Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Building boom

The latest crisis in the Mideast peace process centers on Israel’s announcement of further construction in East Jerusalem just as U.S. Vice-president Joseph Biden was arriving to try to nudge everyone a little closer to the table. Israeli construction in areas that the Arabs consider subject to negotiation has become a major obstacle to getting the talks restarted, and the timing of the announcement looked like a provocation on the part of the Israelis. The U.S. fumed, the Israelis claimed the timing was an accident, and the Palestinians were unsurprised.

This brouhaha has followed a familiar script: Israel keeps building on land that the Palestinians think ought to be returned to them as part of a peace settlement, the U.S. makes token complaints, and the Palestinians refuse to talk as long as the construction crews are working. The problem seems intractable because the U.S. doesn’t want to bring too much pressure on Israel and the Palestinians understandably don’t want to seem to accept continued erosion of their territory by expanding Israeli settlements. So noise levels rise but so do the apartment blocks in Ariel and Neve Yaakov.

The whole thing rests on an unspoken assumption: that if a building is constructed by an Israeli crew, it must be occupied until the end of time by Israelis. Nobody ever says this, of course, but that seems to be the assumption, at least publicly. We read of “Jewish housing” and “Arab housing” as if Israelis and Palestinians were different species with radically different habitats, as if a faucet or an electrical outlet will only work for people of a particular ethnicity.

I have a suggestion for breaking the logjam: President Obama, or perhaps Secretary of State Clinton, should make a simple but very public announcement: “The United States does not take it as given that construction currently occupied by Israeli citizens must remain so, or that construction currently occupied by Palestinian citizens must remain so.”

The implication of this, of course, is that a peace agreement may entail border adjustments and population movement. You might think that this should go without saying, but apparently not. The assumption on both sides is that once the Israelis move in, they are never going to move out. It’s easy to see why the Israelis would wish to promote this view, but it’s harder to see why the Palestinians would accept it. If I were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I would say something like, “Let them build all those nice apartment blocks. The amenities will be much appreciated by the Palestinian families who move in when the land is ceded to us by a peace agreement.”

That would be taking a big chance of course, as long as the U.S. is complicit in promoting the view that a building constructed by Israelis can only ever house Israelis. I think this unspoken idea is possibly the greatest obstacle to progress in peace negotiations. If we want to support the peace process, we need to de-link it from the construction issue. And all it would take would be a simple announcement.

Announce that the U.S. considers eventual occupation of any Israeli construction in disputed areas to be subject to negotiation along with everything else, and watch how Israeli zeal for building in Arab areas would diminish. Watch how Palestinian reluctance to come to the table would evaporate. To make the announcement would be tantamount to saying that the U.S. is serious about promoting a genuine peace process.

Just a thought...

Sam Reaves


Gator said...

That would be so cool if Obama turned this insult against Biden into the very retort you suggest.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Well, at least your suggestion has the merit that you seem at least partly to see the territories you're talking about as disputed.

But as a well-meaning observer, you appear rather naive about Arab intents if you think that any ceding of land by Israelis is going to satisfy Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian Arab leader. They are continuing the salami tactics formulated by Arafat and others, more concessions will provide more territory and opportunity to continue the long war to destroy Israel. You obviously don't get it.

But the Middle East is not the Midwest. You say "If I were Mahmoud Abbas" and then project your own peaceful sentiments onto him, instead you should find out how he and others there actually think, which means you would have to study a lot more than you obviously have.

There is not going to be any peace for a long, long, time because of what you don't understand—the overwhelming Arab-Muslim sentiment has been and remains for the Jews to be completely gone. Not only from Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem but also from Tel Aviv, Haifa, etc.

Your well-intention support of more pressure on the Israelis ends up as support of Israeli suicide.

David A Kentner, DA Kentner, KevaD said...

Apparently Mr Kodish and I didn’t read the same blog here.

I didn’t read where Mr Reaves was suggesting ceding anything. He was merely stating that the building of the apartments shouldn’t be an issue capable of stopping peace talks/negotiations. And on that point I agree.

But it takes two to talk. Mr Kodish appears to have taken the stand that peace talks are pointless and no effort should be placed into such a waste of time – that the Middle East is incapable of peace. Yet history shows that such talks can sway individuals willing to at least talk and listen to each other. Sadat and Begin remain a testament to that point.

