Why Israel Should Help Build an Independent Palestine
April 17, 2005
Last week in Texas, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made simple statements that are simply incomprehensible: Israel will be withdrawing from Gaza this summer; but his nation must build new housing in the West Bank to establish an “unbroken presence” from Jerusalem to a community called Maale Adumim. Unfortunately, by so doing, Israel would be continuing its self-damaging policy of erecting walls and roads and settlements that cut off, harm, and generally outrage Palestinians in occupied territory. No matter who leads Israel or the Palestinians, there will always be intolerable complexity and tension until a straightforward commitment is made: Israel must help – or at least permit – the Arabs to expeditiously create a free and democratic Palestine wherein everyone would be a Palestinian citizen.
Is this a fantasy? No. Fantastic is the continuing belief that current trends will ever lead to peace. Both sides, all the many sides, claim that God long ago decreed this ancient land was for them, and not the other people. Actually, it looks like the intention was for everyone to live together. Some Arabs still believe the Jews will somehow be vanquished and hurled into the sea. That’s not going to happen. And growing numbers of Israeli Jews want Israeli Arabs to emigrate. Emigrate where? The Arabs aren’t leaving, either. This isn’t the late 1940’s when almost a million Arabs lived in what is now Israel, and shortly after the end of the first Arab-Israeli war all but one hundred seventy thousand had been forced to leave and, very often, live in squalid refugee camps.
Building an independent Palestine would be an enormous first step in resolving the tortuous problem of Israeli Jewish settlers living in occupied territory: those who chose to stay would automatically become citizens of Palestine. That is indisputably fair. Arabs inside Israel’s initial borders were given citizenship and the right to vote. Arabs have served in the Knesset. They have served as both permanent and temporary Supreme Court justices. Arab women have been elected to office in Israel. In that regard, they are certainly ahead of where they’d be in any Arab nation. Palestinian Jews – former Israelis, that is – would naturally be eligible to hold office. In time, we would likely see an Israeli Arab as prime minister of Israel and a Palestinian Jew as prime minister of Palestine.
If you think that’s unrealistic, then pick up the phone, dial time travel, and tell George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that many of the most powerful leaders in the United States are descendents of slaves and that blacks, too, will someday occupy the highest office in the land. Washington and Jefferson will tell you that’s all preposterous. Thankfully, you’re more enlightened in regard to race and ethnicity, and can lecture the founding fathers.
A free and functioning Palestine would also create a crescendo of pride and good will throughout the Middle East and thus lessen tensions inside Israel, where more than twenty percent of the citizens are Arabs. (Keep in mind, that percentage will continue to increase.) The improved social and political environment in Israel would enable all citizens to more effectively work at rectifying discrepancies in quality of life between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs; regarding the latter, according to the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, twice as many live in poverty, per capita income is half as high, infant mortality rates are double, and only half as much is spent per child for education. Discriminatory policies, such as those denying Arabs comparable access to jobs and mortgages, must be dismantled.
Citizens of a new Palestine would confront even more difficult economic issues but finally have the freedom and opportunity to more rapidly develop. Living next to a more relaxed Israel would help immensely. In order for this to happen, Palestine will need to embrace responsibility not only for protecting all of its citizens, including Palestinian Jews, but also for controlling or eliminating those who seek to attack Israel. Democracies don’t attack each other. That’s the key.