Archive for the ‘OSLO ACCORDS’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: ISRAEL, PALESTINE, AND CANADA   Leave a comment

ISRAEL, PALESTINE, AND CANADA

John Chuckman

Canada’s Thirty-Percent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, just made a speech at a B’nai Brith banquet. Normally, there would be nothing notable in this, but his words this time reinforced controversial statements he made while Israel savagely bombed Lebanon. He also continued driving an ugly new Republican-style wedge into Canada’s national politics after calling Liberal leadership candidates “anti-Israel.”

Harper said that his government supports a two-state solution in the Middle East. That is the policy of most Western governments, and there was nothing original in Harper’s way of stating it. It was the kind of vague, tepid stuff we might hear from Olmert himself.

“Our government believes in a two-state solution — in a secure democratic and prosperous Israel living beside a viable democratic and peaceful Palestinian state.”

It is interesting to note the lack of symmetry in Harper’s “secure democratic and prosperous Israel” versus “a viable democratic and peaceful” Palestine. I don’t know why prosperity does not count for Palestinians, but as anyone who understands developmental economics knows, prosperity is key to developing modern, democratic institutions. You only get the broad middle-class which makes democracy possible out of healthy growth.

I suspect Harper was signaling, while calling for peace with two states, hardly a stirring theme for a B’nai Brith audience, that he saw no equivalency to the two sides. If not, perhaps he will explain another time what he did mean.

Harper did not define what he means by viable. Palestine, as anyone familiar with the situation knows, cannot be viable as a walled-off set of postage-stamp Bantustans, the only concept of a Palestinian state Israel has ever considered.

The key element in Harper’s statement is what he means by democratic and peaceful. Those words are not so self-explanatory as they may first appear. Both these adjectives are regularly twisted in meaning, particularly by the United States.

Hamas won an honest and open election in Palestine, internationally scrutinized, but the result of that election was rejected by Harper and others, inducing chaos into Palestinian affairs, the very thing Israel’s secret services likely intended when they secretly subsidized Hamas years ago to oppose Fatah. Hamas has not learned the required mantra about recognizing Israel, yet Hamas is no threat to Israel, or plainly Israel’s secret services would never have assisted it in the first place.

Hamas is not well-armed, nor is it, surrounded and penetrated by Israel, in a position to become so. Israel speaks as though not recognizing Israel is an unforgivable defect, but governments often fail to recognize other governments. The United States has a long list of governments it has not recognized in the past and ones it does not recognize now. This is not always a smart thing to do, but it is not a crime, it is not even a faux pas, and it may just be a negotiating point.

Hamas has not invaded Israel, nor has it conducted a campaign of assassinating Israeli leaders – both actions Israel has repeated against Palestinians countless times. Every time some disgruntled individual in Gaza launches a home-made, ineffectual rocket, Israel assassinates members of Hamas or sends its tanks into Gaza, killing civilians. Presumably, a peaceful Palestine would be one either where there were no disgruntled people or where an efficient police-state stopped them all.

This is a preposterous expectation. It simply can never be. With all of Israel’s violent occupations and reprisals, it has never been able to impose absolute peace, not even on its own territory. There have been scores of instances of renegade Israeli settlers shooting innocent Palestinians picking olives or tending sheep, and there have been mass murders of Palestinians a number of times, as at the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount. How much less able is any Palestinian authority to enforce absolute peace when Israel allows it pitifully limited resources and freedom of movement?

Realistically, the expectation for absolute peace should be interpreted as a deliberate barrier to a genuine peace settlement. Why would Israel use a barrier to peace when its official statements never fail to mention peace?

Because most leaders of Israel, probably all of them, have never given up the frenzied dream of achieving Greater Israel, a concept which allows for no West Bank and no Palestinians. Not every leader has spoken in public on this subject, but a number have. Other prominent figures in Israel from time to time also have spoken in favor of this destructive goal.

There seems no rational explanation, other than wide support of this goal, for Israel’s persistent refusal to comply with agreements which could have produced peace, the Oslo Accords perhaps being the greatest example. Israel worked overtime to destroy the Oslo Accords, always attributing their failure in public to the very Palestinians who had worked hard to see the Accords born. More extreme Israeli politicians openly rejected the Accords from the start.

