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Politics of Peace

Here’s an update to one of my previous posts on the settlement freeze:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not extend the moratorium on settlement building.  Building has resumed, re-adding another hurdle in this decades-long process.

However, there has been some pressure on Israel to continue the freeze and Netanyahu may have felt as though he needed to respond in some way.  His response was to call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for an extended settlement freeze. Where to start with this….

First, to be clear… Netanyahu is not asking Abbas to recognize the state of Israel, but Israel as a Jewish state.  This is an incredibly important difference.  If we were discussing the recognition of the state of Israel, many would argue that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization, the governing party of the West Bank) sufficiently recognized Israel years ago.  Anyways, let’s put aside the issues of statehood for Palestine, settlements in the West Bank, etc., and focus just on Israel for a second.  Within the state of Israel itself (not the occupied territories of West Bank or Gaza), almost 20 percent of the population is Arab Israeli (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs).  This population is mainly composed of those who were living there prior to the establishment of Israel and their direct descendants.

Within Israel, the Arab Israelis are generally separated into Arab areas and towns.  This is a widely recognized observation and is even mentioned on the website linked to above for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, albeit the website purports that this is by choice.  The Arab Israelis face many hardships in their daily lives and are truly treated as second-class citizens.  Building permits are routinely denied and when people are forced to expand illegally, they face demolition for illegal building.  These areas have substandard services such as water, sewage, electricity, infrastructure, etc.  In addition, their schools are given far less funding and face much harsher scrutiny into their curriculum.

Where am I getting this information from?  Well, many sources; but, most recently and I think the most comprehensively and compellingly from the book The Other Side of Israel by Susan Nathan.  Nathan is a Jewish woman who used the Right of Return to move from Britain to Tel Aviv after raising her children.  After spending a little time in Israel, Nathan becomes uncomfortable with the relationship between Jews and Arabs and decides to move to an Arab town to get a better sense of what it is like and what conditions the Arab Israelis face.  It is a FANTASTIC book – I highly recommend it!

So, maybe you are thinking “What makes this different from any poor neighborhood in any other country?”  One aspect is that generally if the Arab Israelis attempt to move to another more affluent neighborhood, they are often denied based solely on the fact that they are Arab.  It is also remarkably difficult for Arab Israelis to get some of the better paying jobs working for the state, again because they are Arab.

It also differs because of the extreme lack of interaction between the two sectors.  This is on BOTH sides.  Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis alike are often leery of meeting anyone from the opposite group, which only exacerbates many of the problems including the housing and occupation issues.  Perhaps if the two groups understood each other more and knew each other, than there wouldn’t be such an aversion to integrating.  It is not uncommon for someone from one group to have NEVER talked to someone from the other group.

To address this lack of understanding, some groups exist to bring Arabs and Jews together for meetings.  Also, there was a great documentary about it, Promises, released a few years ago.  In it, B.Z. Goldberg travels to Israel and interviews both Jewish and Arab Israeli children.  He asks them about their feelings toward the other and if they would ever like to meet children from the other group.  Some seemed willing, while others (on both sides) openly said that they would not be interested in that at all.  They had intense feelings about it, which likely stemmed from family members.  Eventually, the children meet and form friendships.  However, the end is not all rainbows and sunshine…(it’s on Netflix, so check it out).

Circling back – how is the situation between the Arab and Jewish Israelis connected with the current request from Netanyahu (recognition of a Jewish state)?  Many people believe that recognition of a Jewish state will have a negative impact on the Arab Israelis and their already worrisome status.  In a recent New York Times article, Mohammad Darawshe (Israeli-Arab co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens) was quoted saying, “I think the Jews deserve a homeland of their own, but not one that negates the rights and status of other citizens.”

Palestinian Right of Return

Another major issue with recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is the implications it could have for the right of return claim that some Palestinians would assert and would want to be part of any peace negotiations.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced during the Arab Israeli wars.  Some are in the occupied territories and others are in refugee camps throughout the Middle East.  Overall, there are currently around 4 million Palestinian refugees.  Logically, if all of these refugees are allowed to move back into Israel, then Arab Israelis would soon out-number Jewish Israelis.  Now, this of course would be problematic for a nation that wants to be both a Jewish state and a democracy….

Perhaps more on Right of Return and democracy issues for a later post.

