Apr 192004
 
Authors: Brent Ables

Of all the extended multinational conflicts raging in the world

today, there are perhaps none that are as complex as the dispute

between Israel and Palestine. At least for me, trying to really

understand the background details of this conflict amounts to

something of a cultural and political history lesson all on its own

(while Israel is only half a century old, the Jewish people have

centuries of history with the Arabic world).

Does this mean that it is difficult to judge the situation on a

moral basis? Certainly, both Israel and Palestine have solid

reasons for their decisions, even when those decisions are about

who to bomb or bulldoze. But there is certainly a point at which

history, even a history of repression, fails to justify repressing

and/or harming others for political ends: we should not be held

responsible for the sins of our fathers.

That being said, how are we to judge the “historic” policy shift

announced last week by Ariel Sharon and supported by the United

States? Sharon’s plan, which will likely be approved as a

referendum in early May, concerns the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,

two regions that have served (with Jerusalem) as the stage for

ceaseless conflict between the two countries. During the Mideast

War in 1967, Israel took control of both of these territories and

established settlements in each that are still in place; over a

million Israelis currently live in the West Bank and there are less

than 10,000 in Gaza.

Sharon’s plan has several parts. First, Israel is to withdraw

its settlements from the Gaza territory and abandon four smaller

ones in the West Bank, conceding these areas to the Palestinians.

On the other hand, Sharon wants to claim for Israel the right to

large permanent settlements in the West Bank, effectively

eliminating the prospect of a complete and homogenous Palestinian

state in that area. The plan also states that Palestinian refugees

who had lived in Israel and were displaced in times of war have no

right to return to Israel and should instead seek permanent

residence in Palestine.

 

The last two points of the plan have been met with outrage in

the Arabic world, and particularly by Palestine. While the anger is

of course directed primarily towards Israel, Palestine has also

directed strong criticism towards the United States. To quote

Yassir Arafat (currently under boycott by America): “No one in the

world has the right to give away our land and our rights.” The

anger should not be surprising, for Bush’s stance marks the first

time a U.S. administration has supported the right of permanent

Israeli settlements outside of the state itself, and is one of the

most significant pro-Israeli concessions yet by the United

States.

It seems to me that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip

is something that should have been enacted before now. The relative

number of Israelis in the territory has created far more trouble

for both Israel and Palestine than the settlements are worth, and

life for both sides will likely be better after this move. If the

withdrawal was merely a gesture of good will toward Palestine, it

would be even more praiseworthy. However, given Sharon’s generally

unyielding attitude towards the Palestinian Authority, it seems

more likely that the move is simply a strategic concession designed

to justify permanently settling areas of the West Bank.

This brings up the question of why Israel is so concerned with

these settlements in the first place. The West Bank is of religious

importance to Israel, certainly, and rival claims by Palestine are

responsible for much of the historical fighting between the Jewish

and Arabic people. But Sharon must be aware of the more important

fact that the creation of a Palestinian state in the area

(independent of Israeli military regulation) would most likely end

the suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

Furthermore, it is questionable whether Israel’s settlements are

even legitimate. It is (at least it is said to be) a maxim of

American foreign policy that land taken via military conquest does

not legitimately belong to the conquering nation: this was the

legal reason given for the first Gulf War, which began when Iraq

invaded Kuwait. So why is President Bush so eager to support

Israel’s permanent occupation of land it claimed during a war, in a

region that previously was solely the possession of Palestine?

There are contradictions in the Israeli/United States stance. If

the Palestinian refugees uprooted from their homes do not have the

right to return to land that was legitimately theirs, by what

justification is Israel allowed to keep land that was actually

taken by force from the Palestinians? By establishing permanent

settlements in the middle of Palestine, Israel makes it essentially

impossible for the Palestinians to have a fully unified and secure

state, and thus the wave of Palestinian terror attacks is likely to

continue.

And finally, it is baffling why the Bush administration would

choose to take such a strong pro-Israeli stance at a time when

relations with the Arabic world are at their most delicate. Much of

the hatred directed toward America in nations like Egypt, Iran,

Iraq and Palestine is directly linked to the U.S. support of

Israel. While I do believe that the nation of Israel deserves U.S.

support and alliance, we could certainly exercise more caution in

this complicated conflict. By condoning Sharon’s proposal, the Bush

administration is going to make life more difficult for both

Americans and Palestinians.

Brent is a freshman studying philosophy. His column appears

every Tuesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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