The crescendo statement in Harper’s speech, his voice rising in force and his audience literally rising to its feet, was, “The state of Israel, a democratic nation, was attacked by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization — in fact a terrorist organization listed illegal in this country,” and “When it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country and this government cannot and will never be neutral.”

Harper’s definition of democracy appears to be the American one: those governments are democratic who agree with American policy. We know America has overthrown many democratic governments in the postwar world, including those in Haiti, Chile, Iran, and Guatemala. Today it threatens a cleanly-elected government in Venezuela and utterly ignores a cleanly-elected government in Palestine.

America shows itself always ready to work with anti-human rights blackguards when it feels important interests are at stake, General Musharraf of Pakistan and some of the dreadful Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan being current examples. There were dozens more during the Cold War, including the Romanian Dracula Ceaucescu and the Shah of Iran, put into power by a coup that toppled a democratic government. The American definition of democracy is highly selective at best.

Israel has demonstrated a similar understanding of democracy from the beginning. Israel was ready to help France and Britain invade Suez in the 1950s, an action which represented a last ugly gasp of 19th century colonialism. Israel worked closely for years with apartheid South Africa, even secretly assisting it in developing and testing a nuclear weapon (weapons and facilities were removed by the United States when the ANC took power). Savak, the Shah’s secret police, whose specialty was pulling out people’s finger nails, was trained by American and Israeli agents.

Harper’s statement of total support for Israel in Lebanon is not in keeping with traditional Canadian views and policies. Canadians want balance and fairness. Unqualified support for Israel is tantamount to giving it a free pass to repeat the many savage things it has done, things most Canadians do not support.

Israel has proven, over and over again, it needs the restraining influence of others. Criticizing Israel does not make anyone anti-Israeli. Israel, sadly, has done many shameful things that demand criticism from those who love freedom and human rights, starting with its keeping a giant open-air prison going for forty years.

Harper should know that when Israeli leaders such as Olmert or Sharon speak of two states, they do not mean the same thing that reasonable observers might expect.

They mean a powerless, walled-in rump state in which elections must consistently support Israel’s view of just about everything, a state whose access to the world is effectively controlled by Israel, and a state whose citizens have no claims whatsoever for homes, farms, and other property seized by Israel. The hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, living on property taken bit by bit since the Six Day War are there to stay. Palestinians’ property rights to homes and institutions in Jerusalem, from which they are being gradually pushed, are being voided.

Israel has invaded Lebanon twice with no legitimate justification. It killed many thousands the first time and about 1,600 the last time. It flattened the beautiful city of Beirut the first time and a fair portion of the re-built city last time. It dropped thousands of cluster bombs, the most vicious weapon in the American arsenal, onto civilian areas. In effect, this action created a giant minefield, an illegal act under international treaty, with mines which explode with flesh-mangling bits of razor wire.

The Hezbollah that was Israel’s excuse for invading Lebanon last time never invaded Israel. They launch their relatively ineffective Katysha rockets only when Israeli forces violate the border, which they do with some regularity in secret. Hezbollah’s main function, despite all the rhetoric about terrorists, has been as a guerilla force opposed to Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel has long desired to expand its borders into that region, and there are statements on record to that effect, another aspect of Greater Israel. Israel occupied southern Lebanon for many years after its first invasion, and still held on to an enclave after its withdrawal.

Democratic values are not just about holding elections now and then. Otherwise, apartheid South Africa would have deserved our support. So would Northern Ireland when it repressed Catholics for decades. So, in fact, would the former American Confederacy. These states all had elections but only some people could vote, and other people were treated horribly.

Democratic values must reflect respect for human rights, which apply to all, something about which Israel has been particularly blind. There are no rights for Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has no Bill or Charter of Rights even for its own citizens because of the near impossibility of defining rights in a state characterized by so many restrictions and theocratic principles.

