The Intersection of Domestic and Foreign Policy


Saturday, June 9, 2012


A debate in political science consists of the competing viewpoints of "structural" theorists versus "agency" theorists. Those who subscribe to the structural camp assert that history, and thus the continuous creation of history by way of politics, is influenced most importantly by geopolitical factors. It does not so much matter who is leading a country, they will act the same based on exogenous factors. On the other hand, agency theorists contend that people, specifically people in positions of power, are the important drivers of history. Personally, I think that both viewpoints have their merits.

With regards to the ongoing peace process between the nation-state of Israel and the nation of the Palestinians, currently regarded as being more or less stalled, many theorists would maintain that it is a matter of people and ideologies more than a matter of geopolitics. After all, the most contentious geopolitical factor in this process, the one that has contributed to a stalemate in talks more than any other, is control of East Jerusalem. Seeing this "East Jerusalem" for the first time really shocked me. I find it downright absurd how people are willing to stay stubborn and in some cases die for such a meager collection of arid hilltops. In this way, the agency viewpoint begins to show its merits--why would a discussion over such geopolitically irrelevant land continue as it has if not for the ideological and personal traits of the competing parties. Also, in explaining why the peace process has more or less stalled, one can clearly correlate the pro-peace government coalitions of Labor leaders Rabin, Barak, and Olmert with more success in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians than the governments of Likud leaders Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu. The process has stalled under Netanyahu because he is anti-peace...right?

MK Einat Wilf had a very convincing structural argument explaining the stalled status of the peace process. By her logic, the 1990's were the most ideal time for peace between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians. The Arab countries surrounding Israel had lost their support from the Soviet Union--it seemed that there was either the US's way or the "highway." The peace process has made most progress immediately following the two Intifadas. Now that there is a relative peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the US's interests are served more by the status quo than by disrupting a stable relationship with Israel during a time of uncertainty in the region, why would Israeli and US leaders commit to a painful reopening of the peace process?

I believe that in discussing this topic, both sides must be considered. The structural factors must be in place, and the right leaders need to have the will and desire to act upon them.

And that’s it. The program is over.

Only our farewell dinner tonight remains. It’s been an incredible, whirlwind, crash course in Israeli politics and society. We’ve scoured the country from the Negev to the Golan, speaking and listening to a broad representation of the Israeli polity. Each had their own take on the state of Israeli affairs and the future of any peace agreement with the Palestinians. These were juxtaposed with our site visits to give us context and impress upon us the meaning and actual size of the dispute. Physically, the dispute is over tiny tracts of land when compared to the actual surface size of Earth. Why it should be so drenched in blood is beyond logical comprehension. But maybe that’s the point? If there is anything that I’ve come away with it is understanding the contradiction of schizophrenia and cold calculating realism that guides daily life in this region. Allow me to explain.

Jerusalem’s mayor is a hard-line secularist who is bending over backwards to accommodate the religious Jewish population while making life increasingly unbearable for the Arab residents. In contrast, the last mayor – who was ultra-orthodox – did everything possible to ensure the status quo balance of religious, secular, and Arab was disturbed as little as possible.

Israelis have no stomach for the peace process, yet they understand that they cannot administer the West Bank indefinitely. Until something or someone forces them to confront their role in the future of the territory, they are content to live and let live, loathe to even discuss the matter. Yet, upon a little bit of prodding, they are energetic in their assessments of the situation and prescription for the solution. And no two Israelis agree on anything, even within in “right” and “left” political camps.

In the rest of the country, the security barrier is hailed for stopping acts of terrorism in the form of suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings, for over four years now. Outside of the intelligence establishment, no credit is given to the efforts of the Palestinian Authority in their cooperation with Israeli security forces. As a result, most Israelis heartily endorse barrier’s completion. In Jerusalem, where it is largely completed as “the wall,” Jews must balance appreciation of the increased security with the visible scar that the wall creates as it divides Jerusalem de facto despite all of the calls for a “united Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the Jewish State” heard from politicians.

