Friday, July 08, 2005

Interlude: if peace in the Middle East is the issue...

In a previous posting, I stated that 'every country in the civilised world must stand up to this threat, and stop claiming that it would all go away if the Israelis gave the Palestinians everything they wanted'.

OK, so let's play along with the fluffy lefties like Galloway and Benn, and pretend for a minute that Israel is to blame because of its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians (I will discuss later the conspiracy theories about Mossad and the CIA actually perperating the attacks in London).

What would they have us do? And why do I believe it's time for ordinary people to see the truth and understand that Israel's right to a normal existence is intrinsically tied to London's right to a normal existence?

My statement does imply that the threat won't go away if the Israelis gave the Palestinians everything they wanted, because this is consistent with the diatribes of Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah, several Arab governments, the hard left in the UK and elsewhere, members of the PA, some British MPs, and imams in mosques across the world.

The "three no's" of 1967 onwards - no peace, no negotiation and no recognition - are still in place. Their form may have changed, so there can be a hudna - ceasefire, there can be Oslo and other accords in English whilst back at home in Arabic the PA leaders tell their people it's a Trojan horse, and there can be a removal of explicit rejection of Israel's existence but no formal recognition, coupled with schoolkids' maps showing occupied Palestine from Jordan to Med.

Well-meaning, apparently civilised people talk merely of a return to the 1967 borders and a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, either unwittingly or intentionally supporting what would amount to the demographic submersion and geographical strangulation of Israel. Others talk about a Utopian idea of a single secular state where Israelis and Palestinians co-exist.

I don't believe in a Greater Israel from the River to the Sea, hence I oppose the idea that I "might as well ignore Palestine's wishes and get rid of them altogether".

First, I will state that I would have happily offered the same as Barak did at Camp David in 2000. Now I might not because of the reaction received which has been 5 years of terrorism. But I will just focus on what Arafat claimed were the main sticking points - Palestinian nationhood, the right of return, Jerusalem and the final borders (ie the settlement issue).


Palestinian nationhood


Let's clear up the use of the word "Palestine", which refers to a geographical area which has never been independent, and has no indigenous population except for the Jews and a handful of Arabs - most Arabs now identifying as Palestinians were historically Bedouin who found themselves in British Mandate Palestine at the moment when the concept of borders was being artificially foisted on the region by colonial Britain and France. Before then it had been a region controlled by one empire or another.

The concept of a Palestinian nation is relatively new - so much so that the Palestinian cause's greatest political and academic leaders, Arafat and Edward Said, were not even from pre-1948 Palestine. In the 1970s, PLO leaders openly admitted that their development of Palestinian nationalism was merely a cynical tool for the destruction of Israel and had no historical merit.

Having said that, in the words of Bob Dylan: "how many years must a people exist before they're allowed to be free?" For right or wrong, there is now a Palestinian Arab national identity, and they should be granted a state, for practical reasons. I have met right-wing anti-Disengagement Israelis who say that whatever their ideological issues with a Palestinian state, they realise it is the only game in town as far as a peaceful solution is concerned.

So I clearly do not want to get rid of them altogether. What I do want is to put their cause in a historical context and give them a viable state within reasonable and realistic terms. The biased world media and international institutions have forgotten or chosen to ignore this context, because it is very inconvenient.


Right of return

If we choose to have a Palestinian "right of return" and/or appropriate compensation, given that most of the 700,000 left without seeing an armed Israeli, and did so willingly to give the advancing Arab armies a free run at wiping out the insidious Jews, then where is the equivalent offer of "right of return" for the 900,000 Jews kicked out of Arab lands? Which by the way would be far greater, because the Palestinians were mostly tenant farmers and the Jews were mostly in commerce and had vast businesses...

And it gets messier. The use of the phrase "right of return" is part of a cynical ploy to invert the phraseology that describes the history of the Jews, along with the expropriation of phrases and words like holocaust, massacre, genocide, David and Goliath etc. The right of return of all Jews to Israel was a founding precept of the state. In a later posting I will deconstruct the myth that it is in any way racist (I think the mere fact that its accusers support a Palestinian "right of return" demonstrates that either it isn't or they are).

