Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step Toward Peace in Palestine

The settlement issue as being argued between the U.S. and Israel remains a tempest in a teapot, carefully avoiding the real issue, which is the presence in Palestinian territory of half a million Israelis. But the debate just moved one small step closer to that issue.

According to Haaretz:

The United States views East Jerusalem as no different than an illegal West Bank outpost with regard to its demand for a freeze on settlement construction, American sources have informed both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, impressive words from Washington, assuming the report is correct, and in a way more impressive because private. On the other hand, being private, they can be disowned, and since the key obstacle to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies in the U.S., the very privacy of these remarks—suggesting that Obama still does not dare make such statements in public—is their weakness. This is not a criticism at this point; just a warning. One step at a time is fine, as long as the next step is promptly taken. And the next step would seem to be something substantive.

A minimal step could be the convening of a conference of reformist Israelis, of which there are still some very fine thinkers, vastly more sophisticated and thoughtful and patriotic than the politicians in charge (e.g., Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappe, Bernard Avishai). Kudos to Plato, when the politicians absolutely cannot come up with a single positive, creative thought, turn to academics. Let the group prepare a roadmap for returning Israelis to Israel.

A more ambitious substantive step could be for Washington to make the point in some low-key manner that all those weapons it sends are for defense, not stealing Palestinian land or starving Palestinian civilians. Any time in the next five minutes, Israel is certain to misuse those weapons, justifying a cutoff of the supply. Given Israel’s huge military advantage over every nation in the region, this would in no way endanger Israel, but it would send a crash of thunder across the political landscape. No big public noises would be necessary.

Think of US weapons as a pipeline for Israeli defense (not Israeli expansion). Clearly, that pipeline has a big leak. It’s time to fix the leak. Just turn off the pipeline.

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