By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
I had a fascinating email conversation over the weekend on the Middle East conflict, and it seems worthy of reproducing here. Not just because of the issues raised but because they encapsulate the difficulty of even agreeing on what the central questions are.
Americans seem so locked into hardened political positions -- not just Republican vs. Democrats, conservative vs. liberal, religious vs. secular -- that it makes the traditional way of dealing with difficult issues, of finding some room for compromise closer to the middle, virtually impossible. But perhaps this online debate offers some hope in this regard.
My correspondent -- an intelligent, politically-savvy, passionate writer/editor -- had sent me a tough anti-Israel article by Alan Hart entitled "Zionism Unmasked: A fairy tale thats become a terrifying nightmare."I've read scores of similar articles over the years, but Hart's was quite powerfully argued, and I decided to respond to it. Here's what kicked off the conversation:
NO "DISAPPEARING" ACTS
To get the discussion started, let us suppose that everything (or nearly everything) Hart says about the origins and early years of Zionism, and much of today's brutal Zionist treatment of Palestinians, is true. What are the policies you would advise to help ameliorate the situation, the Israel/Palestine conundrum?
Should millions of Jewish Israelis be repatriated, forcibly or otherwise, to...where? An uninhabited island in the Pacific? A country carved out somewhere in Eastern Europe, with land donated by numerous nations? Where? Similarly, many Israelis want the Palestinians to disappear and are hoping that by treating them so cruelly, this will hasten their departure back to...where? To Jordan? Egypt? Bantustans in the worst geographical locations? Where?
It ain't gonna happen. Both sides are engaged in delusional thinking. The millions of Jewish Israelis will not disappear on their own and cannot be made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted to the task. The millions of Palestinians will not disappear on their own and cannot be made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted to the task.
You may ask why the Palestinian should compromise on anything, since you feel their claim is more justifed; Israelis might ask why they should compromise, since they believe their claim is more just. But that reasoning just keeps the destructive-loop in place and solves nothing. If my assessment is a realistic depiction of where things stand today, how is it possible to reach an accomodation that will permit both peoples to live side-by-side, if not in peace (at first), then at least with some sort of grudgingly-arranged toleration of the Other?
It seems to me that the art of political compromise dictates that each side will have to give in order to get. The Israelis will have to end their occupation of lands established for the Palestinian state, abandoning its settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in order for a viable Palestinian state to manifest itself. The Palestinians will have to officially recognize Israel, which action would necessitate ceasing to send missiles, rockets and suicide bombers into Israel. Israel might agree to accept a limited number of "right-of-return" Palestinians back to their ancestral homes but also would have to pay a fair real-estate price for those hundreds of thousands of Palestinian who would not be welcomed back. Jerusalem probably would become an international city, administered by the U.N. or some other neutral body. Once Israel and the new Palestine were established inside of secure borders, it would be easier to work out treaties dealing with water-sharing, movement back and forth across the borders for workers and others. Finally in this abbreviated list, since we know there are Jewish Israeli and Palestinian factions who would be opposed to any serious movement toward peace, both governments would criminally prosecute those who use violence in opposition, and continue moving toward peace despite whatever violence takes place.
I'm not pulling these potential solutions out of my hat -- or from any other orifice in my body. By and large, all of these compromises, at least in principle, have been accepted by both sides over the past decade or two, in negotiations held in Oslo, Madrid, Camp David, etc.
The key to moving in the direction suggested by these already-agreed-to compromises is for both sides to quit playing I'm-more-a-victim-than-you-are game, to admit that the Other has some right on its side, and to not get bogged down on who first committed which act of violence in the past. History is valuable and never to be forgotten but when it comes to diplomacy, it can also be a convenient trap to avoid doing anything significant in moving the peace process forward.
Doing nothing, in my opinion, is to throw up one's hands and to accept the ongoing sacrifice of yet more generations of children into the bubbling cauldron of hate and despair that is today's Middle East.