Thoughts On Israel & Palestine – Early Thoughts.

Lots in the news lately about Israel and Palestine, given President Barack Obama’s recent speech where he referred to the need for negotiations based on a starting point of the pre-1967 borders, with what he called “mutually agreed upon swaps”, meaning that there would likely need to be some exchanges of territory to reflect where people have setter since that time.

President Obama’s speech brought a strong response from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He strongly dismissed the President’s statement saying that it would leave Israel “indefensible”. The statement isn’t totally off-base, in simple terms. The Golan Heights region seized from Syria offers some significant strategic advantages which Israel would be understandably loath to relinquish.

That said, the real controversy seems more to stem from President Obama’s explicit enunciation of what has long been a US policy regarding a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. Netanyahu seems to be some kind of darling among a set of the American right that seems to have an innate ability to suspend any form of rationality when it comes to Israel, and his bluster against Obama apparently made them very happy.

What I want to try to do is explore this obsession with Israel and its implications for any form of lasting peace. I’m not any sort of expert on the matter but I’m just going to sort of audibly ponder the situation.

While I think the world meant well in giving assistance to the Zionist movement in establishing the State of Israel, particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust, I have come to wonder if it was really a good idea.  Divorce, for a moment, the religious fantasies that played a role (not least of which is the dominionist Christian eschatology) in the location of the state, and consider this: carving a new state which immediately set about bringing settlers from all over the world into land that had been occupied by another group for many years, and surrounded by nations which stood little chance of abiding this new neighbour, and the nightmarish flood of refugees it created.  In any reasonable context of consideration, it makes absolutely no sense.

Being someone who follows this blog I will take some license in assuming that you have at least some background in the history of the State of Israel, including the Nakba, the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, and Israel’s involvement in the Lebanese Civil War.  If you aren’t up to speed, may I suggest Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut To Jerusalem as a primer?  Israel’s borders have expanded each time these conflicts have happened, including holding territory in the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank at various points.  They’ve made some pull backs, but still hold the Golan and effectively control the Gaza Strip and the West Bank even though they “withdrew” in 2000.

To get peace, I have to just consider two states bickering regardless of the other issues.  One is militarily mighty but considers itself to face a constant existential threat.  It also has a stronger economy, and some friends in high places.  The other is militarily weak, faces a stagnant economy, and lives under the boot of the other, finding the situation uncomfortable enough as it is, but made worse by the fact that vast swathes of its population have been forced into third countries, and that there’s no prospect for improvement as the other country continues to encroach on the land.  Oh, and adding to the misery, the former party, well, they just showed up.

So what can I presume the average Palestinian divorced from politics wants?  I’ll hazard a guess that it’s similar to what Israelis want – and more importantly, what any human likely wants – to live peacefully, to be able to make a decent living, to provide for their children, and to see them grow up wealthier and better off.  To do that, it strikes me, isn’t hard, but that’s why Israel needs to make the rather reasonable concessions that were essentially articulated by President Obama a few days ago, but are nothing new.  They don’t need to capitulate on everything, and they’ll still remain militarily quite strong.  They do, after all, have quite a nuclear arsenal among other things, but I’d hazard a guess that on the Arab Street a reasonably negotiated two-state solution will probably be enough to make most people accept the existence of the country.

There’s a lot more to it, but I just wanted to start somewhere.

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