I have not written much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for some time. I was busy with the US election. The recent UN resolution singling out Israeli Settlements and then the recent speech by John Kerry at the UN makes me feel that I have to say something about this very complicated situation.
Avram dual national
For those that do not know, I am a dual American and Israeli Citizen. Most of my life has been spent in the USA where I was born and raised. I spent five years with my family living in Israel in the 70s where we became Israeli Citizens. My daughter was born in Israel. For the last five years, my wife and I have been living part of the year in Israel. We have been building a home in the heart of Tel Aviv (a liberal city which can be considered the “San Francisco” of Israel) and plan to spend about half the year based there. Neither Tel Aviv nor I voted for Netanyahu. I do not support the settlement movement. By that, I mean settlements in what would be Palestine. This area is sometimes also referred to as beyond the security walls. I d believe Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and support its annexation.
I don’t speak Hebrew. People in Israel considered me a Jewish American with strong ties to Israel. I know Israeli’s that do support the settlers and hoped that Trump would win. I also know that most Israeli’s disliked Obama and did not trust him. I am sympathetic to this view when it comes his policies on the Middle East. This is not because I think he hates Jews and Israel or is a secret Muslim. I just think he doesn’t get it which is kind of strange since he spent a lot of time in a “bad neighborhood” called Chicago. Perhaps it is easier for him to identify with the Palestinians than with the Israeli’s but still, I don’t think that is the reason he had the USA abstain from the recent UN Resolution. I think he sincerely believes in the “two-state solution” and is very frustrated that he was not the person to achieve it. He blames Netanyahu and the right wing Israeli government but somehow does not hold the Palestinians equally responsible. Kerry in his speech spent about 45 minutes condemning Israel and about 45 seconds condemning the Palestinians.
Welcome to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
Ok, I am going to give a short history lesson from my perspective but before I start I have to say one thing about the conflict. Not only do people disagree about the present and the future but they also disagree about the past and not in a little way. Israelis have a totally different account than Palestinians about the last 100 years or so. The reality in my view is something a bit more in the middle. But during this period there were lots of opportunities to adjust the “facts.” So if you are on the Israeli side, your position is that the Jews were living continuously in the area for thousands of years. If you are on the Palestinian side, you claim that your people were living in the area for thousands of years. If you are Israeli, you see a connection to Jerusalem that is indisputable and goes back 3,000 or more years. If you are Palestinian, you don’t see this connection and see the Dome of the Rock to be the third most holy place for Muslims. If you are Israeli, you believe that your ancestors came from what is now Israel/Palestine and point to a lot of DNA evidence (I can certainly point to mine.) If you are Palestinian, you say that the light skin and blond hair of so many Israeli’s shows they are really European (this ignores that so many Israeli’s came from families expelled from Arab countries in 1948.) So so it goes on. If you are Israeli you say that there were very few Arabs living in the area before the Jewish population swelled via emigration and created the economics that allowed Arabs from other countries to migrate to the area for work. If you are Palestinian, you claim that your family has lived in the area for thousands of years. To all this, I say, forget it. It does not matter. 60% of the Israeli population was born in Israel. A great deal of the rest was born in Arab majority countries and forced out in 1948. The people that created this mess including the British are all dead. We are stuck with a really awful situation where two different people were promised the same land by a bunch of manipulative Brits.
Why Israel can not agree to a two-state solution
Most Israeli’s would agree to a two-state solution even if they believe that the West Bank (Samaria and Judah) are really part of historical Israel if they could believe they would be secure. But they don’t. What happened after Israel turned over Gaza really destroyed the two-state solution. Hamas took over and turned that part of Palestine into a terrorist state. For my American friends, just imagine that the drug cartels took over Tijuana and instead of just selling drugs to Americans and killing other Mexicans, they started firing missiles at San Diego and digging tunnels to enter California with the sole purpose of killing anyone they could find including children playing in their school yards.
Gaza is about 40 miles from Tel Aviv. The West Bank is much closer. Now imagine you lived in San Francisco and the East Bay was held by people that hated you and would be happy to fire missiles at San Francisco and Silicon Valley including the San Francisco Airport.
Most Israeli’s, including me, think that if there was a truly independent Palestine, it would be taken over by Hamas. Abbas (the head of the Palestinian Authority) knows this and that is one of the reasons he does not want a Palestinian Nation. Of course, he says he does but he does not do anything to make it possible. In fact, his safety is only made possible by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force.) I believe He and Netanyahu are collaborators, only Abbas is better at embezzlement.
Yes, there are many and a growing number of Israeli’s what want to make the West Bank part of Israel – but slowly. While many, if not most, Israeli’s do not agree with settlements past the barrier between Israel and the West Bank (East Jerusalem is a different matter) they have pretty much given up on the two-state solution so this does not matter much. Yes, they understand that there is an international outrage about this, but so far that has not impacted most of the people in Israel. Their concerns are about the cost of real estate and the problems with parking. It would be a different matter if they thought there could be a real peace with security. But they do not. They certainly did not trust the USA or Obama and for good reasons. If there was a two state solution and then the West Bank was taken over by Hamas, what would happen? Israel would have to retake the West Bank or suffer constant attack which could include the destruction of its only international airport. Thousands would be killed, and they would mostly be Palestinians. If you love Palestinians, don’t wish them their own state until they are capable of governing it.
