November 9, 2001 Halifax Herald
Justice demands a Palestinian homeland
Justice demands a Palestinian homeland
I'm going to advocate a proposal that would likely advance Middle East peace, if implemented. But first, I'll provide a short overview of the events that gave birth to the acrimonious relationships that now exist in the region.
On November 17, 1947, acting to right an ancient injustice, the United Nations partitioned Palestine (then a small Mid East British mandate) as a prelude to creating Israel as a homeland for Jews in 1948. Although it was morally justified by the truth that all ethnic groups are entitled to their own country, the motivation was probably tied more to the fact that the Western Nations, including Canada, were trying to make amends for the less-than-honourable way that they had responded to the human needs of Europe's Jews during the brutal Nazi era. - that is, many of them refused to give safe haven to Jewish refugees and thus increased substantially the toll of the Holocaust.
Israel's creation caused a violent backlash among Arab and other Islamic States. It generated several wars; the last, Yom Kippur, ended in 1973. By then, Israel was in occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other Arab lands. Instead of restricting itself to administering these, it started establishing illegal settlements. This has garnered widespread condemnation and is seen by many as a stimulus for the terrorism that has occurred in the region.
During the late 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, citing the fact that the rest of the Arab world was willing to fight Israel to the last Egyptian soldier, flew into Israel and initiated peace discussions that resulted in a 1979 peace accord. Its terms provided for the return of occupied Egyptian territory and the establishment of diplomatic relations. That and Israel's recent peace treaty with Jordon, plus the ties it has established with several other Arab Nations, has removed from it the ability to credibly claim that it is surrounded by a sea of opposition from hostile Arab neighbours. For daring to champion peace, Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic fundamentalist fanatics.
In the 1990s, Israel's government initiated peace talks with Arafat. The framework for a peace agreement was on the horizon when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fundamentalist fanatic. Benjamin Netanyahu, a hardliner, won the next election; he was succeeded by Ehud Barak, a moderate, who was replaced by another hardliner, Ariel Sharon. Under all these regimes, illegal settlements were expanded, or new ones started, which added fuel to existing Palestinian and Muslim animosity.
These are the basic facts as I recall them, however, memory being what it is, I may be a little off on dates and sequence.
The root for the animosity that continues to kill Arab and Israeli innocents today largely stems from the failure of the United Nations in 1948 to take steps to prevent a wrong of hugh proportions; the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians. A great multitude of these people have now resided in stateless poverty in refugee camps in surrounding Arab countries for over fifty years - a situation that has provided a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.
Without reservation, since it's creation, I've been a supporter of Israel's right to exist - holding nothing but admiration for the heroism displayed by its citizens in defending their country. However, this support does not extend to it's ill-advised policy of establishing illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Seizing another's land and knocking down his home does not an admirer make. The hate it has engendered is malignant.
Now my proposal: The UN must forthwith create a demilitarized Palestinian State, encompassing the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which would be its capital. In order to maximize its ability to accommodate refugees and enhance viability chances on such a tiny land base, approximately one third the size of Israel, all Israeli settlements would be removed. To assure the security of both Nations, the borders of each would be guaranteed by the West. The new State's Constitution would be democratic and it's politics secular. To repair a glaring injustice, the West must fund equitable reparations to Palestinians, or descendants, for property lost when Israel was created. Such would extinguish their right to return to Israel.
I can't see any other way. The adoption of draconian measures by Israel, such as the annexation of Gaza and the West Bank and the expulsion of the Palestinians, as promoted by assassinated Moldet Party leader Rehavam Zeevi and other extremists, would in all likelihood result in a bloodbath that would challenge Israel's very existence.
With the death toll from the current crisis heading for 1,000 - 752 Palestinians and 190 Israelis - positive curative measures are urgently needed. Force, as experience has shown, is not the answer. Lethal force used against rock-throwing youngsters and suicide bombers blowing up pizza parlours has only increased the violence.
To begin the process of disengagement, moderate majorities on both sides must accept that their fundamentalist fanatics won't be mollified by anything less than an unconditional surrender by the other. Then work together to contain them. While this is happening, they can begin to create a law-governed social environment where their citizens can live side by side in peace and prosperity. The alternative is endless hate and war.
Daniel N. Paul