I want to begin this post with an acknowledgement. There are few minefields more lethal than where I'm heading. For a person to even suggest criticism of Israel is tantamount to being charged with anti-Semitism. It's about as automatic as Tuesday following Monday. So, while I will disavow any such bias, I know no words will convince those who automatically believe otherwise. That said, let's move on.
Since I've discussed some general issues with our Foreign Policy, let's look at the most difficult foreign policy problem facing us today: the Middle East, and more specifically Israel vs. Palestine.
There are no simple answers here, or so everyone would tell you. The issue is complex, full of unfortunate history, and rife with insolvable problems. All of those things are true, but only because we do everything possible to ensure they exist. Here are the simple facts:
At the end of World War II the area generally known as Palestine was under a protectorate administered by the British. That relationship was created in 1923 by the League of Nations as an attempt to provide governance for a former section of the Ottoman Empire. The protectorate was large, and included pieces of a whole bunch of current countries, along with the area currently identified as controlled by the "Palestinians."
If you look back in history before that time, you'll quickly conclude that the area has been a continuous battleground since nearly forever. The Romans captured it. During the Crusades parts of it changed hands several times, and at one time or another darn near everyone in the area has either ruled it or claimed it as theirs. Back in biblical times, things weren't much different, however it is easy to acknowledge that the area is the historic home of the Jews.
In 1948, the United Nations created the nation-state of Israel. The boundaries established made sense as lines, but any military analyst would quickly note that they were not militarily-defensible borders. In some cases, that doesn't matter...i.e. the border between the United States and Canada. 54-40 Or Fight made a great slogan, but had no military significance.
Of course, we all know that there have been military issues, and those borders proved problematical, at least for Israel.
There have been innumerable meetings, summits, debates, discussions and accords regarding the "problem" of Israel and the remaining portion of what was once "Palestine." What there has never been is any serious attempt to create a solution. Now, I know many people will say this and that, but the bottom line is nothing has been accomplished. Today we are no closer to resolving the problem than we were in 1967, and arguably, we're further away.
There are, I think, three things we, and I say we because this is not a local problem, it's a world-wide problem, need to do. I'm going to point fingers, so just be warned.
Problem 1. Neither side wants peace.
The Palestinians want their own state. Okay, to me and most people. that makes sense. It's absolutely no different that the desires Israel expressed in the 1940's that led to that UN decision in 1948. Today the Palestinian people live in no-man's land, allowed to govern themselves only to the degree that Israel allows them to. However, members of their society do everything possible to ensure there is no peace. Firing rockets into your neighbor's back yard will never win you friends. Claiming your neighbor has no right to exist won't either.
Israel, on the other hand, continually builds new settlements on land that they don't own. They displace the locals, usually without any compensation, and then build away. They are internationally condemned for doing it, but that doesn't stop them. It's harsh, and I know I will lose friends by saying it, but to me this is exactly like what the Germans did, especially in Poland. They marched in, ex-appropriated land, and simply took over! Like the rockets, those settlements are guaranteed to create ill will. Is it any wonder people on both sides are mad at the other side?
We could argue forever about which side did what first, and in the end, it doesn't matter. There have been more cease-fires, more threats of retaliation, more fights and battles than we can count. And the result? Absolutely nothing but death, destruction, and more ill-will.
Problem 2. People aren't listening.
When US President Obama spoke a few days ago, he mentioned the Two State Solution, based upon the 1967 borders: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
Notice he specifically mentioned swaps and secure borders.
The reaction from Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick, and demonstrated that he wasn't listening: Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines. Do you see the difference? No acknowledgement of swaps. No acknowledgement that President Obama spoke of secure borders.
Let's look at what else was said. Netanyahu also said the 1967 borders wouldn't work because they don't take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground. Again, he ignores the specific mention of swaps, but more troubling is the fact that he is alluding to those settlements. In simple terms, he's saying...we want different borders because we need security (true and acceptable to most everyone) and because we've built all these settlements on land that we've taken from others in the territories we've occupied (equally true and not acceptable).
The fact is, no negotiations regarding anything anywhere can ever succeed if the two sides don't bother to listen to each other. Agreeing is one thing, but listening is something else, and if you miss-represent your opponent's position, and then claim that as a reason to not negotiate, you're...well, your not interested in reaching a solution. (see Problem 1)
Problem 3. There is a statement commonly used regarding the discussions about this problem. It is: Everybody knows what the solution looks like.
Back in the days of Jimmy Carter's presidency, the so-called Camp David Accords supposedly set out the map for a solution. That's a long time ago, and not a single thing has been done since then. However, that's where the idea comes from, and it's basically this.
There are three things needed: A set of agreed boundaries, the right of refugees to return, and a solution to the question of Jerusalem. The first two are in the accords, and the third could be solved in all kinds of ways. It's probably the only really open question, but ironically, it has the most possible solutions. It could even be put off for a while, while the other things go ahead. West Germany for years had its capital at Bonn, even though many Germans assumed that if the country was ever re-united it the capital would again become Berlin. Not everyone agreed with moving it there in 1990, but it finally was.
Now, over and above all the other things, why does all this matter. It's not just important to Israel, or even just to the Palestinians. It matters to everyone. After the 9-11 attacks, Osama bin Laden cited the treatment of the Palestinians as his motivation for the attack. He actions were completely wrong, but his motivation to "do something" is pretty understandable on a human level.
The former Prime Minister of Israel Gold Meier put it this way: We will have peace when they love their children more than they hate us. I think, for everyone involved, it's time to move past the hate.