Israeli Settlements

First I need to fly my colors. In the forties, movie theaters used to show news films between double features. I remember films, when I was very small, of allied soldiers at the gates of concentration camps. I have always cared about the survival of Israel.

I was working in Iran during the Six Day War. Despite religion, many rooted for Israel. I listened to news of the war on the BBC with an Iranian who had studied in England and in Israel. He was torn but admired the tiny Israeli state. In that simpler world it seemed Israel had a shot at survival.

Israel had realized Arab states were massing forces for an attack. Israel struck first and took the lands to the River Jordan. One could argue then that Israel had a right to keep the land.

Still, it was obvious four decades ago that Israel could not permanently occupy the West Bank. Palestinians would soon outnumber the Jewish population. Israel was making peace with some of its neighbors but it could not make peace with a conquered people – there was no one to make peace with. And in fact the conflict keeps getting worse and the politics less sustainable.

It’s not about blame. There’s plenty of that to go around in the mutual killing and murder. I long believed Israel’s best chance for peace was to turn the other cheek – to defend without retaliating. That, however, is hard to accept. We’ve never been willing. So the Palestinians succeeded – Israel retaliated and Israel took the blame.

Now the conflict is past calming. Palestinians talk of a one state solution. Which of course means a fight to the death for both peoples. Like the bumper sticker says, he who has most when he dies wins”! Indeed.

The historic issue is whether Israel can take over enough land and push out so many Palestinians that further resistance becomes impossible before support for Israel simply snaps and the Arab world reclaims Palestine as it did from the Crusaders a thousand years ago.

Too many American Jews are convinced support for Israel will not evaporate. Israeli hubris in announcing settlements while Vice President Biden was on a peace keeping mission in the Middle East shows precisely the path to hell. People convinced that history needs no help may find that history proceeds without pity.

But where do we go? Foreign policy by domestic politics is unreliable. Support for throwing ultimatums at Israel could turn into antagonism toward Israel itself. Mass politics is not very discriminating. Presidents, peoples and countries are good or bad. Grays easily disappear.

Worse, we have been trying to be both supporter, supplier and peace maker. The UN cannot broker peace because it has been taking sides. Peace can’t be brokered if American support is unconditional, but imposing conditions makes us a party. And peace can’t be brokered if only one side cares about the conditions, or no sides care about the conditions.

Experts have long been saying that the settlement is obvious but no one is willing to accept it. Imposing it could solve the conflict or make us even more of a target. If everyone insists on a fight to the finish, on all-or-nothing, maybe the best we can do is stand aside and let history take its course. No one knows the best answer. It’s a very high stakes game in which everyone loses.

This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, March 16, 2010.

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