How To Achieve A Lasting Peace In The Middle East
THE CONTINUING FAILURE OF MUSCULAR DIPLOMACY
Peace Talks between Israel and Palestine have begun again, this time hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the behest of President Obama.
At least part of the reason for scheduling the talks this summer was the renewal of fighting between the two groups in Gaza last November.
At that time, we watched as Israel's military machine launched yet another of its periodic efforts to aggressively defend the Israeli people from the Palestinian militants who launch rockets at them.
These muscular 'lashing out' responses to Palestinian attacks always provide Israel's civilian population with a certain amount of short-term 'hurt-them-back' satisfaction, a satisfaction that lasts for maybe 6-24 months.
One can only hope that there will be a day when Israel's leadership class finally gets it, when they realize that this 'gut instinct' response they've always relied on is actually a rather stupid approach for the Israeli people to embrace over the long-run.
Over the long run thus far, the muscular approach has absolutely failed to end the fear of future hostilities with the Palestinians. Israel's leaders have embraced the approach for 65 years and that is how many years it has failed to bring lasting peace and security to the Israeli people.
Something else must be tried. Something other than simply preparing for the next 'beatdown' that you fully expect you'll be administering to the Palestinians again some time in the future.
One might think that over the past 30-40 years, educated Israelis would have tried to imagine what a future lasting peace with the Palestinians would actually look like, i.e., one that even the hawks in Israel would find acceptable and worthy of trust.
If thoughtful Israelis were to do this, it just might occur to them that if they want to achieve a lasting peace, it is absolutely essential that they find a way to change the feelings that the Palestinians have in their hearts for the Israelis, from very negative to very positive.
Feelings of hatred, for example, would need to be replaced with feelings of gratitude and good will. Appreciative smiles must replace furtive looks that only barely conceal feelings of fear and loathing.
If achieving this kind of change in the feelings/perceptions of the Palestinians is not the ultimate goal of Israel's peace negotiators, then it cannot be said that their participation in the Peace Talks is serious.
After all, any 'agreement' that Palestinian leaders could be coerced into accepting through muscular diplomacy and international pressure is guaranteed to fail if it does not change what the vast majority of Palestinians feel within their hearts toward the Israeli people.
So what is this 'something' that could conceivably be done to bring about a big change in the hearts of the Palestinian people?
My advice is that the Israelis try an approach that they have never really considered before: EXTREME GENEROSITY.
Keep in mind that I'm not talking about offers that the Israelis might think are very generous; I'm talking about proposals that the Palestinians would perceive as being very generous.
In order for the Palestinian people to 'let go' of all the bitterness and resentment they now feel, in order for them to start feeling within their hearts some positive feelings of appreciation toward the Israeli people, it is absolutely essential that they be able to walk away from the negotiations table feeling as though they had won a tremendous victory.
They need to end up with a settlement that is so incredibly generous, and so filled with face-saving Israeli [and American] concessions, they won't be able to contain their joy at their good fortune.
They need to feel as though they have won a great victory and their Muslim sympathizers around the world need to see that the Palestinians are delighted with their good fortune.
The Israeli people need to understand that this is the kind of Peace Settlement they should want the Palestinians to end up with because it is the only kind of settlement that will give them what they ultimately want: lasting peace.
They will know that they have finally achieved True Peace when they begin to see appreciative smiles on the faces of the Palestinian people, smiles that they'll know they were responsible for.
Accomplish this one objective and all the antipathy that half the world currently feels toward Israel would suddenly be replaced with feelings of astonishment and admiration.
While the Palestinians are celebrating, Israel's negotiators would congratulate each other with broad smiles on their faces, knowing that they had achieved precisely that which they had set out to achieve: happy Palestinians.
Besides the good will of the Palestinian people, what else would the Israeli people get in exchange for the high price they might ultimately have to pay?
Only their Right-to-Exist (as an independent state carved out of Palestinian lands) from the only people who can legitimately grant them that right, the people who used to own/rule/dominate the land before Israel's founding fathers took it from them at gunpoint.
It's true, the Palestinians will actually be willing to grant the people they've always seen as invaders the right to inhabit and rule the land they once owned....but only if they feel as though they have been handsomely compensated for it.
The Israeli people may feel as though their founding fathers achieved a great thing when they resurrected the state of Israel from the dustbin of history, but they really haven't achieved a thing, yet.
Existing at the cost of being constantly hated by your neighbors is not much of an achievement.
The Israeli people have an opportunity right now to amaze the world with a dramatic and historically unprecedented move to change the deeply resentful feelings that their current enemies have toward them.
What a gift it would be for the children of Israel! A future that is cleansed of the fear of death and horror. That is what the Israeli people can achieve for themselves if they do something like this....
Agree to a compensation package that overwhelms the Palestinians with its generosity. Give them [virtually] everything they've been demanding for the past forty years plus a little bit more. Pre-1967 borders. Jerusalem becomes either an international city, or a multi-capital city.
