Indigeneity: Opening the Door to Path of Peace

Between Jewish State of Israel and Palestinians

By Martin Edwin Andersen

President Barack Obama’s warning that Jordan could be next on the brazen multi-national
destabilization agenda of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) not underscores how the
Holy Land of the West Bank soon may become the deadly al-Qaida-inspired group’s western
front. His comment came just days before the tragedy of the murder by extremists from both
Israel and Palestine of at least four children at the juncture of three of the world’s largest religions.
It was followed by Israeli intelligence chief Tamir Pardo telling associates that it was the
Palestinian issue that would decide Israel’s fate.

A comprehensive and attainable proposal for both Israelis and Palestinians, based on something
demonstrably different than the tired conventional approaches that continue to go nowhere, is the
only way to resuscitate moribund peace talks kept barely alive since the nearly miraculous
intercession of Pope Francis. At issue: a fresh (but already legitimized, by the United Nations,
among others) perspective that illuminates and eventually creates commonalities amongst Israelis
and Palestinians.

"Common Lands, Common Ground: The Indigenous Agenda, Israel, Palestine and breaking the
post-Oslo Peace Accords" (@, an essay published earlier this year, does just

It shows how Israel can legitimately claim that it is the world’s first modern indigenous nation
state and that the Palestinians would find their demands better channeled if they recognized that
fact, together with their own undeniably just position as a people seeking guarantees both
sustainable and unbreakable for a nation state erected in their homeland.

Rather than dividing Palestinians and Israelis, addressing their common concerns as indigenous
peoples provides one of the few bridges to greater mutual understanding and, eventually,

What is lacking up to now in the discussions and debates is a clear understanding of the modern
rights and needs of indigenous peoples, and how that knowledge can go a long way in
eliminating what critics rightly deem the ‚vacuousness‛ of discussions about a two-state solution
for Israel and the Palestinians. To date, both publics have been left without real, practical building
blocks leading to a shared understanding of what Arab American Institute President James Zogby
correctly terms the ‚near-universally recognized need for a two-state solution.‛ In addition Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s underlying covenant, as recently expressed in an interview with
Bloomberg, that ‚something must be done to prevent the collapse of Israel as a Jewish-majority
democratic nation,‛ needs to be fully and fairly addressed.

The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized for, as a recently retired special U.S.
envoy to the region noted, ‚Netanyahu once said that if the Palestinians and Arabs could
formally accept Israel as a Jewish state, his government’s ability to negotiate all the other issues
surrounding the conflict would be greatly simplified.‛ The indigeneity perspective in ‚Common
Lands, Common Ground,‛ he added, was an ‚interesting insight … novel approach [and]
potential help.‛

The key paradigm shift to indigeneity—those specific rights based on a people’s historical ties to a
particular territory, as well as its cultural distinctiveness from other, often politically dominant,
populations—legitimizes the focus both for recognition of Israel as a modern indigenous and
Jewish nation state and the rights of Palestinians to a nation-state homeland. The indigenous
perspective also offers allows for the shedding of the mistaken idea that only vague and
purposely politicized concepts—the contemporary version of Kissingerian ‚constructive
ambiguity‛—can keep both sides from seeking to grab the other’s metaphorical, and all-to-often
real, throats. It puts on the table essential issues of land, faith and languages and what these mean
in practice on the ground, in order to nurture policy trees with real olive branches.

"We're going to have to be vigilant generally,‛ Obama told CBS’ ‚Face the Nation‛ last month.
The destabilization of Iraq by the ISIL meant, he added, "That could spill over into some of our
allies like Jordan." In fact, well-placed sources say that Islamic militants along the West Bank have
for several years attracted ‚large numbers of listeners and recruits who are tired‛ of the
Palestinian National Authority and even the rival Hamas. The potential damage to both Israel
and the Palestinians that this radicalization could cause was highlighted by what happened after
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ public security cooperation with Israel following the
abduction of three Israeli teenagers. It was a move, observers told the Associated Press, that meant
Abbas ‚will likely pay a political price for going so openly against public opinion.‛

The breakdown of post-Oslo peace talks, a lack of meaningful programmatic follow up to Pope
Francis’ peace mediation, and greater polarization on the ground as neither side has achieved
what each say they want, means that urgent action is key to drying up an extending swamp of
popular discontent, a problem closely paralleled by U.S. policymakers repeatedly made the
wrong call on the meaning and importance of tribalism in Iraq.

Only by doing that what Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Aaron David Miller rightly notes (in
‘Five Myths About the U.S. and the Peace Process,‛, June 15, 2014) is a decades-old
struggle ‚driven by memory, trauma, and political identity and existential issues‛ is meaningfully
addressed. Only by using a formula based on both sides accepting the origins, construction and
definition of the national identity of the ‚Other‛ can a means be agreed upon so that each accepts
and recognizes both as nation states.

