Friday, September 23, 2011

Is It Too Late For Peace In The Middle East??

"The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination and [Ariel] Sharon's stroke." --Former President Bill Clinton

I agree with Bill 100%. He points out that Rabin and Sharon were the only leaders of Israel willing to make a hugely unpopular decision in order to secure a peace deal: give up the vast majority of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

If you've ever been to Israel, you know why this proposition is so frightening to Israelis. Israel is not a large country--at its narrowest point, only 9.3 miles--and every inch of territory they give up provides potential terrorists with a variety of new targets easily reachable by rockets and suicide bombers. East Jerusalem is literally on top of the holiest place in the Jewish religion. The Arab market and the Jewish one are only footsteps from each other. If the Palestinian Authority has control of such strategic areas, then all of Israel is threatened should Arab armies try to destroy the country (as they've already attempted to do at least twice).

These are legitimate fears, but they are fears that come with a cost. That cost is a lasting peace agreement, Israel's only realistic hope for continued survival.

As a leader, Netanyahu has used these fears to justify settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has accelerated at a pace not seen since Israel's initial founding. The territory these settlements occupy are like long roots reaching deep into the West Bank, and they complicate the reality of a viable Palestinian state. Just look at this mess:

(VIA the New York Times)

The orange areas are the largest concentrations of settlements (red dots are all the settlements). Can you see why the Palestinians are a bit bothered by Netanyahu's stance? The settlements are a land grab, even if you want to call it a "buffer zone."

It is Netanyahu's actions--primarily his support and encouragement of the growing settlements-- that led to today's dramatic events: Palestine has asked to be formally recognized as a country by the U.N.

The request from Abbas comes amidst a U.N. that is increasingly willing to accept it. And that willingness doesn't arise from anti-semitism, it arises from Israel's failure over the past few years to show even the slightest willingness in negotiating a settlement. Netanyahu hasn't even maintained the status quo-- he's actively been promoting new settlements which make a peace deal that much harder to reach.

Such a policy may be popular among right-wing Israelis, and even moderate and liberal Israelis do not exactly trust the idea of "land for peace." But by acting as an instigator, instead of a voice of reason, Netanyahu has seriously undermined any real effort to bring Israel and Palestine to a workable compromise at the bargaining table.

What has Netanyahu's hard line stance accomplished? Besides win him votes? Israel's popularity and negotiating position within the world community has declined, the Palestinians are closer than ever to creating a nation on their terms, rather than a negotiated settlement with Israel, and the relationship between Israel and its greatest, most important ally, the United States is strained considerably.

Assuring Israel's security is one thing. Undermining Israel's security to win elections and score points with the powerful ultra-religious lobby is another. A peace agreement assures Israel that it has a leg to stand on. The current situation leaves Israel continually twisting in the wind, at the mercy of politics and the whims of world leaders.

Clinton, Rabin and Sharon all understood this. They recognized that a peace deal wouldn't just create a Palestinian state... it would forever legitimize the Israeli one.

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