published in the Newport News-Times

Christmas in the Holy Land: Some Thoughts on Peace

Gilbert Schramm

Many thanks to Dianne Eckstein (see below) for her recent viewpoint piece on Gaza. At this time of year, many people express wishes for “peace on earth.” Perhaps we need to make a little more effort to bring these wishes to fruition. In particular, it would be nice if Americans took a little more time to think about our own role in the conflict that continues to simmer in the Holy Land. The recent violence in Gaza is a stark reminder of the danger of war that lingers in the Middle East.

The real problem is Israel’s refusal to make peace, a refusal that continues mostly because the US gives unconditional support to Netanyahu and his Zionist Likud party. Likud pays lip service to peace, yet their party charter is quite clear. It reads in part:

·      The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel… The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.

·      Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem, including the plan to divide the city presented to the Knesset by the Arab factions and supported by many members of Labor and Meretz.

·  The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.

This is not a peace platform. It is nothing short of a demand for total Israeli victory. The Likud charter contradicts every aspect of US policy, and the major UN resolutions to which Israel has previously agreed.

So while US policy calls for a settlement freeze and a “two state solution”, the US also supports a party that has no intention of allowing either. The US also regularly joins Likud in making the hypocritical charge that the Palestinians are to blame for lack of progress in peace negotiations. Why blame Hamas for not recognizing Israel? Many Zionist parties don’t even admit that the Palestinian people exist, let alone that they deserve to keep part of their ancient homeland. And why punish the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied Territories (which does recognize Israel) for turning to the UN in its quest for statehood? No one else is helping them.

The recent UN admission of Palestine into the UN as a “non-member observer state”  was a great step for Palestinians, yet Israel and the US responded to this totally non-violent act with threats and bullying that were a disgraceful embarrassment.  If that is the joint US/Israeli  response to non-violent resistance, then the Palestinians will almost certainly return to some form of more violent opposition. What have they got to lose?

In short, continued US support for Israel under a Likud government will never lead to peace. It actually makes real peace impossible and does incredible damage to the US. If we really want to support Israel—and peace on earth—we must shock Israel out of its intransigence. The only real way to do that is to cut off aid to Israel (including any support for them in the UN) as long as extreme Zionist factions like Likud remain in the Israeli government. Certainly we can find something more productive to do with $8 million dollars a day…

A suspension of US aid would immediately revive Israel’s pro-peace parties and set Israel on track towards peace. A real peace is the only way Israel, or Palestine, will ever be secure. Think of it is way: Israel is like a very drunk friend leaving a New Year’s party. Do you a) give him gas money? or b) take away his car keys? Simple answer… right?

So give the gift of peace and security this season. Call your representatives and ask for a freeze on settlements and aid to Israel as long as Likud remains in power (and ask them not to support any legislation meant to punish Palestinians for the recent UN vote).

Another Gaza Crisis…and Something To Do About It

Dianne Eckstein

It is impossible to understand the Israeli rationale for the violence it has again unleashed in Gaza. What does Israel stand to gain by repeating in 2012 what it has already tried in 2006 and 2008—and what it tried to do in Lebanon in 1978, 1980, 1982, and 2006? Even mainstream political commentators see nothing that Israel can really gain in terms of real security  by another massacre of Palestinian innocents, but many Americans have been so blinded by years of media coverage sympathetic to Israel that they can only say “Well, Israel must protect itself.”

Wake up! These brutal Israeli assaults do nothing to “protect” Israel.  They simply fuel anti-Israeli and anti-American feeling. Israel and the US gain NOTHING from this. In spite of repeated Israeli military actions, the capacity of Hamas to threaten Israel has actually increased, just as Israeli attacks on Lebanon have only increased the power and reach of Hezbollah.

Since 2006 Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza. The people are malnourished and desperate, yet they keep fighting. That’s because they are fighting for their homeland and for self-determination like we did in here in America in 1776.  It is hard to see why  Americans aren’t more sympathetic to their cause. It’s time for us to recognize that an effective national security policy is a policy that promotes real and lasting peace. Peace can only happen when the legitimate rights of the Palestine people are recognized and protected in an independent Palestine state.

What is happening on the West Bank is less eye-catching than Gaza, but is equally significant. There, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking observer state status for Palestine in the UN. His is a peaceful, nonviolent political initiative to advance legitimate Palestinian rights. Yet, in response, Israel has threatened to overthrow him and has also threatened to cut off revenues owed to the Palestinian authority. The people of the West Bank have not fired a single missile, yet Israel refuses to seriously engage in peace talks. No wonder the Hamas leadership in Gaza feels they have nothing to lose by violent resistance. Israel’s failure to negotiate in good faith is precisely the reason that Hamas came to power: people finally realized that all the many concessions made by Yasser Arafat over the years have earned the Palestinians nothing. Hamas is ready to deal. They were already in negotiations to resolve this latest crisis when Israel assassinated one of its leaders. That was a clear show of Israeli bad faith.

Israelis often criticize the Palestinians for not having pursued non-violent means in their struggle for a state. The hypocrisy inherent in that argument has been amply revealed in Israel’s response to Palestine’s UN application for statehood. Overall, when you strip away the layers of lies and details, the main points of the current crisis become clear:

1.     Israel’s policy of land seizure is the root of the problem.  Until Israel settlement activity is stopped, no real peace talks can begin.

2.     Israel’s policy of “disproportionate response” (which began almost immediately after 1948) has never worked.

3.     The US position of unquestioningly supporting Israel and letting them dictate the agenda and pace of peace negotiations has never worked.

4.     Given these plain facts, it is clearly time to try a new approach

That new approach must involve must involve the American public and real pressure on Israel.  We should write to the President, to the State Department, and to our representatives and demand,  in the name of peace, basic human rights and international law, that they: a) Take concrete steps to stop Israeli attacks and provocations in Gaza and end their blockade there, b) End their settlement and occupation of the West Bank, and c) Withdraw all US opposition to the Palestinian application for status as an “observer state” at the UN (as a first step towards full recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders). That at least would provide a basis for real peace negotiations.

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