Peace in Palestine

Ralph Zuljan

During the latter half of the Cold War, a great deal of time, money, thought and effort was directed towards negotiated settlements to curb or reduce the East-West arms race. When the Cold War ended the weapons remained but all of a sudden broad agreement on disarmament could be reached without all that effort required earlier for far less. In the same sense, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat wanted peace, the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not all that committed to peace, did not prevent their reaching an agreement. Looking at the Israelis and Palestinians in this context, it is obvious that peace is not that important to either party right now. They would rather haggle over fine print. In essence, they don't agree, don't expect to agree, and are merely exploring the extent of their disagreement, which is far from looking for a lasting settlement of their dispute or peace.

The very idea of a Jewish state in the former British administered territory of Palestine is certainly part of the problem. Although Israeli supporters emphasize the religious aspect of the Jewish character of the state of Isreal, a significant number of Jewish Israelis also see it in racial terms that were generally discredited more than half a century ago. Israel in its current form is a mild combination of an Iranian-like theocracy and South Africa during the apartheid period. The fact that Israel has facets of both in its constitution, however, does contribute to the inability to achieve peace within what once was British Palestine.

Portraying Israel as a theocracy or apartheid state is not particularly palatable to a Western audience that, for the most part, has an historical sympathy for the existence of Israel and neither description is entirely fair to the rich composition of Israel. In general, Israelis have a great deal in common with Europeans and North Americans; that is hardly surprising given that many of the Zionist founders of the state of Israel were Europeans. While they do not necessarily practice them as wholeheartedly as some might like, Israelis believe in Western ideals. There is a sense in which it is true that Israel is an outpost of Western civilization in the heart of the Middle East and its existence has served Western, particularly, American interests well and continues to do so. No wonder then that there is a a desire to portray Israel in a positive light in Western circles, despite occasional criticism of specific Israeli policies. Insofar as Israel serves a purpose in Western interests, it is unlikely these allies will pressure for Israelis to change for the sake of peace in Palestine.

To some extent, the unwillingness to reconsider the constitution of Israel might explain why the solutions presently offered to Palestinians, and to some extent accepted by them as the basis for a future peace, are unlikely to produce the desired result. The idea of a sovereign Palestinian homeland on the West Bank and Gaza is not a viable long term solution and that makes all of the current posturing over the details of such an agreement doomed to failure. At best, a Palestinian state founded on the territory of the West Bank and Gaza would be economically dependent on external aid and subject to the political whims of such donors. Its sovereignty would be at the mercy of the military might of Israel, which has demonstrated a willingness to intervene in weak neighboring states such as Lebanon when it perceives a threat to Israeli interests. While Israel might be seen as part of the problem, it is necessarily part of any long-term solution.

Israelis must feel that the Palestinians are being disingenuous in seeking only the West Bank and Gaza for a Palestinian state and they are probably right. Overall Palestinian claims extend far beyond having a sovereign territory encompassing the occupied territories. There are latent claims on privately held lands within Israel lost during the exodus of Palestinians during the War of Independence. A lot of Palestinians still harbor a desire to reclaim what their families lost so long ago. For all intents, Palestinians probably see the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza as nothing more than a step towards justice, as they see it, and regaining all of Palestine. For Israelis, that offers little more than having another Lebanon on their borders.

The world does not need another failed state to come into being. Perhaps that is the main reason there is no significant pressure to actually create a sovereign Palestinian state in the manner presently being negotiated. For all intents, economic viability is only possible within a unified Palestine, or to put it in what may be a less palatable form, an Israel that encompasses the West Bank and Gaza. For that to happen, Israelis must embrace the Palestinians and present them with a political identity within the constitution of Israel that is acceptable to all. In the end, a durable peace requires Israel to shed its adherence to being a Jewish homeland and that is going to take a radical shift in the self-identification most Jewish Israelis have at this time. 

Originally published in "Articles On War" at OnWar.com on February 1, 2007.

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