PURE GOLD: THE ISRAELI CONFLICT.
by Ed Gold
Sadly, for those like the writer who has family in Israel, survivors of the Holocaust, recent activities by the Bibi Netanyahu government reduce the likelihood of what Israelis need and want: peace and security.
On a wide range of issues the Israeli government, in the hands of religious extremists and dreamers of a Greater Israel, appear to have taken steps that guarantee continued hostility with the Palestinians as well as with the Arab states surrounding the tiny democracy.
This is not to suggest that a sensible Israeli diplomatic policy would necessarily lead to harmony with the Palestinians. There remains Hamas, which uses Gaza as a launching pad in firing rockets into southern Israel and which insists that its aim is to wipe out the Jewish state. And there are the Arab states— particularly Saudi Arabia, who refuse to deal with Israel, provide the PLO with very little encouragement to negotiate with Israel, and offer a minimum of financial support as well.
In this atmosphere the Israelis have been following a policy that ensures belligerence in the PLO, which would have a difficult time negotiating a peace plan with Israel under any circumstances.
To begin, the Israelis announced a plan to halt West Bank construction, a plan that had more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese. Ongoing settlements on the West Bank could continue construction already underway, and amenities such as schools and hospitals could be introduced at any time.
Then a housing policy was introduced in East Jerusalem, the home for a quarter of a million Palestinians that would remove some of the current homes there, suggesting that some Palestinians with long histories and roots would have to move. While the Israelis insist the dislocated Palestinians would be allowed to come back to new housing, the distrust is so deep that the Palestinians don’t believe they will be allowed to return.
Then came the Israeli decision to announce Israeli retention of several shrines deep in West Bank territory, which was a victory for religious extremists. The most notable shrine, called the Cave of the Patriarchs, is revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians, and is believed to be the burial grounds for Abraham and his family. The shrine is located in Hebron, a city of 160,000 Palestinians and possibly a few hundred Jewish extremists who require the continuing protection of the Israeli army.
It is difficult to understand how Israel can give lip service to a two-state solution when it insists on owning a shrine in Palestinian territory and using its army to protect a handful of Jews.
Continuing his undiplomatic campaign, Bibi now makes clear that several settlements on the West Bank will remain as part of Israel. He is actually realistic in noting that two settlements near Jerusalem, Ariel and Maale Adumim, have now become cities, but he made the announcement without recognizing that the Palestinians will need compensation, probably including a slice of the Negev.
There remain other problems on the West Bank that hurt the peace effort. Israel for instance is building a security barrier on the West Bank, which currently cuts through Arab farmland. Meanwhile scores of settlements, all in a would-be Palestinian state, thrive, and so-called Jewish outposts continue to spring up with virtually no Israeli resistance.
When Bibi says all issues are on the table in future negotiations he simply dissembles. He has taken most issues off the table including, of course, the status of Jerusalem, which he insists will never be divided, nor will any section of it ever be used as the capital of a Palestine state.
To add to Israeli woes in the field of public relations is the ongoing probe in Dubai over the killing of a Hamas leader. In this case Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, which has long been heralded as one of the best in the world, looks as if it was playing in a Marx Bros. movie. Fake passports listing names from several European nations have further injured Israel's reputation.
Obama's emissary, George Mitchell, heads for Israel to promote negotiations with the Palestinians. This is no small feat at any time but even more difficult at the present time. He also needs to calm the Israelis down about a possible nuclear strike by Iran. It remains difficult to imagine the Great Leader in Iran would attack Israel knowing that swift reciprocity would follow.
The Israelis could surely use a miracle but that's unlikely. However, in a late development the U.S. has gotten both parties to agree to indirect talks with Mitchell moving back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Hopefully, he can find some of the magic that worked in Northern Ireland.