If for some reason Israeli negotiators believe it is especially important to turn some of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israeli land, then offer the Palestinians twice as much pre-1967 Israeli land of equal value for it.
Any deviations from the pre-1967 status quo would need to be compensated for in a way that the Palestinian people would perceive as a net gain for them.
The Israelis need to resist the urge to get best deal they can, by bargaining 'tough' with the Palestinians and threatening them with more pain if they don't give the Israelis the things that they want. Instead, they need to stun the Palestinians---and the world---with an amazing display of good will and a generous spirit.
On top of all the territorial concessions, throw in a huge amount of cash at the Palestinians. Make them feel as though they had all just "won the lottery." Would $30,000 per family be enough? $50,000? $80,000? Pour an equally generous amount of money into the construction of new businesses, industries, and a modern infrastructure in the new Palestine.
Where would all the money for this come from?
Well, if we were to take all the money that Israel and the United States are now spending on their Wars on Terror and then solicit big contributions from Europe, Japan, and the rich Arab states, it should not be difficult for Israel and the U.S. to put together a pot of around $500 billion.
Allocated over a number of years, this 'rolling gift' should be more than enough to imbue approximately 5 million Palestinians with a sustained feeling of great pride and satisfaction.
They would finally have Peace With Honor.
There is one more thing we could give the Palestinians that would guarantee the success of the Extreme Generosity approach.
It is actually something that Israel cannot give them, but the United States can. It is also something that would not cost the American taxpayers a penny.
What might this magical 'something' be?
A formal admission by the United States government that American politicians made a big mistake in 1947-48 when they decided to give America's support to the post-WWII efforts of Zionists to colonize Palestine.
It was President Harry S. Truman who first got us involved in the Arab-Israeli dispute and it was his decisions that put us on the side of the Israelis.
In a Nov. 10, 1945 meeting with American diplomats brought in from their posts in the Middle East to urge Truman not to heed Zionist urgings, Truman had bluntly explained his motivation:
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."
At the time, the American people were feeling a lot of sympathy for the Jewish people after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, so it was easy for them to consent to a plan to 'give the Jews a homeland' where they would be free of persecution.
Unfortunately, everyone in the press conveniently ignored the fact that the land the U.N. wanted to give to the Zionists happened to belong to someone else.
To understand how the Palestinian people have always viewed the creation of the modern state of Israel out of their lands, imagine a similar thing happening here, in America....
What if the Native Americans who lived in New Jersey before the Europeans arrived had fled overseas instead of becoming assimilated into the developing American culture? And what if, over the years, they educated themselves and kept their sense of 'nationhood' alive and maintained a dream of some day returning to their homeland?
And what if they started emigrating back to New Jersey in big numbers maybe 75 years ago and made it clear that they intended to re-establish their 'nation?' What if they enjoyed a great deal of political support back in Europe and were also able to obtain advanced military hardware and financial support from that side of the Atlantic?
How do you suppose New Jersey home owners today would respond if they heard that some recently arrived immigrants---descendents of former Native Americans---were claiming that New Jersey actually belonged to them and that they intend to re-establish the 'nation' that their ancestors once had there?
I'm quite certain that I know how most property owners in New Jersey would respond.
Outraged? Absolutely. Militant? You can count on it, especially if the immigrants were making it quite clear that they were prepared to use weapons to execute their seizure of the land they desired, which is precisely what we saw in Palestine in 1947-48.
Since 1948, the Palestinians have felt a lot of anger toward the Jewish population in Palestine, not because they 'just hate Jews', but because they believe they were victimized by armed thieves.
In all honesty, you have to admit that they have every good reason to see their situation in this way. It is THE basic reason why they have been infuriated by America's decisions/actions in support of Israel.
They see how incredibly hypocritical our political leaders have been and are outraged that we do not see the injustice of their situation and sympathize with their plight.
The fundamental moral dilemma that the United States has always faced in Middle Eastern affairs is that it cannot rationally justify its support for Israel at the same time that it is declaring to the world that it is outrageous and immoral for one country to invade and annex another.
It's theft at gunpoint, any way you look at it.
It's true....our sympathy for the Jews---a good thing---is what ultimately led us to make the incredibly stupid decision in 1948 to approve an illegal and immoral act, one that would inevitably victimize one people (the indigenous inhabitants) in order to benefit another (a favored group of immigrants).
American politicians may not have been guilty of malevolence at that time, but we have nevertheless been paying a steep price since then for the moral/intellectual lapse they were guilty of so many years ago. The magnitude of that mistake became frighteningly apparent after the Al-Qaeda suicide attacks on September 11, 2001.
On that day, America was finally attacked directly by Palestinian sympathizers who saw America as being primarily responsible for Israel's successful seizure of religiously significant Arab lands. It was an incredible tragedy for the American people that would never have occurred if only America's politicians had refused to get us involved in the Zionists' colonial ambitions after 1945.
