Friday, March 06, 2009

My "Middle East Primer" (re: Israel)

While I find plenty of disagreements related to Israel and the Palestinians, I find myself clearly "highly prejudiced" and not fully understanding "the other side" in many ways. While I can understand the fears many Jews have of another Holocaust, my sense is that the real, major dangers are long-term continuing with the status quo.

I'd like to state a number of "facts" and try to talk separately about issues relating to them:

1. Jews were a tiny minority in Palestine, which began growing after World War I.
2. Palestinians were a diverse vast majority of the population in Palestine after World War I.
3. Turkey lost its control of Palestine after World War I
4. Conflicting promises were made promising both Palestinian and Jewish States beginning in 1918.
5. Increasingly after World War I the Jewish residents of Palestine gained in numbers and power which met increasing resistance from some Palestinians particularly in the riots of the late 1930's.
6. Palestinians in the period 1918-1948 - were not a single, unified group. The strongest Palestinian leader was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, however he had significant opposition amongst Palestinians.
7. The United Nations proposed the creation of separate Jewish and Palestinian States as hostilities increased in 1947 which was rejected by various Arab States and Palestinian leadership.
8. Israel declared its independence in May, 1948 and was invaded by several Arab armies.
9. There was no "Palestinian Army" and significant numbers of Palestinians did not fight against the new Israeli Army and State.
10. Significant numbers of Palestinians fled their homes often under pressure from the neighboring Israeli forces.
11. Other Palestinians remained within Israel and became Israeli citizens.
12. After the 1967 War, Israel took control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank (both of which had been in Jordan prior to the War), the Golan Heights (which had been in Syria previously) as well as a significant part of Sinai and the Gaza Strip (which had both been within Egypt previously).
13. Israel later negotiated peace treaties with Egypt and later Jordan. The peace treaty with Egypt resulted in a return of significant land in Sinai to Egypt. Jordan basically regained no substantive land.
14. Israel has unsuccessfully (to date) negotiated with Syria regarding making peace related in part to the proposed return of the Golan Heights to Syria.
15. Since the 1973 War the only serious military actions have been Israel's incursions into Lebanon and most recently in Gaza.
16. No country neighboring upon Israel poses a military threat to Israel. Israel's military strength is substantially greater than its neighbor's military forces.
17. Various efforts have been made to make a permanent, comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
18. The Palestinians under the leadership of Yasir Arafat and his Fatah Party increasingly sought peace with Israel eventually recognizing Israel's right to exist.
19. The Oslo Accords of 1993 and the Camp David Summit of 2000 both did not lead to a permanent peace agreement. One major area of disagreement from Wikipedia was explained as: "Barak offered to form a Palestinian State initially on 73% of the West Bank (that is 27% less than the Green Line borders) and 100% of the Gaza Strip. In 10 to 25 years the West Bank area would expand to 90-91% (94% excluding greater Jerusalem).[1][2][3] As a result, "Israel would have withdrawn from 63 settlements."[4] The West Bank would be separated by a road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, with free passage for Palestinians although Israel reserved the right to close the road for passage in case of emergency. The Palestinian position was that the annexations would block existing road networks between major Palestinian populations. In return, the Israelis would cede 1% of their territory in the Negev Desert to Palestine. The Palestinians rejected this proposal."
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20. In the United States criticism has been leveled at Arafat and the Palestinians for rejecting the Israeli proposals at Camp David in 2000. IF - Arafat had accepted the terms proposed by Israel he almost certainly would have lost power, most probably being assassinated because of how much the Palestinian leadership would have conceded to Israel - related to The West Bank, Jerusalem and the rights of refugees.
21. Towards the end of Arafat's life and since his death Hamas, a much more radical group, has increasingly gained power as the more moderate Fatah Party has failed to bring an independent Palestinian State into existence.
22. Free and fair elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006 at the urging of the United States and others.
23. Hamas won a significant victory in the 2006 elections.
24. The United States (in particular) has significantly Not recognized the leadership of Hamas because of its failure to fully recognize the existence of The State of Israel.
25. Violence in the West Bank and around Jerusalem has been minimal in recent years.
26. Problems have persisted in Gaza despite its supposed "independence" when Israel required its Jewish residents (who had occupied a huge amount of its land despite being a tiny minority of its population) to leave it.
27. Shelling of Israel coming from Hamas ceased after a ceasefire was established between Hamas and Israel. This ceasefire was broken by Israel, not Hamas in November, 2008.
28. Israeli's invasion of Gaza in December, 2008 was intended to stop the shelling and weaken the power of Hamas as well as ending the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza.
29. Despite the killing of many in Gaza and a clear "military victory" the power of Hamas in Gaza has increased, not decreased as a result of the invasion.

I would argue that prior to 1973 there were serious threats to Israel coming from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, but that the Israeli military was stronger than the combined armies of those three countries. Since 1973 the only potentially serious threats to Israel from Middle Eastern countries have been from Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Iran at various times. Iraq and Iran are the only major Middle Eastern States where the Shia (as opposed to Sunni) Moslems are the majority population.

Hamas is no friend to the leadership of all the Middle Eastern countries currently with the possible exception of Iran.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank have grown substantially and continue to grow. Palestinian resentment and violence, where there has been violence, has often related to the expansion of these settlements as well as the expansions within the Jerusalem Area in formerly Palestinian dominated areas.

Peace is possible for Israel. Israel has long not wanted to make peace absent a serious expansion of its pre-1967 borders within the West Bank. Initially it had military concerns related in part to how narrow Israel is in the middle of its country. More recently the concerns are largely not military. The concerns now relate to the desires of some Jews, mostly highly religious, to keep control of: "Judea and Samaria" where an ancient Jewish history certainly exists. These desires inevitably conflict with Palestinian desires for their own country in the West Bank.

Peace is possible IF Israel will accept an independent state primarily of nearly all of the West Bank (with possible "land swaps" in small areas) and Gaza. The negotiations in these areas could result in peace within a relatively short period of time.

The more difficult negotiations will occur related to Jerusalem. Even there, there are certainly possible compromises which can result in peace.

It would seem highly logical to me for The United States - to pressure Israel to make peace with the Palestinians related to: 1.) Settling permanent boundaries in the West Bank and ceding Gaza and 2.) Creating a framework for negotiating related to Jerusalem.

Negotiating related to the rights of refugees won't be simple, but is also resolvable.

A Palestinian State would presumably be demilitarized and thereby not any military threat to Israel.

While I don't want to overly simplify things in my descriptions above, it really is not that complicated. The big issues are: 1.) The Radical Right forces that control much of Israel's political base, 2.) The powers that radicals in Israel (and to a lesser extent within the Palestinians) that sabotage the few honest efforts that are made, 3.) The necessity of negotiating with Hamas and holding them accountable with Serious Negotiations, 4.) The totally crazy - control that the U.S. has pushed in both letting Israel do what it wants and in rare instances doing things against Israeli interests to prevent peace.

We in the U.S. could force Israel to negotiate seriously and probably help bring about peace. Logically we would do this by listening to the moderate forces that exist elsewhere in Europe, Turkey and other places who would work with us if we genuinely sought peace.

Certainly, there are risks to trying to make peace as I've proposed above. I would argue though that the risks of Not Having Peace - are much greater both in the short-term and long-term. Israel will likely eventually lose its strategic importance as oil reserves run out in the Middle East in coming decades. It will likely gradually lose its strategic importance and support from the United States then (if not sooner). It is best to negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness.

The U.S. should focus its energy on making peace and dealing with Iran, which certainly potentially is much more dangerous (as well as Pakistan - which is far more dangerous).

Thank you!

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