Foreword: The views and opinions in the following text are my own. I am entitled to a view, just as you are, and I realise that perspective shifts us one way or another regardless of whatever we try to do about it. You may disagree with me, and I respect your right to do so. Please respect my views in return. Due to the nature of this discussion, comments will approved through moderation – but do feel free to comment. I am not an expert in the history of this conflict, I am merely a social observer and a student of philosophy.
Before you start: I am not pro-Israel nor am I pro-Palestine; I am pro-logic.
I was recently privileged to attend an informal debate in which we discussed a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem. With an informed introductory talk by political intellectual Sandy Walkington, who visited areas affected by the conflict and talked to members of Fatah and Israeli intellectuals, we began to discuss the issue from the perspective of there being a feasible solution.
It wasn’t until members of the group started voicing their opinions that I learnt some eye-opening things about not the solution itself, but how we approach it.
For instance, it became radically clear that a good few of the members had no desire to theorycraft any such solution to the conflict, and instead focused more on condemnation and unhelpful analogies with little moral relevance; tired of the rhetoric of the Israeli government, they wished to submit some of their own.
A man whose name I cannot remember gave a lengthy albeit eloquent analogy about the blockade and occupation of Gaza by the Israeli’s, and the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany. He seemed to find a sort of perverse irony (although I found the gesture in and of itself perverse) in the military history of the Israeli’s. Note: although the West Bank is sometimes referred to as “the largest concentration camp in history”, the Nazi’s are not the only regime who’ve created and sustained large concentration camps.
Why compare an Israeli occupation to Nazi Germany? Are we to believe that the Israeli’s are as bad as the Nazi’s? Are all occupations to be compared to those conducted by Nazi Germany? Of course not. The issue, it seems for many people, was with the self-victimization of the Israeli spirit.
“Zionists playing the Holocaust card.”
The meeting took place with about 20-30 self proclaimed Liberals, many Liberal Democrat party members. And although liberal ideas seeped through their views and opinions, there wasn’t much liberal objectivity: a real need to get to the meat of the issue on the grounds that it is our moral duty, which is what liberalism is all about.
To cut a long story short, there were a few unhelpful misconceptions about the diplomatic duty of the international bystanders, and even more misconceptions about the nature of the ruling Israeli government.
There were many questions with very simple answers, all of which took us no further than a dance around semantics and utopian ideals. Some examples:
When I was asked “why can’t we talk to Hamas?” I replied “Because they’re not seen as a legitimate government by the majority of developed nations in the UN.” he replied with “And why aren’t they?” to which I replied “Because they’re catergorised as a terrorist organisation by most of the developed nations”. This answer wasn’t satisfactory, and he asked why the Israeli’s are recognized when they, ostensibly, commit crimes of their own.
This is an issue with moral relativity. Yes, Hamas were the democratically elected party in the region, but, as within my retort, so was the troublesome and occasionally morally abhorrent Iranian government. My co-debater replied “it’s none of our business what a democratically elected government does!” which is where we find the problem in the whole discussion. Actually, Walkington came to my defense at this point and said quite sharply, quite rightly: “There is something wrong with the Iranian government, actually” or words to that effect.
So you see the irony here: the idea that we have no right to ‘meddle’ in the international affairs of a democratically elected nation. Why was my so eloquently speaking co-debater at the table, then? Is that not what we were there to do?
The clue is in the name: international affairs. International. They are affairs that economically affect the region, and thus the world. They are human affairs; affairs which affect people just like you and I.
We have a moral obligation to try and relieve suffering, and to promote the well-being of people regardless of whatever political system they adopt – or try to adopt.
With Hamas radicalised, and al-Fatah facing large scale corruption, what legitimate voice do the Palestinians have? And what are the Israeli’s doing to provide them with one? Or even, to allow them to have one?
You do not have to sympathize emotionally with the plight of the Palestinian people, nor do you have to strongly oppose Zionism or condemn Israel. You don’t have to don your favorite flowery shirt and get on the next plane to the West Bank in order to prove you care, or to shout the loudest about specific individuals who you feel are harmed the most. These are pseudo-liberal methods that offer little reward, since I see no cause that has been popularized to a satisfactory end through a little stomping and shouting, or crying and wailing.
Indeed, as you can possibly tell, I was left perplexed as to the reluctance to work within the system to achieve a feasible understanding.
I am not so arrogant as to suggest I have the solution
Is it not foolish to imply that any of us feel as though we have the answers? It is through dialogue and discussion that we aim to grow our understanding of the situation, from both sides. For when we better understand the plethora of variables that contribute to the complexity of two cultures identities, we can better empathize – and through empathy, work with clarity.
