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By far the most irredeemable conflict on earth is the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. It does not matter what position you hold or where you fall on the political continuum, there is and can be no solution as long as humans are humans and nations are nations.
In aftermath of the great world wars, the wars to end all wars, we drew a line in the sand and defined the nation of Israel. After the First World War in November 1917 the Balfour Declaration carved the Jewish state of Israel out of land formerly known as Palestine. During the same timeframe the British-French Mandate defined much of the Middle East. For nearly four centuries prior to the Mandate, that part of the world was governed by the Ottoman Empire. Its people were diverse and tribal. Conflicts tend to be limited, less violent and less destructive than wars between nations or empires.
The creation of nation states – often without the consultation or consent of a land’s inhabitants – virtually assures perpetual conflict within and without established borders because there will always be disagreements on who has a rightful claim to the land. When a foreign power establishes borders there will always be people who will rightfully challenge that authority.
When Donald Trump decided to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one wonders how much history he knew. When he declared his intention to move the American embassy to the world’s most embattled and contested city, the spiritual home of three major religions, the city of Jerusalem, one wonders if he knew he was plunging into the hornet’s nest. Dating back to 701 BC, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, held under siege 23 times and utterly destroyed twice.
Trump was urged onward by the warlord President Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader who twice interfered in American presidential elections – once against Obama and again for the neophyte politician Trump. Netanyahu has formed a bizarre alliance with the evangelical right and wants nothing more than all-out war to crush the Palestinian resistance and the Iranian military threat.
When Trump initiated the move did he know what would follow? Did he know how many would die for what to him was a symbolic gesture designed to please his fundamentalist Christian base? We know that to the fundamentalists Jerusalem is the key to Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. It begs the question: If Christ did come back, would he be pleased with Trump’s decision to sacrifice Palestinian blood for political advantage?
What Trump has accomplished in his short tenure is the utter destruction of America’s credibility as a neutral arbiter. Until now we have always pretended not to take sides. What Trump has secured is what many feared at the creation of Israel: perpetual war for as long anyone can foresee. Whether Trump knew this is questionable but some of his advisors certainly did. His political advisers required it to maintain control of his religious fundamentalist base. Israel chose a warmonger president in Netanyahu and Trump has done his bidding. No one on the Arab side will ever trust the American president. The Saudis and the Sunnis throughout the region may deal with us to undercut Iran but they will never trust us.
We were there at the beginning, at the creation of Israel, and we have been Israel’s sponsor and protector ever since.
The creation of nations and the establishment of boundaries – perhaps more than cultural and religious distinctions – has always been a leading cause of the massive violence and destruction that we call war. When you establish a boundary and declare that one side will be ruled by one government and the other will not, there will always be displaced and disenfranchised people. When enough people are displaced and /or disenfranchised they will revolt. They will often join forces with the largest opposing force on the other side of the border. They will gather weapons and wage war.
We cannot reasonably abolish nations but we may be able to limit their destructive potential. Just as empires throughout history limited the destructive potential of tribal conflicts, institutions larger than nations can and should be established to settle conflicts among nations without violence.
This was of course the intention when the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations were created. That these institutions have largely failed is obvious though we have not had another Great War engaging virtually all nations on the planet. We have instead had a Cold War engaging virtually all nations on the planet and sacrificing millions of lives.
The United Nations can be effective as a force against war as long as the major powers are not involved. China can have its war with Tibet. Russia can have its war in Ukraine. France, Britain and the United States can have their wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Syria. Smaller nations can have wars with each other as long as they do not commit genocide or televised crimes against humanity. Even then the institutional power of the United Nations is generally limited to persuasion or shaming of the major nations.
In order for a new international organization to be effective there must be a powerful incentive to achieve peace. The parties involved must acknowledge that war is bad business. The selling of weapons of war must be strictly regulated. This is one area to which the principles of free enterprise cannot and should not apply.
Any nation that engages in aggressive acts of war should be isolated and severely sanctioned. Any nation that arms an aggressor nation should also face severe sanctions. Feeding the fire of war should never be profitable. It must be bad for business. At present the weapons export business is robust.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, at the top of the list for 2017 is the US with 34% of all weapons exports. The leading client: Saudi Arabia (18%) and currently engaged in a bloody and aggressive war in Yemen. Second on the list is Russia (22% of exports) with sales to India, China and Vietnam. Third is France (6.7%) with sales to Egypt, China and India. Next is Germany with sales to South Korea, Greece and Israel. Rounding out the list is China, Britain, Spain, Israel, Italy and the Netherlands.
While many of these exports are for defensive purposes, the arms trade is like a roadmap to future conflicts. Of course, President Trump wants all nations in NATO to fortify their military spending. He believes it will make for a more secure world. I disagree. I believe the more deadly weapons we distribute around the globe, the more like it is they will be used. I believe we should be working on reducing the obscene stockpile of weapons we currently possess. I also believe that there are far more constructive ways to spend the obscene amounts of money that we currently spend on weapons and weapons development.
When George W. Bush and his lead advisor Dick Cheney decided to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, they naively thought it would be a cakewalk. They believed we had assembled weapons that could scar the face of God. One reason they were so profoundly wrong is that the entire world had collected stockpiles of deadly weapons and all of them found their way to the battlefields of our aggressive wars.
What I propose is an international organization to combat war by economic means. Let’s call it the International Alliance for Peace. It should be open to all nations who agree to its fundamental principle: that war is never an acceptable option except in self-defense. It should be considered an advanced trade bloc whose cardinal principle is to advance the cause of peace.
The sale and exportation of weapons – particularly weapons of mass destruction, conventional or otherwise – should be subject to review and approval by the governing body of the Alliance. Nations that propagate deadly weapons to dangerous clients should be subject to sanctions designed to negate any possibility of profit.
Should any nation commit an act of aggression, the Alliance should put that nation on notice: Cease and desist or face isolation and economic retaliation by all member states. Failure by any member state to comply with retaliatory measures would face expulsion from the Alliance.
To the extent that it furthers the cause of peace, the Alliance should build a working relationship with Interpol, the International Criminal Court and other international institutions.
What I am suggesting is that we need to find new ways of promoting peace. Dennis Kucinich as a presidential candidate in 2012 (before he became a most peculiar Trump advocate on Fox News) proposed a Department of Peace. It never got much traction but maybe it should have.
We might have hoped that the US State Department is primarily concerned with peace and that its primary function is to find means of resolving conflict through peaceful measures.
Unfortunately, the State Department is primarily concerned with advancing national interests often at the expense of peace. There is no government agency whose primary purpose is to create a more peaceful world. Similarly, there are no international institutions assigned to that purpose.
That needs to change. The weapons we now distribute to the four corners of the globe are capable of destroying whole nations and societies without resorting to nuclear warfare – an option that must remain unthinkable.
It is imperative that we create new institutions and new ways of resolving conflict in an ever-increasingly aggressive and dangerous world.
“Trends in International Arms Transfers.” The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2017.
“‘US Department of Peace’ may never get a chance” by David A. Fahernthold. Washington Post, May 18, 2012.