Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Public Reappearance Of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 Sigh, so much that is so obvious, and so much that is not, but so much that is so sad, especially as there seems to be little real prospect of any serious improvement or settlement on the underlying issues.  Indeed, it is probably the case we did not see anything happen for a good 7 years because from the Palestinian side things looked so hopeless in the face of ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements in the Occupied West Bank and increasing suppression of their rights, with more and more political figures on various sides declaring that the Two-State Solution was dead, so fuggedaboudit. With Bibi Netanyahu managing to get full control of the GOP line on things Israeli, and getting most of what he wanted from this while Trump was president, including a US embassy move to Jerusalem and recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, not to mention the Abraham Accords diplomatic recognitions by UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, all this supposed to "change history," and without Israel giving up anything to the Palestinians for any of these items, the first two of which had long been bargaining chips held by the US government in order to bring about a sustainable and reasonable Two-State settlement.  But no, Bibi could even bring in screaming racists to his government, people the US government used to formally label as "terrorists."  But now, well, history was changed, and the Palestinians were just going to have take what they were given without any whining or complaining, much less any rock-throwing demonstrations or worse.

But it was not to last.  The long simmering efforts by Jewish settlers to have Palestinian families in East Jerusalem evicted from homes the UN put them in during the 1950s because previously Jews lived in, them, not ancestors of those bringing the lawsuits to claim their own personal ownership, but on behalf of "the [Jewish] Community," clearly aggressive rank nonsense. During the recently ended Muslim holy month of Ramadan these efforts brought about demonstrations in front of the Damascus Gate on the north side of the Old City, with Israeli police and other security increasingly violently putting down these rock-throwing demos, and also blocking Muslims from entering the gate to get to the Haram-al-Sharif, the "Sacred Enclosure,"  aka "The Temple Mount," the most hotly contested piece of real estate on the planet, which sits on top of the ruined base of the old Hebrew temple in the southeastern part of the Old City, and which has two sacred Muslim sited on it, the beautiful Dome of the Rock, which contains a rock that the Prophet Muhammed reportedly ascended to heaven for a consultation from, and nearby to it the al-Aqsa mosque, viewed by Muslims as the third most sacred site in their world after the rock in the Kaaba in Mecca and the Temple of the Prophet in Medina. 

It was specifically to the al-Aqsa mosque that worshippers sought to go for evening Ramadan services and were blocked, which led to demos at the mosque as well. A few days before the end of Ramadan, without any really specific provocation (although I am sure various Israeli commentators would say otherwise), Israeli police and security forces entered the mosque, shooting people with rubber bullets and other forms of force, reportedly injuring 330, although not killing anybody. But this assault on the third holiest site in all of Islam set off massive demonstrations around the world and among the Palestinians, not only in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but in Israeli cities themselves, the first time ever for this, and, of course, Hamas in Gaza began firing rockets into Israel, over 100 so far.  Few of these unaimed missiles went further than 3 miles and 90% were taken out by Isrtael's Rocket Dome defense system. But a few longer range ones hit both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, killing 9 Israelis.  The Israelis have since hit back with massive bombing of Gaza, with the latest reported number dead at 140, 40 of those children.  They have also taken down large buildings, although warning ahead of time so people could get out.  This could be a lot worse, but it is ongoing, with no clear end in sight, although probably Hamas in Gaza will run out of rockets to fire pretty soon.

A question arises as to why Bibi let the police do something so outrageous and stupid as to invade the al-Aqsa mosque late in Ramadan and shoot a bunch of people, and, although perhaps more understandable, why did Hamas in Gaza think it reasonable after this to start firing rockets into Israel, knowing full well from past experience that the Israelis would bomb them severely, killing many innocent Palestinian civilians.

