September 11, 2014

What Palestinians can do that’s actually productive

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:08 pm

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, if you’re tired of the same old struggles, violence and death, as I am, then you should read this post. It’ll focus your attention on actual policies that can promote peace and move everyone in the region closer to a solution, by focusing on what’s really at stake and drawing logical conclusions.

At a time when the “Islamist Resistance Movement” Hamas wages an endless jihad against Israeli “occupation”, indiscriminately firing rockets, drawing Israeli military response before negotiating, while rejecting ceasefires, and declares a victory when 1500 civilians in Gaza were killed (30% of whom were children!) one gets the inkling that there might be better approaches. But such approaches are unlikely to come from ideological organizations whose officials can’t seem to stop saying that their actual goal is to get rid of the State of Israel completely. It should be clear to any thinking person that declaring you pose an existential threat to the other party is not good diplomacy, and will not lead to peace. No, we need to appeal to more moderate (and more secular!) organizations, but what can they do beyond what they’ve already been doing?

In my last post, I said that governance was the central issue, and spoke about what Israel and its neighboring countries can do to bring about a lasting governmental structure in the Gaza strip, thereby ensuring not only stability but economic growth and prosperity as well as a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie on the part of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Saudis. The momentum gained from that could galvanize the political will to try something similar in the West Bank.

However, when it comes to that region (also called Judah and Samaria), there are over half a million Israelis living there, as well as many Christians and others. This is the area that all the Palestinian leaders aspire for the State of Palestine to govern. As I’ve mentioned before, expulsions from native lands and forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands, whether of Jews or Arabs, causes hardship on a massive scale. Not only that, but doing that in Gaza has been heavily criticized by both sides and has gotten the region no closer to peace. The only alternative is to leave people where they are, in their own cities, and set up a government structure that protects their safety and their civil rights.

So what positive steps can Palestinians take that will actually get them closer to a viable Palestinian State? It seems that everything that’s been done until now has had an antagonistic character, whether it’s “armed resistance” or diplomatic face-offs. But sometimes, being the first to lead in a positive direction can pay off more than endlessly facing off. As the English saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar (ok, it’s just an expression).

The Palestinian Authority may not have its state, but it does have its cities. It can start now, showing by example how it would rule over Jews and Christians (and atheists, and perhaps gay people too!) by implementing policies that are on par with Israel’s policies towards the Arab population it inherited and other minorities. This includes giving them equal protections under the law, religious freedoms, civil rights and so forth. Israeli Arabs are full citizens who enjoy equal rights and are represented in all the branches of government. And some high-profile Arabs are writing thoughtful articles and coming out on video in favor of Israel’s actions. Truth be told, there still exists discrimination, along the lines of what the USA experiences with its Black population, but at the end of the day, the Arab citizens of Israel are at least able to make a life in Israel just like everyone else, enjoy peace and security, and don’t want to leave.

Mahmoud Abbas does not want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but what kind of state would Palestine be? In a troubling statement last year, he has said that a future Palestine would not be home to a single Israeli — civilian or soldier. Will the State of Palestine become yet another place inhospitable to Jews and cracking down on the already-existing Jewish cities? Will it put pressure on the half-million Jews to “go somewhere else“? And will the government treat Christians and other minorities better than they have been treated in the past?

Looking around the Arab world, not an insignificant number of Islamic countries oppress minorities, provide almost no religious freedom, and make life difficult for womenInvestigate it for yourself. If Palestinians want to form a State that will rule over 700,000 people with a different religion and customs, this is one of the most major issues they need to address. For a start, they can remove laws from their books that condone honor killings, and start distancing themselves from Islamic regimes which institutionalize some of the human rights abuses against women and minorities. Hamas wouldn’t do this since it sees democracy as an obstacle to Sharia Law, but the PA actually can.

Politically, the Palestinian leadership has been not just divided, but completely ineffective. Their “unity government” is the latest in a long line of failed reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, ever since the two duked it out in a civil war in Gaza. Hamas wanted to get their salaries paid (after all every rebel organization needs to pay its personnel somehow), and Fatah thought a united government could put more pressure on Israel. But like the proverbial scorpion and the frog, at the same time Hamas was planning to undermine the peace talks with Israel and stage a coup in the West Bank.

