Israelis and Palestinians: moving beyond the caricatures

2012-05-09 00:00

WHEN it comes to the ever-vexed Israeli-Palestinian dispute, one of the constants has been that pro-Palestinian activists will routinely depict the conflict as a straightforward case of Israeli persecution against Palestinian victimhood, of the sinners and the sinned against. Such is how self-declared pro-Palestinian activist Hildegard Lenz depicted the situation in a lengthy feature that appeared in this paper on April 24.

What such partisan, advocacy-driven interpretations only serve to do, however, is to muddy the waters for those seeking to know what is really happening between Israel and its neighbours.

The first serious misconception fostered by the above article is that the entire history of Israel has been nothing more than a series of illegal acts of conquest. This comes across all too clearly in accompanying maps purporting to show how the proportion of land belonging to the Palestinians has been progressively whittled down over time by alleged Zionist land grabs. However, the impression thus conveyed is a false one, for a number of reasons. For one, it is based on the erroneous notion that there was a pre-existing sovereign country with recognised international borders called Palestine. In reality, no such distinct, independent Palestinian state has ever existed. Rather, the territory has for many centuries been under the sway of a series of colonial empires, commencing with the Roman conquest of what was then a Jewish nation state. At the time of the United Nations vote to partition the territory into separate Jewish and Arab states, most of the land was not legally owned by either Jews or Palestinians, falling instead under the administration of the British Mandate.

Make no mistake: the interrelationship between Israel and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank is indeed a mess, and has been ever since the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process some dozen years ago. The responsibility for what has gone wrong is not something that must be shouldered by one or either of the parties, since in truth there has been much fault on both sides. It has been recognised not just by the international community at large but by successive Israeli governments that to achieve a lasting resolution, there will have to be a complete withdrawal by Israel from most of the territory captured by it from Jordan in 1967. All this, however, is predicated on the detailed brokering of a final status agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, one which will resolve such questions as what the borders of the Palestinian state would be, the status of Jerusalem, security arrangements, minority rights within Palestinian borders and various other essential issues. Time and again, we have seen high-level attempts to move the negotiations process forward end in miserable failure, and here the primary cause is not Israeli obduracy but Palestinian rejectionism.

One thing that can reliably be expected to be belittled, misrepresented or ignored altogether by pro-Palestinian hardliners is the crucial issue of security. For them, Israel’s security concerns are nothing more than an excuse for imposing myriad array of repressive, unjust measures disrupting the daily life of ordinary Palestinians. There are some realities, however, that cannot be wished away if peace is to be achieved, and security is one of them. Israelis cannot be expected to forget the sustained campaign of murderous terrorism launched against its civilian population, one involving constant attacks on buses and private vehicles, shootings, suicide bombings, car bombings, stabbings and kidnappings.

The situation in the region is not quite as bleak as some activists would have one believe. Levels of violence have dropped sharply in recent years, resulting in numerous restrictions on Palestinian movements being lifted, and the Palestinian economy in the West Bank is now growing at a remarkable rate. Israeli and Palestinian security personnel are also working together with increasing effectiveness in preventing further acts of violence. All that being said, however, the terrorist threat has by no means vanished. Nor is any kind of culture aimed at promoting peace and good neighbourliness with Israel being fostered in the Palestinian territories. On the contrary, ordinary Palestinians continue to be indoctrinated in ideologies of violence, extreme anti-Jewish racism and Islamist supremacism.

No one, least of all Israel, desires the continuance of a situation where a large proportion of West Bank Palestinians must negotiate such daily obstacles as checkpoints, roadblocks, controls on freedom of movement and the like. Were Palestinians genuinely committed, in theory and practice, to peaceful co-existence with their Israeli neighbours, such measures would indeed be morally indefensible. Tragically, this is demonstrably still not the case, and no normalisation of the situation will ever be possible until it is. What those who truly care about peace in the Holy Land need to call for is for both peoples to recognise and respect one another’s national rights to sovereignty and through peaceful, constructive dialogue to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace and stability between them.

Antony Arkin

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