The right of return has certain conditions attached, to do with ability to demonstrate Jewish parentage. If we applied the same standard to the Palestinians, the vast majority would be unable to prove lineage within the bounds of modern Israel of more than 2 or 3 generations before they left in 1948.

So I will ignore the claim to a "right of return" as being one not grounded in historic reality or practicability, and also one that would prove pretty expensive for the Palestinians and the Arab countries that threw Jews out. The net payment due to the expelled Jews would run into the trillions.


Jerusalem

Going to keep this really short. When the Arabs were in charge of Jerusalem, they desecrated the shrines of all non-Muslim faiths, its leaders treated it as a provincial backwater, and it had little religious significance (the word "Jerusalem" is not mentioned in the Koran but is the most-mentioned place in the Tenach). East Jerusalem's Arabs now enjoy high standards of health and education, and of course their shrines are controlled by their own religious authority and are treated with dignity. They have historically seen themselves as culturally different to the Palestinians, I guess being city-folk rather than country-folk, and living alongside other cultures and creeds for generations. I'm not convinced they would definitely want to live on the other side of the border.

Oh, and even so, there was a plan to hand over a large part of East Jerusalem but it wasn't enough for Arafat. But because I'm a nice guy, I think there should be a plebiscite of Arab residents in East Jerusalem, and as many contiguous Arab neighbourhoods as possible should be placed inside the Palestinian border if they wish. Those who are stuck on the Israeli side against their will should be adequately compensated; equally, those Arab Jerusalemites stuck on the Palestinian side against their will should be welcomed by Israel and granted citizenship!


Settlements and borders

Just retreat to the Green Line like the UN says, right? Er, no. What the legendary Resolution 242 actually intends in the original English, as corroborated by the drafters at the time, is that Israel should not be forced back to the artificial and flimsy borders created randomly by the 1949 armistice - withdrawing "from territories" won in 1967. The Arab League has historically obfuscated by using the English translation of the French version, which talks about leaving "des territoires", which they have translated as "from the territories". Thus forms the basis for the oft-repeated claim that Resolution 242 calls for a complete withdrawal.

Also rather inconvenient, and never translated or quoted, are the bits in Resolution 242 that call on the Arab side to stop blowing the crap out of Israel and come to terms with its existence. Huh.

Not to get bogged down in legalese, but in brief here are some reasons why the settlements are not just alien, unlawful implants.

1. Israel administers the territories using British Mandate law as its basis for action as the Brits were the previous legal occupiers. When they left, the Jordanians invaded - but nobody complained about that! The Geneva Convention does not apply to Palestinians because basically they were not a nation state in conflict with Israel. So under local law, public land that lays fallow for 3 years can be used by the administering power as they see fit. Most of the settlements were built on this land or by purchasing it from the owners.

2. Much of the land for settlements (including Kfar Darom, smack in the centre of the Gaza Strip), and also land in what is now Jordan and Lebanon, was bought by the Jewish Agency and other groups under the Ottomans and British, but was stuck on the other side of the border from 1948 to 1967. This was reclaimed once the opportunity arose. Similarly, Hebron was continuously occupied by Jews until 1948, despite repeated massacres by the Arabs (which the British turned a blind eye to by the way).

3. Under international law, the Arabs started the 6-Day War in 1967 - Israel was the first to strike but had clear casus belli. Under these terms, any land they win does not have to be automatically handed back on cessation of hostilities. In fact, Egypt and Jordan were themselves occupying the Gaza Strip and West Bank respectively from 1948 onwards (unquestionably illegally and with less legitimacy than Israel now does). Israel was under no legal obligation to give it "back" as it didn't belong to the Arab countries in the first place. In fact, under its peace accords with the respective countries, they were more than happy to officially renounce any claim over them and leave the Palestinians (who are by the way loathed by much of the Arab world) for Israel to clothe and feed.

