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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.

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