Monday, December 3

Mr Palestine

This is the cover of the most recent issue of The Economist. It covers the Annapolis summit that was recently hosted by the White House and involved representatives from Israel, Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other countries. Local hopes weren't very high; no one expected much besides rhetoric, and it seems that those expectations were met. Of course, the current US administration hasn't done much to move things forward...

In 2001 President Bush officially announced that the US supported the establishment of a Palestinian state. He also said that he would like this to happen by 2005. Three years later, he announced that it could probably happen by 2009. Yet, for most of his time in office, his administration has largely ignored the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (though the US has been quite busy elsewhere in the Middle East). In light of these deadlines, and how they pass and things here only get worse for Palestinians, it's easy to understand why local people don't hold much hope for summits and talks.

Why would President Bush be 'Mr Palestine'? It seems that neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders, even when they want to, are able to make peace. The majority of people on both sides want peace, but there are extremist elements that are able to make it extremely difficult to get to any kind of peace agreement (and sometimes they make it extremely difficult for traffic to move, as we can attest to). On the Palestinian side, if a couple of men fire rockets, the entire population is punished by the Israeli government; on the Israeli side, people intentionally move into areas they know they shouldn't to provoke responses. Not good the Economist argues that only a settlement pushed by outsiders (which imposes parameters on the sides, since they're too far apart to get together without outsiders) will bring the sides close enough together to actually talk. Hence, President Bush is "Mr Palestine, the only man who could make it happen."

We saw some protesters in Jerusalem. This lady has a picture of the Third Temple, which by implication means the Dome of the Rock would have to be knocked down first. I love learning about the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, but should I support this kind of thinking? I wonder. Would Jesus call for destroying the things around him to set up his kingdom? At the Western Wall they held a prayer vigil to pray that the Annapolis summit would fail. The worst part is that a lot of people showed up. What are we to think then? Obviously the extremists on either side don't want to give up anything. And, it seems they got their wish with Annapolis; it was a chance for leaders to get together, but that was about it. The extremists on the Palestinian side will keep shooting rockets, the extremists on the Israeli side will keep demanding that anyone not Jewish leave Israel and the West Bank, and people in Bethlehem (the ones that are allowed) will keep walking through this to go see friends in Jerusalem.

So Annapolis didn't seem to do much for anyone.
If you want to educate yourself, keep going. If you read for the fun of it, skip the rest of this post.

The big issues involved in any peace discussion are as follows:
1) Jerusalem. Will it be only Israel's capital, or the capital of both Israel and an independent Palestinian state? Prior to 1967, when Israel captured he Old City from Jordan, Israelis weren't allowed to visit the old city (this was prior to the Jordan-Israel peace treaty which exists now). Most of the protesters on the Israeli side refuse to consider giving up any part of Jerusalem, and generally are against any concessions of land that Israel has acquired through war. Palestinians say that without some kind of autonomy over a significant portion of Jerusalem, no deal will be acceptable.

2) Refugees. Palestinians insist that anyone who fled or was forced from their home (and there are both kinds) because of war in 1948 or 1967 is a refugee (as a slight aside, this makes sense to me. If tanks were rolling through the street outside my front door, and planes were dropping bombs on neighbors, I'd probably go visit my parents or sister or something too). The Palestinians also claim that all descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.) of those people are refugees as well (I believe this goes against UN standards for all other refugees, but that's another post). In any negotiation, what to do with refugees has to be decided. The Palestinian side argues for a 'right of return', though they know this is unrealistic. If Palestinian refugees were allowed to return to their homes they would immediately outnumber Jews in Israel. This was part of Olmert's (the Israeli PM) demand that the Palestinian side recognize Israel as a Jewish state prior to the start of Annapolis. That would in effect be renouncing the Palestinian claim to the right of return. So, both sides are kind of stuck on this issue a bit; one step the Israeli government could take that would help would be to acknowledge Israel's role in causing refugees, but the government has traditionally been reluctant to do that.

3) Borders. Where will the borders of a Palestinian state be? The Green Line is often cited as the default border (the Green Line was basically the border between Israel and Jordan before Jordan lost the West Bank in 1967; as noted, Israel has yet to annex the West Bank, meaning they officially make it Israeli territory and extend citizenship to the people living there). However, the current separation barrier/wall that Israel has put up doesn't follow the Green Line. In fact, the route wanders deep into what would be Palestinian territory, at times ignoring the route that would be much more convenient (and more easily defensible, particularly when you look at 'Qalqilya' on the map) for Israel to take what would be Palestinian land if a deal were ever worked out. The issue of borders lead directly to the fourth main component in negotiations.

4) Security. The state of Israel has valid security claims regarding the safety of its citizens. They left the Gaza strip in 2005 (unilaterally, which means they did it without really coordinating with any Palestinian security) and rockets are now being shot from the places they previously left. Some guys shoot rockets, the Israelis blow them up, and the cycle keeps going. Not so good. Security and borders are linked more than anything else. Israel wants to keep a military presence on the borders of a Palestinian state so that they feel safe, but the Palestinians argue that that means they'd have no sovereignty over their own borders.

These are the four main issues that the two sides aren't able to resolve, and they are incredibly complex when you start to look at the details. This is a good introduction, but if you want to learn more and have the time, find Dennis Ross's book The Missing Peace. Remember too that there are lots of normal people on both sides that aren't able to live normal lives because of the actions of a few.

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