Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review of Does Israel Have a Future?

Al-Arabi Magazine   August 2010    DOES ISRAEL HAVE A FUTURE?  الموقع العربي
Author: Dr. Constance Hilliard
Reviewer: Amar Niyab Al-Tamimi

Dr. Constance Hilliard has written a book entitled: Does Israel Have a Future? Potomac Books is the publisher, located in Washington, DC, in the United States, 2009.

Dr. Constance Hilliard is a professor of Middle East and African History at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, U.S.A. She received a doctorate in Middle East and African History from Harvard University in Boston, and had previously worked as foreign policy adviser to the Chairman of the Armed Services Department, in the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC. Dr. Hilliard had also visited the Middle East previously, including trips to Kuwait numerous times. Having become acquainted in Kuwait, I also had the opportunity to visit her in Texas several years ago.

Without a doubt, the author’s considerable knowledge of conditions in the region and her continued monitoring of the obstacles to peace gives added weight to this valuable study. The tone of the book is set in the preface, which described a meeting that took place in the Spring of 2009, between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President, Barack Obama. Netanyahu did not so much as mention the Palestinian state, a single time. The Israeli Prime Minister was not even willing to allow for the establishment of an impotent, which would be forced to submit completely to Israeli sovereignty. Israel would make all of the laws and decisions governing military intervention, if necessary, in accordance with Israeli objectives.

This has been Israel’s position since the end of 1970, when Menachem Begin gave assurances that the Palestinians would have autonomous rule. There is no doubt that this is depressing for the Palestinians, who accepted the plan for a Palestinian state in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, which were occupied by Israel during the Six Day War in June of 1967. But now, even after numerous attempts at statehood, the actual territory to be encompassed by this state is smaller than what had originally been agreed upon. The reason for this is Jewish settlements, which nibble away at the most valuable Palestinian land, leaving little but disconnected cantons.

These derailed peace agreements, especially after the initiative of the previous American President [Bill Clinton] towards the end of his term in late 2000, have complicated the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State, possessing a reasonable degree of independent sovereignty.

Undoubtedly, Netanyahu’s coming to power in Israel, supported by right-wing parties and religious extremists does not offer opportunities for genuine peace, even if President Obama is able to reinitiate negotiations aimed at reaching a conclusive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The author’s narrative begins in the year 1939, when 937 Germans, 936 of whom were Jews escaping Nazi racial persecution, oppression, left Germany on board a ship headed for Cuba. The Cuban government of Frederico Laredo refused to accept these refugees, not even allowing them to disembark. When the ship sailed towards the United States, the U.S. coast guard expelled the ship from U.S. waters, thus forcing it to return to Europe. This event occurred despite U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s expressed sympathy for the Jewish passengers.

The author explained with clarity and accuracy how the Western governments malingered and refused to protect those Jews who were suffering from the consequences of Nazi rule in Germany. She added that racism against Jews was spreading throughout Europe and North America. Dr. Hilliard also said that the polls conducted in 1938 in the United States showed that 68% of the American public was against the acceptance of the refugees coming from Germany and Austria. In addition, polls showed that 83% of Americans rejected a bill pending in the U.S. Congress that would have allowed the Jews from European countries to come to the United states. Such polling results were confirmed in other countries as well, indicating the extent of hatred and enmity towards Jews and perhaps racism towards foreigners in general that existed in the advanced capitalist countries at the time.

After having reviewed the incidents that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, by virtue of a United Nations Resolution, and its recognition by key countries, the author goes on to analyze the political and military conditions that led to the previous Arab-Israeli wars from 1948 to 1973, and the subsequent Lebanon War of 1982. She confirms that those wars and the negotiations that followed, did not enable the concerned parties to reach a final agreement on the tragedy of the Palestinian people, and at the same time, it did not enable Israel to fit comfortably into the surroundings in which it had been created.

Dr. Hilliard reiterates that the most important factor facing Israel is the “Demographic Minefield.” This is not a new element, because Israel has been facing this dilemma for a long time. This problem has even pushed the elites within Israeli society to consider a Two-State Solution. Based on official statistics, the Jewish people in Israel numbered 5.5 million as of 2008, whereas the number of Arabs residing in Israel within the boundaries established in 1948 is little more than one million. But this is in addition to the 4.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza. The fertility rate of Palestinian women is 6 children per female, whereas that of Jewish women in Israel is 2.6 children. The author says that, if we added the numbers of Palestinian guest workers scattered abroad, in Arab countries and elsewhere, the total number of Palestinians adds up to nine million.