The relatively small number of Arabic people given Israeli citizenship, roughly 19% of the population, descended from 150,000 who remained in Israel after 1948, mainly those who were not intimidated by early Israeli terror groups like Irgun and the Stern Gang into running away or who simply could not escape. Despite subsidized immigration to Israel, accounting for the bulk of Jewish population growth, Israeli Arabs have managed roughly to keep their fraction of the population through high birth rates. They are, however, under constant pressure, often being treated as less than equal citizens. On many occasions, prominent Israelis have called for their removal.

According to a recent study of Jewish Israeli attitudes, 41 percent think Arab citizens should be encouraged by the government to leave Israel, and 40 percent want segregated public facilities for Arabs. The survey also found 68 percent of Israeli Jews would not live in an apartment building with Arabs, and 46 percent would not let Arabs visit their homes.

Harper’s dichotomy between democracy and terror, the crescendo subject of his speech, is simply nonsense. It mimics Bush’s garbled words about terrorists versus American freedoms or everyone’s being with us or against us. Israel is not so admirable a democracy nor is Hezbollah so terrible a group as he would have us believe.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: WHAT SHARON WANTS   Leave a comment

WHAT SHARON WANTS

John Chuckman

What was the point of the Israeli army’s reducing Mr. Arafat’s compound to ruins, firing shells that came within the smallest margin of error of killing him? Everyone outside the hermetically-sealed thought-environment of Israel and Washington recognizes Mr. Arafat is no more responsible for the violence of Hamas or Hezballah than Mr. Bush is responsible for a disturbed gunman now terrorizing America’s capital city.

Of course, the question is rhetorical. The reason for the destruction is clear. Mr. Sharon has always exhibited personal animus against Mr. Arafat. He never mentions his name without the rhetorical equivalent of pronouncing a curse. The acts of Hamas or Hezbollah gave Mr. Sharon the excuse to humiliate and frighten him, hoping to destroy him as a political force and push him into exile. There cannot be the slightest doubt Sharon would prefer assassinating Arafat, as he has assassinated so many dozens of others opposing him, but even the unthinking Mr. Bush recognizes the immense strategic blunder of doing that.

With Arafat gone, Sharon could start the last thirty-five years over again. That mystical, nebulous mechanism called the “peace process” could start again – decades of stalling and quibbling, ignoring every United Nations’ resolution while Israel relentlessly inches eastward, absorbing the homes and farms of others – the search for peace through slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

Not that the creation of settlements has ever stopped while Mr. Sharon destroyed both the Oslo Accords, that landmark diplomatic achievement he always held in contempt, and much of the West Bank and Gaza. It would be just so much easier to continue with an opponent who does not have the ear of the world’s statesmen and who has not done everything politically possible to reach a reasonable settlement. It is so much easier to curse Arafat, broadcast his weaknesses, and ignore the fundamental claims he represents.

Mr. Arafat has not been one of the world’s shining statesmen. Nor has his administration in Palestine been marked by the most enlightened practices. But he is, unquestionably, dedicated to peace. He does, despite ups and downs, represent some of the most important interests of his people. And he has shown remarkable courage and tenacity, Sharon’s efforts to remove him having only showcased these qualities before the entire world.

A lot of people in the United States still do not understand that it has always been the policy of extreme parties like Mr. Sharon’s Likud to annex what they call Judaea and Samaria – that is, what is left of Palestine, home to a couple of million Arabic people. Even at the time of the original Camp David Accords, the late Mr. Begin kept muttering those names, Judaea and Samaria, into President Carter’s ear.

A reader recently wrote me about a television documentary on Palestine. He mentioned a settler, who like all the settlers are newcomers who have pushed out residents from places they have lived for centuries, being asked about the Palestinians. Her answer was they should all leave and go where they belong.

Go where they belong? According to this belligerent view, they belong on the other side of the Jordan River, or, indeed, anywhere but in their own homes and on their own farms in the West Bank. I can only wonder whether a person holding such views has ever given a moment’s thought to the reality of shoving two million people out of their homes and into small, poor countries that are not remotely-equipped to deal with massive migration?

