While I was standing at the edge of a recent campus rally in support of the Palestinian cause, students supporting Israel passed out fliers. One of those students and I engaged in a spirited exchange that made it clear how different were our accounts of the problem and potential solutions. One of her points was that Palestinians have to prove they are serious about peace.
“Do you think Israel is serious about peace?” I asked. “Of course,” she replied.
If that’s the case, I asked, why has the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza almost doubled since the Oslo peace process began nearly a decade ago? Given that those settlements are one of the most serious obstacles to a peaceful solution, why would the Israeli government — during a so-called peace process — expand settlements in territory it illegally occupies?
The student steered the conversation back to the one issue on which we agreed — that civilians should not be targeted for political violence — and we parted on agree-to-disagree terms.
Though it is painful for many supporters of Israel to acknowledge, the actions of the Israeli government are consistent with a desire for power and resources, not peace. Much of the recent criticism of Israel has focused on the harshness of the current violence against Palestinians, especially the bombing of civilian targets. But just as important are the everyday actions of Israel — the expansion of settlements, demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of olive trees for the flimsy reason that snipers might hide behind them, the humiliations heaped upon Palestinians at roadblocks and checkpoints — which have long made it clear that peace is not foremost on the minds of the Israeli government.
Even more crucial for Americans is the simple fact that Israel can pursue those policies — and get away with them — primarily because the U.S. government supplies Israel with the necessary diplomatic cover, military assistance and economic aid (at least $3 billion a year). Without that U.S. backing, the longstanding international consensus for a political settlement likely would have forced Israel to honor U.N. Security Council resolutions and international law.
American pundits pontificate about what might be the mysterious “secret” to peace in the region, as everyone bemoans the supposedly intractable nature of the Israel/Palestine conflict. All this obscures the fact that the “secret” is no secret at all:
Israel must end the occupation, and the United States must withdraw support from Israel until it agrees to do so.
Since the end of the 1967 war in which Israel seized the territories, both sides have squandered opportunities to make progress. I am a fan of neither the Israeli government (whether Labor or Likud) and its colonialist, expansionist program nor the Palestinian Authority under the corrupt leadership of Yasir Arafat.
Nor am I na?ve; ending Israel’s 34-year illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will not by itself bring peace, for there are many other problems and potential roadblocks. Still, there is no hope for movement toward a just and stable peace unless Israel ends the occupation.
That means not only returning land conquered in war but dismantling the system of Israeli security roads and checkpoints. It means the equitable sharing of water resources and a respect for Palestinian sovereignty. It will not be enough to allow a Palestinian state; it must be a viable Palestinian state.
Although there are forces within Israel that recognize these imperatives, the current government remains committed to power, not peace. The Bush administration, along with most Democrats in Congress, shows no sign of changing a decades-long policy of U.S. support for Israel’s rejection of international law and world opinion.
That means U.S. citizens can be key players in the creation of a real peace process, if we send a clear message to elected representatives: U.S. support for Israel must end if Israel does not end the occupation.
Certainly the complexity of the struggle over Palestine cannot be reduced to slogans. But those three words — end the occupation — capture a simple truth about the hope for peace.
Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas and author of Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Analysis from the Margins to the Mainstream
His pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire: Thoughts on Patriotism, Dissent, and Hope” can be downloaded for free at http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.