By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Palestine?

 

March 30, 2018



Is this another occasion to sit shiva for the idea of a Palestinian state? Or yet another indication that the idea is well within the realm of dreamland, not to die, but not to achieve anything real?

Several events qualify for the label of strategic, in the sense that they signal abject failure for those wanting a state when they wake in the morning. One was the refusal of Palestinians to attend a meeting at the White House to discuss what many perceive to be a crisis in Gaza. Another was the effort, apparently by one of the Palestinian factions, to assassinate the prime minister of the Palestine Authority during his formal visit to Gaza.

Palestinian absence from the White House meeting was a continuation of their sanctions against the Trump administration, due to his endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Yet the chutzpah of Palestine is even greater than the chutzpah of Donald Trump.

Mahmoud Abbas has gone further by calling the US Ambassador to Israel the “son of a dog.”

In response to the attack on his prime minister, Abbas has cut off (or threatened to cut off—it’s never clear if the Palestinians mean what they say) payments to Gaza. In response, the Hamas leadership has threatened a mass movement against the barriers on the border with Israel, perhaps to mark the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence and the Palestinian Nakba, which will present a challenge to Israeli security forces.


Is boycotting the White House and insulting its ambassador an honorable way for the Palestinian leadership to assert its rights, or a comic opera performance by a corrupt little pretend state emptying its waste in the living room of the world’s most powerful country? As Abba Eban is saying from wherever: never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The fact of the meeting in the White House, called on account of a perceived crisis in Gaza, suggests that the issue of Palestine will not leave the world’s stage.

There may be a crisis in the more miserable part of Palestine, but it’s worth looking beyond the politicians and the media. The statistics reveal that Gaza’s problems are not demonstrably greater than chronic conditions throughout the Third World, and especially right over Gaza’s border into Africa.

There’s a headline on the Internet that Gaza’s unemployment is the highest in the world, at 44 percent. However, a credible listing shows Djibouti and Senegal as having higher rates. Two important measures of health indicate that Gaza is in better shape than many countries Life expectancy for women at 75.9 years and for men at 72.5 put Gaza above 87 countries in the case of women and 95 countries in the case of men. Infant mortality in Gaza is 16.6 per 1,000 live births, which makes it better than 97 countries.


No doubt Gaza needs some help, but not more so than most African countries and others of Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. 

Alas, international politics does not operate by a metric showing who needs the most help. The explanations for the attention paid to Palestine are well known. They begin with the weight in international forums of some 50 countries with Muslim majorities in their populations. There’s also the concern of western countries for the Holy Land, with some overlay of wanting to care for all of its people. And perhaps a bit of anti-Semitism, with humane Christians and insecure Jews taking another swipe against Israel.

Both Gaza and the West Bank are small and relatively easy to comprehend by westerners feeling a need to do something. They lack the complexities of Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, or Afghanistan.

Just as well known are the opportunities that Palestinians have missed for putting them on the roads to statehood and self-sufficiency. The British tried in the 1930s and the UN in the 1940s. The 1967 war produced a declaration by a number of Arab governments that there’d be “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Since then, two of those governments (Egypt and Jordan) have gone against their declaration, and the Palestinians have created institutions claiming to speak directly for themselves. Yassir Arafat said no to a proposal by Ehud Barak supported by Bill Clinton in 2000, Mahmoud Abbas said no to Ehud Olmert in 2008, and Abbas has upped the volume against Donald Trump.


Between the 1930s and 1967, the amount of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean available to the Palestinians shrank considerably. From 1967 several waves of settlement shrank it further. Analysts claim that Israelis have built too much, and in too many strategic places as to make it possible for a Palestinian state to be viable

One can argue the aggressiveness or moderation of Israeli officials, and whether there is room for a Palestinian state in what is left, or in what Israel would make available.

Israeli skeptics have concluded that unless someone gives the Palestinians everything, they won’t agree to anything. That seems a realistic assessment of Palestinian strategy, and it has not worked to their advantage.

Comments welcome—irashark@gmail.com.

 

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