Sadat showed the world there are Arabs willing to listen and who do not want to continually wage war. Begin provided the same from the Israeli side. I don’t believe they are the only such people in existence. Sadat’s determination for peace proved fatal. Yet, where one can be found, others may be found also. To sit down and listen takes courage. It takes courage from and by both sides. I believe there are others with that courage and that the apartments being built only serve as an excuse to try and keep those with that courage from finding their way to the negotiation table.

Mr Kodish, you may not desire peace negotiations, but accept that there are others that do and that stumbling blocks like apartments shouldn’t be stumbling blocks. The world may never see peace in the Middle East. But that doesn’t mean humanity shouldn’t stop trying to find it.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Mr. Kentner indicated that I may have misread Mr. Reaves about his directly suggesting that Israel cede anything. Well, Mr. Reaves didn't say that directly I'll grant you. Various parts of his blogpost do however strongly suggest to me his sympathy for that approach and his belief that it will work to bring peace.

Despite his talk about 'disputed' territories, he mentions elsewhere the "Israeli zeal for building in Arab areas." Thereby indicating that he doesn't really consider them disputed. He also believes that "Palestinian reluctance to come to the table would evaporate" if this Israeli building on what he says are 'Arab areas' diminished. Or perhaps stopped?

But what Mr. Reaves may consider 'Arab areas' I contend are not clearly 'Arab areas' at all. Some of them are Jewish-owned. And some is genuinely disputed. (I won't go into that whole issue further right now.) Neither has Palestinian Arab leadership shown the slightest amount of 'good faith' in negotiating since Arafat's handshake with Rabin.

Mr. Kentner, there may be some isolated Palestinian Arabs and other Arabs who have a genuine interest in living peacefully with the Jewish State, I'll grant you. But where does any significant Palestinian Arab group exist that has that interest that has any significant political clout? I don't believe that any such group or groups exist. All the talk about peace, Mr. Kentnor, since the so-called 'peace process' started has simply led to deadly Israeli concessions of huge amounts of territory, etc., with many dead Israelis and little to show for it in terms of actual peace.

To say that Jews can't build on Jewish owned land in Jerusalem, as the present U.S. government has implied certainly strikes me as wrong and counterproductive. Why should the P.L.O. concede anything when the U.S. President is doing it for them by pressuring Israel. I'm sorry guys, that disgusts me.

In spite of my disagreement with you both, Mr. Reaves and Mr. Kentner, I certainly accept that both of you have the best intentions and a genuine concern for peace in your hearts, as do I. But I'm suggesting that you, and a lot of other well-intentioned people should re-examine your premises. I believe your maps of the territory are faulty and the path to genuine eventual peace may lie in a different direction from where you presently think.

David A Kentner, DA Kentner, KevaD said...

“To say that Jews can't build on Jewish owned land in Jerusalem, as the present U.S. government has implied certainly strikes me as wrong and counterproductive. Why should the P.L.O. concede anything when the U.S. President is doing it for them by pressuring Israel.”

I’m going to agree with you on this particular point you made. The U.S. (at times, and we do not hold the patent on such thought) seems to believe that since we provide over $400billion in aid each year to Israel that Israel (and any other country we so provide assistance to) owes us a modicum of subservience.
Providing aid should be done because we believe in the foundations of the country we assist – not as a veiled attempt to sway it in the directions we want it to travel. I suspect that mindset has come from funding fledgling governments in underdeveloped countries, which Israel is not. Before someone states it, I will admit that my belief is a bit idealistic and seems to ignore the politics of alliance. But alliances should, again, be built on faith in each other’s attributes and goals for our respective countries. The fact that we have to borrow similar amounts from China (a nation that digitally invaded our nation’s power grid computer system – the most protected system we have) for our own country to stay afloat is a whole other issue.

The chairs at the peace table have to be maintained in the hope that one day they will be filled by those who genuinely want peace and not the total destruction of each other. Because, as I see it, genocide is the only alternative to peaceful negotiation. If you have another means of resolve, I would like to hear it, Mr. Kodish. I really would. At the risk of sounding too idealistic again, both sides need to accept that they have been at war for over a thousand years and haven’t succeeded in eliminating each other yet. I have to believe that some day somebody from each side will grow weary of killing each other and sit their butts down, listen to each other, and agree that ‘together we exist or surely we shall devour ourselves.’

