Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Israel--Palestine: Who's really to blame?

I want to jump in briefly to say that I have really learned a lot from reading you two debate this issue, and that the level of discussion far surpasses anything I have come across in the mainstream media. I fear that the vigorous nature of each argument may have caused both of you to entrench into your positions, when really I think there is a lot in common. With your patience here is a brief attempt to summarize the debate as it has developed thus far. I am sure that neither of you would agree with all of my characterizations, but here is how I saw things unfold, anyway:

Joe started by saying that Palestine has a limited patience (if any) for a two-state solution, as it is only a matter of time and sex before Arab Israelis gain insurmountable numbers, and Israelis are right (in Joe's opinion) to question its government's current approach.

Dave seemed to agree that it is in the best interest of both sides to work toward a two-state solution quickly, and that the moderates in each camp favor this approach. Dave raised the challenge that both sides face from extremists and their ability to stall or destroy any progress by terrorism. Dave argues that (moderate) Palestinians should be just as anxious to get to a two-state solution because Hamas has been successful at marching the population farther away from compromise by drawing more aggression from Israel, weakening the Palestinian Authority, and seeding their ideas in the minds of the public (both in and outside Palestine). Dave forecasts that Hamas's all-or-nothing approach will never succeed, as the United States will probably never abandon Israel and the rest of the world will probably not choose to come to blows over this issue.

Joe disagreed that Palestine has any urgency on its side, and emphasized that Israel should take its share of the blame for the failure of Oslo and the road map and less should be placed on Hamas. Joe agreed that Hamas has been successful at achieving popularity in the populace, and argues that Hamas even reflects many of the mainstream positions (like a two-state solution, not to mention charity work throughout the state). Joe suggests that any peace-brokering must be done with Hamas at the table because they better represent the public and because they could actually enforce the agreement, compared with the Palestinian Authority, who in his view has only grown farther from the public (and has grown more corrupt along the way).

The following appears to be where the biggest rift has formed. Joe suggested that Hamas (and the Palestinian people, presumably, to the extent the group reflects the public will) is rightly hesitant to give up its only "bargaining chip" for a deal that is less than fair, which I take to be Joe's characterization of Oslo.

Dave agreed that there is plenty of room for criticism in the Sharon administration and argued that terrorism may be partly to blame for the right-wing administration, as the attacks immediately preceding the election probably weighed heavily on the minds of the Israelis when the went to the booth. Dave replied to Joe's contention that Israel can't wait but Palestine can by noting that a two-state and one-state Palestine solution are not the only options--a third (Palestine wiped off the face of the earth by the mighty U.S.) should provide good cause for concern that waiting may not be in the best interest of the Palestinians, either. Dave seemed to hold that Oslo was a good bargain for both sides and suggested that terrorism should never be used as a bargaining chip and certainly (from Dave's point of view) Israel should not be faulted for insisting on the end of terrorism as a condition for peace. I take it Dave holds that terrorism to achieve peace is a method that can never (never?) be justified. Dave also challenged the legitimacy of Hamas and its expression of mainstream views, and wondered aloud why Hamas has not taken the step of repudiating its charter, which would always stand in the way of ever earning a seat at the bargaining table.

Joe did an excellent job summarizing the escalation of the conflict and derailment of the roadmap, and I will let his factual contentions alone other than to say that Joe persuasively argues that Hamas's recent conduct demonstrates a calculated and rational organization and not the extreme group as many portray it. Joe then again stressed his viewpoint that Palestine can afford to wait much longer than Israel and downplayed the threat that America would use its force for anything that far outside what the majority of Americans believe (cough, Iraq, cough). Joe agreed that Hamas's charter does not help its cause but argued that the group itself has come along way since then and the group should be judged on its contemporary actions and words, which demonstrate a willingness toward peace.

Dave took a cautioned approach toward Hamas's rhetoric and conduct, contending that there is ample reason to doubt that a lasting two-state peace is really what they are after.

So where does that leave us?

In all candor, I don't care who caused the latest unraveling of the peace process, and I don't care who--between Israel and Palestine--can hold their breath the longest (although amongst us boys, I am sure that my lungs are far bigger than any of yours. It all comes from having a big mouth). I want to get to a lasting peace, and I think there were excellent points raised that suggest some of the things that must be considered along the way:

1) A one state solution means the other state loses entirely. Neither side will give up without a lot of bloodshed, and I contend that bloodshed is a bad thing. Therefore, two states are better than one.

2) The moderate majority on both sides want peace, and recognize that a two-state solution is the only way to get it.

3) Palestinians have two bargaining chips: time and terror. Although both together may provoke response from America in its all-out "War on Terror" (Copyright 2003, CNN).

4) Israel has all the traditional measurements of power and sovereignty, but cannot survive forever on its current path. Undoubtedly, the people recognize that their existence is fragile and want to work toward peace, but accepting terror as a legitimate method of accomplishing one's political objectives seems too much from the Israeli perspective.

Ultimately, both sides must refrain from retaliatory conduct and commit to a two-state solution. If a compromise is struck that the majority on all sides agree is "fair," and any actions taken by extreme segments of society are immediately rejected as wrong and punished by a third-party magistrate (the International Criminal Court seems to me the most likely candidate), there may be a way out of this mess. Thanks Joe and Dave for the amazing debate and for allowing me to add my thoughts to the mix.

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