Palestine: Emerging Western Terms of Debate

Is a new consensus emerging in the West that, while still very much pro-Israeli, nevertheless dismisses the Israeli right as no more than a speed bump on the road to peace?
British/Israeli historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict Avi Shlaim wrote in The Independent on March 21, 2010:
America subsidises Israel to the tune of $3bn (around £2bn) a year. America is Israel’s principal arms supplier, enabling it to retain the technological edge over all its enemies, near and far. In the diplomatic arena too, America extends to Israel virtually unqualified support, including the use of the veto in the UN Security Council to defeat resolutions critical of Israel. America condemns Iran for its nuclear ambitions, while turning a blind eye to Israel‘s possession of a large arsenal of nuclear weapons….
…since the end of the Cold War, Israel has become more of a liability than an asset.
America’s most vital interests lie in the Persian Gulf; to ensure access to oil, the US needs Arab goodwill. Here Israel is a major liability, as a result of its occupation of Palestinian land and its brutal oppression of the Palestinian people.
Now Professor Schlaim is “just” an academic (albeit one who volunteered to join the IDF!), so consider the commentary in that dyed-in-the-wool institutional member of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., the Washington Post:
Jerusalem is the hardest issue of all in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, and for that reason, would-be peacemakers have wanted to save it for last. But this month’s crisis makes that strategic waffling impossible. Thanks to the Israeli right, the Jerusalem issue is joined.
What’s needed now is for Obama to announce that when negotiations begin, the United States will state its views about Jerusalem and other key issues — sketching the outlines of the deal that most Israelis and Palestinians want. If Netanyahu refuses to play, then we have a real crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.
The Post commentator, David Ignatius, was certainly not advocating two states; he sneaked in, as though it was a mere detail, the fatal flaw of a “demilitarized” Palestinian entity. That, of course, is exactly what the Palestinians have now. In fact, it is even worse. After all, Gaza has at least an armed militia attempting to defend the ghetto against prison guards with the world’s fourth best air force. So, no one could paint Ignatius’ essay as pro-Palestinian; all he is talking about as a “solution” is Palestinian Bantustan.
Nevertheless, he makes a couple key points critical to destroying the American taboo on thinking honestly about the conflict:
1.      He distinguishes the extreme right wing that demands total victory from “Israel;”
2.      He calls on Obama to lay out “the deal that most Israelis and Palestinians want.”
That deal Ignatius defines as:
real sharing of Jerusalem; no right of return for the Palestinians; a return to the 1967 borders, with mutual adjustments to allow for big Israeli settlement blocks; and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Perhaps one of those “mutual adjustments” could be a solid land bridge connecting the West Bank to Gaza.
That Ignatius remains far from an “honest broker” position of neutrality is clear if his take is compared with that of the Shlaim, but if even the Post has moved this far, then perhaps there is now hope for a serious dialogue. What Ignatius offers is no solution: Palestinian Bantustan is a set-up for the continuation of Palestinian protests and Israeli repression. But if Ignatius’ conditions are accepted as the minimum, with two viable, defensible states as the maximum, there is room for a real negotiation about a solution that might actually work. Questions would include:
·        How much of a land bridge connecting the West Bank to Gaza would Israel offer in return for being allowed to keep its several hundred thousand illegal residents in parts of East Jerusalem?
·        How much defensive capability will Palestine be allowed to protect itself from Israeli tanks and F-16s?
·        When might an international peacekeeping force deploy in the West Bank remove settlers, prevent settlers from burning Palestinian olive groves, and replace Israeli soldiers?
·        When will the collective punishment of Gazans be ended and the Gaza Ghetto be opened to the world?
Astonishingly, the two writers implicitly agree that Netanyahu is now not a negotiating partner but an obstacle on the path to peace. How far we seem to have come in only a week!

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