I do not presume to lecture the Palestinians on who should be their leaders, or how they should carry on their strategies and diplomacy. But I know one thing that the Palestinians could do that would go a long way towards building trust that they can govern other people. And that is, start implementing these policies in your own cities. Invite Jews and Christians to live there. Protect them. Make it so that Jews in the West Bank don’t need to live in Jewish-only settlements in order to feel safe. Many religious Jews do not need Zionism in order to live in the Holy Land where their ancestors used to live. But they do need equal protection and freedom to live their lives, as do Christians and others who would live there. There is no reason Palestinians can’t start now, and put together a roadmap which includes international observers confirming their record on human rights in their own cities. After all, this is in addition to what they are already doing, but it’s something that is almost universally regarded as positive.

Politics aside, I know that the entire civilized world cares about human rights, and when it comes to the US, UN and the EU, the Palestinian Authority would do well to take the lead on a human rights roadmap, and show the world how well they can govern a multicultural society in their own cities. Perhaps then, they will have built enough trust to govern their own state.

September 3, 2014

A new chance for peace in the Middle East

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:29 pm

The Middle East

Governments in this region, which has seen a great deal of violence and death, have recently all found themselves faced with a common enemy - radical insurgent groups. Political Islam in particular can be seen as a virus, much like Communism and Nazism decades ago, and studied epidemiologically. Idealistic young men are the vector by which this virus spreads, first through violence, then through political control.

The ideas of ISIS, originally born in Saudi religious schools, have found fertile breeding ground in political quagmires of Syria and Iraq. Places with no political stability always attract insurgents, funded by one or another group, and serve as incubators for violent revolutionary movements. We can now see young men even from the US and Britain joining up for Islamic conquest reminiscent of Saladin or the Crusades of the 11th century. And just like Nazism and Communism led to alliances between countries like the Allies and NATO, so does Radical Islam lead to previously unlikely alliances involving countries in the middle east. The Saudi regime, concerned about its stability, has allied with Egypt’s new government against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Political Islamic groups, as countries against terrorists.

Israel and Palestinians

This new climate offers a surprise opportunity to solve the other major conflict that had galvanized the Middle East for decades - the conflict between Israel and local Arabs now known as Palestinians.

This conflict, in one word, is about governance. All the other issues - security, water, labor - are consequences of who governs what. The Israeli right wing, following ideas of revisionist Zionism, believe that Israel must be a sovereign Jewish state extending from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea. The Israeli left wing has always supported a two-state solution, with a home for Palestinian Arabs and and an Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

In recent years, the right wing has come to dominate Israeli politics, deflating hopes for a two-state solution. Much of the support for right-wing politics in Israel can be attributed to militant supremacist groups like Hamas operating in Gaza, who brand themselves as “armed resistance to occupation”, and who call for Islamic Sharia rule from the river to the sea. Hamas itself was helped along by Israel in its early days (as a counterweight to the PLO), and took advantage of the political vacuum in Gaza to seize control. Since coming into power, their unwillingness to compromise or honor any prior agreements has caused sanctions from US, EU, UN and Russia, and later a blockade by Israel and Egypt, causing hardship to the 2 million residents of Gaza, half of whom are children. Over the last 7 years, the blockade and smuggling economy empowered Hamas similarly to how the war on drugs has empowered Mexican drug cartels to the point of infiltrating governments.

Today, with governments around the world concerned about radical Islam, there is suddenly an unprecedented consensus about disarming Hamas, both in the West and in the Arab world. It should be said that Gazans themselves overwhelmingly oppose ISIL. However, when it comes to disarming their own Sunni militant groups, they are even more strongly opposed, considering “armed resistance” a vital part fighting for their rights as a people. Meanwhile, the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, which considers itself a “resistance movement” as well, has flaunted any UN efforts at “disarmament”, has gone on to build 1000 military facilities and currently possesses a huge arsenal. Formed to fight against Israel, they too are now too busy fighting the Radical Sunni Islamists in Syria.

Solutions that won’t work

Anything involving mass deportations, since many Palestinians are tribal, loyal to the land and won’t agree to lave. Anything where Israel annexes all Palestinian cities in the West Bank - that’s been tried by Jordan, whose occupation of the West Bank led to civil war that its government described as “life or death” for Jordan. (A one state solution also failed when the British tried to fulfill their mandate for over 20 years.) Any “one-state” solution risks a heavy loss of life in civil war and violence. And this is not specific to some ethnicities - consider what’s happening in Ukraine right now between Kiev and the separatists, or the war in Vietnam. If the problem of governance will be solved, it has to respect the demographic realities as they are today.

