Last Friday night, I spent a few hours dog-sitting for my site coordinator. This presented me with a rare opportunity to watch TV (the TV in my apartment only gets on channel, and even that, only barely). Being the news junkie that I am, I mostly switched back and forth between CNN and Al Jazeera English. The Al Jazeera news ticker made one of the most interesting, and understated juxtapositions I’ve ever seen. Two entries, listed back to back were:
-UN General Assembly overwhelmingly votes in favor of a diplomatic upgrade for Palestinian Authority to non-member observer state.
-Israeli Government approves construction of 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
(Note that the links are similar stories which I added Monday, not necessarily exactly what the ticker was referring to on Friday).
The ticker itself made no mention of any possible link between these two actions—and in the headline recap, the anchor’s only comment was something to the effect of it being ‘unclear’ if the settlement homes were approved before or after the UN vote. Of course, it doesn’t really matter if the homes were approved before or after the UN vote. The outcome of the UN vote really wasn’t a surprise to anyone. The timing of Israel’s announcement is, however, a pretty clear signal: the UN Vote may be largely symbolic (it doesn’t directly change anything, however it may open some possibility of ICC action).
Now, you might think that I’m only citing Al Jazeera, an Arab news source. Voice of America, The Telegraph, and even The Jerusalem Post are reporting essentially the same thing, even making the linkage more explicit. Additionally, The Guardian adds that Israel is withholding $120 million in Palestinian tax revenue, though it does appear that the Palestinian Authority does owe Israeli utilities a great deal of money.
This past weekend, I also came across this article from the BBC about the comment from Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the UN vote will ‘hurt peace.’ Well, of course it will. Israel will make certain that it does. The Israeli government can say all it wants about desiring a two-state solution, but that is simply political theatre—the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, and the Israeli government’s tacit sanction of settler attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian land (here, here, here, and here) is a clear declaration that Israel will not permit the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
The map below (as best I can tell, originally drawn in 2009 for Le Monde) is a stylized representation of the effect of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In this map, the water represents Israeli controlled regions, the warships are permanent check-points. The dark green zones are areas of only partial Palestinian autonomy. For more analysis, go here. Also, note that this map is from 2009. Some of the islands will have shrunk in the past few years.
For a less stylized, but more official look at the fragmentation of the West Bank, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has a PowerPoint that covers the same information. Slide 21 is especially relevant.
Coming back to the issue of violence: both sides are guilty, and both sides need to put down their weapons. However, Israel is by far the stronger party, and Israel is the party which benefits most from the status quo. The Jewish Virtual Library lists the casualty numbers in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from 1920 to the present (as of this posting, not yet updated for October/November 2012), including Palestinian terrorism, Israeli government operations, and the several Arab/Israeli wars, but excluding Israeli settler violence. Since 1920, total Israeli/Jewish deaths: 24,526. Total Palestinian/Arab deaths: 90,785. According to The Guardian, the recent violence added 5 Israeli deaths and 161 Palestinians. Clearly, Israel is holding the bigger stick, and ultimately, this situation can only be resolved by both sides, but in the short term, it’s absurd to demand the weaker party give up more. This column, from Slate focuses on ways Israel is ‘insulting our intelligence’ and says a lot of things I agree with. I’m not trying to say that Israel is more culpable than Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, or any other group of Palestinians, however, I do think that Israel is in the better position to accomplish change.
For a model of this, look at the Northern Irish Conflict. Hamas has more in common with the IRA/Sinn Fein than might be initially apparent, at least in the US. Most people in Northern Ireland see it sufficiently clearly that the Israel/Palestinian Conflict had been adopted as a sort of proxy conflict—with Irish Nationalists generally supporting the Palestinians, and pro-British Unionists largely supporting Israel. The crucial difference is that in Northern Ireland, U.S. support largely fell on the the side of the IRA/Sinn Fein. This US support served to level the playing field—it put pressure on the UK to come to the table, and, the threat of withdrawing that support gave the US leverage over the IRA. In contrast, it seems that the only question in the US is over just how much support the US should offer Israel, and just how blind the US can be about the results of that support. For more on parallels between the Northern Irish conflict and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, see here, here, here and here. Or just Google it—there is much, much more out there.
Right, so I’m done. Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below.