Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Primacy of Politics

The Primacy of Politics

I honestly appreciate the many thoughtful comments people have been writing here the past few days, including over the weekend where I disappeared from the blogosphere. Thanks for the interesting perspectives.

I see the time has come to write a few basic posts about long-term matters such as what my position is on the potential outcome of peace negotiations, Jerusalem, settlements and such matters, so that readers can understand if they agree with me or not at all. I take pride in the fact that not all of you will agree: this blog has a mildly eclectic readership

OK, I've noted the need.
Originally posted by Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations

In the meantime, one fundamental position which seemingly wasn't clear enough in my post about human rights in Hebron. Although there's much about the matter I still need to study, for the time being my position is that politics are superior both to international law and to human rights. I expect some of you may cringe, and there are millions of folks out there who'll never read this blog who would respond with abysmal derision, but that's life. As JRR Tokien once wrote, I don't expect I'd much like what they write, either.

Human rights and international law are not the same thing, though people who unthinkingly bandy the terms around as magic charms to ward off reality don't always recognize this. That post I just mentioned wasn't very well written, I see, but its point was to say that since human rights are separate from matters of international law, you'd expect its champions to be able to recognize that the current desolateness that is central Hebron is better - from the narrow perspective of human rights - than its preceding alternatives in which lots of people were dying. Yet they can't recognize that, and one of the reasons they can't is that they aren't truly champions of human rights. They're bearing the mantle of human rights in vain, while actually talking politics.

The reason they engage in this charade isn't hard to understand. Human rights are noble (really!), and we'd all like them to exist, and be respected, on a higher plane than mundane and unseemly politics. Moreover, using the terminology of human rights in a political discussion is like playing poker with only the strongest cards: the other side can't win. If one side is noble and the other is mundane and the best it can offer is the cynicism of politics, clearly the noble side wins automatically. My point was to poke a hole in the intellectual pretension. B'tselem and their like are framing their view of human rights in Hebron (and everywhere else) in the terms of their political position, not in terms of some universal context as they ought in order to be intellectually consistent.

The other point I made, but mostly in order to set up the main argument, was that international law and human rights aren't the same, and at times can even contradict each other. It may be that international law frowns on Jews living in Hebron (which is a reason to have reservations about international law), but human rights can't have an opinion on the matter. A champion of international law may feel comfortable in saying there should be no Jews in Hebron; a champion of human rights must say the international law is irrelevant for the matter of the rights of the Jews who are there, irrespective of how they got there.

Having hopefully clarified that, let me add that in my humble opinion, politics trumps them all, human rights and international law. Yes, at first glance politics is messy, cynical, full of backhanded deals between tired and jaded negotiators with all matter of hidden agendas, while international law and human rights, both, profess to be clean systems of orderly thinking and finest principles. How nice, and what is there not to like.

Politics, like them or not, are the space where societies work out how they're going to get things done, and then change their mind when reality intervenes; they're also the space where different societies work out how to live with each other, or fight with each other, or fight and live. A society which is contained within one political unit will hopefully have a healthy balance of law, rights, needs, agenda and so on, and its political discussion may take place within the limits of its accepted consensus. Separate societies which don't share a basic set of assumptions, don't. Pretending they do won't change that. Suggesting they ought to is.... politics. It's legitimate, but as part of the political discussion, not as some divine set of aces which over-ride the political process.

Coming down from the heavenly spheres, this means that Israelis and their neighbors need to find accommodations that work. Human rights, international law, emotional drives, history, economics, clashing religions, global warming, hummus and tabuleh, American politics, European politics, South American politics, swine flu, military power, water tables, and zillions of other things are all relevant if they are. It all gets worked out - resolved, or unresolved - in the space where societies work these things out.


PS. In democracies, at least, politics are where the will of the people expresses itself. Can't get any nobler than that, can you?

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