Americans seem so locked into hardened political positions -- not just
Republican vs. Democrats, conservative vs. liberal, religious vs. secular --
that it makes the traditional way of dealing with difficult issues, of finding
some room for compromise closer to the middle, virtually impossible. But
perhaps this online debate offers some hope in this regard.
My correspondent -- an intelligent, politically-savvy, passionate
writer/editor -- had sent me a tough anti-Israel article by British journalist Alan
Hart entitled "Zionism Unmasked: A fairy tale thatís become a terrifying
nightmare." I've read scores of similar articles over the years, but Hart's was
quite powerfully argued, and I decided to respond to it. Here's what kicked
off the conversation:
NO "DISAPPEARING" ACTS
To get the discussion started, let us suppose that everything (or nearly
everything) Hart says about the origins and early years of Zionism, and much
of today's brutal Zionist treatment of Palestinians, is true. What are the
policies you would advise to help ameliorate the situation, the
Should millions of Jewish Israelis be repatriated, forcibly or otherwise,
to...where? An uninhabited island in the Pacific? A country carved out
somewhere in Eastern Europe, with land donated by numerous nations? Where?
Similarly, many Israelis want the Palestinians to disappear and are hoping that by
treating them so cruelly, this will hasten their departure back to...where?
To Jordan? Egypt? Bantustans in the worst geographical locations? Where?
It ain't gonna happen. Both sides are engaged in delusional thinking. The
millions of Jewish Israelis will not disappear on their own and cannot be
made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted to the task.
The millions of Palestinians will not disappear on their own and cannot be
made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted to the
You may ask why the Palestinian should compromise on anything, since you
feel their claim is more justifed; Israelis might ask why they should
compromise, since they believe their claim is more just. But that reasoning just
keeps the destructive-loop in place and solves nothing. If my assessment is a
realistic depiction of where things stand today, how is it possible to reach
an accomodation that will permit both peoples to live side-by-side, if not
in peace (at first), then at least with some sort of grudgingly-arranged
toleration of the Other?
It seems to me that the art of political compromise dictates that each side
will have to give in order to get. The Israelis will have to end their
occupation of lands established for the Palestinian state, abandoning its
settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in order for a viable
Palestinian state to manifest itself. The Palestinians will have to officially
recognize Israel, which action would necessitate ceasing to send missiles,
rockets and suicide bombers into Israel. Israel might agree to accept a limited
number of "right-of-return" Palestinians back to their ancestral homes but
also would have to pay a fair real-estate price for those hundreds of
thousands of Palestinian who would not be welcomed back. Jerusalem probably would
become an international city, administered by the U.N. or some other neutral
body. Once Israel and the new Palestine were established inside of secure
borders, it would be easier to work out treaties dealing with water-sharing,
movement back and forth across the borders for workers and others. Finally in
this abbreviated list, since we know there are Jewish Israeli and
Palestinian factions who would be opposed to any serious movement toward peace, both
governments would criminally prosecute those who use violence in opposition,
and continue moving toward peace despite whatever violence takes place.
I'm not pulling these potential solutions out of my hat -- or from any
other orifice in my body. By and large, all of these compromises, at least in
principle, have been accepted by both sides over the past decade or two, in
negotiations held in Oslo, Madrid, Camp David, etc.
The key to moving in the direction suggested by these already-agreed-to
compromises is for both sides to quit playing I'm-more-a-victim-than-you-are
game, to admit that the Other has some right on its side, and to not get
bogged down on who first committed which act of violence in the past. History is
valuable and never to be forgotten but when it comes to diplomacy, it can
also be a convenient trap to avoid doing anything significant in moving the
peace process forward.
Doing nothing, in my opinion, is to throw up one's hands and to accept the
ongoing sacrifice of yet more generations of children into the bubbling
cauldron of hate and despair that is today's Middle East.
That, in very brief summary, is my reaction to Hart's powerful piece of
writing. Let's see if we can achieve any solid resting spot both of us can
stand on in discussing this constantly volatile topic.
ZIONISTS ARE IN CHARGE
[My response] must be pretty obvious by my newsletter postings and the
facts of the numerous international violations by Israel (in the hundreds),
the disproportionate amount of daily aggression against the Palestinians,
stealing land that doesn't belong to them, murdering and imprisoning children.
What are the Palestinians supposed to do: bend over and say "thank you for
killing my relatives and family? I'll never send another crude rocket into
Israel again? Thank you for taking what the international community tells you
does not belong to you? Thank you for stealing not only our land, but our
water as well? Thank you for bombing our schools and hospitals? Thank you for
cutting off crucial food and medical supplies," and so on and so on.
I cannot imagine anyone over here in the U.S. allowing anyone to do a tenth
of what the Israelis do to the Palestinians without retaliating. There's
not a scintilla of equality going on in Israel, or here, since the Zionists
now have control over our country in not just foreign policy, media,
education, Wall Street, banking, every branch of government and military, you name
it, and why things are getting progressively worse, because of our partnership
and collusion with this mother of all monsters.
Now ask me how I really feel.
It's the injustice of it all, and even worse, that no one is doing a thing
about it above lip service....
