Prof. Ahuvia on ‘Peace vs. Justice’

Prof. Ahuvia on ‘Peace vs. Justice’

Aaron Ahuvia, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business. He has been active with Brit Tzedek v’Shalom as a member of its national board and executive committee. The following is his article (“No ‘Ongoing Justice,’ No Peace”) in the forthcoming winter 2010 issue of Meretz USA’s ISRAEL HORIZONS magazine:

I read with interest and general agreement Michael Lame’s recent article, “Peace vs. Justice” (IH, Autumn 2009). Lame argues for Palestinians to think in terms of partial rather than complete justice. I agree; no one is going to get complete justice either with or without a peace agreement. To advance this discussion, I would like to put forward another way of framing this issue.

Diane Balser, a former executive director of Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, once suggested to me that the Palestinians may get a “just agreement” but will surely not get “historical justice” as “no one gets that.” I thought this was very insightful, and with some further thinking, I developed a trichotomy of “just” agreements:

Historical Justice: An agreement achieves historical justice when it makes up for past wrongs to the greatest extent possible. By possible, I mean practically possible rather than politically possible. For example, there is no way to fully make up for a person’s death, and compensation cannot be granted which exceeds the wealth of the party making restitution. These are practical limitations on historical justice. But historical justice is not limited by what the party committing the injustice is politically willing to accept.

Procedural Justice: An agreement achieves procedural justice when it is reached through a legitimate and fair process. I would suggest that any agreement reached by the legitimate representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian people would at least partially satisfy the requirement of procedural justice. However, I also believe that for an agreement to be reached the international community will have to exert significant pressure on both sides to make compromises. At a certain point, this pressure can be so intense as to render an agreement to be “under duress,” hence not fully consistent with procedural justice. In the same way that complete historical justice is unattainable, so to complete procedural justice may be unattainable given the realities of what would have to happen to create a peace agreement.

Ongoing Justice: This refers to justice as the absence of new injustice. Ongoing justice describes the situation in which once the agreement is implemented, further injustices will not be committed by one side against the other. The concept of “further” injustice is crucial to this definition. Regaining land lost in a previous conflict constitutes historical justice not ongoing justice. However, some Israeli plans which would create a “Palestinian state” and in which Israel controls who may enter at the borders would require Palestinians to live under the continued domination of Israel and would fail the test of ongoing justice.

Like everything else related to this conflict, what would constitute an ongoing injustice would of course be up for debate. In particular, the issue of a demilitarized Palestinian state is a likely to be a source of contention. Israel will not agree to any treaty which did not require Palestine to be demilitarized (i.e., a well-armed police force would be allowed, but not a military with heavy combat weapons). I would argue that a demilitarized Palestine is not an ongoing injustice because although it meets the criteria for ‘ongoing,’ it fails to qualify as an injustice.

Arms control agreements are not an inherent violation of national sovereignty. It’s always odd for me to hear leftists who support US arms control agreements suddenly sound like the John Birch Society by insisting that any limitations on a Palestinian military would nullify its existence as a state. Japan’s demilitarized status, particularly back when it really meant something, was a boon to Japan’s economy and didn’t negate their status as a nation state. Palestine could not in the foreseeable future create an army that would be a practical deterrent to an Israeli invasion. But Palestine certainly could spend enough on a military to hinder its economic and social development. So it is likely that a demilitarized Palestine would be in both Israel’s and Palestine’s interest.

Conceptually the distinction between historical justice and ongoing justice is very simple, and is based on when the original wrong took place. But I recognize that psychologically, many people will experience a failure to receive justice for a past wrong as an ongoing injustice of a sort. Nonetheless, in my conversations with people on all sides of this issue, it has become clear to me that however important past wrongs may be, it is the fear of future injuries that motivates much of the violence. Therefore, an agreement that is ‘just’ in the sense that it does not perpetuate further new injustice, is both attainable and worth attaining.

Lame is critical of the oft-heard slogan “no justice, no peace.” When justice is defined as historical justice, or even procedural justice, I share Lame’s views on this. I sometimes wonder if proponents of the slogan have ever taken a history course? Almost every country in the world is at peace with its neighbors. Yet many countries have a history of warfare with many of their neighbors. Of these hundreds of successfully resolve conflicts, I doubt that more than a tiny handful were resolved in a way which fully met the criteria for historical justice and/or procedural justice.

The world over, peace exists because belligerents learned to live with less than what they would consider full justice. However, I suspect that most of these functioning peaceful relationships are based on a high degree of ongoing justice. Without ongoing justice, the conflict isn’t truly over, and is likely to flare up again into active warfare. Hence one might reasonably adopt the slogan: “no ongoing justice, no peace.”

By | 2010-01-13T13:38:00-05:00 January 13th, 2010|Blog|0 Comments

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