How can the Israeli government deal with this complicated demographic reality, while at the same time maintain both its Jewish identity and its democratic principles, which reject racial discrimination against Arabs? Many Israeli intellectuals and a number of Palestinians have raised the issue of the “Single State,” which they believe is a possible solution to the conflict and a grounds for peace. It would be comparable to what happened in South Africa at the beginning of the 1990s, after the collapse of the government which had been based on racial discrimination.

So, is this solution acceptable to the Israelis? A number of Israeli leaders refer to the difficulty of accepting this solution for fear that the numbers of Arabs in the State within forty years will constitute a majority. Given their democratic system, the Arabs would control the government and end the Jewish identity of the state.

Alas, what is the solution? The leaders of the Labor Party and a significant number of politicians in the secular right wing parties confirm their acceptance of the Oslo Agreement, which was approved by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was aimed at the establishment of an independent Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza. However, in light of subsequent Israeli practices and the ongoing construction of the settlements in the West Bank, after the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it has not been implemented. So, is it actually possible to establish this state and can it represent the Palestinians in an acceptable way? In other words, can this state be viable, controlling and maintaining its sovereignty over the land, security, water rights and all else relevant to full and undiminished national independence, as confirmed by the international charters and resolutions related to the Arab Israeli conflict?



Two States Solution

The issue of the two-state solution represents the most important challenge before the Israeli community in particular and the international community in general. The Israelis have managed to establish a modern state with a flourishing and growing economy, top-ranked universities, institutes of higher learning and research centers. So, it is a state with highly civilized people.

However, in contrast, as indicated by Dr. Hilliard, Israel has been forced from the time of its founding in 1948, to engage in seven wars, in addition to several minor skirmishes along all of its borders. The author believes that despite the victory that Israel has achieved in all those wars and the defeats or setbacks suffered by the Arabs, the Israelis are becoming less confident in their ability to face the potential risks in the future.

One of the most important points Dr. Hilliard has made is reflected in a quote by the Israeli writer, Jeffrey Goldberg: “Our army is a big army and we have an atomic bomb. But our innermost feelings manifest and confirm a lack of self-confidence and sense that we are hovering on the verge of the abyss.” These feelings which are felt by many Israeli intellectuals show the dilemma of the Israeli community and its inability to interact with its Arabic surroundings, as well as the difficulty of arriving at any viable solutions.

The increasing dilemma of the Israelis is exacerbated by the emergence of a new movement in Israel, which the author referred to as “The Neo-Zionists.” They are restricted to certain right-wing and religious values, and are enemies of the traditional secular trend within the mainstream parties. These Neo-Zionists look at the Palestinian Lands of West Bank and Gaza, as Jewish lands (Judea and Samaria), and believe that they will eventually conjoin these lands to Israel, without making any concessions or withdrawals from the Occupied Territories.

Despite their stubbornness towards the proffered solutions for the settlement of this conflict, the Israelis, or at least the more rational leaders of Israel, feel an uncertainty about their fate in the next few years and decades. Brutal force and excessive power cannot in and of themselves constitute a solution to national problems. At the same time, and even though it has been enjoying material and moral support from key countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and other countries, their public opinion is no longer comfortable with the arbitrary practices that the Israelis are using against the Palestinians, such as random arrests, killings in cold blood or the unacceptable levels of retaliation when operations launched by the Palestinian factions rarely cause fatal losses of Israeli lives, as occurred in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. Accordingly, academic circles have in various countries rejected Israeli policy and expressed hostility towards continued political support of the Jewish State. Such trends may yet affect changes in their governments’ policies.

Dr. Constance Hilliard concludes that the most viable solution for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, will be a one-state solution. It would entail a true co-existence between the Israelis and the Palestinians under the umbrella of a genuine democracy, which repudiates racial and religious discrimination. Is it possible that this development could actually happen, even though it is still a dream for many Israelis and Palestinians, and given the obstinacy of governing circles in Israel, the spread of political Islam among large groups of Palestinians, and the failure of the international community to find realistic solutions to the conflict?



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