have questions about others. But debating them here would take far too much space. Hence, we are just presenting the points as Lisa laid them out. We will be offering our continually evolving views on this difficult issue in subsequent newsletters.
Lisa begins her proposal by observing that:
There is no military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A just political solution is essential. This article expands the narratives of what is necessary at this moment when too many simply say “there is no other way” or “ceasefire” which both leave many questions unanswered. This 5-point peace plan identifies a range of strategic principles and bridgebuilding processes to protect the safety and ensure the democratic freedoms of both Israelis and Palestinians. It emphasises1 the shared humanity and traumas of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. A sustainable peace will require that journalists and political leaders use their power to focus on protecting civilians, dismantling Hamas, ending occupation, addressing trauma, and investing in democracy. ...
While global media and political leaders wave flags and use divisive, binary language of “us against them,” there are thousands of Palestinians and Jews in Israel and beyond already working together to build bridges and affirm their shared humanity. Refusing the binary of supporting one group or the other is essential to address the key needs of both Israelis and Palestinians for safety and justice.
Lisa continues by describing the common narratives being told on both sides, which explain how it is that each side sees the other as guilty of "genocide." She then observes that
The October 7 Hamas attack on Israelis will likely create a new generation of far-right Israelis committed to the elimination of all Palestinians in Israel and the denial of a Palestinian state. The mass Israeli military campaign in Gaza and the violence toward Palestinians in the West Bank will also likely create a new generation of Palestinians to support Hamas. It is urgent to lay the groundwork now to prevent such radicalisation on both sides.
Using research and lessons drawn from the "U.S. War on Terror" she notes that "decades of US research shows that most terror groups end through law enforcement or a political peace process, not through military force."2 She adds that "US military strategists warn that the goal of eliminating Hamas entirely — both its political and military wing — will not be effective without greater protections for Palestinian civilians and a political solution to ensure the safety and freedoms of both Israelis and Palestinians.3
Lisa's 5 Points
1. Protect all Civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel
Here she calls for
- A ceasefire,
- Freeing of the hostages,
- A plan to protect Palestinians in the West Bank,
- Israel's release of Palestinian political prisoners who have not been involved in any military activities including planning, carrying out, or giving material support,4
- Provide safe passage out of Gaza for all women, people over 70, children under 14, and people with disabilities.
- Provide assurances that people who leave Gaza will be allowed to return
- The international community should assure that free passage and humanitarian aid be provided only to civilians not Hamas fighters.
- "The international community in coordination with Israel should establish safe corridors and safety zones inside Gaza, and international monitoring of hospitals and established civilian zones within Gaza."
- The Israeli Defense Forces should take a defensive posture, focusing on protecting Israeli civilians, not an offensive posture such as "hand-to-hand combat in the Gazan tunnels."
2. Dismantle Hamas
Here, her subpoints are:
- Dismantle the ideas5 that Hamas represents.
- Recognise that the Israeli siege on Gaza violates international laws
- Provide incentives to Hamas for their imprisonment.
- Hold free elections.
3. Dismantle Israeli Occupation
Lisa begins this section by saying "A political solution ensuring that Palestinians have equal rights, democracy, and freedom of movement, as well as reparations is also necessary." She goes on to say that "Public calls for a political solution are widespread, including from Ha’aretz and President Biden. The steps toward a political solution would need to begin with confidence building measures to build trust on all sides with perceptions of safety and justice for all increasing over time. " The subpoints she lists under this item include:
- Find and punish Israeli leaders who authorise, motivate, and carry out attacks on Palestinian civilians.
- Establish an international commission to explore viable political solutions to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
- Recognise the unique challenges of religiously motivated settlers in the West Bank.
- Recognise that Israeli policies toward Palestinians have violated international law.
- Provide reparations and/or return to Palestinians.
- Recognise that free and fair Palestinian elections are necessary.
- Western Christians should give reparations to Palestinians.
