Thursday, August 24, 2006

We do not Negotiate with Terrorists.

One can understand the point of view of the Israeli citizenry, who have plunged their heads into a noose and are desperate for a way out. Unfortunately everything they have done under their past two governments have dragged them further in. What will it take before they realize that when you are in a hole – the first requirement is to stop digging?

The first line of defence when protecting an injustice that benefits one's self is to deny the existence of the injustice. When you have taken over someone's country and are bent upon destroying their way of life, the last thing you can do is acknowledge they might have a legitimate grievance. Hence, you look for the first pretext you can find to marginalize them and their concerns.

When the dominant group in any society declares they will not recognize a particular group or enter into discussions with them – declaring they consider them to be outside the bounds of the rules they themselves have drawn up – they slam the door of exclusion even harder. This is the act of the powerful against the helpless. The arrogant refusal to consider the grievances of others as even legitimate can only lead to confrontation and violence.

When you have taken away all acceptable means for satisfying your opponent's concerns he has very few options left open. The only choices inevitably lie outside of the rules you have declared to be acceptable. Either your opponent caves in and becomes your slave, or he chooses to strike back – perforce in the only way you have left to him.

When you take over the best parts of a land that the initial diplomatic covenant said you must share, as the Zionists did in Israel, you have created the basis for war. The Balfour Declaration is often cited as the legal ground for the creation of the Jewish state, but it set out the provision that, ". . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine . . .". To most of the population of the world, that condition does not appear satisfied. It also seems self-evident that if a genuine attempt had been made to avoid prejudicing the rights of the displaced Palestinians, a great deal of war and bloodshed could have been avoided.

But the Israeli governments described the Arabs as intransigent and unappeasable. They systematically deprived them of the grounds for presenting their case, in the United Nations and elsewhere. So, when the Israeli state undertook to claim and protect the proceeds of this marginalizing of the Palestinians, it was faced with the problem of keeping the ill-gotten gains out of the equation. The first requirement was to deny the displaced persons their right to plead as equals. It was necessary to label them as terrorists.

Israeli governments should be experts on recognizing terrorists. Menachem Begin, Prime Minister in the 70s and 80s, was leader of the Irgun from February 1943 – a declared terrorist group by the British government, whose subjects they were murdering. What, the Brits don't count? Then how is it that they do count when the circumstances please you? (To be fair, the older and wiser Begin was responsible for some good in those administrations.) Without getting into a pointless argument about who did what first, and who was worst – I think we can accept that neither the Jews nor the Arabs have any claim to innocence in the line of terrorism. (And for a more recent example one need only look at the IAF's recent attacks on the civil infrastructure of Lebanon, and on the Lebanese population. Many World groups consider their actions to constitute State Terrorism.)

The recent war against Hezbollah and the Lebanese population has been an unmitigated disaster for Israel. Not only were none of their declared war aims realized, but the residual sympathy the World had for the plight of Israeli civil society has been diminished. (Here, I have to add that the main Israeli war aim – to destroy the long ranged missiles provided to Hezbollah by Iran was largely successful. But we mustn't take the cover off that can of worms – it reveals the stated cause of Israeli actions to have been no more than a pretext.) Without descending into name calling, I think the biggest issue is to forestall any resumption of the fighting and any resumption of the murder of civilians on both sides.

To do that, one has to talk. While it's evident that some talks are ongoing, carried out by proxies and under cover, at some point – in order to legitimize those discussions – one must necessarily talk openly. Face to face. One must negotiate. No more marginalizing one group as terrorists or the other as Zionists. No preposterous denial of the historical sufferings of either. It is going to be necessary for the one to stand down the terrorist cadres, and for the others to take the parameters of the discussions out of the hands of Zionists. We can surely have faith that together the Jews and the Arabs could make the region flower and be fruitful – both have the demonstrated ability. Come on, guys – get at it. The World has no patience for anyone's covenant with the past – the World wants to see a covenant for the future.


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