The Ball’s in Your Court

One final thing as I wrap up this very wordy post…There has been speculation that if the international community or the US perceive Netanyahu’s proposal as a genuine effort to continue the peace process, then the ball will be back in Abbas’s court.  I truly, truly hope this is not the case.  I think that the idea of asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a cessation of building on settlements that are illegal and part of land that would be Palestine (in most proposals for a two-state solution) is ABSURD.  This is not a sincere gesture on Netanyahu’s part, it is politics at its worst.  It is especially irksome when you consider that by agreeing to this, Abbas could essentially be conceding one of the objectives that Palestinians would like to achieve during the peace process – right of return.

All in all, I know that the peace process seems laughable and I know that many people are pessimistic (even apathetic), but I like to remain hopeful.  Given that, I honestly hope that both sides can get away from these silly antics and get back to work on what is certainly a daunting and arduous task – creating a lasting and viable peace agreement.

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Posted by on October 27, 2010 in Foreign Policy

 

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Settlement Building Demolishes Peace Process

I know this is a loaded topic and all, but it’s a rainy Monday and it has been in the news a lot so I have decided to opine a little bit on Israel and Palestine – specifically, the end of the settlement construction freeze and what that means for the peace process.

I will try my best to stay on this smaller topic without too many digressions…I did write an entire honors thesis on Hamas so I know I can get a little wordy… :).

As a quick overview, settlements are areas in the West Bank and Gaza where Israeli settlers have formed communities on land that is generally accepted as land that would be part of Palestine in a two-state solution.  Of course, the obvious problem is that if Israelis are living there and building communities, then they would not likely be willing to give up their homes and lives to move if the land were to become part of Palestine.  More likely would be that Israel would take the position that these lands should be part of Israel because it would be heartless and impractical to move all of these people from their homes….ironic, huh?  Essentially, the settlements are a land grab and have been deemed illegal by the World Court.

Quote from UN Chief Ban Ki-moon: “The world has condemned Israel’s settlement plans in east Jerusalem,” Ban told a news conference after his brief tour. “Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped.”

So, for 10 months, there was a “freeze” on any construction in the settlements.  Even this freeze had loopholes and did not stop all construction.  However, for the most part it was seen as a goodwill gesture.  Now that the freeze has expired and was not extended, it leaves Abbas in a tricky position.  There is the argument that he loses credibility if he continues peace talks with Israel, as Israel seems to be undermining the process and making the facts on the ground inconsistent with peace proposals.  If Abbas continues, Palestinians may be further upset with him and feel as though he is pandering too much to Israel and America.  This could then translate into broader support for Hamas, which controls Gaza.  Or even if support is not shifted to Hamas, it may simply just dwindle and leave Palestinians feeling even more helpless and less confident in their government.

However, if Abbas pulls out of the talks, then Israel can continue what they are doing and will be able to rightly say that they did not stop the peace process – the Palestinians backed out.  Even though Israel would have essentially forced Abbas to do so, they would be technically correct.  It would be nice to think that if Abbas pulled out of the talks, then there would be international pressure on Israel to freeze the settlement building so that talks could resume.  Unfortunately, the international community seems unwilling to put pressure on Israel to do anything.  Instead, the general theme seems to be to express “disappointment” in Israel.  This is diplomatic fluff and means nothing.  With continued monetary and military aid, Israel has no reason to care if America or any other Western nation is “disappointed” with their policies.

So, if you are Abbas – what to do?  It is truly unfortunate that Abbas would have to sacrifice a little bit of integrity to be able to participate in a peace process that is unlikely to produce any real outcomes.  But what’s the alternative?  To not try at all?  In the end, I do think that it is best for Abbas to continue with the peace talks.  I also think that it is crucial for Hamas to be engaged in the process as well.  In an ideal world, the U.S. would do more than express disappointment and instead would use its assistance to Israel as leverage to help persuade Netanyahu to continue the moratorium on settlement building, return to the peace process and actually try to achieve something.  An even more savvy approach would be to include Hamas.  Hamas won elections in 2006 for a reason and to not respect those outcomes was not only ridiculous from a democracy-supporting standpoint, but was also incredibly blind to the realities for Palestinian people.

Now, if we could just get people to care a little more and become a little more educated, then maybe peace would have a tiny chance.  In the meantime, I hope for the best and am crossing my fingers that the extreme opinions on either side of this won’t de-rail an already slow-moving, dysfunctional train and ruin the chances, yet again, for the majority of the people living in that region that just want to live in peace.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in Foreign Policy

 

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