You can’t see freedom from any window

Israel/Palestine
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What measures can the Palestinians take to get Israel’s boot off their necks? Armed struggle is out. All Palestinians we (a delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace) spoke to on a recent fact-finding trip to the region recognized that violence was a dead end: the Palestinians have no military options. A center-right (Kadima) Israeli Knesset member who saw us all but licked his lips at the prospect of a third intifada: Israel is prepared for that, has better intelligence, plus the elaborate separation wall infrastructure. Israel knows who the Palestinian intellectual and civil leaders are and where they live. My interpretation of his comments is that a third intifada would give Israel cover to carry out a Katyn forest of its very own– when Stalin killed the Polish officers to render Poland leaderless.

But what to do then, as the situation worsens? There is the Ramallah bubble, where Palestinian Authority bureaucrats are comfortable and have the prospect of getting rich. Everywhere else there is a gradual tightening of the screws, the salami tactics of slow motion ethnic cleansing. House demolitions, changing the status of residency permits. At Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Lutheran institution on the Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, we learned of Israeli measures to make it difficult for the hospital to treat cancer patients from the West Bank and Gaza. First, the patients weren’t allowed to come themselves, the hospital had to pick up them up in a bus. Then the hospital had to hire a driver with a special Israeli license. Fine. Then the Israelis didn’t renew his license. 

Augusta Victoria has many international friends , and Israel retreated after their complaints. Now the latest wrinkle is that Israeli troops stop the bus at checkpoints, make the cancer patients disembark and walk around while Israeli soldiers rummage through their belongings. The waits can be (and are intended to be) long and painful. If and when that mechanism is lifted, Israel will find something else. The hospital will have had to devote a good deal of staff time and energy trying to rally international support against a petty apartheid measure, energy which could have been employed serving its community. Multiply this instance by a hundred, by a thousand — bureaucratic measures across the scope of Palestinian life, all purposefully focused on driving educated Palestinians out of their homeland. 

Now the talk is of declaring of a state: the Palestinian Authority’s latest measure to advance the goal of Palestinian self-determination. Several Latin American countries have already recognized “the state” of Palestine. One can see the appeal: negotiations are going nowhere, but most of the world supports Palestinian statehood. If the state were recognized, woudn’t that be demonstrable progress? We didn’t find many Palestinians who thought so. The sharpest retort came from Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, the chief administrator of Augusta Victoria. It would change nothing, he said, only lower the curtain on the possibility of meaningful change. The Israelis would say “Mabrouk” (congratulations), you have your state now. Negotiations would cease, checkpoints would remain. Israelis would control Palestinian access to Jerusalem, and to all the major cities on the West Bank, exactly as they do now. Israel would control the Jordan Valley and all the ways into and out of “Palestine”. But “Palestine” could have a flag. Israel could say with some logic that the situation isn’t “an occupation” – illegal under international law– but a “border dispute.”

We found little hope on this trip, but plenty of wisdom. I keep coming back to the words of Mitri Raheb, the Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem who runs projects of education and vocational training for young Palestinians. Five years ago, Mitri had told a similar group that the window for a two state solution was closing fast. Now the two state solution scarcely came up. Mitri said “We are not in a sprint, but a marathon. And what we need is the ability to breathe.” He is now trying to tap the resources of the Palestinian diaspora. One project is to persuade five thousand Palestinian Christians, educated professionals, back from their countries of refuge to help build the community here. There, are by his calculation, 260,000 Christians living abroad, so –two percent. One can see this kind of measure would make a huge long term difference.

Needless to say, we didn’t hear many Palestinians speak ill of BDS—currently the world focus of efforts to educate people about what’s going on in Israel/Palestine, and how, peacefully, to change it.

About Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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10 Responses

  1. seafoid
    January 14, 2011, 12:58 pm

    link to ft.com

    ” By 2050, HSBC predicts, 19 of the world’s 30 largest economies will be emerging markets. Their collective economic output, of about $55,000bn, will be greater than that of their developed-world peers. The world leaders will include not just China, India and Brazil but Mexico, Egypt and Iran. ”

    Israel has very little time to establish a permanent accepted foothold in the region. By 2050 Jews won’t even be 35% of the population of Erez Israel.

    • yonira
      January 14, 2011, 1:36 pm

      By 2050 Jews won’t even be 35% of the population of Erez Israel.

      Is this just like your opinion?

      • mig
        January 14, 2011, 6:01 pm

        I guess not, CIA told this too.

