Saturday, 29 September 2012

Israeli Palestinian Conflict Primer, Part II

This is the second part of my Israeli Palestinian Conflict Primer. Part I is here.
The job of the first part was to grant quick familiarity with the situation and players.

In this second part, I'll weigh in with opinion.

As before, I'm using a Q&A format because asking the right questions is as important as finding the true answers.

1. Okay. You've been verging on neutral and just mildly biased so far. How about some opinions?
What's your take on a pragmatic, practical solution? Keep in mind you're solving for 11 million people, not for 4 million Palestinians or 7 million Israelis.

At a personal level, anyone - even one who is not affiliated with neither side - can:
a. Spread tolerance and curiosity.
b. Promote inquisitiveness and critical thought.
c. Help dispel the mountains of misinformation, dead lies, self-serving propaganda and teachings of hate that are circulated ad-nauseum.

At a national negotiation level (and a lot of this can be helped by US, European and neighbour state mediation):
a. Reach a state of regimes that will back what they sign irrespective of administration.
b. Sign a bloody agreement, with a no-further-claims clause (with incentives if it is kept and consequences for when it is broken).
c. Then, Hard, physical separation (borders) with several years or decades of emotional cool-off and a buildup of security within one's borders.
Then gradual economic re-engagement.

On the issue of land - There is no technical way to solve the full set of problems without two states. This will mean movement of Israeli settlement blocks.

On the issue of Jerusalem - I don't think this is a showstopper. It's just a very hairy issue. Many options are viable, I don't know enough about the considerations today, and nobody knows how flexible the negotiation teams will eventually be. I'll just say - if the rest falls in line, this one will be solvable.

On the issue of right of return - There are no real choices here. The houses abandoned by Palestinians in 1948 no longer stand, city business districts stand in their place today. This is really a no-brainer. Israel will throw money at this problem, compensate the refugees and like it or not, that will be that.
Many Palestinians want this to also translate into an Israeli citizenship, as Israel's GDP per capita and PPP are an order of magnitude higher than that of the PA, and living in Israel opens up far more opportunities. This outcome is not likely to see support from Israel's side. I do believe that if the other issues align and the will to wrap the whole thing up is there, this issue will find a way forward.

On the issue of Iranian influence - I believe the incumbent regime in Iran has to, and will, implode. Turns out you can only run an autarky and wave shiny objects in the face of 80 million oppressed people - while cheating them out of a place in the global economy - for so long. The Arab Spring toppled five neighboring regimes (so far) and it will not spare them either, as the underlying cause - that lava that made them erupt where they did - is boiling in Iran.
Technology allows Iranian people to see the rest of the world. It opens us up to them. They see India and China riding the wave of globalization while all they get in Iran is 20+% unemployment as they get lied to by their leaders.
I'd venture a guess that Iran will be the last to go in the Arab spring (yes, they are not Arabs. Irrelevant.). It will lose its despotic friends first. We got a glimpse of what Iranian citizens feel back in 2009, and just how many of them feel it. They've been silenced, for now. I hold we have not yet seen the last chapter of their story.

I don't know if Iran's nuclear program will lead to a war with Israel, but I don't think such a war would lead to regime-change. Neither side would physically invade the other - to each, the other is both too geographically distant and too well-armed.

A fledgeling-democracy Iran would literally starve the radical camp of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once Iran goes, Hamas will simply do what it has always done - it will follow the money. And the only money available will be the same money tap the Fatah uses - a local economy complemented by handouts from the west with be-nice strings attached. To maximize revenue from either, Hamas would need to bring its views in-line with the rest of the world.

If only.

2. Iran aside, is the Arab Spring good for Israel/Palestinians?
Best thing that happened to both in a long time.

Israel has grown very jaded, cynical and unmotivated to ambitiously resolve the conflict, with its secured 3.5 regional partners of old (Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and a long-quiet front with Assad's Syria) and its decades-old "We are the only functional democracy in the middle east" claim.
That landscape is now a distant memory. Turkey and the new Egypt repositioned themselves for a race to lead a new brand of Islamic states far more liberal than the incumbent brands Iran and Saudi Arabia's Wahabis offer. Their goal will not be terror. It will be jumping on the globalisation bandwagon. Each wants to be the "Gateway to the west" and the alpha wolf of the approachable, morally-compatible-with-the-west bloc of Muslim states.
FDI is the name of the game, and is the ticket for their leaders to deliver to their voters and get re-elected.

Mursi, Egypt's new leader has given the NY Times an interesting interview, where he tried to show the world he has a spine and intends to lead the Muslim world by example (for the second time, after rocking up to the Iranian convention last month and telling the Iranians who is top dog). He said he intends to play hardball, and that his 80-million-strong nation intends to lead the pragmatic Muslim world, not follow. Brave words. I look forward to supporting actions. Look out Turkey.

In different ways, both Turkey and Egypt turned a cold shoulder to Israel, signaling it to get its act together. Turkey supported the notorious Gaza Flotilla that ended badly for everyone. Everyone except Turkey itself, who promptly used it as the much-needed excuse to tone down its involvement with Israel and reposition itself more favorably in the eyes of the Muslim world it wants to be a shining beacon for.