What we needed to tell the Zionists back then was, while we sympathize with the Jewish people and their need for a safe haven, when it comes to their desire to create their own state in a place where another people are already living, well...that's an ambition they'll have to take on without our support.
Things would have worked out so much better if America had invited all persecuted/displaced Jews to come to America, a country that has a very long and hallowed tradition of religious freedom. The Israelis would certainly have been much safer here in America than they have been in Palestine all these many decades.
Since Nine Eleven, we have been spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Homeland Security and on the Iraq & Afghanistan wars and we will be spending trillions more in the future if we cannot get ourselves on the right side of history.
Indeed, it is quite enlightening to listen to some religious Jews who actually agree with the Palestinians that it was a mistake to create the modern state of Israel out of Palestinian lands.
So am I recommending that we should start hating Israel now?
Of course not.
But we can no longer morally justify taking any actions to support their position.
Americans have become very accustomed to seeing the Israelis as their friends. I am not suggesting that we now change that basic relationship with them.
When a parent sees his child being chased by some angry adults who live at the far end of the neighborhood, he will naturally assume that his child is being victimized and will threaten the pursuers if they do not cease chasing his child.
But if he listens to the adults and finds out that his child stole something from them and damaged their property, he will not abandon the child, but will reprimand him and insist that he do the right thing to make amends.
If he is a Wise Parent, he will feel a little embarrassed, but he will not hesitate to scold his child. He will recognize that an opportunity exists for his child to learn some important lessons about life through acts of atonement.
But if he is a Foolish Parent, he will ignore all evidence that is presented to him of his child's guilt and will accuse the angry adults of 'just hating' his child for no good reason.
He will focus solely on being loyal to his family members and on defending them from all outsider criticism, no matter what they might have done to arouse the justified anger of 'strangers.'
For 65 years, America has been a Foolish Parent in its relationship with Israel. Because our "child" has always been in the wrong, we now have a lot of people around the world hating us for our moral hypocrisy, who see us as an arrogant enemy of Justice.
We can bring an end to the Arab-Israeli Feud if we would stop being Foolish Parents and start being Wise Parents, instead.
We have a moral responsibility to try to talk Israel's leaders into doing something that will better defend the Israeli people from hostile attacks launched by Palestinians.
You may have a basic right to defend yourself, Israel, but it is beyond stupid to defend yourself in a way that absolutely ensures that you will be continually surrounded by enemies who hate you and wish that you were dead.
For the Israeli People, there are certain fundamental realities re: their situation that they cannot ignore.
They are not going to get True Peace without Happy Palestinians and they are not going to get Happy Palestinians unless they agree to a peace settlement that is exceedingly generous to them.
Because of its special relationship with Israel, the United States is in a position to give life to the Extreme Generosity approach, even if Israel's current political leaders are not initially receptive to it.
It is not only THE long-term solution that best serves the interests of the Israeli people, it is also THE solution that gives the United States an opportunity to restore its once lofty reputation around the world as a truly independent and objective Voice for Justice.
If/when the United States apologizes for its failure to remain truly objective all these decades, there won't be a dry eye in all of Islam. The so-called 'Clash of Civilizations' would be over. Peace will finally have arrived.
AN HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY FOR THE ISRAELI PEOPLE
If the Israeli people were to fully invest themselves in an effort to win over the hearts of the Palestinians, they would not only solve their most vexing problem, they would also earn for themselves the respect and admiration of the rest of the world.
The Story of Modern Israel in the history books would no longer be a story of colonization and repression and military aggression, but would instead be the story of a people who decided, after many years of war, to win over their enemies with a stunning display of good will.
They would be praised in textbooks all around the world as those amazing people in the Middle East who gave inspiration and hope to the world when they chose the path of true humility, when they demonstrated for all to see how acts of atonement can dramatically change the perceptions of all the parties involved in a bitter conflict.
The current generation of Israelis are in a position to tell the Palestinians:
"Look, we are sorry that our parents/grandparents never compensated you for the land they took from your parents/grandparents and we're sorry that things have gone so badly for you all these years due to our government's misguided actions, but we'd like to try to atone as best we can for their sins against you by paying you a price for your land that you will see as more than fair (within our abilities)."
If the Israeli people were to embrace this special destiny, it would be impossible for observers anywhere around the world to see them as anything other than a very special, supremely impressive people, a shining example to the world.
Yes, once a victimized people, themselves, they found it all too easy to victimize the Palestinians during The Great Ignorance (the time when they thought their power to instill fear in the Palestinians would give them all that they wanted).
But then they finally realized that they needed to change what is in their hearts if they want to change what is in the Palestinians' hearts. You can't scare people into liking you.
If they do end up embracing the Extreme Generosity approach, the Israeli people will discover that it gives them some very real power over their situation (over the contents of the hearts of the Palestinians) that advanced military technology never was able to provide for them all these years.
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