Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Middle East--still, again, however you see it.

It is very difficult to be an insider and outsider at the same time. I am an Israeli-born American. I am a Jewish, dual citizen who didn't serve in Tzahal (the IDF) because I'd been to the US Naval Academy. I come from a zionist, Jewish home and that means many things.

But the home I come from was also (and still is, amen) astoundingly politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. If you look at my family tree, I'm pretty sure we're Antarctica and Australia shy of being a mini UN. And so I have Japanese and Chinese cousins. I have an Indian-Ethiopean cousin (whom I would love to meet). I have a cousin who converted from generic secular humanism to Islam and married a Jordanian Palestinian. My mother converted to Judaism and married a nice Jewish boy who later became a rabbi. I have catholic in laws, presbyterian grandparents (sorta) and atheists who share my blood.

It's incredibly difficult to come from this kind of family and not realize two things: There is only one race: The human race. We really need to have a bring some ethnic food to share reunion--soon! I'm hungry just thinking of all the amazing things we could share.

On a more serious note, as a zionist, I have to be a Palestinianist. The two are inseparable. One cannot insist on a right to a homeland for oneself without understanding that the right must exist for all or it cannot be secure for any.

And as a Palestinianist, I have to advocate for the one thing that no one seems to be considering: a 3-state solution. To "get" this, one has to have some sense of history.

The Middle East is the mess it is because of the West's Imperialistic response to the outcome of World War I. I know, you expected me to say World War II--but that's not how far back you have to go. You have to go much farther, to the breaking up and parceling out of the Ottoman Empire. A great place to get the basics is the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.

The basic basics come to this: The Brits, in an effort to win the war had from before the war promised both the house of Saud kings of Saudi Arabia, through Lawrence of Arabia, and the house of Hussein, kings of Jordan and heads of the Hashemite tribe, power and land. Likewise, and from earlier in the 20th century, the British had been promising the Jews a homeland. This is only part. There was French, Italian, Spanish and American involvement as well. All of which meant that when the Ottoman Empire came down along with Germany (with which it had been allied in the war), the Western powers came together and turned an Empire into a bunch of countries.

These countries were not random delegations of power, though to the people affected they seemed that way. The countries joined the League of Nations and were put under the "protection" of the larger empires they were assigned to. In essence, the Western powers got together and played cards with oil and other resources and decided who would get to rape what area for its riches while getting to benevolently "bring those people to civilization" after which, of course, they would be given their independence and, who knows, maybe rights.

This was the patronizing approach the Western countries took. It was taken out of the arrogance of Western Imperialism, with an eye to Western enrichment, under the guise of "helping" the tribes who lived off the desert to become humans.

It was not done with any eye toward understanding tribal life, tribal lines, tribal history, or any other issues. Arabs were Arabs and that was all. This lovely set of actions is the direct cause of the Iran/Iraq wars of the 1980s, the current unrest in many Middle Eastern countries, and the instability that has plagued the region from the start of this "protection plan." They may as well have taken a mafia protection plan.

So what about Israel? Well, it had been promised to the Jews at the same time it was promised tot he Palestinians in Jordan at the same time it was promised to Jordan's Hashemite kings (less than 20% of the ethnic population of the current Jordan)--and all by the British.

It took the blatant murder of 6 million Jews in Europe for part of that promise to be fulfilled. Until then, the country was the British protectorate of Trans-Jordanian Palestine. And it was all promised to three different groups. So, what now? At the point at which Israel became a nation, Jews, Arabs, and Christians had been living there for thousands of years. It's not like the UN took a vote and a bunch of folks showed up on the doorstep demanding the keys--though that is certainly how some people picture it in their minds.

Regardless, there is more to the story. Over the years (and starting with the immediate point of independence), the Jewish state had to fight its neighbors for its sovereignty. Understand that nearly EVERY other country in the area is oil or other resource rich. Israel is not. It has NONE of the things that make kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rich. Israel has been built into a developed, Western in culture, educated, technologically and medically world-leading country by the hard work of Israelis.

So what about the Palestinians? What is this "three-state" solution?

I've been harping on it for years. The Palestinians have spent the last 50 years being oppressed--primarily by the Arab countries where most of them live. They are not entitled to own land, get education, become members of society, or even hold non-menial jobs. They are kept in refugee status because that is the only way the Arab world can hold on to the Palestinians as the scapegoat for its anti-semitism--oh! and the UN keeps them that way because they get money for staying that way. Anti-semitism is justified because Palestinians suffer, and the mere existence of Israel is the source of all that suffering. Oppressed Palestinians have a dual purpose, though. They are also a great way to keep an otherwise also oppressed majority of the Arab population from progress. When there are those who have it worse, it's easier to keep people under control, to keep them from education and progress, and to keep them from demanding power--political, educational, or economic.

But Jordan is, and has been since before the creation of Israel, at least 80% Palestinian by population. Why is it Jordan--the gift to a small tribe of a big piece of land-- is never involved in Israeli/Palestinian peace talks? Because it would lead to a solution! Because it would require a more truthful retelling of how the problem came to be instead of the one in which people show up on the doorstep. If Jews, Palestinians, and Hashemites could each get some piece of the trans-Jordanian pie, all would get peace.

But Peace would undermine the power structure the leading royal families and dictators have built. It is contingent on unrest blamable on Israel to keep the focus off their own oppression of their own people. It is necessary to beat down the Palestinians for the rest of the Arab world to not feel its own pain.

The Israeli government (being composed of humans) has made many mistakes in its history of dealing with the Palestinians. But the West Bank was once part of Jordan (there was no Palestine other than the British Mandate), Gaza belonged to Egypt. Both were captured after those countries took part in an attack on Israel. The UN gave Israel permission to remain in the areas to create a buffer of defense. Israel has made mistakes, but at least the Palestinians who live in Israel have access to jobs, can own businesses and land, and not only have the right but a mandate for education. Those who live in the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority now have some of the same developmental rights as well. Gaza, sadly, is under the control of a terrorist group: Hamas has a talent for oppression.

It's nowhere near perfect, but as a Palestinian-Israeli friend of mine once said "It's better than living under an Arab regime any day of the week."

I think this could be simple: Palestine will be composed of most of the West Bank (Jerusalem and Bethlehem are points of contention, at this time, but have only been open to all three Abrahamic faiths when under Israeli control), and much of Jordan--in exchange for which Israel will remove the settlements (among the errors the Israeli government has made) and the PA will forgo any claim to Gaza. Gaza residents will be given the choice of moving to Palestine or staying in Israel. Jordan will cede a section of its land on the East side of the Jordan (the section with the largest Palestinian population) and Palestinians living in Jordan will, likewise be given the choice of staying and being Jordanian or moving to the new Palestinian homeland.

No person can argue for the need of a home for himself without arguing the same for all. No person can argue the need for internal security and the right to progress without arguing the same for all. If the Palestinians are given a land and a chance, they will come to prove themselves. They will succeed or fail, but they will have done so themselves.

If we (Americans and the rest of the West) educate ourselves on the damage we did in parsing the Ottoman Empire to please ourselves, we have a chance of avoiding making more of the same mistakes we have been for the last few decades--again, still, however you want to see it.