In previous posts I attempted to discuss some aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from my American vantage point and relative to American foreign policy as I understand it. My approach has been decidedly biased towards addressing disagreements between the United States and Israel with respect to the continued Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the proliferation of Israeli settlements across the West Bank. I also touched upon the ill effects of the soured relationship between President Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. In short, it is my view that the policies and actions of all Israeli governments since 1967 when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began, and particularly those actions taken during the past decade, pose a risk of harm to American interests and are at odds with the so called “shared common values” that Israeli and American officials often make reference to. It is my further opinion that Israel’s relentless expansion of the Jewish settlements and the recent legislation initiatives to “legalize” outposts and settlements that were constructed on Palestinian private or otherwise confiscated land are inconsistent with the spirit and substance of the “shared common values”. So what are these “shared common values”?
Prime Minister Netanyahu often used this phrase in the context of his assertions that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East that is also a faithful ally of the United States. Indeed, Mr. Netanyahu’s claim is correct. Israel is the only democracy in its neighborhood albeit its “faithful” alliance with the United States depends largely on the massive military and economic aid Israel receives from the United States. In general Israel shares many democratic and judicial values with the United States although Israel has never enacted (for reasons rooted in the desire to maintain the state as a “Jewish State”) a written constitution. Instead, the Israeli judicial system and civic functions are founded on Basic Laws (“Choukey Yesod”) that function as a quasi-constitution which, among other things, lay the foundations for laws governing civil and human rights. Such rights are indelibly enshrined in the United States Constitution and its amendments. But a further examination of how these shared common values are implemented indicates a divergence between Israel and the United States. Although, as President Obama often noted, more work is required in the United States in the areas of civil rights and equality, there is no threat to the validity of the Constitution or to the American democratic institutions. However, the continued Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the continued subjugation of the Palestinian population under a military rule and the continued expansion of the Jewish settlements on land acquired by war often involves violations of international laws, civil and human rights that pose significant threats to the sustainability of Israel’s democratic institutions and to Israel’s fabric of society.
It had been the opinions of numerous contributors to Israeli and American printed media that the continued occupation coupled with unbridled expansion of Jewish settlements, together with recent legislative initiatives by the government to “legitimize” (“launder”) existing illegal outpost and settlements lead Israel in the unmistaken direction of apartheid. One need not to go farther than the statement made by Israel’s Minister of Education Mr. Naftali Bennett, in response to questions posed by a radio interviewer, asserting that that the Palestinians will never have their own sovereign state and will always be living under Israeli rule in “their autonomy”. Needless to say that the nature and extent of the Palestinian “autonomy” is defined, and enforced, by Israel. Moreover, in a recent Israeli TV interview, Ms. Tzipi Hotoveli, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Netanyahu also holds the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs), avoided addressing the judicial status of the Palestinian population under such eternal “autonomy”. However, Ms. Hotoveli did not fail to assert that all of the West Bank is considered a “liberated” land and that the Jewish settlements are a mere return to “our ancient homeland”. What will become of the Palestinians people who share that land with the Israelis remained an unanswered question.
It is an irony that such statements are voiced by Jewish officials. They should know better. We all recall the establishment by the former Soviet Union of a “Jewish autonomous state” in Birobidzhan relegating the Jewish people of the Soviet Union to a permanent state of “second class citizens”. Needless to say that it has not worked.
This presents grave challenges to the assertions that the United States and Israel indeed “share common values”. I would not want to be a doomsayer, but it seems inevitable that the United States will face, sooner or later, a real dilemma: to continue and support Israel in spite of its blatant violations of the “shared common values” and its relentless march towards an apartheid regime across the West Bank, or abide by our own core values. That dilemma is likely to require a more guarded approach, potentially limiting the support of Israel in the international arena and in a worst case scenario perhaps compel the United States to join, not just abstain, an international condemnation. Israel may face a crisis of immense proportions, something it has never experienced.
I suggest that a solution is at hand. It requires far reaching and potentially painful decisions by both the Israelis and the Palestinians but it will ensure a peaceful and prosperous coexistence of Israel and Palestine side by side. Of course, I am aware of the fact that on both sides there will be many formidable obstacles, there will be fierce resistance to overcome but the prospects of long term peace and prosperity must prevail. The United States can and should play a pivotal role, together with other friendly governments, to impress on both sides that its continued support of Israel and the PA under the current circumstances is in real danger.
As some probably proposed before me, I suggest to revive the prospect of a governance system that is modeled on the Swiss multi-cultural arrangement. In Switzerland governance is based on a confederation between three major ethnic societies organized in cantons that reflect different cultures, religious inclinations and ethnic origins, yet the cantons form a stable state that has been living in peace and prosperity for over 150 years. The differences between the cantons are significant: the Italians, Germans and French people of Switzerland are as diverse as can be. The Italians of course speak their native language and are mostly Catholic, the Germans adhere to using their language and are mostly Protestants and the French see themselves as belonging to the Savoyard people of Northern France. Yet, they collectively understand that if their Confederation is to be prosperous and that they continue to function as a civilized society it is in their best interest to adhere to the confederate structure that guarantees their cantonal autonomy but also ensures their equitable participation in a federal government. I am convinced that an adaptation of such a model, with obvious some necessary variations, will prove beneficial to all.
Israelis, under this model, will be able to exercise their deep religious and cultural ties to Eretz Yisrael and thus free to acquire and inhabit land (legally of course) anywhere they wish. Likewise the Palestinians will be able to purchase land anywhere. The cantonal structure will ensure the Israelis and the Palestinians their civil and human rights and their autonomy in managing their internal, cultural and religious affairs but it will also ensure equitable representation in a federal government that will provide for all the state functions currently managed by the Israeli government and to a limited degree by the Palestinian Authority. One can only imagine the positive outcome. The global economic and political benefits are immeasurable. The peoples of the entire Palestine-Eretz Yisrael (a temporary historic name used by the British – once it is agreed upon a permanent name will be adopted) will enjoy levels of prosperity never seen before. The mutual interests of keeping the viability of the economic prosperity will ensure cultural and religious tolerance. Israel will finally free itself from the international stigma associated with being a subjugator of occupied people and the Palestinians will finally be an equal partner in a sovereign state. It will take an extraordinary effort on all sides to first envision that such a model is indeed possible.
It requires a whole new way of thinking and approach and a level of commitment that is currently absent on both sides of the conflict. Some will surely say that the above is nothing but a totally unrealistic pipe dream and that given the mutual age-old animosity between the two sides, the generations of seemingly endless strife and the deep cultural and religious schisms that exist, the chance to gain either Israel’s or the Palestinians’ agreement is less than zero. Yet, as the old saying goes: “thinking out of the box may yield surprises”.
Of course, as an American I am willing to wager any amount that should the sides come to such an agreement and the confederation of Palestine-Eretz Yisrael be finally formed, the United States stands to benefit immensely and its international leadership position be greatly enhanced for generations to come.