Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Socio-Legal Road Map?

As President Bush visits Israel and Palestine this week, promoting his administration's late blooming peace initiative for that region, one cannot help but sigh at the lost possibilities. Had the President turned from his route of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, to insist that the free world show how democracies can reconcile historically complex and ongoing tragedies like the 40 year old Palestinian refugee crisis,---he might be visiting Jerusalem to watch the swearing in of a sovereign Palestinian President. For a portion of the treasure poured into operation quagmire in Iraq, a new Palestinian economy might be sending shock waves of growth through moribund economies of Syria, Jordon, and Egypt; while giving Lebanon and Gaza reasons to compete for global financial attention rather than the sort that is lavished on the cruelest civil wars.

These dreams await another President, if they are ever to arrive. But while President Bush is there, and recognizing the weakness at the top of all three national leaderships (US, Israel, Palestine), he could recognize and reward the most promising grassroots developments supporting a peace process on both sides. Many of these, in the form of NGOs, cluster around the Israeli legal system.

Some of the most interesting, are using techniques of empirical socio-legal studies to probe the realities of the occupation. As UCSB socio-legal scholar, Lisa Hajjar showed in her landmark study of the military occupation courts, the operation of military occupation under a constitutional legal order creates powerful contradictions, producing important room for maneuver by those who would keep the pressure on the political establishments of both societies.

One Israeli human rights organization, Yesh Din, has just published a report that suggests due process in the occupation courts is being systematically diminished. Fascinatingly, the Israeli government's response is largely pitched in terms of a critique of the report's methodology!

Ironically, the Israeli Occupation Courts may the kind of institution that produces both repression and encouragement to the Palestinians. Socio-legal research, by holding sovereign authorities on both sides to real standards of transparency and public accountability, may help leverage that contradiction for peace.


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