This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Palestinian uprising and may well be the last moment for making peace in Israel and Palestine. Peace is not only important for the people who live there. It will pay dividends to the world and especially to the United States.
This is because a prolonged conflict in Palestine will destabilize the Arab world and allow its leaders to continue ignoring urgent issues such as poverty and democracy. The unsolved Palestinian question means that that the age of colonialism is not over and that dealing with poverty or liberty can be described as a luxury. As long as the Palestinian refugees who were expelled by Jewish newcomers in 1948 cannot return home and as long as the military occupation of the territories conquered by Israel in 1967 persists, there will be no lasting solution. No peace proposal to date has offered a fair solution to either the Palestinian refugees or those continuing to live under a brutal military occupation.
This perception of Israel as an aggressive relic of a colonialist past is widespread in the Muslim world. And it has ominous implications for the United States. Israel could not have uprooted close to a million Palestinians in 1948 and occupied another two million for the past 38 years without American support. Indeed, American taxpayers foot the bill for a $3 billion annual grant. This financial backing, combined with unremitting diplomatic support, has enabled Israel to sustain the longest occupation of another people in modern times.
Here are the horrors inflicted on the Palestinians that are witnessed by people across the Arab and Muslim world: widespread home demolitions, the confiscation of private property for the construction of Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only roads and the expulsion of Palestinian Christian and Muslim people. And their wrath is not always limited to protesting Israel, the occupier and expeller. They sometimes also challenge –with condemnable terror –the United States, whom they see as the superpower behind the oppressor. The US does not need to be embroiled in a tense relationship with a fifth of the world population.
And yet this is a moment of opportunity. It is unrelated to the Gaza pullout, which has turned out to be an internal Israeli ploy to substitute direct occupation with an indirect one. The opportunity is a very American one, reminiscent of the civil rights struggle fought by and behalf of African Americans.
Despite their expulsion and occupation, anyone who has visited Palestine and who has Palestinian friends would tell you that, just like other human beings, Palestinians simply wish to be treated as equals. They yearn for a normal life, next to, and with the Jews in the tiny land of Palestine and Israel. If Christian and Muslim Palestinians were offered the kind of equality with Jews in Israel that all Americans now enjoy, they would accept it with open arms.
No Israeli government in history, backed by the US, has offered equal rights to the Palestinians, either in Israel or in the occupied territories. Israel has always demanded a Jewish majority and exclusivity in the shared land, while allowing, in the latest peace proposal, an impossible Palestinian state over a fragmented 8% of historic Palestine. More generous Israelis offer a few more percent.
Snippets of Palestinian territory, reminiscent of South African Bantustans –as the failed Oslo accords have proven –is a recipe for more bloodshed. It will drag the United States even more deeply into an endless conflict –one which could be solved today by embracing the very values Americans hold dear: equal rights and justice for all.
ILAN PAPPE, a senior lecturer in political science at Haifa University, is a leading Israeli historian and equal rights advocate.