by John-Paul Leonard
Why is the
Israel-Palestine conflict so intractable? After all, the mainstream in
America and the world agree on the main issues:
- the rights of the Jews
and Palestinian Arabs to a homeland in a democratic state
- the inadmissibility of
ethnic cleansing, and the right of refugee return.
Israel's recognition by
the US and UN in 1949 was conditional on these principles, which have
been constantly reiterated since, most recently by ex-President
Carter, Human Rights Watch, and 3 out of 4 Americans in opinion polls.
The root of the problem is
an irreconcilable conflict between the basic goals of the Zionist
1. To create a homeland
where Jews will be forever in the majority
2. To set it up in a land
already heavily populated, chiefly by Muslims and Christians
3. To make the new state a
The contradictions are so
extreme as to be fairly impossible to resolve. Israel has tried on the
ground, with ethnic cleansing, oppression, military and public
relations offensives, and tough negotiating. Britain, the US and the
UN have attempted to paper over the fault with a century of
schizophrenic positions, from the 1917 Balfour declaration (favoring a
Jewish state in Palestine without prejudicing the rights of the
indigenous people!), to the 1947 partition proposal, to the Oslo
Any hope of a solution
depends on seeing clearly how grave the contradictions are. So far,
all attempts at compromise have amounted to the same thing -
legitimizing apartheid and ethnic cleansing. In other words,
sponsoring crimes against humanity.
The prescription is to
follow our own true self-interest and values, and put pluralist
democracy into practice. First, for one state encompassing Israel and
leftover Palestine. That will bring stability to the region and is
critically needed to get the rest of the Arab world into the 20th
century. This New Middle East will bolster the future peace and
prosperity of the Israel-Palestine state further, as well as US
standing in the world.
The new state will need a
special constitution and electoral system. Some inspiration might be
drawn from other bi- or tri-national states, such as Belgium,
Malaysia, or Bosnia. It will have to address the Jews' felt special
need for secure majorities and physical security in cantons where they
are heavily represented. Because Zionists will become a minority,
there should be a bicameral legislature with responsibility for
military and security given to the upper house, independent of popular
majorities. The state could have two legal names, Israel and
Palestine, and three official languages.
There is no doubt that
Israelis could fend for themselves in the new environment. The
obstacles are unwillingness to concede from a position of perceived
strength, and fanaticism, which took such a strong hold after the
Holocaust. But Barak himself has announced that time is on the Arabs'
side. A dovish minority of Israelis agree (see
a recent letter to the editor of Ha'aretz, asking why Jews need to
be in the majority if they really want a democracy).
To push through such a
radical change quickly enough to prevent further civilian massacres
will require high-level involvement by the US and Europe, possibly
sanctions. The negotiations will be difficult, and Israel is sure to
try to parlay its military advantage into special conditions. But at
least the talks will be about sharing a bigger pie, and not a zero-sum
game where Israel plays for time while settling more Arab land - with
"peace offers" like the latest one, to swap toxic waste
dumps in Israel for prime farmland in Palestine....
Once both Arabs and Jews
share responsibility for Palestine, together they are sure to take
good care of this land.
The first requirement may
be for the West to overcome its prejudice not only against Jews, but
also against the Arab and Muslim world.
Until we do, all our
initiatives will be biased and blind to the perpetuation of genocide.
A look at history may help. The roots of Zionism in the West are
geopolitical, going back to the Crusades, when Christendom was
defeated in the 13th century's world wars. The idea took root that if
the West could not hold the Holy Land, the second best thing was to
put the Jews in as proxies, with the added bonus of getting them out
of Europe. The Turks, who owned Palestine until 1918, were opposed to
it, but the Balfour declaration was signed even before they left.
Allegedly, Britain secretly played the Zion card for Anglo-American
Jewish support to get the US into the war against Germany, rather than
sign a status quo ante peace in 1916. Prolonging the war brought the
Bolsheviks to victory in Russia, the Versailles treaty back lashed
against German Jews, propelling Hitler to power, which finally brought
Zionism major support among Jews. All in all, it was the bloodiest
century since the Pope threw in his hand with Genghis Khan against
Islam. After the end of the Cold War, isolation of the Islamic world
remains the most dangerous threat to world stability.
Leonard is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors
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