It is no good to pick a side – pick a fight, and then see it through to the end. It is useless to call for international rhetoric, such as brandishing the Israeli government ‘terrorists’. If we label the Israeli government as terrorists, do we also label the US government as terrorists for strategic drone attacks? Do we label the UK government terrorists for meddling in Iranian elections in the 60’s? At which country do we stop? At which fight do we cease to condemn? You see how mere condemnation cannot move us forward – and for people who claim to care so dearly for the people trapped within a world of rhetoric, it seems perverse to insist we create our own.
So, then, what is the difference between Hamas and the Israeli government? Political infrastructure. We work within a carefully constructed political framework that ensures diplomacy. In fact, it safeguards diplomacy.
To argue that Hamas are legitimate because of political aid for the region is absurd, since do the Japanese Yakuza not provide aid in times of tragedy? Did they not feed the homeless after the tsunami and nuclear fallout? Did the Italian Mafia in New York not give out turkeys at Christmas in the 60’s and 70’s? Do these single acts of good legitimize an otherwise internationally condemned group? Of course they don’t. It isn’t liberal to ignore the facts and focus only on what they have done for good, locally.
Talking about a one state solution
I don’t have the solution, but as a social observer and critical thinker, there was one thing I found incredibly interesting: a partition within the group.
Those who felt a one-state solution was best were radically anti-Zionist (which they used synonamously with Israeli government). Their anti-Israeli views were so strong, and their pro-Palestinian sympathies so passionate, that they neither voiced what they thought either side wanted, nor considered the identity of each group. In other words, they were as ignorant about ‘the other side’ as ‘the other side’ is Ignorant about their own – much like the sustained cause of the problem as it stands now.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out that the most obvious solution is the one-state solution. In Living in the End Times, Zizek points out that the area is already a single state. A man I greatly admire, Zizek even points out, in a defense, the idea might be seen as utopian. Indeed I think it is. How do you secularize Israel? Israel is no India.
What I think
The proof is in the pudding. Palestinian and Israeli identity is encapsulated in a perpetual envy. Israel is, as discussed, a lifeboat for the Jewish people; a boat that requires water to float. The Palestinians are exactly such a substance. They enable the Jewish community to need what they require for unity. Israel doesn’t seem to want to be safe, it wants to dip its feet in the water to remind itself of the dangers outside their ship. I think it is evident that threat has brought them together as a people, and served as the unification of their identity since long before anti-Semitism existed.
For this reason, it is with lack of fore-thought that people promote the togetherness of the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Whilst small pockets of experiment prove that on a small scale, such communities can grow – it is directly against the very being of the Israeli ethos to nationalise what is essentially a microcosm. A one state solution would be a disaster, since it directly threatens the identity of the Israeli population – regardless of a small number of modern secularists who, quite rightly, have transcended such tribal notions (which I do not mean to trivialise).
The argument must be, then, that in order to provide the identity and preservation of said identity, the life-boat must be preserved. The only way to do that is not to try and diffuse differences between the two people, but to accept them. The Palestinians need a leader. A leader who can work within the international infrastructure, and talk for the modern Palestinians from the perspective of an international game-player. We’re not talking about some throw-back Conservative preservationist who wishes to “correct morality” as we’ve seen in Iran, so much as an individual who can give the Palestinian identity a global, articulate voice.
Political infrastructure requires money. It requires aid. It does not require charity. There has been no successful nation on earth that has ever been founded on charity. Each nation is founded on: identity, unity, struggle, and will.
A nation requires intellectuals to contextualise the transition from people to nation state. This must be a secularist movement, since no forum of religious leaders is ever equal in either number nor voice. There are Christians in the West Bank, as there are Muslims and other denominations of each, etc. The transition must be seen as a humanist movement, but not a trivial media-popularization of a tired old conflict. In order to successfully transition from people to nation state, money is of course required. Investors must be attracted, and investment regulated and sustained. Modern technology is of course required, of which there is no lack of in the Middle East. With money there can be regulation of political parties. It is clear through history that no struggle produces a political party fit for modern politics. A party born of struggle is a very bitter party indeed, and it is not with hate for the Israeli’s that such a party should come about – so much as love for their Palestinian kin. It is for this reason that Hamas, and Fatah to some degree, cannot be a serious political contender in a democracy to be taken seriously, without serious reformation. It is not illiberal to look at the instigation of far-right political ideology when such parties do get international backing. It is fair to say, however, that no party should condone the firing of rockets from schools into a neighboring state if they’re to be taken seriously.
As a very interesting, very aged fellow pointed out during a rather fiery exchange of ideas: Palestine needs a Mandela.
There are logical contradictions in the view that a one-state solution is the best possible solution, given the fallibility of a Palestinian state:
Objection: Israel cannot guarantee its own security under the conditions of a complicated land-swap.
Retort: Every nation in the world faces this issue. It is the price we pay for liberty. No democratic entity can exist by suffocating others with an iron fist. In fact, to say that an established people cannot be internationally recognized when you yourself have faced the same UN vote is directly hypocritical. The argument isn’t valid.
