For Jews The Real Worry Should Be Sharon Not Arafat

by John Ryan

November 3, 2003


The recently released text of the Geneva Accord seems about as good a deal as could be worked out for a Two-State Solution, unless it's already too late for any such venture. Till now almost everything that had been put forward was an "agreement to go on trying to agree," which led to disillusionment and nothing of lasting substance. The new proposal has dealt with all the difficult points -- and both the Israeli and Palestinian participants have agreed to it. If Clinton appears at the official signing in Geneva in early November, as was reported, the proposal may not be so easy to dismiss.

Secret negotiations, held mainly in Geneva and with the help of Swiss diplomats, have proceeded for more than two years between Israeli and Palestinian delegations, consisting largely of left-wing former and current politicians (including former cabinet ministers from both sides), retired Israeli military officers, writers, and academics. Contrary to the prevailing Israeli lament that there is no one to talk to, significant break-through negotiations have brought about a 50-page agreement on all major issues.

Revelations of the highlights of the accord on October 12, 2003 brought forth mixed reactions -- from cautious optimism to outright fury. The Palestinian Authority appears to support the initiative, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad are expected to reject it. Although an early poll in Israel shows about 40 per cent support, the Sharon government has vigorously denounced it. Sharon has simply proclaimed that no agreement is possible if Arafat is involved, saying, "This man is the greatest obstacle to peace. Therefore, Israel has committed to removing him from the political arena." Why this fixation on Arafat as an insurmountable problem?

Arafat is a dithering old fool -- corrupt and naïve -- filled with his own sense of self-importance. He's now almost totally ineffectual, in extremely poor health, and may soon be off the scene from natural causes. Meantime, it's astonishing that for Israel and most Jews in general, the major concern is about Arafat, to the exclusion of almost all other possibilities, including this new accord. From my perspective as a longtime observer of the Israel/Palestine saga, the real cause of worry for Israeli people, and all Diaspora Jews, should be Sharon and his regime. For one thing, for what it's worth, Arafat has apparently "blessed the initiative." On the other hand, Sharon is apoplectic about it, calling it "high treason," and Barak dismisses it as "delusional." A Knesset member and leader of an Israeli political party has written to Israel's attorney general demanding that the Israeli participants should be charged with treason and sentenced to death. Since Eichmann is the only person ever executed by Israel, does this demand for a death penalty indicate that for some Israelis even an unofficial peace proposal is comparable to the crimes of Eichmann? How is it that the Israeli government is so touchy about the prospect of a peace proposal? But, as Uri Avnery said, "That's no wonder, considering that there is no greater danger to Sharon and his grand design than the danger of peace."

The Sharon government wouldn't dream of a One-State Solution nor would it agree to a realistic and viable Two-State Solution; so what are the alternatives for them?

The first appears to be just a continuation of the status quo, i.e., continue with the repressive military occupation of the Occupied Territories. However, in a matter of less than ten years the Palestinians will outnumber the Jewish population. So if Israel continues as a "democracy," it will cease to be a Jewish state since Jews will be in a minority. Alternatively, Israel or a "Jewish state" could survive as a "non-democracy" by militarily dominating a steadily enlarging Arab majority, deprived of civic rights, thereby becoming an apartheid regime.

The second alternative: at an opportune time, Israel would conduct massive violent ethnic cleansing with tanks and troops in which the entire Palestinian population (about 3 million or more) would be driven out of the entire territory of the biblical "Greater Israel." Lacking an "opportune time," a simple escalation of the present policy could starve the Palestinians of land, food, and a livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile, in the millions. However, both these approaches are actually war crimes under the Geneva Conventions. Nevertheless, either way, for Sharon this would be the completion of his grand design. But where would this leave Israel, and the Jewish Diaspora?

Taking over the Palestinian territories and incorporating them officially into the Israeli state would be an illegal land grab, in violation of international law (aside from the war crimes aspect). It's sure this would be labeled as Lebensraum, with all the attendant historical baggage, and it wouldn't be viewed by the world community any more kindly than it was when Hitler tried it.

Over the years Israel has consistently thumbed its nose at world public opinion, and ignored countless UN resolutions, but such a course of action by Israel would push it beyond the pale, and it would become a permanent international pariah.

Without a doubt Israel would be faced with trade sanctions by a wide range of countries. And forget it about any "peace" with the Arab world. Sure, Israel has its weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, but this constant military preparedness would haunt and undermine the state and its people. And Sugar Daddy USA will surely some day have a change of government, and together with worries about Middle East oil security, it may very well change its policy towards Israel. What then if there wouldn't be $5 billion plus coming in each year? The USA doesn't have to live in the Middle East, but Israel has no choice. and should be prepared to do so on its own.

How long before Israeli people would rue the day they didn't listen to Ben-Gurion when he advised them in 1967 to withdraw from all the territory they conquered. Or heed the words of the "non-Jewish Jew" Isaac Deutscher who also urged Israel to withdraw to its 1967 boundaries. Deutscher compared the Jews who were fleeing post-Hitler Europe to people jumping out of a burning building, and the Palestinians to innocent passersby who were crushed by the fall -- the Jews had a right to escape, but they also had an obligation to make amends to the Palestinians.

