Pretty unhappy about the news out of Israel lately. Briefly, VP Biden was in the region to try to get talks between the Israelis and Palestinians moving again and was greeted by an annoucement that new building would start on Israeli settlements in contested east Jerusalem. I don’t want to summarize all the history, but Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while the rest of the world rejects this. Most reasonable people think that any peace between the two sides will have to include a shared Jerusalem.
I consider myself one of those reasonable people, even if I am definitely biased towards the Israeli side. But acknowledging that bias, I am interested in a lasting peace, mainly because I’m interested in a prosperous and safe Israel. I resent what I think is the over-critical stance of the rest of the world towards Israel, no country would be asked to live with a neighbor lobbing rockets into civilian areas, and no country is subject to the microscope of international scorn when it attempts to stop such terrorism. But whenever I heard of Israeli soldiers humiliating Palestinians are check-points or news like last week, which embarrasses the US (Israel’s greatest ally), it upsets me because I feel like Israel has to maintain the moral high ground in the conflict or all is lost. The situation is toxic enough without having right-wing religious parties bent on controlling all of Jerusalem (and, indeed the West Bank) undermining the peace process (which is what happened when the Shas-dominated interior ministry made the announcement of new construction in east Jerusalem as Biden arrived). What I fear is going to happen, and what a left-wing Jewish colleague of mine just back from Israel agreed is likely, is Intifada III. I felt a bit sick this morning reading about new clashes in Jerusalem over this latest development. There is never a good time for violence, but with the challenges already out there–an Iran hell-bent on a nuclear program, a still volatile Iraq, the war in Afghanistan at a major turning point–we don’t need the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to erupt into horrible violence again.
It’s time for the US to use some of its considerable leverage over Israel to stifle the extremist voices that are threatening a possible peace. That peace, which arrives and recedes over time, is tragically well known: a Palestinian state roughly along the 67 borders, with land transfers to reflect “facts on the ground”, and a shared Jerusalem (with probably some UN administration for the holy sites). I firmly believe that Palestinian state should be demilitarized, with a NATO presence on its borders to mitigate the risk of weapons being smuggled into the new Palestinian state. In short, I don’t trust that the Palestinians, or the surrounding states, will ever fully accept Israel. But the creation of a Palestinian state will take the wind out of the sails of Israel’s enemies who use the Palestinians as pawns against Israel. Thomas Friedman, who I generally find tiresome and repetitive these days but who is still good on the Middle East, thinks that only a right wing government, like Netanyahu’s current administration, can deliver a lasting peace. I’m not so sure. I think Ehud Barak, with his military credentials, could have pulled it off, and it was Arafat that tragically walked away from peace at the end of Clinton’s administration. It’s time to make the leap and see if the Palestinians are serious about peace. Israel has to show that it is the smart democracy with a long-term vision for it’s people that I truly believe it is. I hope that its own extremist haven’t capitalized on the years of Palestinian violence and intransigence and taken over fully.