May 15 2008

Israel at 60, resolution far away

Published by at 6:43 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

As the state of Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, Palestinians remember the naqba, or “catastrophe” – their story of dispossession, occupation, and statelessness. But, for both sides, as well as external powers, the events of 1948 and what has followed – the occupation since June 1967 of the remaining lands of historic Palestine – represents a tragic failure.

Israel is most at fault for this failure, owing to its continued military occupation and illegal settlements. Despite paying lip service to peace, the Israeli refusal to leave the Occupied Territories continues to be in direct contravention to what the preamble to United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 termed the “inadmissible taking of land by force.”

But the international community, Palestinians, and Arabs all bear responsibility as well, albeit at different levels. Indeed, the list of disappointments predates Israeli statehood and the naqba itself: the King-Crane Commission of 1919, the 1937 Peel Report, the British White Paper of 1939, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry of 1945, and the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Since then, we have had UN General Assembly Resolution 194, and Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the Rogers Plan, the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, Camp David, Taba, the Saudi plan, the “road map,” the unofficial Geneva Initiative, the People’s Choice, and the Beirut Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.

To be sure, Palestinians and Arabs are also to blame for their inability to empathize, recognize, and understand the plight of the Jewish people. Although Palestinians had nothing to do with European anti-Semitism and the Nazi Holocaust, they should not have turned a blind eye to the Jews’ tragedy. Palestinians were so locked in their opposition to Zionism that they were unable to appreciate the Jews’ existential needs, just as they failed to appreciate the effects of indiscriminate acts of violence against Israeli civilians.

Consumed with legitimate anger, Palestinians and Arabs failed to come up with a serious approach to reach out to Israelis and failed to devise a workable political strategy that would address daily Palestinian needs and national aspirations. Cross-border attacks, hijackings, Arab and international diplomacy, secret talks, non-violent resistance, suicide bombings, rockets, regional Arab initiatives, international peace envoys: Nothing has succeeded in ending the occupation. With each approach, Palestinian leaders, believing the Arab states’ hollow proclamations of solidarity with their cause, have failed to measure accurately their own powers vis-�-vis the Israelis.

Indeed, the Arab states have come nowhere close to matching the level of US and European aid to the Palestinians, much less the even higher level of Western support – political and military, as well as financial – that has been the key to Israel’s ability to withstand Palestinian demands for freedom. While European public and private support to Israel, especially in its founding years, is believed to be very extensive, the US has created a firewall of vetoes and political protection for Israel, in addition to providing massive financial support. Writing in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Shirl McArthur, a retired US Foreign Service officer, estimates that direct US aid to Israel between 1949 and 2006 totaled $108 billion.

After the US, Germany is the principal donor of both economic and military aid to Israel. By far the largest component of German aid has been in the form of restitution payments for Nazi atrocities. Total German assistance to the Israeli government, Israeli individuals, and Israeli private institutions has been roughly $31 billion, or $5,345 per capita, bringing combined US and German assistance to almost $20,000 per Israeli.

In the face of Israel’s strength, the Palestinian national movement’s failure has now played into the hands of Islamists. The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which emerged during the first intifada in 1987, grew more powerful in the 1990s, after the return of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Yasser Arafat and the creation, as a result of the Oslo Accords, of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’ rejection of the Oslo Accords bore political fruit as it became increasingly clear to Palestinians that the handshakes on the White House lawn would not produce the coveted end to the Israeli occupation, or even of Israel’s illegal settlement activities.

Yet, despite history’s long train of failures, Hamas’ June 2007 seizure of control of Gaza, and its pariah status in the West, we are repeatedly told by the US that 2008 will be the year of a peace agreement. Meanwhile, the Arab peace proposal, which calls for a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and a fair solution to the refugee problem in exchange for normalization of Arab states’ relations with Israel, appears doomed.

After 60 years of failures, and as the generation that lived through the naqba passes from the scene, a political settlement that can provide Palestinians with freedom in an independent state alongside a secure Israel and a fair solution of the refugee problem is more necessary – but also appears less possible – than ever.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is currently a visiting professor of journalism at Princeton University. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (c) (

One response so far

One Response to “Israel at 60, resolution far away”

