Fault Line in the Near East

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 movement:

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 democracy

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 process.

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.

Mr. John-Paul Leonard is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)