International law key in Middle East conflict

In Daniel Hoffman’s recent opinion article, “Middle East peace doesn’t arise in a vacuum” (4/6), the author explores “the lack of understanding” in the peace process by offering a critique of a recent lecture by Palestinian political activist Hanan Ashrawi titled “Palestine, Peace, and Democracy: The Road Ahead.” Though his goals are commendable, Hoffman undermines Hoffman: His article engenders greater misunderstanding.

Hoffman criticizes Ashrawi’s lecture, for “she fell into the trap that so many on both sides fall into,” he claims. In other words, she “failed” to highlight the complexities of the internal socio-politics of Israel.

Ashrawi came to Yale to lecture on Palestine, not Israel. She is an expert on the society and the politics of Palestine, not Israel. It is unreasonable to condemn her for not presenting “a nuanced understanding” of Israeli politics. Hoffman might invite an Israeli politician to offer insight on such topics.

Moreover, the author even offers an argument against himself to corroborate my point: “I felt that by going to her speech, I would gain some insight into how Palestinian society works.” If this is so, then it seems illogical to chide Ashrawi for not thoroughly analyzing Israeli domestic politics.

Are Palestinian political scholars obliged to present an objective and even-handed analysis of Israeli internal politics before they can ever begin criticizing the oppressive, illegal policies of the government? Internal tensions, no matter how severe, do not justify the illegal occupation of Palestinian Territories, the continued bulldozing of homes, the expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, and the construction of a separation wall, whose projected path annexes 46 percent of the West Bank.

Secondly, Hoffman disapproves of Ashrawi’s perception of the Gaza pullout because she did not “consider what Sharon has had to go through with the settlers” in order to implement the withdrawal plan. Apparently, before Ashrawi can earn the right to critique this action, she must first recognize and praise Ariel Sharon for his willingness to remove settlements that were not supposed to be there in the first place; she must be grateful for the Israeli government’s generosity. Let us not get confused: It is Ariel Sharon’s obligation, not his choice, to comply with international law and to dismantle these illegal settlements. Portraying it otherwise is dishonest.

Finally, the author asks us to condone Israel’s “slow motion” approach to withdrawal: “There is also the Israeli psyche.” According to Hoffman, this psyche fears an escalation in terrorist attacks, and rightfully so. He implies that we must expect this tiny withdrawal of 7,500 settlers (for let us remember that we are only talking about Gaza settlements) to be a lengthy process. Palestinians might be willing to accept this tardiness if they were given any hope of the full withdrawal’s actual implementation. There are currently 380,000 illegal settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the numbers are growing thanks to the recent construction of 3,500 new housing units in the illegal settlement Ma’aleh Adumim in East Jerusalem. Given the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during this Gaza withdrawal period, we can understand Ashrawi’s skepticism.

Hoffman implies that the Palestinians should accept the occupation and condone the violations of human rights and international law until the Israeli psyche is ready to act. The dismantling of the wall, the freeze on colony expansion and the end to the occupation ought to all wait on the Israeli psyche — a blatant disregard for the human rights of the Palestinians.

Hoffman concludes his article with optimism: “[the Israelis] are ready for peace,” and “both sides are willing to negotiate.” If the Israeli government is seeking peace, then why is it still constructing the illegal wall? If Sharon wants to negotiate, then why does he permit the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank? Are these policies indicative of a government seeking peace? I think not. They only prove that the Israeli government gives little heed to international law.

If Hoffman desires to nourish a greater and balanced understanding of the Middle East peace process, he would do well to begin by examining the biases and misunderstandings implicit in his own positions.



Eyad Houssami is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and co-president of the Arab Students’ Association.

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