  1. cmbdocon 16 May 2008 at 11:46 pm

    This war started when I was still a boy! I am 74 now and there are no more signs that peace is possible in 2008 than in 1948. Why? The facts on the ground are still the same. You see, lots of Jews have occupied what was once Palestine, and they did not bother to ask permission. They just came in, by the tens of 1000’s, heavily armed by America. They drew some new borders and told the Palestinians “from now on this is Israel and all this land belongs to us. You can live here if you want but you’ll probably be 2nd class citizens. Because this is the Land of Israel and we have reclaimed it finally after all these many centuries. We are in charge here forever more. Deal with it.
    So… there was a big war, and against all odds (most of the Arab countries joined the fray) the Jews won! (with a lot of help from the US and Germany) In the process Israel took over a whole lot more land. Over the next few years they fought several more wars, of “self defense”, and each time took more territory from Palestine. Meanwhile, in the newly conquered territories the Jews were quickly building what look like to be very permanent towns and a lot of infrastructure.
    There are heavily armed troops everywhere in what most of the rest of the world calls “the occupied territories”. The term optimistically suggests that Israel someday (in an ill defined future) is going to give them back. Military service is not optional. Israel has been in a continuous state of siege since 1948. They have not succeeded very well in making friends with any of their neighbors.
    Most Christians, especially evangelistic Christians, think that this is all good and right, and part of God’s plan for the earth. For the last 7 years we have had evangelistic White House inhabitants who have looked the other way at the invasion of Lebanon (causing 100’s of thousands of casualties and billions in damage), the bombing of Syria (to this day the American public doesn’t know exactly why Israel did it) and also air and ground attacks on militants in Palestine, blockades of the Gaza strip and the West Bank from even food and humanitarian supplies. Okay, some bad guys keep firing rockets into Israel which causes damage and sometimes kills people. But collective punishment for the misdeeds of a tiny minority is hard to justify. After all these years Israel might notice that punishing innocent Palestinian civilians has had no deterrent effect whatsoever. It makes recruitment of suicide bombers a whole lot easier.
    We have ignored the results of the first Palestine free and open elections because the “wrong” guys won handily. (They are the guys who are still very pissed off about everything that’s been happening for the last 60 years. That’s six zero years!)
    We tried to keep it real hush-hush, but it’s gotten out that we have helped Israel obtain nuclear weapons. Is it any wonder then, that Moslems don’t invite us over for coffee and doughnuts anymore? We are lucky that

    1) We are willing and able to pay any price, any price, for their oil and

    2) They are totally dependent on our military to keep the 1000’s of members of the Saudi “Royal Family” living in the lap of unfathomable luxury.
    To think that there will ever be peace in that region is to believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause bringing goodies twice a year. As Julie Andrews once sang, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?” Now I am not urging pessimism. I am arguing for a little realism!
    We should not be involved in the Middle East “Peace Process” at all because it is so obvious we are not a fair broker. Hey, would you want your mother-in-law to be the “decider” about financial arrangements, who gets the Porsche and who gets child custody/support and how generous it should be when you are divorcing your wife? Fair is fair, and this wouldn’t be.
    Final point and this is a “biggy”.
    Imagine how the Palestinians feel about all that’s been going on for the last 60 years. 60 #%@*& years!!! Imagine their ongoing embarrassment and humiliation. They outnumber the Israelis 10 to 1 but with our billions in military hardware and other support, including atomic weapons, the situation on the ground is not ever going to change. I won’t even go into whether Jews are better fighters than Arabs. Israeli limitless hardware makes for a huge and permanent imbalance.
    Millions of Palestinians have lived in refugee camps for 60 years. Their population has increased dramatically. They live with their 6-10+ children per family in desperate squalor and constant degradation. Mud streets, no jobs, living on welfare, poor or no schools…. for 60 years! Try to imagine how the Palestinians feel about this situation. And the fact that this great big bully, the USA is supporting Israel no matter what they do. In fact large numbers of Americans, evangelistic Christians, cheer on every expansion of Israel because they believe that this is God’s plan. Once Israel occupies the “Promised Land” totally and completely Jesus will return…. is one version of evangelistic Christian belief.
    To help put ourselves in Palestinian’s shoes imagine if Mexico had a huge Army and Navy and Air Force and atomic weapons and rockets to deliver them accurately to anywhere on earth. Travel time to Washington or New York City is measured in minutes. Imagine also that they were 1000 times more powerful militarily on the ground than us. And their economy was 10, 000 times bigger.
    We on the other hand had never emerged from the great depression. Nor had we the triumphs of WWII. And suppose, during this time of our weakness, Mexico decides to take back Texas and also California. So one day they invade and conquer the two States and there is nothing we can do because they are so big and strong militarily. Wouldn’t that make us mad at them forever! Wouldn’t we fight a guerilla war forever to get back our territory? Wouldn’t we still be trying 60+ years later? Duh, of course we would.
    That’s exactly what’s happening in the Middle East. I can’t see how there is ever going to be peace. Neither side can let the other one win. And any conceivable middle ground is completely unsatisfactory to both sides. Sorry, those red rockets gonna glare…forever.
    One more unsettling, most destabilizing reality. The demographics are dead against Israel. Soon there will more Palestinians than Jews in Israel proper. And their “rights” as citizens will have to be even more curtailed than they are now.
    What will Israel do with an Arab majority within its borders? Stay tuned. It’s not going to be pretty.

    I am a 74 year old white, blue eyed grandfather from a small town in the Midwest. I have no predjudice against blacks, jews, foreigners or any one else. The above is my understanding of the mess in Palestine. In 1948 Israel seemed like a good idea. Now it seems like the worst idea we ever had. It has brought more grief to this country, including Sept 11. And we ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait ’till they set off a nuclear bomb in LA Harbor. That’s why I moved away from LA several years ago.

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