The Solution

First, the governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudia Arabia and the UAE should join forces to solve the situation in Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians live. Today there exists an unprecedented, remarkable consensus that Gaza should be demilitarized. They can greatly minimize the loss of life by joining together and speaking with one voice to the masters of Gaza. A roadmap should be put together, which involves the lifting of the blockade, and active involvement in reviving the economy in Gaza. UAE can help develop Gaza’s beachfront into a lucrative tourist destination. The Saudis and Israelis can help Gazas extract their natural gas and become energy independent. Disarmament of Hamas can be then coupled with takeover by the Palestinian Authority, something that Hamas had already agreed to anyway before this whole bloody summer.

When the PA takes control in Gaza with support from Egypt, Israel, Saudis and the West, Gaza can be turned into a demilitarized state not unlike Monaco. Having rebranded itself last year into the “State of Palestine“, the PA is the most recognized entity in the world to run Gaza. The meteoric rise of Gaza’s economy (it can only go up at that point) will take the wind out of the sails of any “resistance” movements, as young men will once again have jobs to provide for their families, and children will have an education to prepare them for the 21st century.

The model in Gaza can then be replicated in the West Bank, also known as “Judah and Samaria”. Gaza was the simpler case of the two, as the West Bank is now full of Jewish cities, in which over 300,000 people live. But, with the success of the operation in West Bank, and the resulting boost to morale and interests of Israel, Egypt, and Fatah, not to mention a successful precedent in Arab countries working together in Israel, will go a long way toward overcoming any political roadblocks that are currently in the way.

Gaza and West Bank can become autonomous regions, not unlike the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey or US protectorates of Haiti and American Samoa. Their constitutions would limit their sovereignty by requiring them to be demilitarized and abide by agreements with their neighbors when it comes to security, army basing rights, water, and other things — agreements which would probably be updated as technology improves.

Most importantly for this to work, the State of Palestine (née Palestinian Authority) must adopt in its constitution equal protections for Jews and Christians, similar to what Israel has for Arabs. Jewish-settler cities in the West Bank such as Modi’in_Illit must not be discriminated against in favor of Palestinian cities like Jenin. The PA is a secular organization whose President and Prime Ministers have won praise from Israeli politicians and army for how their achievements in both security and diplomacy. Fatah, its leading political party, is a secular movement and is not interested in restricting rights of minorities based on religion or race. Thus, it is quite likely that such an agreement can be formed.

To summarize:

Israel should stop insisting on solving all this on its own. The world should stop calling on Israel to solve the situation by itself. Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE should take advantage of their common position on Hamas, join into a coalition, and produce a roadmap, which accomplishes the following things in Gaza:

  • Lifting of the blockade
  • $100+ Billion international investment into Gaza economy
  • Tourism industry with help from UAE
  • Gas and energy independence
  • Takeover of government from Hamas by the State of Palestine
  • Gradual disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups
  • * This part should be de-emphasized in negotiations with Hamas but eventually accomplished
  • Establishing Gaza’s status as a protectorate of Israel and Egypt
  • Demilitarization and treaties with Israel and Egypt
  • Going forward, frameworks concerning security, labor, army basing rights, water, etc.
  • * Civil rights
  • * Constitution of Gaza
  • * Clearly spelled out protections for minorities and freedoms similar to Israel’s

After this is successfully done in Gaza, the model can be followed for a similar approach in the West Bank. Although thornier due to the presence of Jewish towns and cities, the precedent would have been set in Gaza. Instead of agreements with Israel and Egypt about water, etc., the West Bank will contract with Israel and Jordan.

Netanyahu’s concerns about security from the east can be resolved in terms of army basing rights in the West Bank, which is vastly different from a military occupation, and is fully compatible with having the West Bank be an autonomous republic. With a demilitarized protectorate, issues such as immigration for families of West Bank residents will then not affect the governance or security of Israel.

With so many countries united against Radical Islam, now is the time to use all this to achieve something positive like the improvement of life for people in Gaza, and subsequently use that as a model in the West Bank. I’m sure that along the way, things will not go exactly as I’ve laid it out here. But to ignore the opportunity, to let it pass by, would be a real shame. For once, the issues are not Israel vs the Arab World, it’s Countries vs Terrorists. Let’s use this opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people, and bring political stability to a region that’s galvanized the Middle East for almost a century. And in the process, forge new bonds and set new precedents for middle eastern countries by accomplishing good things together. As an old Russian proverb goes, “Appetite comes with eating.”