Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why So Serious?

“U.S. feverishly works to derail Palestinian statehood bid.” Oh, where to begin? The first in a long list of ironies is that the Palestinians are taking their case to the U.N. -- an organization located in the United States, and which the U.S. had more to do with founding than any other single nation. It was supposed to be a forum, where the nations of the world could gather to iron out their differences in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the New World Order. With the Soviet Empire out of the way, along came the Islamists, and the Intifada, and the “Arab Spring”, and all the attempts to expel Arab/Islamic rulers who were “cooperative” (i.e. with the U.S. and Israel) and replace them with more democratic, theocratic, nationalistic types – assuming there can be a combination of that sort. So when the Arabs/Moslems woke from their long, hashish-induced sleep, they discovered that the U.N. was, indeed, a perfectly good forum in which to air their grievances against the host country (us) and Israel. And thus did the U.N. become “the enemy” to American conservatives, and a source of unease to American liberals. (When's the last time you heard of the U.N. being praised in the halls of Congress, or in the American media?)

So much for the U.N. -- for now. But why are our leaders so upset – frantic, desperate even? Allegedly, it's because they fear that if the Palestinians take their argument to the U.N. and succeed in getting a vote on their bid for statehood recognition, it will “force” us to veto their proposal, which will, in turn, lead to a backlash in the Islamic world – protests, instability, danger to our troops, inconvenience to Israel, etc. Well yes, and so it might – since we already know that even the lowliest goatherd in the Hindu Kush is keeping track of world news 24-7. These are a very sensitive, thin-skinned, highly-reactive people – nearly as much as the Israelis themselves (who are already mounting protests against the impending vote).

But the question that is never asked, for the usual reasons, is – why do we have to veto any sort of U.N. resolution related to Palestinian statehood? After all, some of our politicians have even, from time to time, expressed the thought that Palestinian statehood, AKA the two-state solution, might be a good idea – until they were hushed by Israel, that is. So let's take a brief trip down memory lane – the well-worn path that represents how we got to this point.

Way back in 1917, the British, who occupied Palestine as a result of World War I (the area having been part of the Ottoman, i.e. Turkish, Empire up to that point), came up with the Balfour Declaration, which promised the establishment of a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine. (This was while a lowly soldier by the name of Adolf Hitler was slogging through the mud of Passchendaele.) But there were as yet no specific proposals for what the boundaries of such a “national home” might be. The idea for a partition of some sort was raised in 1936 and was met with indignation from the Arabs, who, I'm sure, could already see the handwriting on the wall.

Fast forward to 1947 and – guess who – the United Nations had come up with a partition plan. And if you look at it, it appears like some sort of checkerboard as seen by someone on acid – three areas each for the Jews and Arabs, with little or no connectivity between. But there is one interesting feature, which is that Jerusalem was supposed to be "under international control". How about that for an idea? The U.S. supported the plan – I repeat, we supported the plan which featured separate but equal areas of “Jewish sovereignty” and “Arab sovereignty”. (And guess which party was in power at that time.) The British, ironically, abstained from the vote – already eager to cut their losses in that part of the world, I'm sure. And this time Arab indignation turned to violence, which led, a few months later, to a complete British withdrawal from the area – at which point a newly-minted State of Israel was attacked by all the neighborhood bullies at once, and proceeded to thoroughly kick their butts. But it wouldn't be the last time the Arabs foolishly tried to defeat the young Clark Kent.

The bottom line of this dust-up was that the acidhead checkerboard was turned into something more reasonable – the State of Israel was all one piece, and the Arab enclaves of Gaza and the West Bank were connected to Egypt and Jordan, respectively. And all was well except for a brief unpleasantness with Egypt in 1956. Then, in 1967, the Arabs got ideas into their head again – attacked again – had their butts whipped... you know, the usual. But the result was that Israel won Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula, and was now bigger and better than ever... bigger than the British had dared imagine, but the Zionists are a different story.

But the Sinai was a bit too much to hold on to... and it wasn't exactly the land of milk and honey. So the Israelis eventually gave it back but held on to everything else. (And in the meantime, in 1973, here come the Arabs again, butts kicked, etc. Do you detect an element of masochism in all this? I do.) And that, boys and girls, brings us up to the present day – and it shows that one element of any reasonable, objective assessment of the situation in Israel/Palestine has to be the questions: (1) What are the proper, agreed-upon borders; (2) What is, and should be, the status of anyone living within those borders; and (3) Does what I refer to as “the right of conquest” have anything to do with the issue?

