Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What Are the Prospects for Peace in the Middle East?


By Matthew Taylor

With President Jimmy Carter coming to town Wednesday to speak to UC Berkeley students about his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, it’s an appropriate time for us to reflect on the current prospects for justice and peace in the Middle East.

As Carter accurately states in his book, a system of enforced apartheid reigns in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. It is systemic Israeli policy and practice to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot millions of olive trees, build roads that only Israeli colonizers are allowed to access, implant Israeli colonies on Palestinian soil in violation of international law, use an illegal wall to steal Palestinian land, and enforce two entirely different sets of legal standards for Israeli colonizers and the indigenous Palestinian population. Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is both apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and is the further enactment of a long-standing desire for territorial expansion that has permeated Zionist politics since before the 1948 war.

At this past weekend’s Jewish Voice for Peace conference in Oakland, several speakers demonstrated that the situation is getting worse all the time. According to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (, Israel has managed to confine Palestinians who live inside the illegally-occupied West Bank to 72 disconnected ghettoes within only 42 percent of the West Bank area, leaving the rest to Israel’s illegal colonization as well as military installations and hundreds of movement barriers—a “matrix of control.” When Israel’s current colonies and land grabs are taken into account, the future contours of the so-called Palestinian “state” does not look like the map of a country, but a piece of Swiss cheese.

Readers of Carter’s book are largely aware of the above challenges. However, what Carter’s book never reveals is that Apartheid can be said to prevail even inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel. Professor George Bisharat of the Hastings College of Law reports that over 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live inside villages that are officially ‘unrecognized,’ appear on no maps, and are denied basic services such as electricity and garbage collection ( Israel has demolished the homes of tens of thousands of Bedouin Arabs in order to create Jewish-exclusive housing. Israel insists that its Palestinian citizens relate to Israel as a “Jewish state”—in other words, an ethnocracy that privileges one ethnic group over another in both blatant and subtle ways.

And then, there’s the elephant in the room: the refugees. Millions of would-be citizens of the state of Israel—the Palestinians who were forcefully exiled in 1948, as well as their children—are denied the ability to return to their homes in peace, despite international guarantees and repeated U.N. resolutions affirming their right to do so. (Meanwhile, as an upper-class American Jew in Berkeley I have the unrestricted right not only to move to Israel, but to purchase a home that once belonged to a refugee.) Apartheid, at its core, is about “apartness” or “separation,” as well as the domination of one group by another. What could be a more extreme act of separation and oppression than forceful expulsion coupled with the denial of a people’s right to return to their homes?

The formula for a resolution to this disaster can take many different directions. Some advocate for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to be reconstituted as a ‘single state’ between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River with equal rights for all its citizens. However, this is a non-starter for most Israelis who insist on a Jewish-majority state. Other proposals include a EU-style regional confederation.

The international community is in near unanimous agreement that the only proposal with a modicum of justice and equity that is practically possible is a ‘two state solution’ (official U.S. policy), where Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders (possibly with agreed upon, equitable, minor border adjustments) and a viable, demilitarized, sovereign Palestinian state is created in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip—the territories occupied in the 1967 war. In fact, last month the entire Arab world re-affirmed its commitment to establish normal relations with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a just, ‘mutually agreed’ resolution to the Palestinian refugee crisis. Israel rejected the Arab Peace Plan without consideration in 2002, and has shown few signs of taking it more seriously now. It is a tragedy of unspeakable dimensions that the Israeli political elite has for decades preferred colonization to peace. What future are we all doomed to when greed and ambition outweigh coexistence?

According to Halper, the intensity of Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories has de facto eliminated even the possibility of a “viable Palestinian state”—one with territorial contiguity and control over its water, economy, resources, and borders. If so, then Israel’s colonization project may backfire and create a chorus of voices demanding a ‘single state’ solution in the face of ever-worsening Apartheid.

Perhaps Halper is right, perhaps not. Either way, if the international community does not want to let go of the two-state plan, it must act quickly and decisively to explain to Israel in no uncertain terms that its colonization of the West Bank must be fully reversed. It is at least theoretically and logistically possible—France withdrew far more than 500,000 colonizers from Algeria.

So long as U.S. taxpayer dollars fund Israel’s continued colonization and occupation of the West Bank, the United States will continue to exacerbate the conflict rather than resolve it. How can we help? Perhaps it’s time for U.S. taxpayers to demand that the United States cease financial aid to Israel that pays for its occupation and colonization and instead channel funds into activities that would create a viable two-state solution. The United States could fund the resettlement of Israeli settlers back into the pre-1967 borders, and pay to rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by Israel (both in the West Bank and within Israel proper).

As for Carter, his book may well play a significant role in shifting the U.S. discourse and international consciousness. However, Professor Bisharat’s comments show an important place where Carter’s book is silent. Someday, equal rights for all the peoples of the holy land must prevail, no matter whether they reside in a state known as Israel or Palestine.

Matthew Taylor is a fifth-year peace and conflict studies major at UC Berkeley, co-editor of PeacePower magazine (, and Jewish.

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