Peace Talks And War Fever

September 21, 2010 11:17 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

Yesterday, MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan hosted a 14-minute segment on Iran with journalist/constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald and Clifford May, the neocon head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Greenwald opposes confrontation with Iran and believes the case for war is utterly phony.  May is a war hawk on Iran, as he was on Iraq.  (He also supports any and all Israeli military actions.)

May is kicking off the fall campaign to get America to support an Israeli attack on Iran.  Of course, an Israeli attack would be viewed by the entire Muslim world as a US attack and would, as our military warns, endanger US forces throughout the region.

The "Bomb Iran" campaign is just beginning. If President Obama does not stand firm, May and his friends may win the day as they did in 2003.  For us, that means, organize.

Watch the segment. Greenwald leaves May gasping in defeat (May's only justification for war is that some Iranians shout "Death to America"). 

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are going about as well as they can go with the United States maintaining its insistence that no attempts at Palestinian unity are made.  (See this column by Professor Alon Ben-Meir of New York University on the necessity of bringing Hamas into the process.)

But, forgetting that for a moment, the big worry about the current talks continues to be what will happen after September 26th, when Israel's partial settlement freeze ends.  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says that he won't continue the freeze while President Mahmoud Abbas says he will end the talks if the freeze lapses.

The whole settlement freeze issue is one of the three most unnecessary obstacles to peace.  The other two are: (1) the belief, on the part of some Palestinians, that the 1948 refugees and their progeny will return to Israel (rather than to a Palestinian state) and (2) Netanyahu's insistence that Palestinians recognize Israel "as a Jewish state."

First, the settlements.

Here's an analogy.  A renter and her landlord are discussing whether she can put up a wall to create a separate dining area in her kitchen.  She says that she will put it up at her own expense and fully remove it when she moves out.

The landlord agrees to discuss it, but the tenant insists that she be allowed build the wall while they are discussing the issue and before any agreement is reached.

He disagrees and points out that since the discussions are about the wall, she can't preempt the issue by putting up the wall before they reach some sort of agreement.

It's the same with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Above all, they are about Israel's borders — what will be Israel and what will be Palestine.  The expansion of existing settlements and the construction of new ones is a unilateral decision about the future of the land.  Every settlement, every additional settler family, is a statement that this space belongs to Israel.

The solution is simple.  As President Obama said in his press conference on September 10th, "....ultimately, the way to solve these problems is for the two sides to agree what's going to be Israel, what's going to be the state of Palestine.  And if you can get that agreement, then you can start constructing anything that the people of Israel see fit in undisputed areas." As for the areas that are going to be Palestine, Israel cannot build there.

So start with defining borders.  In the meantime, freeze the status quo.

The second obstacle is the belief on the part of some Palestinians that any agreement must provide for the return to what is now Israel by all the refugees (and their descendants) who fled since 1948.  That is not going to happen because Israel has no intention of committing suicide, as it would if it invited as many as seven million Palestinians back to Israel.  But this is not to say that a formula addressing the issue of Palestinian return cannot be devised that would meet the requirements of both sides.

While polls show that most Palestinians insist on the "right of return," only a few actually want to exercise that right.  In fact, the Arab League Initiative stipulates that the issue of Palestinian return would have to be agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians.  In short, no Palestinian would return to Israel without Israel's consent.

The Palestinian refugee problem — also known as Palestinian statelessness — would be solved by the establishment of a Palestinian state encompassing the occupied territories, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and in which every Palestinian in the world would have the right to live.  Like Israel, it would exist both for the people who live there and the Diaspora.

So what's the problem? Why is "return" such an obstacle?

It probably isn't, except for those who want it to be.

And then there is the new demand, devised by Likud prime ministers, that Palestinians recognize Israel "as a Jewish state." 

This demand was designed to torpedo any agreement because those who came up with the idea knew that Palestinians would never accept it.  After all, for almost 60 years Israel has insisted only that it be recognized as Israel, with the right to secure borders and therefore a secure population.  Anyone who understands anything about Jewish history would understand the Jewish people's need for sovereignty, a state for Jews, but would also understand that the "Israel as a Jewish state" demand jeopardizes the whole Zionist enterprise.

No nation in the world is officially recognized by any other nation as anything in particular.  After all, it is not up to outsiders to determine the identity of another country.  Demanding that non-Jews determine Israel's identity is not only insulting, it is the antithesis of Zionism which is all about Jewish self-determination.

Palestinians, in particular, cannot recognize Israel "as a Jewish state" because that formulation essentially declares that non-Jewish Israelis (a million Palestinians who are Israelis) are second class citizens.  Imagine how American Jews or other non-Christians would feel if the United States was recognized by the world "as a Christian state," although it is possible to make the case that it is. (The overwhelming majority of Americans are Christian, Christmas is a national holiday, and official government documents state "In The Year Of Our Lord.")

The "Israel as a Jewish state" concept is also a terrible idea for Jews.  Even without Israel's recognition "as a Jewish state," the power of the Orthodox Jewish establishment over Israeli life is out of control.

The Orthodox rabbinate decides who is Jewish and who isn't, based on arcane racial criteria.  Those deemed not Jewish are burdened with obstacles at every milestone in life: birth, marriage, divorce and even death.  Israel, with no separation of state and synagogue, is already almost as Jewish as Vatican City is Roman Catholic. Palestinian recognition of Israel "as a Jewish state" is the very last thing Jewish or non-Jewish Israelis (or Jews abroad) need.

So here's my idea.  Keep the settlements frozen solid.  Limit the Palestinian right of return to something realistic.  And recognize Israel simply as Israel, the homeland for Jews, but where all Israelis enjoy equal rights and no clerics can deny any Israeli — Jew or Arab — the full rights of citizenship.

And above all, establish a viable Palestinian state in the 22% of historic Palestine that was not controlled by Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The alternative, looming just beyond the horizon, is the so-called one-state — or binational — solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians share all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Most Palestinians would be happy with that solution — after all, they would constitute the majority.  But Jews, for the most part, cannot accept it because they recall what happened to Europe's Jews when there was not one acre on the whole planet in which Jews had sovereignty.  Because if Jews had control of even a small piece of Palestine in 1942, they could have saved millions from the Nazis.

Jews need a state, a national home, a refuge that can never be closed to them.  Biblical borders, settlements in the Palestinian heartland, and the continued oppression of the people of Gaza do not help preserve that state.  They jeopardize it.  In short, those defenders of the status quo who consider themselves Israel's best friends are, in fact, its worst enemies.

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