Now I do want to say a word here about those illegal settlement outposts and those extremist settlers whose abhorrent actions in attacking and intimidating their Palestinian neighbours bring shame on the Jewish people. Nothing excuses this malicious behaviour, and thank goodness the IDF has now started to crack down very heavily on them.

Also despite my points above, I do believe we should leave most of the settlements that are not close to the Green Line or in the recognised blocs, if that's what the Palestinians want.

Unfortunately, I think it may be a short-sighted approach. Allowing them to stay as legal aliens carrying Israeli passports and perhaps even granting a similar sovereignty to the settlements as embassies and consulates receive in host countries, would give the Palestinians a natural market for their products and services, a source of tax revenue, and an ideal middle ground for trade with Israel.

The reality is that pulling out involves demolition of everything the settlers have built, which causes huge frictions between Jews, and leaves nothing worthwhile as a legacy for the local Palestinians except a sadly misplaced sense of victory.


In summary

The core wishes of the Palestinian leadership and their misguided supporters worldwide are simply never going to come true, because the only way for them to do so would be for Israel to be destroyed.

If I were an ordinary Palestinian trying to build my country, I would want a few things:
- a viable, largely contiguous piece of land I could call my nation
- an economy that was robust enough to provide a livelihood
- improved standards of living so my children would be healthy and well-educated
- the right to free speech and full democracy
- access to my religious shrines in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Holy Land
- some dignity and pride that these achievements were not at anyone else's expense

I do not believe that any of the demands being made today by the Palestinian leadership, Hamas, British "intellectuals", journalists, academics, politicians, well-meaning Hampstead liberals, self-hating Jews, and misguided Arabs in other countries, have much to do with achieving these things. In fact I think there is something more sinister under the surface which I will deal with in another posting.

My friend says "I'm all for peace and harmony with losses in pride on both sides for the sake of peace."

I too am all for peace and harmony, but I think there is no need to lose pride for the sake of peace. In fact, as soon as we think that, those who are too stubborn to compromise and lose face come to the fore, and we all lose.

What I am not all for is a zero-sum game where one side has to lose for the other to win. The Palestinians, in the words of Abba Eban, "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". I think that in the rush to create a state in as much land as possible, the real goals have been lost.

Equally, I fear that the current debate that is dividing society in Israel has lost track of what Zionism is meant to be about. Some say we live in a "post-Zionist" era, and I understand this perspective. For me, Zionism is about the Jews' expression of national identity, a release of the pent-up emotion of thousands of years of exile, a yearning to be at one with our historic land.

And I think it is more than that. I believe it is the expression of our blessing from God that we should be the "light unto the nations".

That is why the world holds us up to standards that they themselves can never reach. It is a heavy mantle to wear, and we as Diaspora Jews wear it twice over. But it is a challenge we should accept - which is why we are not "post-Zionist" - in fact we must be more Zionist than ever.

The sense of defiance, courage and determination to rebuild Zion in the face of mortal and unrelenting danger, unflinching against the demands of others that we should change or retreat, must now be paralleled by the sense of defiance, courage and determination to rebuild London, New York, Bali, Madrid and elsewhere in the face of mortal danger, unflinching against the demands of others that we should change or retreat.

Hence I reaffirm that we are all Israelis now.

I believe that the vast majority of our Palestinian neighbours share our values, and we must provide them with all the support they need. We have to help them by sharing with them our vision and our experience of nation-building, and show them what the priorities must be for them to create the society to which they should aspire.

If I were an ordinary Israeli trying to build my country, I would want a few things:
- a viable, largely contiguous piece of land I could call my nation
- an economy that was robust enough to provide a livelihood
- improved standards of living so my children would be healthy and well-educated
- the right to free speech and full democracy
- access to my religious shrines in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Holy Land
- some dignity and pride that these achievements were not at anyone else's expense

Sound familiar?

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