STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
What peace process?
, October 21, 2000
What peace process?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on - to the general horror and exasperation of the whole world. Arabs and Jews began fighting from the early 1920s onwards - and the object of their disputation then, as now, was land.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917, generally interpreted by Jews as promising the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, by means unspecified, sounded the first alarm bells for some Arabs, and gave religious demagogues, such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a platform from which to mobilise the overwhelming majority - Palestinian Arabs - to resist social change, and creeping occupation.
This conflict has never really gone away, only deepened and widened, producing war, and population displacement on a massive and tragic scale. In the end this structured antipathy produced Arab accusations of "cultural genocide", "apartheid", "ethnic cleansing", and an Israeli "dictatorship".
I don't think many people in 1917 even guessed that this might be the denouement, although some anti-Zionist Jews, and there were many, expressed fears that any projected Jewish state could be a source of perpetual conflict.
But the Holocaust seemed to confirm most Jews, and many Gentiles, in the belief that a Jewish fortress, a haven for Jews, was a necessity, if Jews were to ever again feel safe against another Holocaust, or even, a reversion in some countries to policies of discrimination, marginalisation and persecution.
This nevertheless was not the reason why the original Zionist movement arose or sought fulfilment - but rather served as an important set of variations upon the theme of a Jewish Homeland: Next year in Jerusalem.
The present conflict stems from the massive gains made by Israel after the '67 victory - the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Golan Heights of Syria, and Jerusalem (which had been held by Jordan). Gaza and the West Bank contain many former occupants, or descendants of Arab Palestinians who had fled or been ejected from their traditional lands during the 1948 War. Many other Palestinians now live in Jordan and Lebanon.
Palestinians want this land returned, as do the Syrians their's. The Palestinians keep approaching the declaration of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital; and Israelis warn that they will forcibly reoccupy the West Bank, etc., if they do. And Jerusalem, as Israel's capital, is not negotiable. Hence the stand-off.
After the Six Day War, David Ben Gurion pleaded that the lands gained by Israel in 1967 be returned to the Arabs as soon as possible - otherwise there would be masses of permanent refugees and never ending mutual hostility. But his warnings were ignored, and as new politicians arose in Israel, new parties formed, and very large numbers of Jews with quite different histories and attitudes, poured in from other countries - North Africa, the Yemen, Russia, the US, Ethiopia, etc. - the values of the older Jewish settlers in Palestine have been marginalised.
They had thought that Arabs and Jews could live in peace together, even in a single country; but fewer and fewer Jews and Arabs believe this now.
One quite disturbing fresh development is that Israeli Arabs, of whom there are perhaps a million in a population of six million, appear now to be taking the sides of their Palestinian cousins, and joining in attacks on Jews amongst whom they live, e.g., Nazareth. And the Jews are retaliating in kind. Were this to become general, life for Jews and Arabs, and Christians in Israel, will deteriorate very seriously.
Israel proper now seems overcrowded, although the Negev, which Ben Gurion said could carry five million Jews - hence no need for fresh Arab land - is still pretty empty. Like our rural areas, no one wants to live there. Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa are the magnets. Hence the creeping alienation of East Jerusalem by Israeli Jews.
The intentionally provocative appearance of Likud leader Sharon, a man widely hated, escorted by a thousand soldiers at the Temple Mount to claim sovereignty - setting off the latest warfare, for that is what it is - reflects the bedlam which is Israeli politics.
He wanted to abort a last minute agreement by Barak and Arafat, and preempt a political come-back by Netanyahu as the right-wing leader.
He judges that most Israelis and Diaspora Jews will rally around a "my country right or wrong" party or coalition at the coming election, producing what Muslims everywhere would see as a no concessions, chauvinist government.
Only by polarisation can people like Sharon and groups like Hamas, prosper.
And Israel's religious parties, holding the balance of power, have been the curse and the bane of all moderate elements in Israel and the Diaspora. Alas, their recidivist influences keep growing.
I personally can see no solution to this while America gives Israel so much support and the Palestinians so little. The same applies to the friends of the US, who rush in to help mediate - i.e. get Arafat to back down yet again. Perhaps if oil is jacked up to $50 or $60 a barrel, the West will get a message.