I am an ardent supporter of Israel. I am equally an ardent supporter of Palestine.
Is this possible? And is it possible that this dilemma can lead to a way out, a way out of avoiding the zero sum game – either Palestine or Israel, but not both?
Although I’m an armchair historian, I’ve come to the conclusion that the endless rehashing of Israel/Palestine history is fruitless. History is written in the crimson ink of emotion, each side cherry-picking “facts” to support and inflame its constituency, only leading to further distempered emotion, if not to collective hysteria, making compromise and peace impossible. The same can be said for arguments about “justice,” “fairness,” “rights.” They lead nowhere and impede resolutions.
That being said, can anyone deny that Israelis, mostly the heirs of settlers and refugees from Europe and the Middle East, now live on territory that was mostly populated by Palestinian Arabs? And that those displaced Palestinian Arabs, angry and enraged, want that territory back?
Again, it is fruitless to go over how the Israelis supplanted the Palestinians. That leads to endless arguments, the fanning of emotions, and that obstructs the possible way forward. The fact is Israel supplanted the Palestinians and the Palestinians are incensed. The fact is Israel is there and they’re not going away. But, neither are the Palestinians.
What can be done? The Israelis can drive the Palestinians into the sea. The Palestinians and their allies can overrun Israel scattering the ten tribes into the desert once again. Neither scenario is likely. So then, we have the endless stalemate, the endless war? With the periodic Palestinian flare-up, similar to what we had last week in Gaza, that Israel extinguishes, until the next outbreak? But with more and more accurate, more powerful missiles, and more and more Draconian responses? And then, there’s Iran lurking in the wings…?
Is this the future? The inevitable future? For how long? Forever? Yes. Unless someone breaks the stalemate. And that someone has to be the victor – Israel, by themselves, without pre-conditions, or quid pro quos from the Palestinians. They have to sleep with the enemy. While the analogy is terribly inexact, Israel has to enact a Marshall Plan for the Palestinans.
Crazy, you say. I say crazy for both sides to live in a semi-war state for another century with nuclear annihilation for everyone in the Middle East a real possibility. Radiation respects no borders.
Here are some steps Israel must take to break the stalemate:
* Israel has to maintain its military superiority as a fail-safe.
* Israel has to promote itself as the model Middle Eastern state (which it is in fact) that the Palestinians and the larger Arab Spring aspire to: An open democracy. Free elections. Freedom of speech and the press. Opportunity for all citizens, including especially, women, and its Arab minority. Freedom of religion.
* Israel has to promote itself as a model state to emulate, not destroy – a modern, progressive, tech-savvy state (which it is) that is competitive, secular (with a Jewish identity), and enterprising, and entrepreneurial, the foundation of which is universal education.
* Israel (and this is key) has to make a dangerous, heroic effort to break the barriers/boundaries/borders between itself and its neighbors, and to pull its neighbors up economically and socially, as the Marshall Plan did, without any preconditions.
Here are some suggestions:
* Establish scholarships for West Bank and Gazans and non-Palestinian Arabs to study at Israeli universities, particularly Arab women.
* Israel must invest in neighboring states: the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, even Gaza. Investments have to be real partnerships, not merely exploitation of cheap labor.
* End the settlements in the West Bank.
* End the settling of Arab Jerusalem.
* Recognize Palestine as a state.
* Sooner rather than later, re-open Israel’s borders to Palestinian labor, especially to technically skilled labor, and trainees as technically skilled labor, as well as common laborers.
* Radically reduce the time and red tape for Palestinians at border crossings and travelling within the West Bank Israel controls.
* Normalize Gaza. Allow Gazans to have commerce beyond the three mile limit, and allow Gazans, especially students and business people to travel abroad.
Each of these ideas is fraught with danger. Each is impractical, even impossible. But each and more are necessary, and the danger of continuing the status quo even more fraught with danger. If Israel wants to defend itself it can only do so by embracing an enemy without conditions. If it can’t or won’t, the only future is a plague on both houses
Israelis cannot continue on the path of building higher fences and shaking the biggest stick. For fifty years it has bought time and passable security but only enraged its enemies further. Time and numbers are against Israel. It’s time for the carrot on an unprecedented scale.
Yes, the Palestinians want the old territory, but they want better lives as well. Paradoxically, if Israel helps the Palestinians obtain those better lives, by helping to integrate the Palestinians into the wider, contemporary, progressive world, Israel will be safer.
Remember, (and here unfortunately is a little history), Palestinians traditionally were some of the most secular, progressive Arabs in the Middle East. Their embrace of Hamas and Hezbollah is an act of desperation not piety.
If someone has better ideas to break the war/stalemate, which avoids the disaster of a zero sum game, please share them. As for me, I want to save both Israel and Palestine from their
mutually assured destructions. Call me quixotic, call me hopelessly naïve, but so were Gandhi and Mandela, and for that matter, Herzl and Weizmann.