Can the Middle Eastern Stalemate Be Broken?

By Benazon, Michael | Midstream, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Can the Middle Eastern Stalemate Be Broken?

Benazon, Michael, Midstream

The effects of the September 11th atrocity have been felt worldwide but nowhere more confusedly than in Israel and Palestine, where people struggle to grasp the implications. Both sides have shifted their tactics, but what is needed is a whole new strategy or approach to the present imbroglio. The Palestinians will have to recognize that they alone cannot force Israel out of the Occupied Territories; that they will not attain their maximal demands; that the other Arab and Muslim countries will not come to their aid; and that a continuation of the practice of suicide bombings and attacks will not advance their cause either in Israel or among the nations who have come to see Islamic fascism as a threat to world order. Equally, it is time for Israelis to acknowledge that they cannot defeat the Intifada, and that they should not prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The reasons are moral, legal, political, geographic, military, and economic.

It is illogical, even perverse, for Israel, which itself became a country within living memory, to deny a statehood worthy of the name to an adjoining people, which possesses a recognized history, language, culture, and land base, and whose grievances and sufferings are in large part attributable to the absence of statehood. Israel has never wanted, and does not want now, a binational or even a pluralistic state. Since Israelis opted for a Jewish homeland, they should not deny the possibility of a similar homeland to their Palestinian neighbors. But the homeland must be viable: it cannot be composed of three or four Bantustans cut off from one another by Israeli roads and settlements.

Israel's long occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is having an increasingly adverse effect on what, for lack of a better term, may be called Israel's soul. To maintain the occupation, Israel has had to resort to violence and grave violations of human rights, and as a result, it has grown to resemble every other occupying power with unfortunate effects on the way Israel treats its Arab citizens and subjects. It is sad to see an established democracy, guided by the highest of ideals, slowly declining into a society characterized by ethnocentrism, lack of compassion for others, violence, and mistreatment of minorities, as is so often seen in less developed countries.

The legal basis for Israeli and Palestinian statehood was established by the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, which allowed for two states within the borders of British-mandated Palestine. That the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine, together with the surrounding Arab states, rejected the plan and tried to destroy Israel does not negate the fact that the nations of the world are on record as favoring a two-state solution. As a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1947-1948, the boundaries of Israel were enlarged into a territory that could be better defended and that could accommodate the millions of Jews who moved to their ancient homeland. The territory set aside for Palestine was occupied in 1948 by Jordan and Egypt and after 1967 by Israel. Consequently, a Palestinian state never came into being. It is not surprising that the Palestinians are frustrated and embittered by their slow progress towards statehood, by continuing Israeli attempts to consolidate and expand new settlements on land that should be part of a Palestinian state, and by the power Israel has to disrupt the everyday lives of local people.

Yet in recent years the Palestinians have made important gains in the political arena. It is not simply the leaders of the United States and Great Britain who favor the establishment of a Palestinian state; it is clear that public opinion in the Western world supports this policy. Indeed, support for an independent viable Palestine grew in the West after September 11, 2001, prompted by the need to persuade Muslim countries to cooperate with the United States in the campaign against Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network. …

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