Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is a breath of fresh air, especially when it comes to United States policy towards the Middle East. In his New York Times column today, Thomas L. Friedman made some seminal points concerning Israel and how Chuck Hagel relates to American-Israeli relations. Two comments that bear further analysis are:
If ever Israel needed a U.S. defense secretary who was committed to Israel’s survival, as Hagel has repeatedly stated — but who was convinced that ensuring that survival didn’t mean having America go along with Israel’s lunatic, self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution — it is now.
I think Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and has been a disaster for the Palestinians. But it is a deeply rooted organization. It controls Gaza. It is not going away. I don’t think America or Israel have anything to lose by engaging Hamas to see if a different future is possible.
In Jewish theological studies, it is traditional for Rabbis to engage their students with endless questioning and answering and more questioning. It is a very subjective learning process. It is so intrinsic to Jewish culture that an old joke exemplifies the process:
Q: Why do you people always answer a question with another question?
Q: Why shouldn’t we?
So, what questions need to be asked about what goes on with Israel, Palestine and the prospects for peace?
Friedman makes the point that Hamas may be committed to Israel’s destruction. Unlike the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which runs the West Bank, Hamas has never recognized the right of Israel to exist. Israel insists it won’t deal with Hamas unless as a precondition Hamas changes its tune on that issue.
Is there some reason why Hamas shouldn’t make such a declaration in exchange for peace talks? Is there some rational reason for them not accepting the legitimacy of Israel? Yes, there is.
Actually, there are a number of reasons that explains Hamas’s supposed intransigence but let’s just deal with one that most Americans are completely unaware of. Aside from a fact that Friedman identifies, i.e. that many of Israel’s current governing leaders believe in annexation of the West Bank, there is also a fanatical element still very active in Israeli politics that has never surrendered the concept of “Israel on both sides of the Jordan river.”
The major party which formed the Likud bloc, the party of Prime Minister Netanyahu, was the Herut (Freedom) Party which was founded by the Irgun Zvai Leumi. The Herut Party’s platform never repudiated the concept of “Israel on both sides of the Jordan,” i.e., a call for the annexation of not just the West Bank but of the conquest and subjugation of the Kingdom of Jordan itself. See my whole commentary on this issue at:
Why should Hamas accept Israel’s legitimacy when important and powerful Israeli politicians continue to this day to actively attempt to settle and effectively annex portions of the West Bank and to publicly advocate subjugation of Jordan? Those Israeli politicians believe that god gave them the right to take this land, so why should Hamas believe that they will ever give up this goal?
What can be done to get around this division by responsible political forces on both sides? Instead of either side demanding pre-conditions for peace negotiations, Israel and Hamas should first talk behind the scenes and then simultaneously announce mutual recognition of each other as “belligerents.” For an explanation of this kind of diplomatic recognition in context, read my article: http://janbtucker.com/blog/2012/11/16/mythology-of-secession/
If I had my druthers, there would be one democratic, secular state in the region with equality for all, but that isn’t likely to happen. The “best of all possible worlds” as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss might have opined, is going to be a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace with each other. However, Israel can still likely not live in peace if it doesn’t itself become a democratic and secular state which it isn’t and never has been.
Take just one example: family law. In family law, there is absolutely not one iota of separation of church and state in Israel. There are five (5) official religions: Judaism, Islam, Druze, Bahai and Christianity. Within Christianity there are ten (10) officially recognized sects. Each religion is in charge of family law for its own adherents and effectively, since there is no civil marriage in Israel, you have to go outside the country if you want to intermarry, which as an American I find almost as effectively egregious as the Nazi laws that prohibited intermarriage between Jews and so-called Aryans. For more details on these issues, see: http://janbtucker.com/blog/2011/07/17/jews-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/
If Israel wants to be a democratic, secular and egalitarian society, it needs to adopt ideals like those of one of its most minor political parties, Hadash, whose 2009 election platform called for:
- Achieving a just, comprehensive, and stable peace: Israeli/Palestinian and Israeli/Arab
- Protecting workers’ rights and issues
- Developing social services: health, education, housing, welfare, culture, and sports
- Equality for the Arab population in Israel
- Eradicating ethnic discrimination in all fields; defending the concerns of residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods and development towns
- Protecting democratic freedoms
- Equality between the sexes in all fields
- Protecting the environment; environmental justice
- Eradicating weapons of mass destruction
What are the issues confronting Israel in terms of discrimination against Arab citizens? Why do many people in the world compare Israeli policies to South African racist Apartheid? This is an excerpt from a recent American Free Press interview with Meretz Party City Council Member Meir Margalit of Jerusalem, an Argentine Jewish immigrant:
“We are talking about houses that the Israeli government demolished on both sides of the Green Line, what we call the “’48 Palestinians,” Israeli Palestinians they suffer from demolitions because these people build without licenses because the government refuses to give them licenses for building.”
“In Jerusalem, the municipality refuses to give Palestinians licenses because they’re afraid that one day the Palestinians will become a majority in the city. And the way to stop this process is to refuse to give them licenses under the assumption that then Palestinians will leave the city to live in other places where it’s easier to get licenses. But the Palestinians will never leave the city.”
“What they do is they build without licenses. And then, the municipality comes and put the demolition order on the wall of the house, and 24-hours later, the bulldozers can come to demolish the house without any previous announcement. This is what we at ICAHD are fighting. We are fighting against these kinds of demolitions.”
AFP asked if the Palestinian birth rate compared to the Israeli birth rate is the main factor driving this demolition policy.
“The demographic element, especially in this city, is very dominant. The Palestinians today, they are 38 percent of the population in Jerusalem, and according to different demographers, in 2020 or maybe 2025, the Palestinians will become a majority. 2025 is not the future, it’s tomorrow, and as you can guess, the idea that in 2025 the Palestinians will become a majority and vote for a Palestinian mayor to the city, this idea makes [the government] crazy. So they are doing everything they can in order to postpone this process, and one of the tools is to refuse to give them licenses.”
Chuck Hagel has shown that he’s not a slave to the right-wing and the religious fanatics who control the current Israeli government or their supporters in the United States. President Obama should not back down from making him Secretary of Defense.