STOPPING GENERATIONS OF HATE
[Without responding to your over-the-top language about Zionist influence],
I share much of your and Hart's righteous anger. But, in a certain sense,
it doesn't matter any more who is more "right." These two peoples (who are
linked by their Semitic heritage and DNA) are locked, and have been locked for
more than 60 years, in a battle from which they cannot extricate
themselves, even if they wanted to. And neither side wants to; each thinks that with a bit more violence, the Other will give up and slink off into the byways of
So I come at this from a different perspective, trying to figure out a way
to stop the slaughter, to give future generations of kids and grandkids, on
both sides, something other than permanent war and permanent hatred.
Yes, I know that disproportionate violence has been meted out by Israel --
even to the point where an international commission determined that Israel
had committed gross war crimes in Gaza. That commission likewise determined
that the Palestinians had committed war crimes as well, but of a far less
deadly variety, by firing rockets into civilian towns in Israel. That
slaughter wheel keeps turning and the two parties seem incapable of stopping it.
Some outside agent, with some clout, will have to step in and help shepherd the
parties to the negotiating table.
...If I'm correct that no amount of violence/injustice from Israel directed
at the Palestinians will make the Palestinians give up the fight and
vanish, and that no amount of Palestinian retaliatory bombing and rockets will
make the Israelis call it quits and disappear, what options are there? Do those
of us who support the right of Palestinians to a nation-state all their own
say "just keep fighting, maybe 60 years from now you'll achieve your
victory?" That is an invitation to a continued regimen of slaughter, with entire
generations of young men lost on both sides, not to mention the civilians who
will die. What, in PRACTICAL terms, can and should be done?
There has got to be some way out of this horrific ongoing slaughter. Using
what both sides have agreed to in principle over the past decade or so, I've
proposed a scenario that seems to make sense. I'd love to hear, beyond the
anger and denunciations (valid though they may be), what your position is
about finding a way to peace in the region through that scenario or another
you might propose.
END THE OCCUPATION!
Nothing will be accomplished until Israel/U.S. ends their murderous,
lawless occupation, and returns the stolen land to its rightful owners. It
isn't complicated, it's the crux of problem. If you don't believe it, ask anyone
in the Middle East who is not part of the problem.
WHAT ARE THE BOUNDARIES?
Ending the occupation is indeed the crux of the problem and was one of the
central required planks in the scenario I outlined. But I want to make sure
we're talking about the same thing. If "return the stolen land to its
rightful owners" refers to the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank, East
Jerusalem), that seems to be eminently doable. Both sides in various negotiations
over the years have agreed to this in principle. But if "return the stolen
land to its rightful owners" refers to all of Israel, obviously there is no
hope for that scenario.
THE OUTRAGE IS BUILDING
I was referring to the '67 borders. Most agree this would be fair, but
it isn't going to happen unless the international community intervenes. I
don't see this happening either, since the U.S. is going around deposing
governments, installing U.S.-friendly leaders and (what is it now?) 700 military
bases and increasing in number? Who is going to fight ours and Israel's
superior weapons and military advantage? Maybe down the line China and Russia
with help from Latin America, Chavez...Iran. The Israelis will never agree to
give up the land they've stolen. They'll hold on until the bitter, bottom,
end, what and whenever it comes. The outrage is building.
MAYBE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
Thanks for clearing up the border question. The situation does seem
hopeless, but sometimes at the most hopeless-looking times, significant changes are
OR MAYBE NOT
Maybe in an individual, but for the collective whole, the wheel turns
slowly and sometimes not at all. Today it's in retrograde motion thanks to
Zionist United States of Israel.
And that's where we left the conversation. My correspondent, dedicated to
the proposition that Israel is wrong and must pay the penalty for being
wrong, seems resigned to a continuation of the conflict until Israel is defeated.
To my mind, to get to a true peace, each side is going to have to give
something to get something. But, since neither side is capable or desirous of
making a peace, the international community in some fashion must intervene and
move them to the negotiating table for final talks. My correspondent said
As you can read for yourself, whenever I tried to move the online
discussion to how the parties can move toward peace, my correspondent wanted to stay
on the war crimes of the Israelis and the need for them to be punished for
their brutal behavior. I've heard something similar from Israelis when I
argue with them about the need for them to withdraw from the Occupied
Territories: "The Palestinians are brutal terrorists and can't be trusted; they must
be taught a harsh lesson for their violent behavior." It's a closed
blaming-loop that gets us nowhere.
I take two positives out of this debate. The first is that, even given the
heat generated, my correspondent and I can talk in civil, respectful ways to
each other. And the second is that both of us agree that Israel will have
to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, and that unrelenting international
pressure will be necessary to get to that stage. Those are good starting points
for a serious negotiation. Israel wants security and recognition, Palestine
wants a secure nation-state and an end to occupation. There is a pathway to
peace there, if the will is there to find it and walk it to a peace treaty --
or, at the very least, to a long-lasting truce.
Who will take the first step? And who will help the warring parties take
that first step? Perhaps, you, dear reader, have creative solutions worth
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D in government & international relations, has taught
at universities in California and Washington, and has written numerous
articles on the Middle East conflict (
www.crisispapers.org/weinerpubs.htm#essays ). A former writer/editor for two decades with the San Francisco
Chronicle, he now serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To
comment: >> email@example.com <<.
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner.
First published by The Crisis Papers 2/16/10.
( www.crisispapers.org/essays10w/defused.htm )