Point: George E. Bisharat
The United States has a moral obligation to foster a lasting peace in the Middle East stemming from our complicity, as Israel's principal ally, in Palestinian suffering. In addition, we have a strong self-interest in defusing resentment against us, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds, generated by our unconditional support of Israel.
Over the last 15 years, we have seen much process and very little peace. The reasons are multiple, and Palestinians are not blameless. But at the root, Israel, the more powerful party, has blocked a final peace because conflict is a condition of its continuing expansion into the West Bank. Israeli citizens may crave peace, but the generals and right-wing ideologues who have led the country have not yet achieved their full territorial ambitions.
The truth sometimes slips, as when former Israeli Prime Minister (and terrorist earlier in life) Yitzhak Shamir confessed after the Madrid Conference in 1991 that his objective had been to stretch negotiations out for 10 years. But Israel's expansionist plans are written unambiguously on the ground. Since the Annapolis conference in November, Israel has authorized the construction of 3,500 new housing units in East Jerusalem alone.
The U.S. government has been Israel's main abettor. We have supplied Israel with an average of $3 billion annually since 1973; President Bush recently re-upped for the coming decade. As important, we have shielded Israel from censure for its serial violations of international law through 41 vetoes in the U.N. Security Council. In negotiations, we have acted, in the words of former U.S. State Department negotiator Aaron David Miller, as "Israel's lawyer." Our diplomats cluck at Israel's disastrous settlement policy -- then turn a blind eye.
Yet the United States can play a unique and constructive role in fostering Middle East peace -- if only an American leader emerged with the requisite courage and vision. Like Israel, we have a strong commitment to democracy and some skeletons in our closet, such as the monstrous institution of slavery. Historians estimate that about 35 million Africans died in the slave trade, making it, numerically, the worst holocaust in human history. This while our Declaration of Independence attested: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
We still struggle with the legacy of slavery. But at least our basic impulse to rectify our mistake was correct -- and it wasn't to create a separate black republic. Rather, it was to install basic legal equality for all citizens and to encourage integration of blacks and whites in one society. We started with the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution and continued with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The road has been bumpy and full of mistakes and reversals. But today an African American man has reasonable odds of becoming our next president. We should be both proud and humble.
Judea, you cannot escape this simple fact: Palestinians will never be equal in a Jewish state. The narrative you ask them to join is not an Israeli national narrative open to all citizens, no matter their origins or creed. It is a Jewish narrative, based on ethnicity rather than citizenship. From that, Palestinians are forever barred by birth.
America's role should be, as a trusted friend, to compassionately and respectfully share our experience with Israel. We must wean it away from separatism, help it embrace the value of equal rights and counsel it to seek peace based on mutual reverence for Jewish and Palestinian humanity.
George E. Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.
Counterpoint: Judea Pearl
The goal of the peace process cannot be decided from the outside; it must reflect the goals of the participants. For more than 40 years now, the world has been asking the same question with increasing impatience and bewilderment: "What the hell is Israel doing in an area it never meant to occupy? Why doesn't it just leave, let the Palestinians build their own state next to Israel, and save themselves and others all this pain and headache?"
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian Authority negotiator, appeared on C-SPAN a few weeks ago and told viewers, "Things have changed in the past decade; 66% of Palestinians now aspire for a two-state solution, living in peace side by side with Israel. I can now say things for which I would have been lynched a decade ago." After Erekat's hopeful message, teams of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists arrived as emissaries to plead with the American public to seize on the opportunities opened last year in Annapolis. Analysts and commentators spoke of an unprecedented historic opportunity and asked, "What the hell is Israel waiting for?"
Well, the answer finally came on Wednesday.
It came from you, George, in your compelling advocacy of the one-state utopia. Palestinians, as you described, do not want and never have wanted to build their own state next to Israel; they want to dismantle what is now Israel and establish a new state called Palestine, which would stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. On paper, its character would be democratic, secular, multicultural, multiethnic, with equal rights to all its citizens regardless of origin or creed, with justice and liberty to all, etc. But in reality, its character would be shaped by a power struggle between two factions, Jews and Arabs, in much the same way that the character of Lebanon or Iraq is currently being shaped.
More significantly, "Greater Palestine" would open its doors to millions of exiled Palestinians and their descendants (exiled in 1947) and close its doors to exiled Jews and their descendants (exiled in AD 140), regardless of the dangers those Jews might face. Moreover, Greater Palestine would not allow its Jewish citizens to defend themselves in the unlikely case that Hamas members (under this scenario, citizens of Palestine) would decide to take seriously the text of their charter or to exercise what they have been taught in school. Instead, the Jewish community would be given state protection, similar to the protection Christians are currently enjoying in Lebanon.