What you have in Israel now is two political forces. One that wants to take over the west bank and one that does not, but no longer has a believes that a two-state solution is viable. I bet less than 30% of Israeli’s believe there will be a two-state solution which is probably a higher percentage than Palestinians.
There has never been a Palestine state, which is not to say there should not be one. Frankly, none of the countries in the middle east have had states before they were artificially created by Britain and Frances after WWI. Most, if not all of the Middle East is tribal (think of America before the Europeans.) That is why you see so much conflict in the middle east. There were no nations. There was no Saudi Arabia. There was no Jordan. There was no Lebanon. There was no Syria. The English and the French created these countries and others. In doing so they did not respect tribal boundaries. In fact, they sought to divide up the tribes so they would not be a strong force.
Statehood and Democracy are western ideas. The people that lived in the areas now called Palestine were ruled by the Turks for more than 500 years and then by the British and French. That does not mean that there should not be a Palestinian state but it is important to understand that such a state never existed. That is not the same as saying that Palestinian people did not exist and do not have the right to their own state.
So now the people that live in the West Bank and the people that live in Gaza want an independent state but hey don’t seem to want the same one. Please keep in mind the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza have two different governments. Most of them want just one state from Jordan to the Mediterranean which includes the area occupied by Israel. They are willing to accept an independent country called Israel, provided that descendants of the people that lived in that area prior to the war in 1948 could return. If that happened, such a country would be a majority of Arabs. Then, if the majority of Israel was not Jewish, Israel, by definition would not be a Jewish State. So in the meantime, which has been almost 70 years, they and their descendants and the descendants of their descendants have been living in refugee camps support by guess who? the United Nations. In the meantime, an equal number of Jews were expelled from Arab countries and have been fully integrated into Israel.
The Palestinians have also not been willing to accept Jews as citizens of Palestine. Israel has an Arab population of 20%. Would Palestine be willing to have a Jewish population of 20%? I doubt it. Just look at what has happened to the Christian populations in Palestine.
So what does all this mean?
For Israeli’s, security is number one. There will never be a two-state solution without convincing Israelis that they and their families will be safe. So far, no one has made any proposals that would make Israeli’s feel safe. I certainly have heard no proposals from Kerry or Obama. All the lecturing is meaningless without that. Kerry is worried that the Settler Movement will make such a two-state solution impossible. I think he is right. But he did nothing to deal with the real issues and his speech did nothing either. If you want Israeli’s to support a two-state solution, you have to really address their security needs. I have seen nothing put forward that deals with that.
Palestinians have been raised on a diet of hatred against Israel and Jews. Yet, when you put individuals together, they can often feel comfortable. Palestinians actually have much more in common with Israeli’s then they do with Saudi’s. My experience with Palestinians has been very positive. I am a supporter of various nonprofits helping Palestinian students and personally have provided funding to individual Palestinians. Frankly, I would rather do something on a grander scale but have never found a way, but I continue to try.
What going to happen?
The can is going to be kicked down the road again. No one is willing to take a chance on the other and for very good reasons. Israel is becoming stronger and Palestine weaker. Frankly, with the exception of Europeans who themselves are getting weaker and some on the left in the USA, no one, least of all the Arab countries, cares about the Palestinians. Yes, Palestine can get the UN to pass resolutions but they will have little effect on Israel. Many of the 15 countries that voted for the UN proposal against Israel have strong business relationships with Israel and I doubt that they will weaken. There are now weekly flights between Saudi Arabia and Israeli for instance.
Goodbye Obama and Kerry
I am a democrat and voted for Obama twice and for Clinton in the last election. Trump disgusts me as a human being and I can’t stand that he was elected president. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I need to say that I am very critical of Obama’s foreign policy. Obama has a big ego (maybe as big as Trump) but shows it differently. He had all these ideas for his legacy. Not only did he want to provide health care for all but he was going to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He accomplished nothing with Israel. In the last four years, he got Kerry to carry his water. Kerry understood the issues academically but had no idea how to fix anything. Finally, he gave his pedantic speech at the UN in which he spent 45 minutes blasting Israel and 45 seconds blasting the Palestinians. What was his intention? Maybe to get a future job at the UN. He certainly had zero or a negative effect on the peace process.
I may be wrong, but it is hard for me to imagine he will spend much time or political capital on Israel/Palestine. He will generally take the Israeli side but won’t really do much. Netanyahu will become Trumps bitch. He will be scared to cross him.
The one hope I had when Trump was elected is that the Palestinians would realize that things would not get better and they should make a deal, but then I reminded myself that any deal would result in the death of Mahmoud Abbas (literally.)
Here is my breakout strategy
I think the Israeli government is waiting for events that will give them some cover with a breakout strategy. Unfortunately, I think this means some serious terrorism from the West Bank, and I think that Israel ultimately will take over the West Bank. It will give the people living there a path to citizenship which might take ten years. Israel will not take over Gaza. So we had a notion of a two-state solution but it turned out to be Greater Israel and Palestinian Gaza. Israel and Egypt will offer Gaza additional land (maybe increasing the land mass by three times) which will allow the people of Gaza land to expand, have better living conditions, farming and better business opportunities. If Israel makes serious investments in infrastructure in the West Bank to the benefit of the people living there along with other economic incentives, things might just work out but not without a great deal of pain for both sides.
I know I am being optimistic but I am writing this on New Year’s day. If I can’t be optimistic this day, then when? And if you don’t like what I am saying then please give my not only your criticism but also your point of view and better yet your proposals.