Referring to ‚Common Lands, Common Ground,‛ a senior diplomat from the region working in
Washington, D.C., noted, "I think that the necessity of speaking about ancestral rights of
indigenous peoples and mutual recognition of those rights is important ... Dealing with mutual
recognition is important in (and of) itself.‛ Meanwhile, a U.S. university chaplain who is an
internationally honored human rights activist said the essay was fundamental as it ‚resets the
narrative of the Middle East—which desperately needs a reset.‛

To date, given the relative backwater status of indigeneity on the question of Israeli and
Palestinian interests, irresponsible partisans on each side are claiming indigenous identity for
only one or the other peoples involved. Yet following on the authoritative definition of
indigenous peoples in the famous ‚Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous
Populations‛ by José R. Martínez-Cobo, an anthropologist and then the United Nations Special
Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities,
an historically correct interpretation shows that both are in fact native peoples. Unfortunately, the
zero-sum gaming of arguments sustains one of the globe's most difficult human rights challenges.

Not only is the Jewish state of Israel arguably the world’s first modern indigenous state; more to
the point in relation to its ultimate survival is the fact that little of the indigenous argument has
been consciously and conspicuously incorporated in a way as to make the two-state solution not
only plausible, but also workable. Israeli belonging to the world community of indigenous
peoples is fully warranted given their determination to preserve, develop and transmit to future
generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, thus ensuring their continued
existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural mores, social institutions and legal

Admittance of Israel in the indigenous community is in keeping with the criteria set down by the
UN’s Martínez-Cobo. In favor of the Jewish state's membership are the following facts: Its lands
were occupied first by the Romans, then by the Arabs; it shares common ancestry with previous
occupants; its "Jewish culture" can be traced directly to the Levant, while even though various
communities have slightly different traditions, they all share the same unique root culture; its
traditional language, Hebrew, has been resurrected as its primary language; it has spiritual ties to
the land, which play an unquestionably important role in their traditions as a people, and
archaeological evidence of the Tabernacle exists in the modern Jewish city of Shilo.

As noted in ‚Common Lands, Common Ground‛ (months before ISIS’s brutal emergence as a
force to be reckoned with in an Iraq now falling apart amidst tribal fractioning): ‚Increasingly, the
still-yawning international vacuum on the rights of indigenous peoples has redounded negatively
on Middle East development and security policies, with the fight between Israelis and
Palestinians quickly growing into a verbal trench warfare reminiscent in style to the tragedy of
World War I.‛

Into that vacuum is an unhealthy if still backbench politicization of a common indigenous
agenda, leading to a two-way dead end, an blind and banal debate about ‚who was there first‛
eons ago in the Holy Land.

The examples offered by U.S. and Canadian First Peoples offer critically important lessons
learned. For example, archaeological and historical evidence suggests the Athabaskan ancestors
of the Navajo entered the Southwest around 1400 AD--from Canada. Using the same logic of
those who say Israeli Jews have no rights to be in the Holy Land, the Navajos' relatively
newcomer status in the region--in relationship to, for example, the Hopi--would make their
claims suspect. Yet no one seriously suggests that the Navajo do not have rights to land in
Arizona and spiritual beliefs tied to those rights.

By the same token, those Israelis and their allies who say that the Palestinians are latecomers and
therefore do not have rights as an indigenous people are similarly incorrect, particularly if one
looks at the definition of indigeneity sanctioned by the UN and by U.S. law.

In both the Israeli and the Palestinian cases, ‚Common Lands, Common Ground‛ points out, their
unique self identity ratifies de Vos’s dictum that what is believed, not what objectively was, is the
operative principle in the reconstruction of identity.

Turning the current acrimonious debate on its head, reality-based indigenous approaches offer
the prospect of badly needed and currently scarce confidence building measures—on core issues
such as borders, Jerusalem, security and refugees—unfolding in a timely fashion.

An indigenous perspective can foster, unite and sanctify the dispirited apostles for peace in both
Israel and in Palestine, including those of respective diasporas clamoring for understanding and

The continuing failure of post-Oslo Accord negotiations in the shadow of growing extremism
should have policymakers scrambling for new solutions to stagnant policy prescriptions, devoid
of the kind of blinders that positioned a massive U.S. investment for failure in Iraq. Only if Israel
and a viable Palestinian nation state work closely together can nascent extremist (such as ISIS)
exploitation of people’s resentment convincingly be stanched.

The longer we wait the longer the real innocents in the current bloodshed--the children--will
continue to be cannon fodder or the victims of terror. Time to turn the page in the place three
world religions call the Holy Land.

Martin Edwin Andersen, a former assistant professor of national security affairs at the National Defense
University, is the author of Peoples of the Earth; Ethnonationalism, Democracy, and the Indigenous
Challenge in ‘Latin’ America. He is also the of the 1992 law requiring the U.S. State Department to
include a section on indigenous peoples in each annual human rights country report around the world.

Francisco Javier Gonzalez, Director, Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor: “Mick provided invaluable expertise and insights that helped shape the Department of
State's approach to indigenous issues in the Western Hemisphere. A phenomenal intellect, he distilled vast
amounts of knowledge into concrete policy and administrative recommendations.”