Saturday, March 7, 2015

Israel and Palestine: The real asymmetry

We hear a lot about the asymmetry between Israel and Palestine. David and Goliath. Ironically, in this view, Israel is Goliath – powerful, threatening and oppressive - while Palestine is David, powerless, victimized but defiant. But, this is not the real asymmetry.

Binyamin Netanyahu faces vigorous and unrestrained opposition in Israel, as do all political leaders in Israel. There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who believe that Israel can and should adopt policies more conducive to peace with the Palestinians and even with Iran. They are vocal and politically active. Over his high-profile speech to the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu faced opposition from 180 prominent military and intelligence leaders (here). These people are all still alive, there is no threat to their persons, their livelihoods or their loved-ones.

How do matters stand in Palestinian society? Where are the hundreds of thousands of people agitating for peace there? Where is just one such person? I believe that they are there. But we don’t see them. They cannot exhort their people to reach-out to the Israelis in friendship without endangering themselves and the ones they love. That is the key difference between the two peoples. That is the real asymmetry. The Palestinians are twice oppressed: once by the Israelis who perceive them as an existential threat and even moreso by their own leaders who deny them basic freedom of expression and dissent, not to mention basic economic freedoms to produce and buy what they choose.

What is interesting to me it how little attention this gets from intelligent observers of the situation. Of what use is it to vilify Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians without pointing to the more fundamental pathologies within Palestinian society? No Israeli politician could long stand against a clear popular call for peace from a solid Palestinian peace movement – that would certainly team up with its Israeli counterpart (in fact, though muted, there are multiple such initiatives). Those who really care about the Palestinians should be targeting their corrupt politicians who would be made obsolete by the establishment of peace and normality with the Israelis. They should be agitating over the lack of civil rights.

I am not naïve. I understand that given current conditions there is no way to meaningfully ‘democratize’ Palestinian society. The leaders are entrenched and will brook no opposition. Any hint of deviation in the direction of greater acceptance and accommodation of Israel (there have been a few) is immediately and firmly quashed. But without such democratization there can be no real peace. 

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