By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Stuck with one another


Israel and Palestine are having another dance that may seem unreal, but is the essence of our relationship.

Each is pressing on the other. Palestinians say they will bring charges against Israel for war crimes, overlooking the capacity of Israel to bring charges against Palestinians for war crimes.

Israel is responding by withholding the taxes collected at the ports, levied by Palestine on imports. Palestinians may respond by postponing the payment of workers’ salaries, threatening an increase in unrest and violence.

Palestinian extremists are threatening a disbanding of the Palestine Authority and “giving over the keys to the West Bank to Israel,” requiring Israel to deal with more than a million restive Palestinians.

Israeli extremists are demanding that Israel absorb all of the West Bank, disband the Palestine Authority, and do who knows what with more than a million Palestinians.

Some are talking about transferring all the Palestinians in the West Bank to Jordan, and all the Gazans to Egypt, so we can be done with them.

Opps. We should expect that neither Jordan nor Egypt will take the Palestinians, and would join an international chorus charging Israel with crimes against humanity.

Some are saying it is all the Americans’ fault. If John Kerry had not pushed us to negotiations that neither Palestinians nor Israelis wanted, we’d be muddling along as before, with levels of threats at a lower level of fever.

Spokespeople of the U.S. State Department and European Union are responding to the current flurry of action by asking both sides to cool it, stop the provocations, and return to negotiations.

There’s as much chance of that as finding the passengers on that missing Malaysian airliner enjoying themselves on a tropic island.

Is there no solution?

None on the horizon.

Palestinians are stuck in the Islam that is virtually complete among them, after producing the exodus of most Christians, and the nationalism fed by Islam that makes it difficult or impossible to accept Israel. Their school maps haven’t gotten around in indicating that Israel exists, their partners in the Arab League plus Iran and Turkey encourage animosity to Israel while (perhaps with the exception of Iran) managing their own largely under the table relationships with Israel. Jordan and Egypt cooperate with Israel in numerous fields, including an opposition to Islamic extremists (Hamas and others), while joining in a chorus that promotes Palestinian nationalism. 

Israel has its own crazies, supported financially by overseas extremists, demanding continued provocations toward Israel’s acquisition of “all that should belong to it.” They overlook one of the several Biblical definitions of the Land of Israel that is, arguably, smaller than Israel today (Numbers 34), as well as other passages in the Bible and the entirety of post-Biblical history that make it clear Jews always lived alongside of, intermingled with, and mutually dependent on non-Jews.

The current election campaign is doing its work of exacerbating tensions, with the tendencies of many candidates--in the Arab and Jewish parties--to appeal with religious and nationalist slogans. The equivalent words in Hebrew or Arabic of Jerusalem, terror, occupation, refugees, and racism do their work of reminding voters of primordial loyalties, and elevating notions of us vs them as political assets.

Reading 60 or 100 years of history suggests the following.

Tensions will remain, with ups and downs depending on international events and the campaigns led by those who lead, or contend for leadership among Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs (or Israeli Palestinians, depending on how they call themselves), and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel will be a country with a fuzzy eastern border, with Israeli citizens living in clusters beyond the 1967 borders.

Jerusalem will remain an issue, with a substantial Arab/Palestinian minority, most of them living in neighborhoods that vary in their antagonism/violence

Palestinians will continue to highlight the “rights of refugees,” perhaps well into the time when the original refugees have disappeared, but with their descendants continuing to claim prominence in Palestinian politics.

There is no shortage of great ideas to deal with these issues, accumulated over the course of a century, but none of them have brought the parties to a signature.

The “one state solution” with Israeli responsibility for Palestinians with or without giving them citizenship has advocates among the left and right, but it’s in the same library with all the other solutions.

If 60 or 100 years have not produced a solution, we can conclude, at least tentatively, that there ain’t one.

Oslo managed to provide the Palestinians with a considerable degree of autonomy, but we and they are still arguing about whether that has been a success or failure, something we can continue to live with or must give up.

Pending a miracle or catastrophe, we’ll continue with our imperfect coping with one another, not unlike Americans with their variety of restive minorities and southern neighbors.

Sure the details differ, but there remain the similarities of tensions, and significant differences in the quality of life experienced by different communities. African Americans, Native Americans, and Israeli Arabs have the rights of citizenship, and don’t do nearly as well as others on the traits that make life good. Hispanics living in the US are somewhere in the mix, with many of them worse off then Palestinians, being without the rights to remain where they are. One can argue as to whether the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza live better than those American minorities or Mexicans. It’s not hard to find indicators supporting one or another conclusion.

Compared to any other period of history, things aren’t all that bad for the Jews.

Moreover, the political rights of Israeli Arabs, their personal security and opportunities are better than they would be in most Arab/Muslim countries.

It would be nice if neither side made it worse for the other. 

However, when tit for tat becomes the operating rule, tensions will increase along with both sides claiming the other started it.

Remember our schoolyard fights? It ain’t all that different.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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