The largest internal migration in American history, and perhaps the largest in world history not associated with war, was the great black migration of tenant farmers from the rural South to industrial jobs in the North during the mid-twentieth century. It involved about 6 1/2 million people over several decades. This vast movement of people generated tremendous social difficulties that remain unsettled in the world’s richest country, a land that is many, many times the size of any of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

So how could anyone reasonably expect such a solution in the Middle East? The answer is that reason has nothing to do with it. Israelis with these views simply want the Arabs gone. If you don’t hear echoes of Milosevic, you aren’t listening.

Until Mr. Bush, this idea, its potential for “bad press” clearly recognized, had been little advertised or promoted in North America. Now, it has received some publicity, perhaps offered as “trial balloons.”

Mr. Rumsfeld – in one of his most regrettably-Hitlerian expressions since insisting that Taliban prisoners, after their surrender at Kunduz, should be shot or walled away for good – recently spoke of the spoils belonging to the victor in the Middle East.

That redoubtable American ally, General Dostum, of course, took Rumsfeld at his word about the prisoners. Hundreds of them, after being hideously suffocated, lie in mass graves. One can’t help asking whether American generals are now to apply Mr. Rumsfeld’s spoils-principle to Iraqi oil fields?

Another Republican moral giant, Mr. Dick Armey – not known for charity towards the less-fortunate of any society, even his own – recently chimed in that pushing two-million or so people out of the West Bank would be acceptable to him. Hell, what’s a couple of million Arab lives, right?

And now, the Rev. Jerry Falwell – fundamentalist politico and hate-entrepreneur, a man whose tailored suits are bought with the proceeds of a relentless hate-campaign against a former President, a former First Lady, and all gay people – has added his scholarly opinion that the prophet Muhammad himself was a terrorist. One can almost hear the unspoken link, so why would his followers deserve to live in the Holy Land?

These public statements provide an excellent measure of the moral tone set by Mr. Bush’s administration. America’s long, on-and-off romance with fascism has been stoked back to a warm glow (for background, see my earlier article, “Flirting with Fascism”). Each of these statements should have been loudly condemned by a President with any conscience. Instead, hate-speech is tolerated.

Well, Mr. Sharon now also is building a wall, a truly massive undertaking. Authoritarian personalities and movements seem always to like walls. This one will be a grand re-creation of the Berlin Wall, complete with a strip of no-man’s land, good portions of it at the expense of Palestinian farmers.

This may be what Sharon had in mind when he made statements months ago, contradicting every act and breath of his adult life, that he supported a Palestinian state. One can only imagine what he had in mind with those words, something surely bordering on the nightmares of the gulag. The wall is likely part of his vision. A rump-state, walled off from all natural connections with its neighbor, with every movement in or out controlled, is certain to fail. It would be a state in a bottle. The idea represents a freshening-up of the late Gen. Dayan’s thinking when he said, years ago, that the Palestinians would be made so miserable they would choose to leave.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL   3 comments

OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL

John Chuckman

War between Islam and the nations of the West? There have been a good many careless words printed and broadcast in America touching on this simplistic idea. And an American president who lacks the most superficial knowledge of the world or its history offers no reassurance, as he lurches from one misstatement to another, that this idea is not being incorporated into national policy.

The concept of Islam as an intrinsically violent, anti-progressive opponent in the modern world is both ignorant and dangerous. The new prominence of this idea in America provides a good measure of the distorted information that exists in our political environment. It’s almost as though the bloody, parochial views of Ariel Sharon on the nature of Palestinians had been exalted to a world view, worthy of every statesman’s consideration.

How easily we forget that the history of organized Christianity provides almost certainly the bloodiest tale in all of human history.

The Crusades, that dark saga of Christianity written in blood and terror, continued sporadically over hundreds of years. They served little other purpose than gathering wealth through spoils and sacking cities and easing the periodic domestic political difficulties of the papacy and major princes of Europe.

We hear of the treatment of women under Islam in certain places, not remembering that Christian women were left locked in iron chastity belts for years while their husbands raped their way across the Near East. And the character of Saladin, hard warrior that he was, shines nobly in history compared to the moral shabbiness of Richard Lionheart.

