Thursday, March 14, 2013

Right and Wrong

There is an American story, whose name I have forgotten, about a man who gets a parking ticket and refuses to pay it.  He asks for a trial, which orders him to pay the fine or go to jail.  Always claiming to be right and refusing to pay, he ends up in prison.  It is clear to all of the readers, or 99% of them at least, that how matter how “right” the man s, he is wrong, i.e. stupid.

On a larger and more tragic scale, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a similar theme.  It began on a small scale in the 1920’s, when Jews began to arrive in Palestine, first in trickles and then in tens of thousands in the 1930’s.  It is clear this entry of people from a different culture and religion would cause hostility.  The Jews were a clear psychological threat, whatever economic benefits their arrival brought.

This clash of cultures implied and still implies the impossibility of unity in terms of government.  According to a book that I am reading, The Palestinian Arab National Movement 1929-1936 by Y. Porth, the British in 1936 in one of their endless and futile attempts to make peace here, proposed a division of Palestine based on the population concentration at the time.  Specifically, the Jews would get the coastal plain, Tel Aviv, and Galilee.  Jerusalem and Tiberias would be administered by the British.  The rest would be run by Abdallah, King of Jordan.  While some of the Arab leadership was ready to accept the deal, the more active Palestinian leaders rejected it out of hand, rightly or wrongly.

 Jumping ahead, in 1948, the UN, the next organization to try to fix this mess, partitioned the country.  This time, the Jew would get the coastal plain, Galilee, Eilat, and half of Jerusalem.  This time, the Palestinians would have a country with the rest of the area.  After painful soul-searching, Ben Gurion and the Jewish leadership accepted this compromise.  The Palestinians, encouraged by Arab leaders, rejected this idea.  The result of the War of Independence was more land for Israel and no country for the Palestinians.

From 1948 to 1967, the Arabs and Palestinian leadership tried to use economic means to destroy Israel, refusing to negotiate.  The result was the 1967 war, which added the West Bank and Golan Heights, not to mention the other half of Jerusalem, to Israel. Of course, the Palestinians still had no state.

The Americans tried their hand as peacemakers.  The Oslo Agreement seemed to open the way to a Palestinian state, setting up a recognized Palestinian negotiating partner on sovereign territory.  Alas, the “all or nothing” mentality led to two intifadas and an extremist government in Gaza.  In the meantime, the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria has expanded, effectively expanding the size of Israel.

This is clearly a tragic story for millions of people on both sides of the conflict.  The responsibility for the Palestinian failure to accept, however grudgingly, a land compromise lies on the regional Arab leaders, local Palestinian leaders and, ultimately, the Palestinians themselves.  Just as the Irish people stopped supporting radical IRA and Protestant leaders and ended, however imperfectly, that “hopeless” conflict, so the Palestinians theoretically could one day have a viable state of their own. 

I am not so naïve as to believe in friendship in the next few generations, but it is time to end the validity of the famous comment “The Palestinians never miss any opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  Israelis and Palestinians are stuck together in a Catholic marriage.  Once that is accepted, a way to live together in harmony, if not love, can be found.  If not, it doesn’t make a difference what the policy of the Israeli government is.

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