Despite a lot of people reading these as a "we don't like Jews/Israel" message (as if, for some reason that eludes me, Jews or Israelis are somehow entitled to sympathy without earning any of that sympathy with relevant merit), I believe this not to be such a message at all.
It reads to me more as "Your lazy attitude at resolving the conflict is affecting our prosperity. Get off your bum, stop blaming the Palestinians and get your own house in order.". It's a cleverly-disguised message of cooperation, saying "if you live up to a bar of merit, if you can be a good neighbor conscious of when he hurts those around him and willing to take steps to prevent this, we will come to the party and be your friends".
In the immediate sense, this spells bad for Israel. Less friends in the neighborhood. The radicals inside Israel strengthen as they milk this situation for everything it's worth, harping on about how Egypt is now another Iran because to them "Muslim" has become synonymous with the current Iranian regime and its ways.

However, on a grander scale, I maintain that this is the best thing that could have happened to Israel. I hope it becomes the much-needed shock Israel needs, to realize that its strength, security and status in the world must be a product of something it has control over, such as what it produces - its hi-tech and biotech industries or the academic research that it pours out, not a circumstantial side-effect of a neighbor-state's dysfunction. Israel still has 7 decades of rapid, competent nation-building as a head start on its neighbors, but the Arab Spring spells out the obvious: They can modernize too, and they intend to try and catch up. And they have a lot more resources working for them than Israel does.

In the past decades, Israel was allowed to stop trying to solve the I-P conflict, stop being ambitious simply because the bar of its neighbors was so low.
Well Mursi just raised the bar. Good on'im. Golda Meir, Israel's "Iron Lady" Prime Minister, once said "Israel will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us".
 Turns out that a dictator and his regime may not love their nation's children, but the people who elected Mursi on a platform of welfare and the people who are walking into wave after wave of Assad's bullets love their children just fine.

And this is a game, in fact, THE game, I'd like to see us all play. Who can do a better job at loving his own children.

Here's to optimism.

3. How do you fit in?
I myself am an Israeli, having lived in Israel two and a half decades of my life. I now live in Australia but have family there.

I make an attempt to view this conflict from a "this is really broken" angle rather than a "we Israelis/Jews are right" one.

I have served in the Israeli Army and in the territories. I was lucky enough to serve during a relatively quiet period however I saw radicals from both sides doing things that I wouldn't be proud of. I did my job, and if required to by my home country - Australia - today, I would again carry out my civic duty as required.

I cut a very clear line between "The state of Israel" and "The administration currently in power in Israel". I hope for prosperity for one, not always for the other. I believe this distinction should be made when looking at any country.

On my education in the Israeli system. I grew up on the notion that the WWII-era Nazis did two very, very bad things. The one that (rightly) gets mentioned most is the fact that Hitler brutally murdered 10 million people. My family alone lost some 50 lives.

But all the documentaries I've watched on the national remembrance day, all the museums I've visited, all the discussions we had in school over the years, focused their attention on another very, very bad thing.

They focused on a moral that needs to be learned, on what the experience has taught us. And this moral bites much deeper than "Murdering 10 million people is wrong" or "Mentioning their murder is sacrilege" or "We Jews will forever after live by our sword".

The moral speaks of human dignity.

All the documentaries, the museums, the curricula that taught this subject focused not just on the killing but on some moment that came before. A moment in that episode of history when certain people stopped being considered human. It didn't start with mass murder. It started with the segregation of the ghettos, of your neighbor or friend or daughter starving to death because you were denied food, of the bodies of children on the streets, of families torn as their loved ones got taken away never to be seen again, all while the propaganda machine on cinema screens harped on about them being equivalent to a rat epidimic.
In Hebrew we say the Nazis lost "Zelem Enosh" - צלם אנוש, a very powerful and broad term that says this is a human being. This term is not rooted in any religion, group or affiliation. It does not tell white from black, a Jew from a Muslim, and Iranian from an Israeli or Capitalist from Communist. It just says human.

Through my life in Israel I was repeatedly taught, by every social circle I took part in bar none, that taking this dignity away from a human, any human, is wrong. I am grateful for and proud of the conviction with which this was taught.

The Middle East of 2012 is not Nazi Germany. I make no comparisons whatsoever between Nazi Germany and any living person, society or organisation today. I find such comparisons offending.
I find this a very hard topic to discuss myself, and only raise it because the highest respect we can give it is heeding the bitter lesson it bears. And this is not merely asking how the lesson applied in the murderous context of then, but how it applies in the deeply-rooted emotions making up the context of the Israeli-Palestinian now.

Solemnly putting Godwin back in his box, I firmly believe fixing anything today must begin with ensuring everyone involved receives that human dignity in full, because in that corner of the Middle East, it has very slowly yet visibly begun to erode.


And now you can see it. It's right here, in front of you.
You are now standing at the very front line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is waged between an Israeli father and his son, over dinner, arguing on the merits of supporting a political party who would punish every Palestinian for the actions of just some, effectively punishing people for being Palestinian. Tomorrow, at the ballot, each will choose a side.

It is waged between a Palestinian father and his son, debating whether the son should spend his life building a prosperous business in the West Bank or move in with family in Gaza and join the militant ranks of the Hamas. The next day, the son will choose a side.

It rages anywhere an Israeli or Palestinian is asked to explain the conflict. When one faces the choice of accusing the other people while ignoring the doings of his own, or being brutally honest towards both. When one throws up his hands in frustrated cynicism or gets back up and tries again.
It is with that choice that one picks his side.


I hope this piece gives people a starting point to understanding the problem better, to learn of the difficulties involved and why very smart, well-meaning people haven't been able to put an end to it yet. I hope to provoke and make those interested ask both sides brutally hard questions, rather than line up with the "Good Guys" as pointed out by either Fox News, Ynet or Al-Jazeera.

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