Europe wove a remarkable tapestry of horrors in the name of Christianity from the beginning of the modern era. There was the Holy Inquisition, the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, the St Bartholomew Massacre, Cromwell’s slaughter in Ireland, the enslavement and widespread extermination of native peoples in the Americas, the Eighty Years’ War in Holland, the expulsion of the Huguenots from France, the pogroms, the burning of witches, and numberless other horrific events right down to The Holocaust itself, which was largely the work of people who considered themselves, as did the slave drivers of America’s South, to be Christians.

Over and above the conflicts motivated by religion, European and American history, a history dominated by people calling themselves Christian, runs with rivers, lakes, and whole seas of blood. Just a sampling includes the Hundred Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the slave trade, the French Revolution, the Vendée, the Napoleonic Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Opium War, African slavery in the American South, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the massacre in the Belgium Congo, the Crimean War, lynchings, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.

How anyone with this heritage can describe Islam as notably bloodthirsty plainly tells us that immense ignorance is at work here.

What limited knowledge I have of Islam is enough to know that there is no history, despite bloody characters like Tamerlane, to overtop Europe’s excesses, and, in some cases, there has been generosity of spirit exceeding that shown by Christians.

The Moorish kings of Spain tended to follow the same tolerant attitude towards religion that the classical Romans had done. The Romans allowed any religion to flourish, often officially adopting the gods of a conquered people, so long as the religion represented no political threat to Rome’s authority.

People today point to a well-publicized excess like the Taliban’s destruction of ancient statues, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the religiously-insane Puritans, direct ancestors of America’s Christian fundamentalists, ran through the beautiful, ancient cathedrals of England after the Reformation, smashing stained glass, desecrating ancient tombs, destroying priceless manuscripts, and smashing sculptures.

A remarkably tolerant society flourished under the Moors in Spain for hundreds of years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims were tolerated, and the talented served the state in many high capacities regardless of religion. Learning advanced, trade flourished.

During the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, the Arab people of the Holy Land looked after the holy places and largely treated Jewish visitors with hospitality and respect. There was none of the bitter hatred we see today. All this changed at the birth of modern Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from places they had inhabited for centuries.

No reasonable, decent-minded person can deny that the manner of Israel’s rebirth did a great injustice to the Palestinians. And the great powers, first Britain and then the United States, had entirely selfish motives in seeing this done. Under the original UN proposal for Israel, there were to be two roughly-equal states carved out of Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem was to have an international status. More than half a century later, what we have is an Israel that covers three-quarters of Palestine and militarily occupies the rest.

Yet somehow, the burden of appropriate behavior, in a fuzzily-defined “peace process” leading to some fuzzily-defined Palestinian state at some undefined date, is always placed upon the Palestinians. They are supposed to live patiently, exhibiting the peacefulness of model citizens in Dorothy’s Kansas, while under a humiliating occupation in order just to earn the privilege of talking to Israel about the situation.

I often wonder how Americans, with their Second-Amendment rights and hundreds of millions of guns, would behave under such circumstances. Would they patiently wait decade after decade, watching “settlers” fresh from other places build on what was their land? watching bulldozers flatten their orchards? watching their people harassed and often demeaned at checkpoints as they simply travel from one point to another near their homes? not being able to so much as build a road or a sewer without the almost impossible-to-get permission of the occupying authorities? being told that only their patient behavior can earn them the right to talk with those who control their lives?

Looking at the situation in that hypothetical light may offer a better appreciation for what the Palestinians have endured with considerable patience.

The simple fact is that it has been the clear policy of Israeli governments over the last half century to avoid, at all costs, the creation of a Palestinian state. Every effort at delay, every quibble over definitions, every tactical shift that could possibly be made has been made, many times over, in an effort to buy time, hoping that time alone will somehow make the problem of the Palestinians go away.

This policy may have changed, ever-so-slightly, under Mr. Barak from one of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state to one of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, but that is not the same thing as “the great opportunity missed” that has been dramatized, over and over again, in America’s press. And even this slight change in policy remains unacceptable to many conservatives in Israel.

