Thursday, December 19, 2002

lately, i have found myself mentally arguing more than ever with the individuals on my h-diplo listserv. most of the time people on there are debating about the middle east or issues related to the region. as i read certain lines, sometimes a little part of my brain screams out that this is something which necessitates a reponse. as a creature of habit, i typically allow things to either go unsaid or pray an elder on the listserv will address these comments. this is in no small part due to an email exchange as an undergraduate in which i asked another list member if i could post, and although it was said in a nicer fashion, what i read was "shut yer yapper." but i'm a graduate now so i'm taking a risk and asking the moderator to post me. things have gone far enough, and the issue i address in my post is not only limited to the listserv; i am FINDING IT EVERYWHERE. so here goes

as submitted to the h-diplo listserv:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the single most complicated situations in world history. It can not be reduced in simple terms very easily. For this reason, I find it incredible when I find sweeping statements “assessing” the will of the totality of Israelis or Palestinians and/or Arabs. It may simply be that I am more sensitive to it, but I find that most often, specifically the Palestinians and/or Arabs are the victims of reductionism.

Yesterday in his post, Larry Hart, in reference to the 1947 UN Res 181, wrote: “That was flatly rejected by the Arabs at the time, and is still rejected for the most part today. However, the Israelis for their part are on record as accepting it, and there is plenty of evidence to show they have been trying to implement that spirit ever since.”

I take issue with Mr. Hart’s comment because it implies that no Arabs have ever truly considered living on shared land, by “rejecting it for the most part.” It suggests that Israelis are quite willing to take on the shared land course of action, as shown by the “evidence” that they have been “trying to implement the spirit” of UN Res 181 “ever since.”

At this point I feel a need to state that in terms of actually sharing land, neither the Israelis nor the Arabs have a fabulous track record in rationally accepting that the other is in fact there. Mr. Hart’s comment gives off the impression that it is the Arabs who are constantly “rejecting” this idea, and that the Israelis are just trying to get by. This may have been true up until 1967, but the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has proved that some Israelis are just as capable of what I call “land greed” as some Arabs. Please refer to Molly Moore’s article “On Remote Hilltops, Israelis Broaden Settlements” as published in the 8 December 2002 edition of _The Washington Post_, available on page A01. Grabbing a patch of land in the West Bank and claiming it for Israeli settlers is not exactly accepting “the spirit” of splitting up the geography.

Mark Safranski wrote in his post: “The Palestinians from what I have observed want a peace with Israel that allows them to carry out terrorism unabated by subcontracting the actions from the PA to HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Peace, to be meaningful, involves an end to hostilities and as the Palestinians are both unwilling and unable to do so, negotiations at this time are rather pointless.”

I feel a need to question who exactly the term “Palestinians” refers to in Mr. Safranski’s comment. I would like to know which Palestinians he specifically refers to in order to understand what would provoke him to make such a broad, sweeping statement on what Palestinians are “unwilling” and “unable” to do, and what it is that they really “want.”

The reason why I think this needs to be asked is because if who Mr. Safranski is really criticizing is the PA, then let the PA be criticized for its terrorism policies. But I do not believe that the PA should be construed to be the true representative of the Palestinian people. I do not believe that anyone on this listserv would try to make a serious case that the current status of the PA is anything more than yet another manifestation of the “Middle Eastern Despot” syndrome, this time headed by Yassir Arafat. The Palestinian Authority is not equivalent to the Palestinian people, just as the Iraqi government is not equivalent to the Iraqi people themselves. There is a tendency within the United States to broadly associate the actions of a “government,” or what we identify most closely as a government, with the actions of the people of said state. This presupposes that the people of the nation are those who are running the show. It presupposes democracy.

Who Palestinians support and do not support is a lot more complicated than whether or not a certain organization, such as HAMAS, has a wing that blows up Israeli buses. While in a perfect world, such associations alone would result in a lack of legitimacy amongst the people for whom these organizations claim to speak, the reality on the ground is not quite so clearcut morally. The reality on the ground is that the Palestinians are a people who find themselves living in what is essentially a failed state under conditions of occupation. We can argue about why that is, absolutely, but until it is understood that a failed state and conditions of occupation is what sixty-five year old Palestinian grandmothers face each day on their way to the market, we will get nowhere in this conflict. This rule also goes for those elements of Palestinian society which endorse terrorism. They need to start to change their view by understanding what Israeli parents face each day as they board their children onto a bus to go to school. Until both sides take an active role in attempting to truly understand the reality of the other, there will not be progress here.

The idea that negotiations should be cut off because the “Palestinians are unwilling or unable” to immediately end all terrorist attacks is rather extreme and drastically unfair to elements within the Israeli and Palestinian societies which are working towards a lasting peace. Cutting off negotiations due to terrorist attacks gives the terrorists exactly what they want: an end to dialogue, an end to the possibility that these peoples can live in peace together in the future. It is only within dialogue itself that the solution to this problem will come; a two-state solution is not going to magically manifest itself out of the atmosphere once the IDF has bulldozed six thousand more Palestinian homes of potential terrorists and a hundred more suicide bombers associated with HAMAS have blown themselves up in Israeli cities. While violence is sometimes necessary and warranted, it does not always provide the ultimate solution for conflicts, and in a situation as prolonged and volatile as the situation of the Israelis and Palestinians, the idea that somehow a solid military strike will end strife has been proven faulty time and time again. Cutting off negotiations because terrorist attacks occur is a historically nonviable option. It is like the radical elements of Palestinian society finding more Israeli settlers on a nearby hill, and then sending someone into Tel Aviv to blow himself up. It gets you nowhere.

We need to be careful not to ignore certain historical realities, which often get brushed over due to very understandable anger at terrorist attacks. Most of all, what we really need to do is take a historical survey and see that BOTH SIDES HERE ARE WRONG in a lot of ways, and typecasting either side as the main villain does not help. Reductionism is not healthy for discussion.

At this point, for anyone who is interested, I would like to plug an article which I feel quite adequately gets to the crux of this conflict: Amos Elon's "Israelis and Palestinians: What Went Wrong" in 19 December 2002 _New York Review of Books_.

Jaime Mulligan

interrupting the broadcast system: i would like to give extra special thanks to one joseph rospars for leading me to both articles to which i refer in my post. god bless those with the wherewithal to keep up with their reading. history is useless without filtering current events through its lense, and vice versa.

regrets about my post: i should have emphasized that what i really take to task in safranski's post is this: "The Palestinians from what I have observed want a peace with Israel that allows them to carry out terrorism unabated"...oh well. problems with trying to be a perfectionist. nothing you submit will ever be good enough. and now i must stop typing because as some of you know i think i have carpal tunnel syndrome or something equally annoying.