Israelis could normalize relations with all Arabs with help of Palestinians
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
It is sad that Palestinians have to wait and wait for justice to prevail. At the present, and probably for the next decade, the international community will be preoccupied with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and with other troubled Mideast countries.
This bleak regional situation will continue to keep the Palestine-Israel conflict on the backburner, despite President Trump’s desire to unveil a unilateral peace plan this September – at the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting- which Palestinians have already rejected. Egypt is also brokering a truce between Hamas and Israel for Gaza, regrettably, linking humanitarian aid to political compliance.
Israel these days acts as if it has no opposition; announcing approval of 1000 housing units to the settlements and having its state attorney argue for annexing the West Bank. To slow erosion of justice, Palestinians ought to stick to their land, unite as one people, elect new leaders, concentrate on advocacy, and continue to work with Israeli peace activists. Peace with Israelis will eventually materialize. But as long as Netanyahu in Israel, and Hamas in Gaza, wield power, it is hard to visualize peace.
The region is in need of fresh ideas and better leadership to help push the peace process forward. A lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians requires normalization with Arab states, attitude change, and a measure of reconciliation. In the delicate and gradual process of normalizing relations with the Arab world, Israel would need the Palestinians to be on their side; they can be the natural future mediators for the Jewish community with neighboring Arab societies. Generally secular and educated, Palestinians speak Hebrew while Israelis do not speak Arabic. More significantly, despite the painful reality of the occupation, the two sides (occupier and occupied) have been in contact for decades, be it in courts, prisons, at checkpoints, in hospitals, places of work, even in business, and in secret bilateral meetings on security and intelligence. With all the misery, insult and deprivation, which the political system imposes on Palestinians, there still is ongoing human exchange between Arab and Jew. Along this daily exchange some life lessons are learned. The majority on both sides have come to accept the nationalism of the other.
In expropriating vast Palestinian land, building expanding settlements and imposing an aggressive military presence, Israelis have brought about an irreversible reality: hard-to-undo coexistence. The two rival communities are inextricably linked by roads, checkpoints, land, labor, prisons, resources, checkpoints, separating walls, security measures, laws and borders.
It is no longer obvious that separation of Palestinians from Israelis is the preferred political solution for the existing conflict. As Israel shows no interest in tolerating a future Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, occupied Palestinians have no choice but to demand recognition of citizenship in a state with expanded borders. If Israeli leaders are scared of a scenario of coexistence with Palestinians their policies have not reflected long term planning.
Israel’s hawks are under the illusion that every generation they can count on a miracle to keep them living with the occupation and enjoying economic prosperity. The first miracle was the 1948 military victory over unprepared and poorly led Arab armies. The second miracle was the US supported 1967 six-day war – a complete conquest of the rest of Historic Palestine. The third was not of a military nature: building of settlements for six hundred thousand Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and annexing the Syrian Golan Heights. Such a scandalous record of violation of international law has occurred free of any collective sanctions from the international community: a third miracle. The fourth miracle is a rare juxtaposition of four self serving and insecure leaders: Trump and Netanyahu at the steering wheel, with Saudi Mohammad Ben Salman and Egypt’s Sisi going along. These four leaders are in harmony to distance statehood further from Palestinians.
Miracles, like dreams, evolve. Demographic change has limited military might and diplomatic power to create a challenge for Israel: the threat of losing the Zionist dream of a separate Jewish nation-state. It is hard to find a sober Israeli analyst that could point to a safe exit for Israel from an existential demographic conundrum, of its own making. With demographic trends continuing, Israel’s Jewish community is heading to be a minority population ruling over a majority of Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Palestinians have almost won the race to establish a “one-state” solution, albeit a state in which they are second class citizens, for the present time. But a state with one standard of laws for a privileged community and another for the non-privileged (apartheid in process) is not sustainable in this day and age. Responding to sustained and consistent nonviolent resistance, the world will surely rally in solidarity with the Palestinians, to bring about equality for all residents between the River and the Sea.
To survive and prosper, Israel has to build humane bridges with its neighbors. With justice prevailing, the Arabs could turn Israel from a threat to an opportunity. Liberated, Palestinians would be natural partners for Israelis. It will be harder for Israel to extricate itself from the region with force than to integrate with peace.
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