And when the Palestinians, morally exhausted by endless waiting that yields no change, resist the occupation they are under with the limited, desperate means they possess, they are regarded as unstable lunatics who don’t love their children. A number of apologists for Israel’s worst excesses have repeated this theme, an extension of a remark attributed to the late Golda Meir about peace coming “when the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate us.” The actual quote from Ms. Meir that is most applicable here is one she made to the Sunday Times of June 15, 1969, “They [the Palestinians] did not exist.”

We are repeatedly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it is defending itself against malevolent forces. This vaguely-defined image of enlightenment versus darkness appeals to Americans. But democracy has never been a guarantee of fairness or decency. It is only a means of selecting a government.

Under any democracy, a bare majority of people with an ugly prejudice can tyrannize over others almost in perpetuity. Indeed, this very experience is a large part of the history of the United States, even with its much-vaunted Bill of Rights. But Israel has no Bill of Rights, and what’s more important for actual day-to-day fairness and decency, the very will to act in a fair manner appears to be absent. What else can one say where assassination, torture, and improper arrest have been management tools of government for decades?

Israel’s politics are highly polarized, undoubtedly far worse than those of the United States, and the balance of power needed to form any parliamentary coalition is always in the hands of far-out religious parties. The interests of these people are anything but informed by enlightenment values and democracy, holding to views and ideas, as they do, that predate the existence of democracy or human rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that killing the Philistines or tearing down the walls of Jericho are regarded as current events by a good many of these fundamentalist party members. A number of their leaders have, time and again, described Palestinians as “vermin.”

The extreme conservatives receive many special privileges in Israel that distort the entire political mechanism. For example, their rabbis decide the rules governing who is accepted as a Jew or what are acceptable religious, and religiously-approved social, practices. The students in the fundamentalist religious schools traditionally have been exempt from the army. In effect, they are exempt from the violent results of the very policies they advocate.

These parties generally believe in a greater Israel, that is, an Israel that includes what little is left of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, minus its current undesirable inhabitants. It has been the view of Israeli government after Israeli government over the last half century to consider Jordan as the Palestinian’s proper home. Thus, when Israeli governments talked of peace, it meant something entirely different than what Palestinians meant.

And when, finally, an offer for a Palestinian state was made by Mr. Barak at Camp David – an offer that, by all reports, was made quite angrily and contemptuously to Mr. Arafat – under any honest, rational analysis, it reduced to one for a giant holding facility for people not wanted in Israel. How surprising that Mr. Arafat left in anger when after days of being subjected to good-cop/bad-cop treatment by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak, this was the end result. Surely, this was an immensely-frustrating disappointment to the Palestinians after years of effort and compromise to achieve and implement the Oslo Accords.

Mr. Bush’s War on Terror, a mindless crusade against disagreeable Islamic governments, has had the terrible effect of casting the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon in the role of partner against the forces of terror and darkness. He has received a new mantle of legitimacy for continued destruction and delay, for continued injustice against those too powerless to effectively oppose him.

As Israel’s leaders well know, the Palestinian population is growing rapidly. Rapid population growth is the general case for poor people throughout the world. Israel’s highly organized and costly efforts to support Jewish immigration reflect awareness of this fact. But a combination of large birth rates on one side and heavy immigration on the other is a certain formula for disaster in the long term. The region’s basic resources, especially water, will sustain only a limited population.

A large population, outsizing its resources, almost certainly is the major underlying reason for the immense slaughters and numberless coups and civil wars of Western Africa in recent years, a region whose population growth has been high but whose usable resources are limited. And the history of civilization tells us that vast changes and movements of population have been far more decisive in human affairs than atomic weapons.

So it appears that not only in the short term, but over some much longer time horizon, Israel and the Palestinians are on a deadly collision course.

There is hope. Modern societies have all experienced a phenomenon called demographic transition. This term simply means that, faced with a reduced death rate, people’s normal response is a reduced birth rate, yielding a net result of slow, or even negative, population growth. Couples prefer to have only two or three children who are almost certain to survive instead of six or more, at least half of whom die before growing up. This is the reason why modern countries depend entirely on migration for growth, or to avoid actual decline, in population.

Israel, populated largely by people from Europe and North America and being a fairly prosperous society, follows the pattern of advanced nations. The West Bank and Gaza, with some of the world’s highest birth rates, do not. Now, the only way to trigger demographic transition is through healthful measures like adequate diet, good public sanitation, and basic health care, especially measures for infant care. These things done, nature takes a predictable path and people stop having large families.