Now, on this last point, I will say, again, that every nation on earth, basically, has the same right to exist as every other, and that can be summed up as “the right of conquest”, simply because it would be rare, if not impossible, to find a nation that did not get to be the way it is today because someone conquered someone else (with or without the added fillips of genocide, enslavement, ethnic cleansing, etc.). I challenge you to name me a single instance where this is not the case! I don't think it can be done. Even places that are isolated in the vast reaches of the ocean, or the fastnesses of a mountain range or the jungle, were, at one time, someone else's property and then overrun by some invader. And to this I add, since when have the rules changed? We (that is, the U.S.) certainly recognize the right of conquest, if not explicitly – especially if that right includes the outcome of insurrection, revolutions, “regime change” (ahem!), etc. In other words, it doesn't all have to be a foreign, alien invading force. It's the sort of thing that makes the world – and its history, and foreign relations, and diplomacy – go round. We only get indignant about it when the “wrong” people take over a place – as in the cases of North Korea, Cuba, etc. -- but even then we eventually come to some accommodation. (I would say that in the grudge-holding department we don't hold a candle to the Semitic peoples – Arabs and Jews. They are absolute masters of the art – which, I'm sure, only serves to aggravate the problem I'm discussing at present.)

So, if we take the “right of conquest” as our prime criterion, then the current borders of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, are the proper ones, and the Israelis are free to do as they please within those borders. This is, of course, why Israel threw a fit when Obama suggested that the 1967 (pre-war, that is) borders were worth taking into consideration. And what he said was – going to his defense here (!) -- not that the borders should be identical to those of 1967, but “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”. Is this unreasonable? Israel could have lived with those 1967 borders indefinitely, if the Arabs hadn't had other ideas. But what was livable back then is no longer so, apparently – what with Scud missiles and all.

Now, I'm not claiming that “right of conquest” should be the only consideration in our dealings with the Middle East – only that it be recognized as the premier criterion for diplomatic recognition, both historically and at the present time. There are very few areas where even our State Department calls it into question – the “breakaway territories” between Georgia and Russia being an example. The vast majority of the time it accepts a fait accompli as the new status quo – as in the case of South Sudan. The problem right now is that we seem to have this strange fixation on bringing “peace” to a part of the world that, as far as I know, has never known it and is not interested in knowing it. And the fact that our favored method of bringing peace is to declare war... well, that has to have impacted our credibility a bit. So it's really not about peace, after all; it's basically about what Israel wants, and in this case, I will grant that what they want at least corresponds to the right of conquest. In other words, they want to keep the territory that they won, fair and square, in a war. How can we call that an unusual or unreasonable demand? Clearly our best move, diplomatically, would be to just back off, get on a plane, and leave – and let all parties in that area settle it for themselves. But this is clearly not going to happen, for any number or reasons.

So now come the Palestinians to the U.N. demanding recognition – and we're not content to simply oppose the idea and veto it, but want to keep it from even coming up for a vote, because that will “force” us to veto it, and so on. But we have, historically, not always been opposed to the two-state concept; this is a relatively recent escalation in our thinking. It would be just as reasonable to support the Palestinians' request and then provide aid and advice in its implementation. But that, of course, would be to say that all of the countless Israeli “settlements” that have been built in the occupied territories are unlawful and have to be abandoned. But hey, aren't they a form of conquest too? I mean, we “settled” in Jamestown back in 1607, etc. So the whole thing is a muddle – and nothing we do makes any more sense than anything else. The best thing about it, perhaps, is that it's putting a bit of stress on Obama, his administration, the State Department, and Hillary Clinton – all of whom are way overdue for a bit of real stress (as opposed to the usual bogus whining and boo-hoo'ing they engage in constantly). Obama is only the most recent president to have to deal with the whirlwind that we reaped when we sowed the wind back in 1947.

And I can't leave this topic without adding that the Republican candidates for president are dutifully piling on – not only absurdly accusing Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus”, but foaming at the mouth over the upcoming confrontation at the U.N. And just for good measure, they're also accusing him of "kowtowing to Iran". (How? When? What have I missed?) Leading the charge are, predictably, the good hair boys -- Perry and Romney -- but I can't imagine the other candidates are far behind. And as for the U.N., well... I suppose they could always bomb the place; that would certainly be a contribution of sorts. But the point is, anyone who thinks there is the slightest difference between the two major parties when it comes to foreign policy should take a look at this situation, for it is being laid out in an exceptionally clear way. The Republicans and Democrats – regardless of the candidates' rhetoric – are marching arm-in-arm on this. The words may differ, but the actions are identical. But I'll say again -- the situation at least provides much-needed stress to both sides, and that can't be a bad thing.

1 comment:

Baloo said...

Very good summary and attitude. This is linked to and riffed on by Ex-Army HERE.