Saturday, May 26, 2018
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S. Amjad Hussain

Solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict obvious, elusive

On the the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to Washington, President Obama reiterated long-standing American policy that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be based on pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps of land.

Former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert had embraced the same general outline. But Mr. Netanyahu rejected the proposal, saying that 1967 borders are not defensible. Later at the White House, he set aside diplomatic niceties to lecture the President on Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, where he received 29 standing ovations. It was a bizarre spectacle in which lawmakers cheered a visiting head of state for statements that were contrary to U.S. policy and international law.

Their robotic response was the direct result of the enormous influence that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has on American politics. Even President Obama had to backpedal from his earlier statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2006, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University wrote a lengthy essay for the London Review of Books magazine about the long-standing influence of the Israeli lobby in the United States.

The truth of their assertions can be seen in the fact that in 1992, David Steiner was forced to resign as the head of AIPAC after he was recorded boasting about the organization's role in obtaining U.S. foreign aid for Israel. He also claimed he was negotiating with the incoming Clinton administration about the appointment of the secretary of state and national security adviser.

In the long run, continuation of the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians threatens the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The latest person to question Israel's stance was Meir Dagan, who headed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad until six months ago. He questioned Mr. Netanyahu's commitment to a two-state solution.

Israeli politics are heavily influenced by the Israeli settlement movement and its American supporters. They believe that the entire West Bank belongs to Jews and that the Palestinians who live there are squatters on their God-given land.

Relentless encroachment onto Palestinian land and the creation of so-called realities on the ground strengthen their claim on the land, they reason. This approach effectively rules out a two-state solution that America and the rest of the world advocate and that is embraced by many Israelis, including Tzipi Livni, the Israeli opposition leader. At a recent AIPAC meeting, she said that Palestinian statehood is not a favor to President Obama, but vital for Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu told Congress that Israel is willing to make difficult and painful concessions toward a two-state solution, but he has never spelled out those concessions. What he has in mind, it appears, is a South African-style homeland where Palestinians could be confined to scattered areas in the West Bank and would lack cohesive borders with Israel. It did not work in South Africa, and it won't work in Palestine, either.

Barring a two state-solution -- which settler-driven Israeli politics will not allow -- there are two other options. Both are impractical and undesirable. The first is to make the Palestinians citizens of an Israel that includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Given the Palestinians' higher birth rate, Israel soon would lose its identity as a Jewish country.

Another option would gladden the hearts of many Jewish settlers, and some of their American supporters: Evict the Palestinians from their homes and lands and push them across the Jordan River. That would be illegal and immoral by any standard.

A just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as remote today as it was decades ago. Continued settlement activity, illegal according to American foreign policy, makes peace harder to achieve with each passing day.

An unambiguous declaration by all Palestinian factions that affirms Israel's right to exist, and acceptance by Israel that occupation of West Bank lands is not the answer, might push the parties toward a realistic solution.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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