Apr 182012
 
Authors: Jesse Benn

Last week, I wrote my column on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in light of Passover. In it, I suggested that because Israel is in a position of power, the onus is upon them to move the peace process forward.

Raising the question: What would I do?

First, let’s briefly consider some history.

In 1948, Israel declared independence and then successfully defended itself in the first Arab-Israeli War.

Over the next several decades, a number of wars and conflicts took place between Israel and its neighbors in what, at the time, was a regional dispute.

The 1970s brought peace between Israel and Egypt, turning the regional Arab-Israeli conflict into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Most notably, Egypt’s departure from the dispute meant the removal of the only real check on Israel’s power in the region.

As a result, the number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories increased exponentially –– from around 10,000 in 1972, to over 100,000 in 1983, to more than 500,000 today.

These settlers, largely sanctioned, subsidized and protected by the Israeli government, now mark one of the biggest logistical threats to the future of a two-state solution, and consequently to the future of Israel’s existence.

See, Jews are good at a lot of things, but one thing we aren’t very good at is growing our population. We don’t really convert people, and we never recruit. So, unlike the world’s faster growing religions and ethnicities (make no mistake, being a Jew is more ethnicity than it is religion), the world’s Jewish population is slowly expanding.

What this means for Israel, a country founded in the wake of the Holocaust, and quite intentionally as a Jewish state, is that without a change of course, slow population growth combined with continued settlements could mean an end to country as we know it.

Because the more Israelis settle within land that will become part of Palestine under any two-state solution, the further from reality such a solution becomes; as the already disjointed West Bank and Gaza become even more fragmented by the settlements.

And if current trends continue, Israel will only be left with a few options.

The first, if Israel wants to keep any semblance of democracy, will be the creation of a single-state that incorporates all of the land and people, Noam Chomsky calls it Isratine. In this scenario, Israel will lose its identity as a Jewish state as its Arab population will quickly outgrow the slowly expanding Jewish population –– taking control of democratic institutions through popular vote.

The second, more likely option is a continuation of the status quo, a de facto single-state that segregates its population based on ethnicity, creating a group of second class citizens, without rights or representation (now Google “apartheid”).

For those who don’t prefer these options, the only one left is the elusive two-state solution.

This will require overcoming a number of logistical barriers –– the settlements, borders, water rights, security (for both countries)… all the things that have stopped the peace process in the past.

At the heart of every failed attempt at peace, though, has been a lack of mutual respect, and as a result, a failure of each side to address the other’s symbolic, sacred values.

And studies show that symbolic trade-offs of these values, particularly among hardliners who control much of the discourse, could help move the peace process forward.

One study proposed different, commonly-suggested two-state compromises, to a sampling of Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees and students –– half of the students identified with Hamas.

When proposals included both sides making symbolic compromises of their sacred values –– like Palestinian’s recognizing Israel’s right to exist, or Israel acknowledging the historic legitimacy to Palestinian’s right of return –– opposition to the proposals decreased.

This highlights where the peace process should start.

Rather than starting with a negotiation of logistical issues, Israel and its supporters should begin by recognizing the pain, anguish and displacement the creation of Israel has wrought on Palestinians, historically and today.

And Palestinians and their supporters should begin by acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

So, what would I do?

I’d bear witness to everyone’s truth. I’d suggest that being a supporter of Israel isn’t mutually exclusive from being a supporter of Palestine.

And if more people would start here with me, the peace process might stand a chance.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who only has a few columns left. For opinion in 160 characters or less you can always follow me on Twitter, though. His column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:06 pm

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