4. Embrace Democracy Movements as a Strategic Goal
Here Lisa asserts that "Most Palestinians and most Israelis want to live in a democracy and coexist with others." She suggests that rather than viewing the conflict along religious lines, it should be understood as a conflict between autocrats and democrats. "On one side, some want to live with democracy, equal rights, and dignity for all people. On the other side, there are those who will manipulate ethnic and religious allegiances to hold onto power." Items she lists under point four include:
- Recognise existing cooperation and Arab-Israeli peace movements and support the progressive co-existence efforts to isolate the extremists on all sides
- Establish an elite team of mediators drawn from existing Arab Israeli peace movements and efforts.
- The US and the West should make support for Israel conditional on democratic indicators.
- The US and the West should support democracy movements in Palestine, and the wider Arab region as well as set a good example with its own democratic governance and reforms.
- Recognise that a consistent human rights ethic is often missing from Western prodemocracy movements. (Here she notes that Western Progressives did not condemn Hamas after October 7, but were quick to condemn Israel; likewise, she observes "some progressive Christians joined protests to denounce Israel but did not raise their voices when far larger numbers of Muslims were killed in Yemen by US-made weapons sold to Saudi forces, when Syria bombed its Palestinian refugee camp, or when the world found out China imprisoned a million Muslims in reeducation camps. There is a dynamic in these protests that motivates ancient hatred and scapegoating of Jews."
5. Address Trauma from Antisemitism and Islamophobia
Subpoints here include:
- Address existential fears and trauma.
- Improve awareness of Islamophobia.
- Improve awareness of Christian antisemitism by the Left and Right. (Here Heidi can't help but comment...what about Muslim antisemitism?)
- Stop the weaponisation of antisemitism.
- Hold and expand the space for human dignity of all people
Lisa concludes by saying that all sides need to "invest in a long-term strategy."
Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve safety, justice, and dignity. They will only find these basic human rights when they can give them to each other. The international community must insist that a new generation of leaders in Israel and Palestine come from the coexistence movements already working together, and not those extremists in Israel or Palestine who have failed to bring safety or justice for decades.
1 This policy brief was published by the Toda Peacebuilding Institute, which uses British spelling. We left the original spelling in, rather than changing everything to American spelling.
2 Seth G. Jones, Martin C. Libicki. How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida. RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia: 2008.
3 “The Outlook for Israel’s Military Campaign against Hamas.” Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. 23 October 2023.
4 Emphasis is ours, not Lisa's
5 Emphasis is Lisa's
Thank you, Guy and Heidi, for your work of bringing information and education about this horrible situation.
I very much agree with your statements (which makes me of course question myself, if I am simply preferring my bubble).
Hamas is not a “good faith actor” and has no legitimacy due to the fact that they do want the elimination of a people, but more because of their horrible cruelty to the civilians.
I truly cannot understand how anyone can explain their actions from the circumstances and the plight of the Palestinians.
That being said, Palestinians are not all Hamas and my heart hurts for the children and all innocents. It was bad and hopeless enough before (and all of us having ignored this, makes it to an extent our responsibility)
So I hope a solution can be found. I like [Lisa Schirch's] 5 step peace plan. I am not sure if it can be achieved, especially Hamas fighters turning themselves in or being turned in and punished.
Unfortunately, in too many conflicts, the perpetrators were not punished. And that may happen again.
I am still hopeful that a solution can be found. I hope as well, that the hate and fear from the massacre will not help the wrong politicians on the Israeli side to stay in power - those who don’t want solutions and neither want Palestinians having the same rights as Israeli nor want them to have their own state.
Thank you for sharing thoughtful, thorough and balanced information.
Our Follow Up and Katja's Response
We wrote back to Katja, asking if we could post her comments, to which she replied:
"Of course you can.
What frustrates me is, that we seem to hand the power to the few extreme and loud people. I believe the majority of us prefers peaceful coexistence.
Can I ask you if you think that peace through “every day people” has a chance? I read ideas from Roger MacGinty and it makes so much sense to me. However I suppose this only works over the long term.
But I love initiatives like I have just heard from an Israeli and a Palestinian comedian (Shahak Shapira und Issa Khatib ) who decry “selective humanism” and say 'we look the same, we bleed the same, we deserve better.'”
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