Israel and Palestine: What Now?

Every year during the high holidays, my Rabbi gives a sermon about Israel.  Ask any Jew who attends services, and they will likely tell you something similar.  And, like any good conversation involving the Jews, opinions are diverse, passions run hot and the issue resolves itself not a single bit further.

I’ve studied the Israel and Palestine conflict for years.  Want to know the history?  Got a few hours?  I’ll be happy to take you on a step by step account of major events from the late 19th century through to the current day.  From the rise of Zionism to the British Mandate (the fucking British) to the War of Independence / Nakba to the 1967 war to the Intifada to Bin Laden to Netanyahu.. I’ll paint you a picture of the major events and players.

For years, I was an advocate for a 2 or 3 state solution.  I thought that by Israel granting independence to Palestine and Palestine recognizing Israel’s right to exist, this century plus long tragedy could finally be put to rest.

I was wrong.

I think there should be a Palestinian state.  I think there should be a state of Israel.  I think that both cultures have historical ties to the region and that both deserve to have a homeland to call their own.  I just don’t think its going to happen in my lifetime.

Why?

First, when it comes to leadership there is absolutely no interest in compromise.  Both Prime Ministers Bibi Netanyahu (Israel) and Abu Mazen (Palestine – West Bank) have demonstrated little to no interest in working with each other.  Let me give a little background here.  Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister of Israel since 2009.  Israel has a parliamentary system of government and even when a party wins the most votes, it does not guarantee that it will assume power.  That happened in 2009 when Netanyahu’s Likud party placed second in voting but due to how the election panned out, he was the only person able to form a coalition government.  I know… you thought the electoral college was confusing.  Welcome to parliamentary government.  Netanyahu is a conservative who has said “A strong Israel is the only Israel that will bring the Arabs to the peace table.”  He has stated over and over again that the only way that Israel will accept a Palestinian state is if it is completely demilitarized.

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has been the Prime Minister of Palestine since 2005.  However, he is the democratically elected leader of the West Bank territory.  He is a member of the political party Fatah. In case you aren’t aware, there is another territory known as the Gaza Strip which is governed by the group Hamas.  Yes, that Hamas.  The guys with the bombs and the rockets.  And while Hamas has a social welfare component, it is the militant sect, that, as part of their charter, state that their sworn purpose is the destruction of Israel.  Think any of these folks are interested in demilitarization?    On top of all of that, Fatah and Hamas have been enemies for years, having engaged in several bloody conflicts.  There have been some attempts at reconciliation, but, none of them have completely succeeded… yet.

So, on one hand, we have Palestine, two Muslim territories governed by two distinct parties who have a long history of hatred towards each other.  Both of them have no interest in making peace with Israel.  On the other side, we have an Israeli leader who has been elected four times by his people and who wins reelection based, in large part, on his hard-line stance against anything but a weak, demilitarized Palestinian neighbor.

That is only the first issue.

Second, there are currently over 400,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.  These settlers have no intension of leaving their homes no matter who comes to power or what political agreement is reached.  In fact, the Israeli government offers incentives for people to move into the West Bank citing the need for expansion, religious and historical ties to the area, and security concerns.  I don’t know about you, but when I think of settlements, I think of tents or temporary housing.  That is NOT the case.  Many settlements are small cities with irrigated lawns and modern amenities.  Would you give up the chance to live in a place that your government paid you to live in?

The West Bank is considered by many to be the home of the Palestinian people.  The UN has recognized the Palestinian state and considers Israeli settlements to be a violation of Palestinian sovereignty.  Any sort of peace between Israel and Palestine would have to involve some sort of compromise about these settlements.  Ever known a devoutly religious group of people to compromise on their beliefs?  I’m pretty sure those times have names like Holocaust and Inquisition. It isn’t likely to happen without significant political ramifications and potential loss of life.

So, I’m now 800 words into describing this conflict and I can honestly say that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of its complexity.    I haven’t touched on things like water rights, access to religious sites important to all of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Iran’s involvement, the political influence of the United States or rising anti-Semitism around the world.  Each of those could and do take up volumes.

So what now?

First of all, if you are someone who is engaged with blaming one side of the other, now is the time to take stock.  Anyone who studies this issue understands that there is plenty of responsibility to go around.  There are no innocent parties.  There are plenty of good excuses and your righteousness makes absolutely no difference.  Peace will never be achieved through the eradication of one side or the other.

Second of all, be willing to engage in dialogue.  Recently, Hamas and Fatah have begun reconciliation talks.  Two former enemies have begun talking again.  While this has lots of repercussions, the act of communication is a step in the right direction.

Third, create opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian children to play together.  I know, this sounds like a foolish and trite idea, but think about it.  There has been so much dehumanization of each side in this war.  It is harder to see someone as “the enemy” after you’ve played on a soccer team with them.  And children are generally far more kind and compassionate than we set in our way adults.

I don’t know if a two-state solution will ever be a reality, but maybe our kids can figure it out.   I sure can’t.

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