Israel and Palestine united (part one)

I've been trying to get my head around the whole Arab-Israeli conflict for years now. Back when I was a callow youth, I used to play a board game by Avalon Hill called "Arab-Israeli Wars". Back then I loved war games and saw the game as a US/Soviet match-up that consistently proved the superority of Americans and Israelis over Russians and Arabs. I still have the game somewhere in this room, but I will always remember that, while Israeli units were outnumbered often 2-1 in these simulations, they more than made up for it by the quality of the weapons available.

So naturally as a teenager I was very pro-Israel. It had nothing to do with my Christian faith since neither my church at the time nor my family ever exhibited anything close to Zionism or Dispensationalism. I was also very gung-ho for America in those days too, so obviously Israel was an outpost of freedom in a Soviet-controlled Middle East.

I then began to question the "goodness" of Israel when I was about 18 or 19. I'd seen footage of Arab civilians being shot at by Israeli soldiers and was apparently angry enough to write a poem that equated the Israeli oppression of Arabs to the Nazi treatment of Jews during the second world war. It would be an understatement for me to say that, in hindsight, I regret it now.

Let me be very clear at this point: I think Israel as a nation has a right to exist. Had I any involvement in the pre-1948 discussions though, I would do the best I could to dissuade them from creating Israel. This may sound contradictory but let me explain further.

Had I been around before 1948, I would have argued that to create an entirely new country with a whole bunch of European refugees was probably a good thing - so long as it didn't displace anyone who was already there. Had they created a Jewish nation in central Australia I wouldn't have minded. The problem was that to create a Jewish nation in Palestine - no matter how "justified" it might have seemed at the time - by displacing and disenfranchising people who had lived there for centuries was a bad thing. Had the Arabs in Palestine been consulted and drawn into the process then, who knows, they may actually have supported it. (very unlikely, but certainly possible)

But the fact that I don't think that the modern state of Israel should've been created in the first place doesn't mean that I wish the state to be dissolved now. Far from it. Millions of people have been born within the borders of the state of Israel and to them it is their home. Modern Israel is a sophisticated culture with a well-run political and social system. Even though I feel sympathy for the plight of Arabs in and around the state of Israel, to argue for the dissolution of such a nation would be stupid and immoral.

But I do want peace in that area. On the one hand I want citizens of Israel to be happy and prosperous. On the other hand I want anyone who has been disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the actions of Israel to be given freedom and support.

Well, that was supposed to be the introduction. Now onto what I'm really talking about...

The population of Israel is around 6.9 million people. Of these, around 1.3 million are Arabs and 5.3 million are Jewish. The small amount of research I have done on this shows that these Israeli Arabs have the same legal and political rights as any other citizen of Israel - ie they can vote, they can become members of parliament (Knesset) and they are protected by the laws that protect all citizens of Israel.

Moreover, while they are still relatively poor compared to Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs seem to have a better standard of living than Palestinian Arabs, and also appear to be much more peaceful than their Palestinian cousins. I may be wrong here, but I think that the vast majority of terrorist attacks perpetrated upon Israel over the years have been the result of Palestinian Arabs - Arabs who are citizens of Israel have not, to my limited knowledge, created too much trouble for their fellow Jewish citizens.

This is not to say that there are problems. Israeli Arabs are not always looked kindly upon by Israeli Jews. In August 2005, an AWOL member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) named Eden Natan-Zada opened fire in a bus and killed four Israeli Arabs - two Christian men and two Muslim women. There also appears to be some discrimination in terms of funding between towns that are predominately Arab and those that are predominately Jewish. Some of the more dogmatic Israeli Jews, including Avigdor Liberman, have actually suggested that some towns (containing mainly Israeli Arabs) near the West Bank could be transferred over to the Palestinian Territories in exchange for keeping certain Jewish settlements. Liberman's voice does not represent a majority - but it is a voice that is heard in Israeli politics.

At issue here is a simple question - do you have to be Jewish in order to be a citizen of Israel? According to their constitution, no. According to the "Law of Return", yes. Certainly the constitution does not eliminate from citizenship Israeli Arabs, but the "law of return" allows for any Jewish person around the world to come and become a citizen of Israel - a law which obviously discriminates in favour of a certain religious and ethnic background (and one which is obviously controversial, but hardly unique).

It always struck me as odd, therefore, that whenever a Jewish settlement was built in the Palestinian territories, that Israel would assert its right to protect its citizens, grant them legal and voting status and (either fully or partially) control the Palestinian authorities to ensure their protection. If Gaza and the West Bank are not part of a sovereign nation that Israel has invaded then surely they are parts of Israel itself - and if they are part of Israel, then why aren't the Palestinian Arabs who live in these areas granted the same rights as Israeli citizens?

Obviously to do so would create a political and social mess. The Palestinian Territories have nearly 4 million people - most of whom are Islamic Arabs. To grant these people Israeli citizenship would create a massive Islamic bloc within the Knesset. The combined population of Israel and the Palestinian territories is around 10.81 million people, of which at least 5.27 million are Jewish. If this proportion was translated into voting power, Jews would control 48.8% of the vote. The amount of Islamic Arabs would probably be less than that, with the remainder (5-6%) being Christian Arabs.

A mess? Potentially. Yet, at the same time, I can't think of any better long-term solution to the problem.

I would like Israel to extend its boundaries to include the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza - while at the same time extending the right of citizenship to the Palestinian Arabs. This would mean that, while Palestine as a geopolitical entity would dissolve, the actual people losing their "nation" would have their citizenship transferred over. They would not be disenfranchised, nor would they need to be disadvantaged.

Of course, in order to do this both the Palestinians and the Israelis themselves would have to agree with it. Palestinians would have to lay aside their demand for their own geopolitical entity (which, for many, currently includes the destruction of the nation of Israel) while Israelis would have to accept the loss of political power that would naturally result from making the Palestinians into Israeli citizens.

Let me make it simple:
  • The Palestinians give up their demand for a nation, but gain citizenship and political power in another.
  • The Israelis give up a large chunk of their political power, but gain full control over Gaza and the West Bank.
At this point in history such an event would be impossible to achieve be impossible to maintain. Both sides are suffering from the hatred and violence of the other. I don't care which side is more "responsible" for this violence - I just want it to stop and for foes to become friends. I want all Arabs to enjoy the same rights and privileges as Israeli Jews, and for Israeli Jews to live happy and prosperous lives in a land that their distant ancestors once occupied, alongside Arabs who also have their roots in the land.

Peace, prosperity, freedom and order should be the goal - something that can best be created by uniting Palestine and Israel into one nation.

How can that be done? You'll just have to wait for part two.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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