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Am Johal: Trauma, Reflexivity and Al Gore

Structural Violence: Trauma, Reflexivity and Al Gore

By Am Johal

Normalizing an occupation for decades requires a deep understanding of international relations, social psychology, mass communications, systems theory and the blunt reality of brute force. With many areas of society suffering the distortions of social control and order to meet political ends and objectives, an apparatus of violence, discrimination and fear has been constructed as social reality. This is the form of structural violence which the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has taken – both the brutal Israeli occupation and the Palestinian responses such as Qassam rocket fire and suicide bombs. But this is not a competition over space between equals – Israel is clearly the aggressor in this conflict.

By not addressing the root causes of this structural violence, what has been organically created by the political dynamics and reality on the ground is a perpetual conflict: a war in slow motion, a permanent opera, a tragedy that unfolds every day. It is as if the blood spills without seemingly any alternatives to the present course or having any connection with how the rest of the world functions. The disassociation of responsibility is deeply rooted. The enduring myths, identities and narratives of this place need to be reconfigured on a more constructivist trajectory without losing their authenticity. Any good public policy planner or psychoanalyst must take in to account the reflexive nature of trauma of both these peoples who have suffered amongst one another for decades and even centuries.

All of the high level diplomats who negotiate in the backrooms and manage the conflict know that even if the political will to negotiate and implement a final status agreement were there, it could at best receive 55 percent support in either Israel or the Palestinian Territories. Managing order while such a deal is being implemented over a short time frame would be the test for the Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. An agreement once signed could realistically be implemented within three years. In fact, a final status agreement is not that different than Camp David, the Arab peace plan or even the Geneva Initiative. With some modifications, a deal could easily be reached if the will were present. This would no doubt cause massive social upheaval on both sides of the border, but this could easily be incorporated in to the planning process. Continuing the present course of madness achieves nothing by any empirical standard.

Israel’s proportional representation systems rewards cult of personality leaders and allows nationalist and right wing populist movements to emerge to undermine any movement towards peace. Any change from the status quo endures massive social upheaval and dynamic movement to fill any political vacuum. It serves as a destabilizing force in coalition governments. It supports radicalization as a means to build political bases which does nothing but reinforce the vicious circle that is the conflict.

The Bush Administration, by running out the clock on its second term mandate where the Roadmap to Peace has been a charade for right wing interests, has no hope of achieving a lasting peace. It is in its simplest form, a structure and process that authorizes Israeli unilateralism. A newly elected US President in early 2009 could slightly alter the situation.

There is a picture of Governor George W. Bush on the wall of Yad Vashem prior to his winning the Republican primaries. As Democratic and Republican Presidential hopefuls make their rite of passage to Israel and visit there in preparation for the primaries, hopefully a fuller debate can take place although it is highly unlikely to occur in the atmosphere of a political campaign.

The Democrats, if elected in 2008, would be well served by appointing someone with the stature of Al Gore as their special envoy to the peace process if he does not run for President. He brings impeccable credentials and profile to the conflict and has shown since 2000 that he can bring considerable breadth of knowledge to wide ranging issues. He’s a public policy specialist who can get in to details and can have a flair of thinking outside the usual discourse. He is one of the few American political figures who not only knows who Juergen Habermas is, but has actually read his work. Freed from the political field, Gore could inject a healthy honesty to the process if he is given a free hand to force a deal to happen on an established time frame by having a direct route to the Secretary of State and the President. By opposing the Iraq war and publicly walking out of step with his old allies and advisors such as Martin Peretz, he would approach the issue from a new perspective. As a high profile envoy, he would bring a level of credibility to the US in the region in terms of their sincerity in seeing a successful resolution to the conflict.

His recent conversion as an anti-war activist and environmental crusader would bolster his credentials as someone willing to utilize a new frame to approach the conflict. He has access to high level diplomats and others like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter who bring intimate knowledge of past negotiations. His appointment of Joe Lieberman as a Vice Presidential candidate would also win him support on the Israeli side. Gore would also be able to contextualize the regional issues with Syria and Lebanon. Freed from electoral considerations, he could have a free hand in taking the negotiations in a direction that they never have been able to reach. In doing so, it would strategically provide the US with much needed goodwill that has been squandered by their aggressive foreign policy in recent years and push the EU to be more proactive in their approach to the conflict.

The trauma suffered by people globally by the foreign policy of the Bush presidency requires a degree of reflexivity in order to reach a basic standard of reconciliation.


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