So here, once again, I will reiterate that stumbling blocks like apartment buildings shouldn’t be stumbling blocks anymore than the fact that I drive a white vehicle should be a stumbling block. The apartments are simply a diversion – an excuse – not to talk. The land is the issue. How the land is currently being used is irrelevant.

Bruce I. Kodish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce I. Kodish said...

Well, David Kentner, we actually do have substantial areas of agreement.

There are two points that you mention toward the end though that are worth closer examination I think. One, in discussing chairs at the peace table, one might draw from what you say that you consider the two sides equivalent in wishing the total destruction of the other. While I think that characterizes the general Arab view, certainly that of most Palestinian Arabs very well, and definitely their leadership (either Fatah or Hamas); it does not characterize the Palestinian Jewish (Israeli) side other than perhaps some insignificant fanatical fringe groups.

Then in the last paragraph, you say that "The land is the issue." Well, we could get into a huge discussion about that depending on how that statement is interpreted. But the basic issue is Jewish sovereignty, which has always been problematic to Islamists and Arab nationalists. If you think that Israeli concessions of more land anywhere is going to lead to anything but more bloodshed, I think the historical evidence proves otherwise.

I have no solution other than for Israel to maintain its military strength, for Israelis to maintain their resolve, and for Jews who honor their ancient homeland to reserve and exercise their right to live anywhere they legitimately can in the ancient heartland of the Jewish homeland. There are Arabs who will accept that and decide they can live in peace with the Jews, there are probably many more who cannot. Eventually, there will be peace when the overwhelming number of Arabs and their leadership no longer have a need to hate and to foment hatred of the Jews. This means that the incitement and lies about Jews and Jewish settlement there will have to stop. It's probably going to take a long time in my estimation. In the meantime, half-baked 'peace-processes' simply provide a context for a propaganda war against Israel, and lead to more deaths, Jewish and Arab, than otherwise. There's my 'peace' plan.

David A Kentner, DA Kentner, KevaD said...

“In the meantime, half-baked 'peace-processes' simply provide a context for a propaganda war against Israel…”

Anything Israel does or does not do opens it to propaganda warfare. I know you know that, Mr. Kodish. Without peace talks Israel becomes a ‘warring state having no desire for peace.’ We’ve both heard that song sung many times over the years. So what is wrong with keeping the door open in the event someone finally wants to get serious about talking about peace? I sometimes wonder if vast pools of oil were found in Israel if Israel would still be the world’s bulls-eye on the dartboard. Maybe it would. But if Israel undercut the cartel, Israel would suddenly find a whole lot of new allies knocking at the door.

I have not and am not suggesting Israel cede land. I merely stated that the apartments aren’t the real issue – that it is the land they are being built on. A flower garden could be constructed there with the same amount of anger and resentment from those who want to find fault with Israel.

I will take issue with your comment about “half-baked 'peace-processes'” however. Anytime even two people with open hearts and minds sit down to discuss peace, it is not half-baked. I will agree that peace talks are pointless if the people at the table aren’t sincere. But that shouldn’t be an excuse not to keep the chairs and table dusted off in the hope that those truly seeking peace will show up one day.

Now here is a whole new ‘can of worms.’ The U.S. government predicts that by 2050 the primary race in our country will be Hispanic with English slipping to the second language not too far behind that prediction. I’m curious. How do you think that will affect US-Israeli relations?

Sam Reaves said...

Thanks to David and Bruce for your comments. Bruce, you say it's naive to believe that Abbas (or anyone on the Arab side) really wishes peace with Israel. The claim that there is no credible peace partner on the Arab side is, of course, supported by the profound hostility to Israel that is manifest in Arab society. But other evidence, like the very real conflict between Hamas and Fatah, indicates that at least some Palestinians are willing to come to an accommodation. My belief that a peace agreement is possible is a conjecture, of course, and quite possibly wrong. (It's even possibly naive.) But it's not totally divorced from reality. Arab realpolitik is coming to terms with Israel, witness Jordan and Egypt. Any peace negotiations are risky for Israel; that goes without saying. But then so are another few decades of low-intensity warfare.

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