  2. seafoid
    January 14, 2011, 1:02 pm

    Another leg of Israel’s strategy weakens

    link to ft.com

    A stark lesson for ageing Arab autocrats
    By Claire Spencer
    Published: January 13 2011 22:45 | Last updated: January 13 2011 22:45
    As a small state of 10m people, Tunisia rarely tops lists of diplomatic concerns. Even so, given the increasingly violent protests taking place since December, it was surprising that America waited 22 days before criticising the police response, in which at least 23 people have died. The spread of protests to Algeria, where young people took to the streets earlier this month, should now prompt much more serious reflection.
    While there is no clear and direct link between the two sets of protests, the economic triggers – youth unemployment and the rising cost of basic goods – are similar. Now the question is whether the unrest can be contained, or whether it will go on to unsettle the ruling regimes that govern North Africa and indeed other populous states in the Arab world.
    Algeria has a sobering historical precedent for today’s demonstrators. Riots over shortages in 1988 prompted an ill-fated experiment in competitive elections. Having cancelled the first round of voting, the military forced the president to resign and imposed emergency laws that still hold today. The protests took Algeria no closer to a full-fledged democracy free of military interference.
    A generation on, and the region’s youthful population still feel the effects of Algeria’s “décennie noire”, (dark decade). Moves towards democracy elsewhere in the region have been replaced, at best, by the semblance of accountable governance with little political substance. North Africa’s post-9/11 emphasis on combating al-Qaeda has also played down political experiments, in exchange for assurances from local leaders of security in Europe’s back yard.
    For the past decade this approach has created a mostly peaceful and relatively prosperous region – even if not one that meets human rights concerns. Yet it is with economic growth that the problem now lies. The west, and in particular the European Union’s various Mediterranean policies, have pushed to increase the region’s economic, rather than political, opportunities – in the hope that growth would absorb the growing unemployed, and dampen their enthusiasm for renewed forms of Islamist activism.
    This approach had some success, with overt terrorist threats receding. But growth simply has not come fast enough to keep a lid on economic resentment. Now the danger is where those with grievances will turn next. The al-Qaeda variant of Islamist radicalism still fails to attract the vast majority of North Africa’s malcontents, but this has not stemmed the appeal of other Islamist alternatives.
    It is of course possible that some good may come of the current protests. Iran’s 2009 protests excited international attention, because they showed democratic instincts in a troubled part of the Middle East. Yet so far no such sympathy has been extended to the protesting North Africans – who are too often painted in the west as potential flag-bearers for terror, or unwanted migrants.
    As the violence threatens to spread, a new strategy from the US and Europe is badly needed. Any replacement for the already-flagging post-9/11 approach must now balance concerns with terrorism with a stronger emphasis on sharing the fruits of economic growth, and democratic accountability. The west should be wary of siding with North Africa’s ageing leaders against the reasonable aspirations of their peoples.
    Those leaders could still show the same tenacity as their Iranian counterparts – while buying time with economic palliatives. Unlike the Iranians, however, they lack a convincing national or ideological narrative to justify sustained repression. The leaders of Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt are also unlikely to survive to see the next decade – making them poor long-term allies.
    In any case, stifling freedoms would provide no guarantee of regional peace, especially given restive populations are increasingly able to circumvent online controls and media clampdowns to learn the truth about their leaders. Because of this the jobless of North Africa today observe with new clarity that wealth and opportunity within their respective states have been unfairly shared, while corruption among the elite remains rife. They are drawing their own conclusions about when enough is enough. North Africa’s leaders would do well to change their ways, before their people make their rules untenable.

    The writer is head of the Middle East & North Africa programme at Chatham

    • eee
      January 14, 2011, 1:39 pm

      You mean that people understand that there are many things worse than Israeli occupation and that ending occupation without guaranteeing stability and long term economic growth will lead to chaos.

    • yonira
      January 14, 2011, 2:03 pm

      Well I am glad someone touched on at least one of the boiling points in the ME.

      Although relevance to Israel’s legs = 0%

      • seafoid
        January 14, 2011, 6:12 pm

        If pharoah Hosni is forced out of office, Israel is going to be in trouble. Egypt’s airforce is as good as Israel’s. The Egyptian people love Israel.

      • eee
        January 14, 2011, 6:26 pm

        If the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt it will be great for Israel.
        If they re-neg on the peace treaty, Israeli will take back the Sinai and the world will sanction Egypt. If they accept the peace treaty, what has changed?

        As for the Egyptian air force, it can’t fly without American spare parts and training. It will deteriorate very quickly. I imagine quite a few of the pilots will defect to Israel with their planes. Mubarak and the army are not going to give up power so easily. There will be a war. And the losers will not want to stay in Egypt.

    • Sumud
      January 15, 2011, 12:49 am

      My ex is Algerian and I’ve spent some time there. The problem is more than just economic development. Algeria is a RICH country –the world’s 4th or 5th largest deposits of natural gas – and Algerians are pissed off that they aren’t benefitting from this. Public spending on infrastructure & services isn’t what it should be, there’s widespread unemployment, especially among youth, and corruption everywhere. Unless money starts to filter down to build a middle class (unlikely under neo-liberal economic policies) no amount of economic development is going to help.

  3. Jim Haygood
    January 14, 2011, 3:23 pm

    ‘[Mitri] is now trying to tap the resources of the Palestinian diaspora. One project is to persuade five thousand Palestinian Christians, educated professionals, back from their countries of refuge to help build the community here.’

    Most successes in attracting the return of diaspora professionals were propelled by increases in economic freedom — for instance, the deregulation in India in the 1990s.

    As long as Israel exercises arbitrary control over the movement of people and goods in Palestinian territory, it’s difficult to justify capital investment there.

    What Palestine needs even more than a state is a free port — a portal to trade with the world, without the avaricious, arbitrary Israeli middleman. This will be no easy task. But Palestinians should never sign off on the landlocked, nonviable West Bank statelet pushed by the 2SS crowd. It’s a bantustan, an Indian reservation, a pig in a poke designed from the outset to enforce poverty and hopelessness.

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