Saturday, January 10, 2009

Some amateur ruminations on the Israel-Palestinian conflict

In most of what is being written in regard to the current conflict in Gaza, it is insufficiently pointed out that what is now the "Palestinian refugee problem" is a creation of Arab politics. It is a reflection of the undeniable fact that the Arab world has overwhelmingly failed to come to terms with the existence of Israel as a permanent Jewish nation state.

Certainly, in the wake of the creation of the state in 1948, mistakes were made on both sides, the Arab and the Jewish. Certainly, in regard to the treatment of its own arab minority, there are things Israel could do, and could have done, better. But, surely, if the resolve had been there, the roughly 750,000 Arab refugees created by the upheavals of the 1945-1949 period, could have been fairly and compassionately accommodated - as were millions of post-war refugees, in what was a most tragic and unusual time for these "displaced" people. In particular, the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, the Gulf states ... , could have "absorbed" these people, as the roughly same number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries were absorbed into Israel - perhaps a lot more easily at that.

That this did not happen is as understandable as it is tragic. The creation of a Jewish state in the midst of the Middle East was regarded as unacceptable and reversible - surely without any significant exception in the Arab world. The UAL set its face firmly against it and not much has changed in this regard, despite the few peace treaties that exist. This is not to minimize the importance of those treaties. Rather their importance is to be gauged by their existence despite the seemingly implacable and widespread hostility to Israel that endures. 

If by some miracle a number of Arab states came to a warm and embracing acceptance of Israel's right to exist, the Palestinian issue could, and I believe would, be resolved rather easily. The Saudis with all their wealth and influence could bring pressure and largesse to bear to work out broadly acceptable compensation and accommodation. Money now given for arms could be given for peace and economic development. Trade with Israel in peaceful conditions could be encouraged. 

Pie in the sky? Of course. But not because it is impossible. It is because it is politically unthinkable. The Palestinians were and still are political pawns. To resolve the issue would be to give up the major respectable grievance against Israel as an entity. 

If this is true there are important implications.
  1. There is nothing Israel can do to "solve" the Palestinian problem, short of disappearing as a nation state.
  2. As a matter of broad political focus, the powers that be should concentrate on mobilizing broad and significant Arab support for legitimizing Israel and directing aid to the Palestinians that is constructive and not for purposes of terror and disruption.
  3. In the absence of this, Israel was, is and will be in a "holding pattern" - struggling against the diverse and varied forces that are thrown against her in the hope of weakening and ultimately destroying her.
In a nutshell, any "real" settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict must come to terms with the existence of a Jewish Israel in the heart of the Muslim Middle East. Any progress toward such a settlement would have to begin by first acknowledging this and would have to confront the powerful forces of radical Islam in its different manifestations. The prominent existence of repressive dictatorial regimes, which may themselves have been fashioned to deal with such religious zealotry, probably reduces the probability, any time soon, of a move towards modern secular and liberal states that would be necessary for Israel's existence to become generally acceptable in Arab eyes. But short of this cultural transformation the prospects seem rather bleak.

Still, I am not without hope. I have seen massive unexpected changes in my lifetime, like the economic liberation of much of Eastern Europe. One never knows what miracle is waiting around the corner.

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