Sunday, July 30, 2006

Middle East Peace

Kevin Drum started an evocative discussion recently about the Israel-Lebanon-Palestine situation. It mostly served to illustrate how pointless it is to start an evocative discussion about the Israel-Lebanon-Palestine situation. Since then, things have gotten worse. Many people have died; many more have been injured; and many times that many now hate Israel and the United States with unbridled passion--some, so much that they would be willing to die just to have a chance of giving us a taste of what we have given them. And yet discussing how that has come to be and even what we should do now is totally useless. Nothing we can say is going to change any of those things. What we need to be discussing is: where do we go from here? What is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

I honestly do not think that the Israelis will ever be willing to withdraw from the bulk of the occupied territories, or to offer the Palestinians a real state on anything close to what they seized in the '67 war. And I don't think that the Palestinians will ever be willing to settle for chopped liver--or fried chicken or whatever. So, if nothing close to an equitable division of land is possible--and nothing less would be acceptable--what's left?

The other alternatives are: let the Palestinians remain an occupied, subjugated people in perpetuity, relocate them, or make them Israeli citizens so that they are no longer occupied, subjugated people. The first option is morally reprehensible and simply means a never-ending war. Relocation of all the Palestinians would be nearly impossible, almost as immoral, and just as unacceptable to the Arab world. And granting Israeli citizenship to all the Palestinians is out of the question for Israel.

So the only thing left is none of the above--or some combination of all of the above. What if Israel agreed to grant full citizenship to a portion of the Palestinian population, if others agreed to emigrate? Some kind of formula could be worked out, say one Palestinian would be given citizenship for every two that emigrate elsewhere. This is not so far-fetched. The peace talks have always included provisions for the return of some, but not all, Palestinian refugees.
As miserable as their situation is in the occupied territories and the refugee camps, most Palestinians would be unwilling to emigrate today, even if the opportunity existed. Instead, they choose to hold on to the thin hope that they, or at least their family, will some day be returned to their homeland. (I do not personally know any Palestinians. But I think I have a pretty good grasp of their mindset here, because I do know several Cubans/Cuban Americans.) But many Palestinians are obviously willing to accept sacrifice for the sake of that hope. And many more would be more than happy to seek a better life elsewhere, given the opportunity--especially if it did not seem like a betrayal of those they would leave behind.

As a portion of the Palestinian population is relocated--some to Israel, more to other places--the pressure in the refugee camps will be relieved. And so will the motive to become a terrorist. And the support for those terrorist within the Palestinian and Lebanese communities, the willingness to support them, to hide them and even to tolerate them will begin to dry up. As Israel begins to see tangible benefits to the peace process, it will be more willing to support that process and to go the extra mile to reach some lasting solution. That solution will probably include a Palestinian state, but one that is likely to be a bit smaller than they would have accepted if a portion of their population had not found homes elsewhere.

Key to all this is that other countries must be willing to do their part to help Palestinian refugees relocate. America, and Americans who want peace must be willing to kick in some money towards that end. Would a typical Palestinian be willing to simply leave and move to Chad or Niger? No way, and neither would they welcome him. But whole villages could be relocated there if a little money was thrown in to sweeten the deal. There was a recent article on NPR about white South African farmers settling in Niger (it might have been Nigeria), and they were welcomed there, both for the money they brought and for their farming expertise. I suspect that some Palestinians know something about desert farming. That, and a little money, could make the deserts bloom.


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