20 September 2011

Israel, Palestine and the U.N.

The way I'm talking about the U.N. vote for Palestinian statehood in my work here in Brooklyn is to set it into two distinct contexts.

The first context is that both Palestinian and Israeli leadership have missed numerous opportunities to break from the tried and true and failed policies of past decades and move in a new direction of dialogue, direct talks, and difficult decisions over an agreement, the borders of which have long been known.  There were hints in the last few years that both Netanyahu and Abbas might demonstrate a willingness to do so but both relied upon the default of fearing their more fundamentalist coalition partners, thus failing to move forward.  Ultimately, people and nations have to be responsible for their own actions and in this context, with continued Israeli Settlement growth on one hand and an intransigent Palestinian refusal to talk on the other hand, has led us into this looming, dangerous cul de sac of inactivity.

The second context is even more dangerous.  Anthony Shadid points out something in yesterday's Times that not enough people have been paying attention to, justifiably distracted by Iran's nuclear ambitions:  namely, the newly emerging alliance between Turkey and Egypt has the potential to pose a greater danger, with Turkey's leadership speaking openly of a New Ottoman Empire.  Given the frighteningly violent reactions in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen in the last few days; the continued intransigence and destructiveness in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan; and the ongoing threats looming from Iran and from Lebanon, the idea of a new empire converging upon Israel cannot be ignored as Jewish paranoia. 

Some on the Left in our neighborhood don't like to hear this and prefer to rely upon the idea that fundamentally, all these Arab states are mad at Israel for the occupation.  And while the occupation plays a huge role in the alienation of Israel from the Arab states, there is a deeply unsettling development afoot, which is that the surrounding powers are at times beginning to articulate a world-view with Israel no longer on the map and Palestinian statehood, however necessary and justified, can have the appearance of looking more like a strategic step in the direction of Israel's eradication.

And yet.  And yet Israel must step forward to make peace with the Palestinians, as painful and as difficult as that may be.   In relative terms, there is more to gain from an alliance of moderate Israelis and Palestinians creating a vibrant democratic partnership in the face of increasingly fanaticism.  With all the necessary risks, the alternative is worse.

However, I align myself with those who are arguing that this week's plan for appealing to the U.N. for statehood is not the right time or place.   Jeffrey Goldberg is here very helpful and instructive.  The only benefit of this certain failed effort will be renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians which will, once and for all, hopefully, lead to peace.


Dan O. said...

What Shadid said was this:

"Mr. Davutoglu credited a “psychological affinity” between Turkey and much of the Arab world, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for four centuries from Istanbul."

Where Turkey gets off on this without the benefit of an Egyptian election is beyond me. I'm sure the Minister didn't poll the Egyptian people on whether they consented to Ottoman rule.

I'm also curious if anyone asked the Turkish people if they'd be interested in having Egyptians as their political equals. I think that idea, to them, would be utterly absurd. Many (most?) Turks, and I've known a bunch, consider Egyptians a bunch of uneducated bumpkins (at best), or unhinged religious nuts.

So what you're contemplating is Turkish dominance over Egypt. There's no bit to it, given the strength of the Egyptian military. So, the limit to that relationship will be Turkish patronage of Islamists within Egypt. That's not good, but your claim that, "the idea of a new empire converging upon Israel cannot be ignored as Jewish paranoia" is hyperbolic. The I-P conflict has been, for years, a mere distraction Middle Eastern autocrats have used to flummox their populaces. It's not working anymore, although the anti-semitism they fostered clearly remains. But there's absolutely no evidence of any capability of organized military action. On the contrary, the threat is chaos, not order.

There's no doubt that the Arab Spring and its aftermath could be bad for Israel. It certainly means poorer border security and heightened tensions everywhere. Yemen is the new lawless backwater for terrorist networks. An Islamist government in Egypt would be a nightmare. But the idea that a bunch of (unstable) fledgling democracies and tumbling autocrats are going to organize into an empire where a previous bunch of strong autocrats failed is not reflected at all in reality.

I agree with your conclusion, however, completely.

Susan PB said...

Andy, this is a most inciteful post. I would also refer readers to the online debate last week in the NY Times and, specifically to Rashid Khalidi's comments therein. No bones about it, a one-state solution is a the only solution as far as he is concerned. T

The Arafat/Habash PLO is reassembling. As always, they are not "on the ground" when the going gets tough but they are on standby to swoop in once a vacuum is formed, as it will be with a 76-year old Mahmoud Abbas. Wonder if they are going to bring Arafat's billions back with them. Somehow I doubt it.
Israel's leadership is dreadful but I fear the Palestine's will just be the other side of the coin once Abbas is out of the picture. Hope I'm wrong and that there are rational, moderate people on the ground in "Palestine Authority", who won't just steal all of the money and will try to improve the lives of their own people instead of using them as pawns in a power game.
I'm also very unhappy with the power that the Settlement movement wields. Here is my idea. I call it the Henny Youngman "take my wife please" Peace Proposal. Israel offers the disputed territories to the Palestinians but they have to keep the settlers in their new country. This will show the Palestinians what it is like to have a separatist movement with a propensity to violence within their borders.
The Palestinians won't want to take this offer. However, maybe they will understand how the Israelis have felt all these years. Shake things up a little and start both sides being serious about reaching accomodation. Israel can then have a future free to elect a rational government and thrive.