Small World: Yet another round of talks

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Here we go again. Peace talks — or talks about holding peace talks — have started between Israelis and Palestinians with Americans acting as middlemen. A few years have passed since George Bush hosted peace talks at Annapolis. Nothing was achieved then. Nothing has been achieved in the interim. Little was achieved before.

Who expects anything, anything at all, to be achieved at the gathering Secretary Kerry has worked so hard to set up?

The current phase of the Israel-Palestine conflict (as well as the Israel-Syria conflict, but let’s not complicate) began with the smashing victory Israel won over combined Arab forces in June 1967. Israel ended up occupying great swathes of its opponents’ territory. The Sinai was returned by peace treaty to Egypt; the Golan Heights were returned in small part to Syria.

The crux of the present problem are the two remaining pieces of historic Palestine, which Egypt administered (Gaza) and the West Bank [of the Jordan River] and Jerusalem which Jordan had claimed, all of these claims later renounced. Israel gave up its occupation of Gaza, but when hard-line Hamas took control, Israel imposed a blockade and periodically exchanges fire with the Palestinians (primitive rockets vs. F-16s and artillery).

At the 1993 Oslo peace talks, the West Bank was divided into areas controlled by Israel (largely where its settlements are built) and areas under the control of the Palestinian authority. Jerusalem claimed by both sides. Under international law, most nations consider the city and the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory. Under the Hague Convention (agreed to after the Nazi crimes), it is illegal for an occupying power to transfer its people into territory seized in conflict. Israel ignores that rule and has subsidized massive settlements with more than 550,000 people in the seized land.

So much for the historical context.

Everyone familiar with that history understands what the terms of a lasting and fair solution might be. They are: (1.) Two states separated by the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — West Bank and Gaza on one side, pre-1967 Israel on the other; (2.) Jerusalem to be shared as the capital of the two states; (3.) Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967 to be compensated, but not allowed to return to their homes; (4.) Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be dismantled; (5.) Palestine to be disarmed and prevented, perhaps by international peacekeepers, from threatening Israel; (6.) Israel to be recognized by all Arab states; (7.) Both new states to be generously funded by outsiders to enable a successful start up.

As you can see — if without bias — the issues dividing the two sides are susceptible to solution. The problem lies not in the details, but in the political will of authorities on both sides. How are the fanatics — both Jewish and Islamic — to be persuaded to abandon their long-held aspirations or religious beliefs. “Peace talks” are not going to accomplish that. Bribes might help. Some might be persuaded by world opinion or – in the case of many Palestinians — sheer fatigue with the hopeless struggle. Force will almost certainly be necessary to move intransigent true believers — especially Israeli settlers.

Past “efforts” to find peace have bred frustration and hopelessness. That despair will not be overcome until leaders on both sides honestly and bravely tell their people what the hard choices are that they must make if: (1.) Palestine is to become an independent state; and (2.) Israel is to remain a (largely) Jewish democracy and not an apartheid-like ruler of a population that outnumbers the rulers.

Will the fair-minded and adroit Kerry have the courage to face the political storm that will be a necessary part of the two-state birth? Or, will he stop short of applying the necessary pressure and leave behind even deeper Palestinian cynicism and renewed violence?

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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