And what about Diaspora Jews? They can't influence Israeli policies, but they nevertheless are identified with them, especially since Israel is insistent upon their allegiance. And so, unfortunately, the behavior of Israel affects the way many people look at Jews. Misdirected efforts to get back at Israel may put innocent Diaspora Jews in harm's way. Although the phenomenon of anti-Semitism has many causes, it can't just be coincidental that Sharon's anti-terrorism campaign against the Palestinians has been accompanied by a recent upsurge in anti-Semitism worldwide. Also, Israel's flouting of UN resolutions and disregard of world public opinion are matters to consider too.

I know that in my own circle of Jewish friends, they all lament the fact that Judaism's concern for ethics is being undermined by Israeli policies that make a mockery of this traditional Jewish virtue. And put much more bluntly by Norman Finkelstein (professor, writer, Holocaust researcher, and the son of survivors of the Holocaust), if Israelis object to being compared to Nazis, they should stop acting like Nazis. There's no question about it, Israeli policies affect the lives of Diaspora Jews.

Tony Judt's recent article in The New York Review of Books, "Israel: The Alternative," is timely, apropos, and challenging. He feels it may be too late to establish a Two-State Solution and hence the most rational alternative is the One-State Solution -- as Edward Said had long advocated. This would give all the people in a combined Israel/Palestine state equal citizenship and equal rights -- hence a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Palestinians. This might indeed be the most rational solution. Yet, we now have the "Geneva Accord," with a seemingly viable Two-State Solution. However, this would never take place under a Sharon government -- could one imagine Sharon ordering the dismantling of his cherished settlements, with some 250,000 inhabitants? Hence Judt's pessimism, but with a challenge for a new solution.

Sharon's dream of somehow creating an Israel with a Jewish majority in almost the entire territory of biblical "Greater Israel" is not something that is secret. It's amazing the degree to which the idea of massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is discussed in Israel -- "transfer" is what it's called (as euphemistic a term as "collateral damage"). A leading Israeli historian, Martin van Creveld, in an article a few months back, pointed out that Sharon considers Jordan to be the real Palestinian state, and, by inference, that's where all Palestinians should eventually be located. As Creveld says, Sharon "has always harboured a very clear plan -- nothing less than to rid Israel of the Palestinians." According to Creveld, Israel has worked out a detailed military plan on how to expel the entire West Bank Palestinian population of two million or more in a lightning strike, all in a matter of about eight days. All that would be required is a suitable pretext and an opportune political moment. There's a strange ambivalence in the views of the Israeli public on this -- over half the population would like to see the settlements dismantled, yet almost half would agree to Palestinian "transfer" under the "right" conditions. So what are we to make of this?

Also what's the rationale for the establishment of the settlements in the Occupied Territories? If this was to bring security to Israel, it's done the opposite. Actually, it's a clear violation of international law, and countless UN resolutions. Why should Israelis be surprised that Palestinians resist being under military occupation? Under international law, they have the right to resist. However, occupation and repression cannot justify terrorism against civilians. But the way to end the Palestinian crimes is to end the occupation that inspires the Palestinians to commit them. The response to justified Palestinian anger should be justice, not more repression. As for the constant Israeli refrain for the Palestinians to "stop the violence," it's the Palestinians who have suffered almost four times the fatalities that Israel has in the current round of hostilities. So what does that say? As for Golda Meir's comment about Palestinians teaching their children to hate Jews, an article from The Jewish Voice for Peace has this observation: "A Palestinian child who is awakened at dawn by Israeli soldiers demolishing his home and uprooting the family's olive grove does not need anyone to tell him to hate." It's Israeli actions over the past 35 years that have exacerbated previous ill-feelings and have now brought Palestinian anger to a boiling point. At this stage, any kind of solution is not going to be easy, but to pretend that this is all the fault of "sub-human" Arabs, and that Israelis are blameless for the violence and hatred that they face is delusional.

The grim reality of the situation is that the Sharon government appears to have no intentions of concluding any kind of "peace agreement" that would bring about a fair and just solution to the region's problems. They intend to "solve" the problem with military force, and if that doesn't work, more military force would be applied, until there is "solution" to the Arab problem -- the eventual expulsion of the Palestinian population -- and the achievement of a territorial Greater Israel. This is a dream that will turn into a nightmare for Israeli people, and how is this in the interests of non-Israeli Jews?

There are two courses of action that Israel would be wise to reject. The first is to simply maintain the present status quo which in fairly short time will devolve into an apartheid regime with ever increasing military repression trying to control an ever enlarging Palestinian population, bereft of any democratic rights. The second is the almost unthinkable proposal to conduct massive ethnic cleansing to remove the Palestinian population (passively or violently) to create a majority Jewish state within the biblical Greater Israel borders.

Israel does have two alternatives that could enable its people to live at peace with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbours. The first is the Two-State Solution that could perhaps come about from the implementation of the Geneva Accord. The second is a One-State Solution which would give the people of a combined Israel/Palestine state equal citizenship and equal rights, i.e., a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Palestinians. Both alternatives present challenges, but with either one there could be a prospect for peace in the region.

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Israel & Palestine on Swans


John Ryan, Ph.D., is a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg, Canada. His travels have taken him to the Middle East, Egypt, and Israel.

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Published November 3, 2003
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