But these are not measures that can be accomplished quickly, and the need to get on with them should add some sense of urgency to ending the occupation and helping the Palestinians achieve a state with some degree of prosperity.

By now, it should be clear that life in Israel for the foreseeable future cannot be quite the same as life in Dorothy’s Kansas no matter who leads the government. No one has been more ruthless or bloody-minded than Mr. Sharon, and he has only succeeded in making every problem worse.

Yet life in Israel similar to Dorothy’s Kansas – that is, a life as though you were not surrounded by people seething over injustice and occupation and steeped in poverty – is a condition that Mr. Sharon insists on as a precondition even for talking about peace. Somehow, Mr. Arafat, with a wave of his hand, is to make all the violence disappear. This is not only unrealistic, it is almost certainly dishonest.

Israel herself, in any of the places she has occupied, and despite having one of the best equipped armies in the world, has never been able to do that very thing. All those years in Lebanon, and the violence continued at some level for the entire time. Indeed, a new enemy, Hizballah, rose in response to Israel’s activities. It is simply a fact that there has always been some level of violence in any place occupied by Israel. How is Mr. Arafat, with his limited resources and in the face of many desperate factions, supposed to be able to accomplish what the Israeli army and secret services cannot?

And were he to try running the kind of quasi-police state one assumes Israel favors, with regular mass arrests of suspects, how long would he remain in power?

Moreover, Mr. Sharon treats Mr. Arafat with utter contempt, dismissing him as insignificant, and has destroyed many of the means and symbols of his authority. How can a leader, treated as contemptible, exercise authority? For all his faults, and he has a number of them, Mr. Arafat has demonstrated through many compromises related to the Oslo Accords that he is a man who sincerely desires peace and a constructive relationship with Israel.

Mr. Sharon’s entire adult life has been dedicated to killing. I do believe there is more blood on his hands than any terrorist you care to name. Mr. Sharon first made a name for himself with the Qibya massacre in 1953, when a force under his command blew up forty-five houses and killed sixty-nine people, most of them women and children. Nearly thirty years later, in 1982, he was still at it when Lebanese militia forces under his control murdered and dumped into mass graves, using Israeli-supplied bulldozers, between two- and three-thousand civilians in the refugee camps called Sabra and Shatila. Mr. Sharon was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Lebanon which saw hundreds of civilians killed by Israel’s shelling of Beirut and precipitated a bloody civil war in which thousands more died.

Mr. Sharon’s policies of assassination and bombing have succeeded only in multiplying the suicide bombings beyond anything in recent memory. It is almost impossible to imagine this man as capable of making a meaningful gesture towards peace. Yes, of course he wants peace, peace on his terms, a cheap peace without giving anything, but by definition that is not peace for the Palestinians.

We always hear about what is required of the Palestinians for peace, but a genuine peace requires some extraordinary things on Israel’s part. First, she must at some point accept a Palestinian state. This condition is a necessary one, but it is far from sufficient, for she must be prepared to generously assist this state towards achieving some prosperity, reducing the causes of both run-away population growth and the dreary hopelessness that causes people to strap bombs to their bodies.

Most difficult of all, it is hard to see how Israel can avoid some level of violence during a period of Palestinian nation-building. This is something no ordinary state would consciously embrace, but then Israel is no ordinary state. The norms of Dorothy’s Kansas simply do not apply. The hatreds generated by a half century of aggressive policies are not going to just melt away, but if there is enough genuine, demonstrated goodwill, it does seem likely that such violence would be minimal. It is a unappetizing risk that almost certainly needs to be taken, for no one is going to run a police state on Israel’s behalf in the West Bank.

Considering the immense difficulty of these things and political barriers that exist against them in Israel, it does not seem likely that peace is coming any time soon. The prospect seems rather for low-grade, perpetual war, paralleling that Mr. Bush so relishes speaking of. For someone of Mr. Sharon’s turn of mind, this may be a wholly acceptable alternative.

Posted May 26, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,