Palestinians Lives and Human Rights

I’ve been watching a number of debates between Peter Beinart and others and more conservative supporters of Israel.

There are two general themes expressed (both Zionist).

The conservative theme is that the status quo is just fine. The presumption is that Palestinians are not unduly burdened, and even if they are a bit, so what? There is a common reference to the need for a Jewish homeland, for that to be a safe homeland, that Israel is threatened (stated in present tense). Many site the vulnerability of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, other large Israeli cities from the presence of any Palestinian sovereign state. Some conservative commentators disregard religious motivations for the status quo. Others invoke the religious motivations.

The reasoning though of desire for Israeli safety preserved by forceful (dominating) military and police relationship with Palestinians is shared by all the conservative commentators, as is a distrust of even negotiated agreement with the PA, even if ratified by Palestinian legislature and plebiscite.

Most have not seen the West Bank or Gaza, nor remaining Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. Most approve of the PA effort of institution building, but desire that it proceed to preserve the status quo, rather than as proof that the status should and can change.

In contrast, Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, and Peter Beinart argue that the peaceful status quo is a deception of quiet, inevitably devolving if Israel annexes an iota more of land, and if the demographics in the region as a whole continue on current trends.

They describe that the world is coming to see the conflict through Palestinian eyes, that the theme of “we are under attack and therefore must enact martial law” is thinner and thinner, given Israel’s military dominance. When that incredulity becomes widespread, the world will demand that Israel offer Palestinians equal voting and other civil rights in the jurisdiction under Israeli control (Israel, West Bank, Gaza from a distance – blockade). That is the prospect of a single democratic state. (Some on the Israeli right propose a single federated state even, but limited to Israel and the West Bank, excluding Gaza, and definitely excluding Palestinian refugees.)

Beinart, Ben Ami, others pose the question in two phrases. If Israel chooses to be Jewish AND democratic, then it will actively pursue the proposal for two healthy states. In contrast, if Israel doesn’t choose the #AND# construction, then an #OR# construction of Jewish OR democratic will (d)evolve into apartheid-like (or worse) relations, international condemnation and isolation reminiscent of its first thirty years, civil war in some form .

The further left is jumping on this tension. There is a slowly growing boycott and divestment movement (at about the same speed as settlement expansion). The more idealistic are adopting equal human rights as the theme of their efforts. To the extent that those that approach dissent in those terms hold to the discipline of only speaking and consistently acting for human rights (and universally), they will gain a great deal of credibility and succeed in major improvements.

But, they don’t often. They flirt with proposals that functionally eliminate Israel as Israel (single-state accompanied by unlimited right of return to all descendents of former residents), and don’t think so far enough ahead even to consider the likelihood or actual necessary conditions of such a state remaining “#AND# democratic.

I personally have not been to the West Bank in 26 years, nor to Israel. I don’t know what life is like for Palestinians with the wall, checkpoints, limited right to travel outside of the area. I don’t know Israeli norms and current public opinion. I understand from a wide variety of Israelis and Palestinians that it is not genocidal, more like inconvenient plus, inconvenient about two steps beyond any irritating bureaucracy, but not to the level of active direct harming. Suppressive is the word, glaringly unfair certainly.

Gaza in 2008 was a continental divide in perception. Those that tended to think of Operation Cast Lead as necessary, settled on the view that Israeli policy towards Palestinians was just an irritating bureaucracy, that relative to Gaza, “they had it coming, and when it was over we stopped”. They accept the status quo.

Those that thought of Cast Lead as a sadistic assault on a captive civilian population concluded that Israel is a willingly murderous state (leaders and populace), intent on racial supremacy, annexation and dominance only. Some in the west have concluded to dedicate their lives to resistance of Israel, of which non-violent methods may be a merely a tactic.

Those that thought of Cast Lead as excessive beyond a limited engagement are in a quandry. We are asked by representatives of BOTH of our primary values (Jewish AND democratic) to pick which side we are on.

It is not getting simpler there.

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