Objection: Palestine isn’t even close to a sustainable political environment from which to grow.
Retort: That does not mean that they should not be allowed to.
These are both legal and moral quarrels; I have heard hundreds of legal loopholes with which debaters argue either for or against different state solutions, but the legality in my opinion is irrelevant: the right to exist proper is not dictated by law. The right to exist establishes itself as fact as soon as a people already do. A UN vote merely allows the new political entity into the global system.
Why should Palestinians have to live in a Jewish state, and why should Israeli’s have to live with Palestinians?
One huge and alarming misuse of the liberal view, is assuming that both cultures should live together under the same state. Why? Why should a Palestinian be policed by an Israeli? Is it not incredibly naive to think that each people would be represented equally in parliament? In which case, how is it democratically balanced? If the Israeli voice out-numbers the Palestinian, which it certainly does now, can we truly call the unified state a success? Of course not.
It is then illiberal to force the two people to come together. They are two autonomous global identities who have a right for independence, including from one and other.
I’m now going to provide a short but fascinating passage from Slavoj Zizek’s Living in the End Times to illustrate the point that inter-nationalisation cannot work:
On August 2, 2009 after cordoning off part of the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Israeli police evicted two Palestinian families (more than 50 people) from their homes, allowing Jewish settlers to immediately move into the emptied houses. Although the Israeli police cited a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court, the evicted Arab families had been living there for more than fifty years. This event which, rather exceptionally, did attract the attention of the world media, is part of a much larger and mostly ignored ongoing process. Five months earlier, on March 1, 2009, it was reported that the Israeli government had draftred plans to build more than 70,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank; if implemented, the plans could increase the number of settlers in the Palestinian territories by about 300,000 – a move that would not only severely undermine the chances of a viable Palestinian state, but also hamper even more the everyday life of Palestinians. A government spokesman dismissed the report, arguing that the plans were of limited relevance: the actual construction of news homes in the settlements required the approval of the defense minister and prime minister. However, 15,000 planned units have already been fully approved. Moreover, almost 20,000 of the planned units lie in the settlements that are far from the “green line” separating Israel from the West Bank, in other words in areas which Israel cannot expect to retain in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. The conclusion is obvious: while paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating a situation on the ground which will render such a solution de facto impossible.
It is historically true that Israeli-Arabs live as second class citizens, and whilst some would argue that living as an Arab in Israel is better than living as an Israeli in Palestine, I do not see how that offers much to a one-state solution argument. They have limited to no political identity in Israel, and what little there is turns to bitterness and anger born from desperation. These are not good conditions for the establishment of an autonomous people into either a national or international system of diplomacy.
Whilst I see that land-swaps are increasingly problematic, I do not think they impossible. Houses are not people, people can move. But why would they cooperate? Why would they willingly up and move for the sake of the rising water?
It is on this question that I end this piece, again with Zizek:
The solution of the tension is thus not to be found in multicultural tolerance and understanding but in a shared struggle on behalf of a universality which cuts diagonally across both communities, dividing each of them against itself, but uniting the marginalized in both camps.
Something along these lines occurred during 2009 in the West Bank village of Bilin, where a Jewish lesbian group, complete with pierced lips, tattoos, etc., came each week to demonstrate against the village’s partition and demolition, joining ranks with conservative Palestinian women, each group developing a respect for the other. It is through such events, rare as they are, that the conflict between fundamentalism and gays [or any modern issue] is exposed for what it is: a pseudo-struggle, a false conflict obfuscating the true issue.
Through mutual respect born of the struggle for autonomy, perhaps the Israeli and Palestinian people can learn to respect each-other – find their unification. It is the plight of both people that could potentially bring them together – not as dysfunctional cell-mates, but as neighboring autonomous states that know what it’s like to establish identity without a voice. The Israeli’s must fight among themselves for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians must fight for their own state, and to promote the view that the Israeli’s have the right to exist, which of course they do. Through the creation of their own state, and thus their own international identity, Palestinians will by proxy learn to respect the right of the Israeli’s, through understanding their position.
This internal feud, which already exists, is the strongest unification between the two people. It should be harnessed and promoted, through which respect for each group on both sides will grow, as we have seen on a much smaller scale.
Afterword: You may be confused by my willingness to ‘meddle’ in the affairs of a democratic entity, and whilst the discussion is another article in and of itself, I’ll clarify my position somewhat.
Democracy exists only when choice exists. For choice to exist, a certain amount of freedom must exist. Freedoms such as: the right to think, the right to free speech, a free and open media, equal voice and funding between parties, social freedoms and attitudes, etc. It isn’t merely good enough to facilitate a vote: there must be choices born of freedoms and liberties enjoyed by those closest to the truest democracies. Censorship, etc., diminishes choice, and thus invalidates democratic process. In my view, then, we have an ethical obligation to keep a careful eye on nations who do their best to harness democracy, rather than to simply provide it.