In the case of Bib, this looks like a last-gasp desperate move to hold onto his position as Prime Minister of Israel.  Israeli President Reuvan had shortly before this attack on the mosque invited the main opposition leader, Yair Lapid, to form a new government, after long gridlock and repeated stalemated elections, as well as Netanyahu himself having just failed yet again to form a government at Reuven's invitation.  It turns out that finally after all these decades, the contending possible PMs have begun looking at and negotiating with members of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset (Yes, this is one difference between apartheid in Israel and South Africa, at least the Arab citizens of Israel can vote). Apparently Bibi tried, but failed to come to an agreement, and other far right wing partied have become disgusted with him (Lapid is only slightly more moderate than Netanyahu). In any case, Lapid had received his invitation, and many thought the moment had arrived for Bibi finally to be out.  But, aha! with this massive blowup within Israel itself between the Arab and Jewish populations, it certainly looks like any coalition government by any Jewish leader with any of the Arab parties is out of the question.  So this imminent threat that Lapid could form a government and remove him looks to be out for now, although who knows what will come down the road. There has been surprisingly little commentary on this precise matter in the media, aside from vague notes that this was in "Netanyahu's political interest," but this is why specifically.

As for Hamas, it is also seen to be in their interest, if not quite so immediately so as it is for Ben-Yamin Netanyahu. Hamas has been in a long conflict with the al-Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, led by the 85-year old Mahmoud Abbas, who has put off another election (which he and his group were expected to lose to Hamas).  Abbas, clearly a spent political force, has long led the PA government that arose from the now-all-but-dead Oslo Accords of 1993.  Unlike Islamist Hamas, secular al-Fatah was willing to recognize and work with Israel on many matters, and still does.  The Israeli government will be sad to see it go, and this is likely to be another fallout of Bibi's attack on the al-Aqsa mosque.

So, the only hope, really, is the Two-State solution.  But it looks to be deader than evet and beyond hope.  The increasing obviousness of this, along with the increasingly outrageous actions by the slef-confident Israeli government, propped up in that by Trump's policies, have triggered this uprising by Palestinians, including the deadly rocket attacks by Hamas, although Hamas looks to gain in the longer run from this by helping to bring down Abbas and al-Fattah and to become the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people with their refusal to recognize Israel and their ongoing demand that it cease to exist.

I note that so far the US seems to have done little useful in all this. Supposedly an unnamed "ambassador" has arrived in Jerusalem to negotiate a cease-fire, but nothing has come of it.  As for public statements, these have sounded almost Trumpish in their one-sided concern for Israelis facing the pathetic rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, without a word about all those being killed in Gaza.  Oh, there was a mild but brief criticism of the attack on the crowd al-Aqsa mosque, but pretty low key, even as many Dems have called for much more support and sympathy for the Palestinians in this.  At a minimum, Bernie Sanders has been completely right to call for ending the annual $4 billion in mostly military aid the US gives Israel.  Surely they do not need it, much less at this point deserve it.

Two odd personal notes on this.

The best man in my first wedding in 1968 is a guy Peter Dorman may have known whom I shall not name, although he is about to have very serious heart surgery and may die.  Back then he was to my political left, and showed up at the rehearsal dinner from the Dem convention Chicago riots with half his hair shaved off and a lot of stitches where a police billy club cracked his skull open. Later he would go through a lot of changes, including a period of being a Sufi, but evrntually went home to Brooklyn, where he became Orthodox Jewish, although, not Chasid/Chared.  He went to Israel where he married an Israeli-Yemeni woman and had 8 children, half now in Brooklyn, half in Israel.  In 1980 we debated the Israeli-Palestinian issue and he declared that the solution was for the Palestinians "in Judea and Samaria" to be expelled.  I did not speak to him at all for a long time after that.  We later reinitiated our friendship, but have largely avoided politics other than to make jokes about each other's highly different views.  I visited him in Jerusalem four years ago this month, and among other things he took me on a tour of King David City.  I could say much more about him. but I shall for now simply hope he gets through is surgery.  His wife is in Israel, but unable to fly to Brooklyn to be with him for the surgery due to the current situation.  He has expressed worry about his family there, and I have said I hope they are not hurt.

Also in my distant past I spent serious time in an Arab nation.  My Arabic was so good back then that I passed for being an Arab.  Some people though I was Syrian (I have also often passed for being Jewish without trying to do so, although I am very WASPy). I back then heard several people say all those terrible things that Israelis claim Arabs think of them: that they should all be killed, that Israel should be pushed into the sea. It is all true. Both sides have been victims; both sides have been guilty guilty guilty.  The obvious solution was and remains the Two-State one, but the assassination of its Israeli organizer, the late Yitzhak Rabin, began the long slide to today where all the supposedly smart people declare the Two-State solution to be dead.  Well, it had better not be dead, because the only alternative is awful endless bloody war.

Barkley Rosser

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