If anything, the final contradiction that can be gleaned is that for all the contention and claims of holiness, Israeli is actually nothing more than a typical struggling country enjoying a certain amount of success in harsh geographic conditions. It’s challenges geo-politically are in part self-determined. People go about their daily lives trying to afford a decent living. They are concerned with illegal immigration from Africa, a travesty that the issue is even under debate considering how many refugees are fleeing horrible war conditions and genocide. The travesty is that Israel was founded on the ashes of the Holocaust under the mantra of “never forget.” Have we then forgotten that the great powers closed their borders to Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi persecution in the 1930s?

As a Jew born in Israel I will always cherish this state as my second home. But one thing this trip has shown me is that I am American for all intents and purposes. I have no desire to move back here and deal with this headache day in and day out. I crave the trivialities of life in the U.S., not the constant state of negotiation that embroils this country, down to the minutiae of crossing a street. At least, I say that now. The other thing that I’ve learned on this trip is that the situation on the ground can change in a fleeting moment.

Final Thoughts

Today is the last full day of our seminar in Israel.  I have spent my time reviewing my notes from our many site visits and lectures.  My research focus for the seminar was to examine the ill-fated Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East proposed by George W. Bush in 2003.  Before our departure I submitted to Professor Ziv, my research proposal and outline.  This proposal was the result of thorough preliminary examination of the topic.  As the Seminar unfolded, however, the shape of my research proposal began to shift.  It is not that I was mistaken in my previous direction, it is simply that without being in Israel and participating in the lectures and site visits I would have only had access to a glimpse of the information I needed to truly examine the failings of Bush's Roadmap to Peace.  While reevaluating my research proposal thrusts me back to the beginning, I am excited to tackle this project with a greater depth of knowledge surrounding the topic than I ever could have hoped for had I not participated in this Seminar.  There is truly no substitute to examining your subject face to face.  I am grateful to have had this opportunity!

- Clare Gallaher

Thursday, June 7, 2012


When I first touched down in Tel Aviv and walked out of the airport lobby, I immediately remembered the date palms. I had been to Israel once before, on a family trip when I was eight years old. We came the summer of my brother’s bar-mitzvah, as part of a large tour group of at least 40 people. I definitely enjoyed myself thoroughly on this trip, and certainly appreciated Israel. However if you’d asked me at the time what my favorite parts of the trip were, my answer would probably have been playing Gameboy on the tour bus, hotel swimming pools, and falafel, in no particular order. Nonetheless, when I first glimpsed the date trees in front of Ben Gurion airport, a flood of other memories came back to me. Unlike other times when I’ve travelled to a foreign country, even if I have been there before as well, such as Mexico, I never have a sensory connection with that place like I realize I have with Israel.
I definitely feel like this trip has been less an academic experience than a personal exploration of my own Jewish identity. That is not to say that this trip has been anything but absolutely fantastic in terms of expanding my knowledge of the country, it’s relationship to the United States, and its own struggle for peace. What I mean is that as a Jew, especially a secular Jew, my own experience here takes on an added dimension. Having taken Professor Ziv’s course on U.S.-Israel Relations in the spring, I would definitely say I was more knowledgeable than most Americans on the topic of this abroad program. But I could have read a dozen books on Israeli culture and still not been prepared for the cultural experience of this trip. Proud yet diverse, brash yet warm, assertive and unapologetic, it is the culture of Israel that is often forgotten in American discussions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. Zionism means such different things for different people, especially amongst Jews.
I have known for a while that I have deeply held, yet very subtly complicated disdain for ultra-religious people, namely those of my own religion and ethnicity. This stems mostly from experiences of my life, experiences that I will not elaborate on here. However, seeing how difficult the peace process is in a society as vibrant as Israel’s, and seeing how much further complicated this is when a large current of public opinion is driven by ideology rather than rationality and self-interest, I cannot help but despair for the future of the State of Israel and the spirit of Zionism. And therein lies the beauty of Israeli culture—forged by the despair of thousands of years of Jewish oppression, and more than 60 years as a state without real peace, Israelis have learned to soldier on, despite the clouds on the horizon and despite the vast differences of opinion within their own society. And, my personal favorite part of Israeli culture, they do this without apology and without resorting to euphemism. Coming to understand this culture has been fascinating and rewarding, and I know I will continue to evolve my life-long relationship with this culture.

