Bob Marley, Israel, and Palestine

I made it home from Jerusalem in good order Saturday, just 20 hours after leaving the American Colony Hotel. Its reality was a bit shabbier than its reputation, but nonetheless welcome after a couple of weeks with our SAIS students in lesser accommodations. Fortunately, the opposite was true of Israel and Palestine: the reality is a better than their reputation.

Lets start with security. Bad things can happen suddenly anytime anywhere, but on both sides of the quintessential Middle East conflict things were generally calm these past two weeks. Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Nablus were no less normal than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A day of rage declared last week in response to President Trumps Jerusalem decision and Vice President Pences visit seems to have mostly fizzled, though we did see some stone throwers on the outskirts of Ramallah. Id be more concerned about the cold, wind, and rain in Jerusalem and the West Bank this time of year than the risk of terrorism. The State Department travel warning issued just before our trip is clearly intended to cover bureaucratic asses if something happens.

Ive already reviewed how Palestinians and Israelis see things. Perhaps more important is how they view each other. You can get the official line at the top from the media: Israelis say they have no partner for negotiating peace, as Palestinians are still making bereavement payments to the families of suicide bombers, while Palestinians say Israel continues to blatantly violate international law in its more than 50-year occupation of the West Bank, its building of settlements, and its continuing constraints on Gaza (despite the withdrawal of its troops).

Israelis seem content with the current situation. They dont see much of the Gaza or West Bank Palestinians, who are mostly kept on the opposite side of security fences. A very few Gaza Palestinians and more West Bankers work in Israel, especially in construction and menial jobs. Even in Jerusalem, many Palestinians keep to the eastern, Arab part of the city and to the Arab quarter. There are areas where Jews and Arabs mix a bit, especially in the Old City, and there are Palestinian citizens of Israel who are rising socially and professionally throughout Israel. Few of them are likely to prefer living in an independent Palestine, but all can describe the prejudice and discrimination they are subject to. It doesnt take much to illicit from Jewish Israelis racist remarks about Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.

Palestinians are holding the short end of the stick. The power imbalance is overwhelming and they know it. Israels vibrant economy, advanced technology, and military prowess make it a First World country, more akin to Europe than the Middle East. The West Bank and Gaza are poor and largely powerless, all the more so for having a customs and monetary union with Israel. The Israelis not only collect customs revenue on behalf of the Palestinians (and withhold it when they want to exert pressure), but the West Bank is unable to protect its nascent industries with tariffs or devalue its currency. Agriculture, not industry, is therefore still the mainstay of the West Bank economy. There is remarkably little Israeli investment in the West Bank except for its Jewish settlements, and of course none in Hamas-governed Gaza.

But the Palestinians still hold a trump card: their demographic growth. It may already be that there are more Arabs west of the Jordan river than Jews, but if not it will be so soon. Israels only option if it wants to remain a Jewish-majority state but prevent an independent Palestinian one is what the Palestinians term apartheid: a system of isolated bantustans in the West Bank that will govern themselves while Israel controls security, including freedom of movement, as well as the economy. The Palestinians do not think such a system can last. Some are advocating a one-state solution that will eventually be under Arab control. That, they remind, is what the Palestine Liberation Organization advocated until its 1993 recognition of Israel and acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state on 22% of Mandate Palestine.

Palestinians are fond of correcting foreigners when they ask about the Jews. The Jews they say come in many varieties, including those who support an independent Palestinian state and join in nonviolent Palestinian protests. The biggest problems for Palestinians come from the religious settlers in the West Bank, who are often verbally and physically abusive. But ultimately, Palestinians aver, their problems are not with Jews, whom they say they accept as one of the indigenous peoples, but rather with Israel, which refuses to allow them their state and is consequently headed in a non-democratic direction.

Both Palestinians and Israelis should not forget Bob Marleys message:


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Bob Marley, Israel, and Palestine

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January 29, 2018   Posted in: Israel |

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