The Israel-Palestine problem

The fight between Israelis and the Palestinians is settled — except that too many are unwilling to accept the settlement. To them their own interests are more important than the welfare and lives of their compatriots. And this is all too true of too many outsiders whose self-images are their dominant concern; the lives of others who they make a public show of supporting are irrelevant.

What is the solution that everyone knows? There will be two states (preferably not three). The border will be about the Green line. There will have to be some adjustments with exchanges of territories. The refugees will not return but will have to be resettled. They will be compensated, or to restate this there has to be infusion of a great amount aid to build Palestine into a functioning, prosperous society. That is crucial else it will be unstable and dangerous.

Why can’t the refugees return? It is often stated that their return will destroy the Jewish character of Israel. That is true but incomplete. The number of refugees is uncertain but compared with the Israeli population it is roughly equivalent to 50 million people compared to the US population. Would anyone suggest that the US take in 50 million people? Moreover these would be very poor and would require support for years, if not decades. Also they would hate the US and be potential recruits as terrorists. Yet asking Israel to take back the refugees is equivalent to that for the US. (Actually if we were willing to do that we can take in all the Iraqis, settling the Sunni and Shiites in different parts of the country, allowing us to immediately withdraw.)

There are details to be worked out but with the basic points settled that should not be very difficult. But the outside world has to understand it must provide help, and a lot. Otherwise the problem will never go away.

If this is all so clear why are there problems? This of course would be good for the Palestinian people who would finally gain, after a time, a free and prosperous life. But it would not be good for their leaders who are interested in power, not in their people — who have lived in misery for almost 60 years. It is their “friends” and leaders who have consigned them to such awful existence. It is these, not their enemy, which cares not in the least for them.  Israel, which has done many awful things, would be willing to live in peace with them, to help them. If the partition plan had been accepted, as it was by Israel, and they worked with Israel, Palestine would be free and prosperous, as prosperous as Europe is now.  Their leaders refused and now after so many years of suffering all they can hope for is a weaker, smaller state critically dependent on others.

For a human, hatred of others is more important than life itself, as we see again and again every day. For the Palestinians hatred of Israel is worth decades of misery, loss of territory, hopelessness. It is worth trading the freedom and prosperity they could have had for the all-too-human joy of hating. They hated for decades, as they and especially their leaders wanted. They should consider whether it was worth it and whether they wish to continue.

What of their “friends”?  The outside world should have pushed them to accept and work with Israel. Perhaps with enough pressure they would have been forced to rebuild their lives and live in a free, independent, prosperous state. Yet the world was determined to show how sympathetic they were, for example treating Arafat as the head of a country. If he could travel the world in such style why should he care about his own people? He consigned his people to misery. That is why they supported him so strongly. And now again the strongest Palestinian group, Hamas, is determined to punish its own people. Their misery, subjugation, poverty is well worth it for the pleasure of providing slight annoyances to Israel.

The leaders and “friends” of the Palestinians have done little harm to Israel. It has survived and prospered. But look what they have done to the Palestinians!

And this is true also for the Palestinians “friends” abroad. Having done great harm for decades to the people whose interests they so loudly proclaim they are now trying to make peace even more difficult. There is for example a movement in the UK to cut off academic contacts with Israel unless it leaves the West Bank.  (Why, they want another civil war?) Of course it is a fundamental principle (which is actually usually observed) that scholarship is independent of politics and the search for truth (which obviously is not important in academic life) must include everyone (who is deemed to be important enough, whether they have knowledge of truth or not), with their political views, nationality, race, religion, sex and so on irrelevant. It is a fundamental principle, not only of morality, that the search for truth must not be compromised by such considerations, and that people not be discriminated against because of them. But flaunting their hatred (in this case for Israel) is more important than scholarship, morality or truth. It is an all-too-human action.

Such movements, as those to make-believe they are hurting Israel, cannot accomplish their proclaimed goals but rather encourage those who reject settlement and peace. They encourage those who inflict such pain on the Palestinians, greatly prolonging it. These people care not in the least for the Palestinian people but simply regard them as objects, whose welfare is totally irrelevant, whose only value is to satisfy the emotional needs of their “friends”. It shows deep cynicism, and in so many ways. These “friends” want to feel that they are superior people fighting for justice and righteousness. What they are really fighting for are their own self-images. It is nice to feel that you are good and decent, in favor of all that is ethical, when it is other people who have to suffer and die for your self-image.

These “friends” of the Palestinians in reality have deep contempt for them, and for the basic principles of honor and justice.  They do not care about others but are deeply selfish caring only for their own emotions.

What should be done? What should not be done is to negotiate a final settlement. That will not promise a better life but emphasize the painful compromises that have to be made. It will provide targets for those who are not interested in peace.

What should be done is simply to provide a better life. Israel, with much help from the international community, particularly the US, should emphasize that it, as the neighbor, find it painful to see the Palestinians suffer, and especially being forced to add to that suffering. It should offer, working with the Palestinian government, to develop huge economic development programs. Of course it cannot do so if it is attacked. It will work with those parts of the country that are peaceful, leaving the rest. This will demonstrate to them that Israel is really their friend and that they will gain much from working with it. Fighting it will just lead to further suffering. But this requires actual large-scale projects. And Israel, while attending to its security, must be very conscious of the Palestinians. The need to make friends with them must have an extremely high priority.

And what of Hamas? The present policy is not to talk to them and hope they will go away. They will not. Not talking is a stupid policy throwing away fundamental tools. Unfortunately this stupidity governs much of US policy. We say Hamas as if it is a monolithic entity. Yet there are many people with different interests and different pressures. Instead of pushing our enemies together, making them monolithic, we, and Israel, should be trying to pry them apart. Let us talk to them, learn their different thoughts and pressures, and exploit even the slightest differences among the various parts.  Are there any? We don’t know without talking to them, even over a period of years. Skilled US diplomacy (an oxymoron in the present administration) applied carefully over time can have important, useful effects. That should always be a fundamental procedure.

Hamas has offered a ten-year truce. Of course they are insincere and plan to use that to build up.  But they really can’t. Large scale fighting with Israel will mean destruction, not matter how much they build up. Such a truce will give Israel a chance to convince the Palestinians that Israel is their friend, and partner, not enemy. It should be accepted subject to a couple of conditions. Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza and a truce means that it keeps the peace. It cannot say that we are not shelling Israel, Islamic Jihad is. A truce means that Hamas sees that there is no violence — by anyone. And it cannot use the time to import arms. What it must do during the truce is build up its territory, and the only way it can do that is with is neighbor, Israel. If it really means that for ten years there will be no violence but that it will work with Israel to develop a prosperous, functioning state, then Israel should happily accept and immediately start to work on a real final peace.

Now that is something the world, especially the “friends” of the Palestinians, should press for. They won’t of course. That will do nothing for their self-images. These depend on hating others. Bringing peace and prosperity is not much fun. But hating others, in order to feel superior to them, no matter how much it hurts people, is so intensely seductive it becomes an addiction.  This we see daily.


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