Pictures from the protest outside the Knesset

June 6, 2012

Knesset Visit: A Lesson in Israeli Politics

This week the group had the unique opportunity to meet with three members of Israel’s Parliament, or the Knesset.  According to an intern who led us on a tour of the building, Knesset in Hebrew translates to “assembly” or “to assemble.”  On Tuesday we met with MK Daniel Ben-Simon of Israel’s Labor Party and MK Sheik Ibrahim Sarsour of Ra’am-Ta’al, one of Israel’s Arab parties.  Additionally, we had the chance to meet with MK Dr. Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party member who last year joined the Independence Party.

As Professor Ziv had discussed in an earlier lecture, Israeli politics have been aligned historically along right and left ideologies, with those on the right falling into the nationalist or “hawkish” camp, and those on the left favoring peace or compromise with the Palestinians.  From 1948-1977, the Labor Party ran the government; however, in 1977, the first Likud (right wing) government came to power, and since then, with a couple of exceptions, the right has continued to lead.  Over the last decade, a particularly interesting paradox has occurred.  Despite the Labor Party’s near collapse following the second intifada and the government’s rightward electoral shift, the population has shifted its position leftward, moderating its views.  Fewer Israelis are voting according to party, rather they focus more on the issues or the person running for office. 

Our Knesset visit reinforced this point.  As MK Ben-Simon explained, the Labor Party has shifted away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is instead focusing on economic and social issues, ranging from the rising cost of living and increasing wage gap amongst Israelis to the search for equality in the Jewish population, mainly regarding the issue of the 20 percent of the ultra-orthodox population claiming exemption from the country’s mandatory military service.  In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ben-Simon believes that the conflict cannot be resolved without the U.S. who he says has been “criminally silent” on this issue since Obama has come to office. 

MK Sheik Ibrahim Sarsour pressed upon us the importance of his party’s dedication to mercy, graciousness and peace in the political process.  His constituents are focused on the rights of minorities in Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how the Arab Spring might affect the geopolitics of the Middle East. 

Like MK Ben-Simon, MK Einat Wilf is focusing most of her efforts on domestic issues – particularly education, economics and women’s issues.  Her take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proved quite interesting.  She claims that the conflict is not about peace or a matter of territory as is often debated, rather it is a result of the continued rejection of the Zionist idea and the existence of a Jewish state. 

While each MK had his/her own diverging viewpoints, one thing they all shared was a frankness and candor that is sadly missing from American politics – there is no spin in Israel, which I think was refreshing for our group to experience. 

These visits not only provided the group with invaluable insight into the inner-workings of the Israeli government, but also furthered our understanding of just how diverse and complex the Israeli public and its political challenges are – what some of us might have thought were black and white issues are in fact varied shades of gray.  

The Druze Community

During one of our trips to the North our group met with the Druze Community. The Druze are found
primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, emerging during the 11th century from Ismailism.
The Druze get their title from a individual Druze by the name of Anushtak'in ad-Darazi, who was later considered a heretic and casted out of the community.

Very little is known about their actual religious beliefs as these are kept secret. When Druze reach a certain age (though I can't remember the exact age) they must choose whether to be religious or not. Those who choose religion continue the secret practice of the faith and adhere to specific dress codes. Both men and women are stressed as being equal in this community and as such, both genders can take roles as religious leaders. A Druze can change their mind about being religious or not once more after they make their initial decision. A Druze can also only marry a Druze and one cannot convert to be a Druze. If an individual marries outside of the community, they are no longer considered a Druze and must leave.

Though a religious minority in Israel and Arabic speaking, the Druze communities are very loyal to whatever government is occupying them and work hard to be incorporated into that society. Druze identify themselves as Israeli and even served in the Israeli Defense Forces on a volunteer basis before this was entered into law.

After being educated about their culture, the Druze family whose house were we guests at served us a beautiful and enormous lunch. You can see for yourself below.