Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Problem with Israel
by Jeff Halper

ICAHD is a non-violent, direct-action group originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.

Let’s be honest (for once): The problem in the Middle East is not the Palestinian people, not Hamas, not the Arabs, not Hezbollah or the Iranians or the entire Muslim world. It’s us, the Israelis. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the single greatest cause of instability, extremism and violence in our region, is perhaps the simplest conflict in the world to resolve. For almost 20 years, since the PLO’s recognition of Israel within the 1949 Armistice Lines (the “Green Line” separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza), every Palestinian leader, backed by large majorities of the Palestinian population, has presented Israel with a most generous offer: A Jewish state on 78% of Israel/Palestine in return for a Palestinian state on just 22% – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. In fact, this is a proposition supported by a large majority of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. As reported in Ha’aretz (January 18, 2005):

Some 63 percent of the Palestinians support the proposal that after the establishment of the state of Palestine and a solution to all the outstanding issues - including the refugees and Jerusalem - a declaration will be issued recognizing the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and the Palestinian state as the state of the Palestinian people...On the Israeli side, 70 percent supported the proposal for mutual recognition.

And if Taba and the Geneva Initiative are indicators, the Palestinians are even willing to “swap” some of the richest and most strategic land around Jerusalem and up through Modi’in for barren tracts of the Negev.

And what about the refugees, supposedly the hardest issue of all to tackle? It’s true that the Palestinians want their right of return acknowledged. After all, it is their right under international law. They also want Israel to acknowledge its role in driving the refugees from the country in order that a healing process may begin (I don’t have to remind anyone how important it is for us Jews that our suffering be acknowledged). But they have said repeatedly that when it comes to addressing the actual issue, a package of resettlement in Israel and the Palestinian state, plus compensation for those wishing to remain in the Arab countries, plus the possibility of resettlement in Canada, Australia and other countries would create solutions acceptable to all parties. Khalil Shkaki, a Palestinian sociologist who conducted an extensive survey among the refugees, estimates that only about 10%, mainly the aged, would choose to settle in Israel, a number (about 400,000) Israel could easily digest.

With an end to the Occupation and a win-win political arrangement that would satisfy the fundamental needs of both peoples, the Palestinians could make what would be perhaps the most significant contribution of all to peace and stability in the Middle East. Weak as they are, the Palestinians possess one source of tremendous power, one critical trump card: They are the gatekeepers to the Middle East. For the Palestinian conflict is emblematic in the Muslim world. It encapsulates the “clash of civilizations” from the Muslim point of view. Once the Palestinians signal the wider Arab and Muslim worlds that a political accommodation has been achieved that is acceptable to them, and that now is the time to normalize relations with Israel, it will significantly undercut the forces of fundamentalism, militarism and reaction, giving breathing space to those progressive voices that cannot be heard today – including those in Israel. Israel, of course, would also have to resolve the issue of the Golan Heights, which Syria has been asking it to do for years. Despite the neocon rhetoric to the contrary, anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that such a dynamic is not only possible but would progress at a surprisingly rapid pace.

The problem is Israel in both its pre- and post-state forms, which for the past 100 years has steadfastly refused to recognize the national existence and rights of self-determination of the Palestinian people. (continued...)

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