Thursday, August 18. 2005
I finished the first draft of my Israel Peace Plan. I've researched and tried to understand this conflict ever since the 9/11 events. At the time, I understood that the attacks occurred within the context of a long history between the U.S. and the nations of the Middle East, and that U.S. relationship with Israel was a major piece of this history. I knew the general outline of U.S. history and world history in the 20th century -- the world wars, the Holocaust, the cold war. I was draft bait during the Vietnam War, and that profoundly affected my view of the world. Everything since then I encountered as news, not history. But what I saw in the aftermath of 9/11 was a nation on a warpath that few understood or even knew much about, so I determined to understand this as well as I could. One thing that became clear to me is that the rightward trend in the U.S. following Vietnam and in Israel following the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria -- not really a defeat in the sense of Vietnam but a major scare that cracked Israel's confidence in its founding Labor government -- followed parallel tracks, in both cases the rightwing gained power through the cultivation of fear and war, descending in cycles to ever more fear and war. This spiral is not only destructive of others; it rips at the social and moral fabric of America and perhaps even more intensely of Israel. Unless we change course, it looks like Israel today gives us a glimpse of America in the near future: a nation consumed in fear and hate, lashing out blindly at imaginary demons. Indeed, in some ways the U.S. has overtaken Israel, who have never managed an occupation as ineptly as the U.S. has in Iraq. (Not that Lebanon was anything for Israel to be proud of.)
The peace plan I proposed is a complex and subtle piece of work. I recognize that the Palestinians are incapable of achieving peace, not just because they have a litany of historical complaints that cannot be undone, but because they have no partner in Israel. The Israelis are incapable of achieving peace because they have trapped themselves in a web of myths, which among other things leaves them unable to trust anything the Palestinians might offer. But Israel's most self-deceptive myth is the notion that they are winning -- that their ability to squeeze the hostile Palestinians into ever smaller spaces will result in that ever elusive security. Given that the principals of this conflict cannot come to terms, the only prospect is pressure from outside. There's actually a long history of outside pressure constraining the conflict: the 1949 armistice agreements, the rollback of the 1956 war, the cease fires in 1967 and 1973, the Camp David agreement in 1979, the Madrid conference in 1991 and the subsequent Oslo agreement, the Roadmap. If anything, international interest in resolving the conflict has intensified since 9/11, as it has become ever harder to ignore how the conflict has fed the flames of terrorism in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and throughout the world of Islam. On the other hand, plans like the Roadmap go nowhere. This is partly because the U.S., which everyone agrees is the only party capable of exerting real pressure on Israel, has conflicting motives and sends mixed messages of no consequence to Israel. It is partly because the Roadmap focuses on Palestinian management of the terrorism problem, which Israel can exacerbate at will (and frequently does): as a tactic this ensures that the Palestinians will fail, and therefore there will be no progress; as strategy this treats the symptom without addressing its cause. More generally, by focusing on Israel and the Palestinians the Roadmap pretends that this conflict is local. But it certainly isn't local, either in its roots or in its consequences. On the one hand, Israeli behavior today is deeply rooted in the tragic history of anti-semitism, especially the failure of the world powers to stand up to or provide relief from Nazi Germany and its genocidal slaughter of six million Jews. On the other hand, Palestinian and Arab behavior today is rooted in the struggle against colonialism, which in Palestine was represented by the British Mandate which, among other things, paved the way for Jewish domination. There is so much fault on all sides of this conflict that it is almost pointless to try to untangle it all, but the world powers and their international institutions are as guilty as anyone. But the international community's responsibility to face up to the conflict doesn't come from guilt: it comes from a recognition that a future without international law, without a firm universal commitment to human rights, is a future that will make difficult challenges ever more perilous. Palestine was the first major problem that the U.N. had to face, and still remains the U.N.'s first and most spectacular failure.
This or any other peace plan can only come about through a concerted political movement. How that might happen is something way beyond my competence or even interest. When all is said and done, I'm just a critic. I'm throwing these idea out to show you what's wrong with all the other ideas out there. That they take the shape of a positive plan may be because there's too many dead ends in other people's proposal to track down explicitly. To be practical, the piece itself needs to be restructured. The plan itself should be rewritten with the clarity of law, while the supporting arguments should be moved to other documents. The political strategies in support of the plan need to be developed further for each specific constituency. I don't know how to do any of these things. But here the meme has landed. Carry on.
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