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Israelis And Arabs

Israelis And Arabs

Both sides claim land in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Moderates suggest splitting of the territory, while extremists want it all. There have been three major Arab-Israeli wars since 1947 when the UN divided the former British mandate of Palestine between its Jewish and Arab populations with Jerusalem as an "international" city. The Arab population rejected that plan. After each was Israel, had extended its boundaries. After the second war - in 1967 - Israel took the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt (who had held them since the 1948 war) and began an illegal program of settlement building in the now occupied territories.

Significantly, these were areas that Palestinian refugees had fled to in 1948. The 1967 war had defended Israel against combined Arab armies massed on its borders when its existence appeared to be under threat, but also put a significant Arab population under Israeli rule (in addition to its own Arab citizens). Its rage was demonstrated in the 1980s intifadah against Israeli occupation and continues to feed into the violence. Much of the economic life of the West Bank and Gaza has been suspended since September 2000, exacerbating unemployment and poverty.

The conflict has developed its own logic of hate and anger that is responsible for the killing. On the Israeli side, many fear the Palestinians want to drive them into the sea. Palestinians feel besieged by Israel and fear the Jewish state will, if not annex the West Bank and Gaza, deny the right of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state to exist.

The United States must radically revise its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or risk the Middle East sliding further into chaos. Previous approaches to the current violence and to the peace process itself have all been useless: start with a ceasefire, build trust, then come to the hard political issues last. These policies haven’t worked in the war -torn Middle East.

While every possible effort must be made to stop the violence now, a real and lasting ceasefire can only be achieved if both parties see, laid out on the table, the terms of a political settlement fair to both of them, and know that there is massive international backing for that plan. What needs to be kept in mind is the possible creation of a Palestinian state, the resolution of its borders, the future of Palestinian refugees, and the fate of Jerusalem. Peace talks and negotiations have to deal with issues such as the status of the Jewish settlements, the rights of the Palestinian refugees, who controls which areas of Jerusalem and exactly how much territory Israel cedes to the Palestinians.

Washington's goals in the Middle East involve support for Israel, assuring oil flow, and ensuring political stability for economic growth. U.S. strategy revolves around the defense of Israel. Israel depends on continuing U.S. economic aid and unswerving political support even in periods of Israel’s regional or international isolation. In turn, the U.S. counts on Israel to act as a reliable collaborator in strategic political and economic goals both within and beyond the Middle East. The two countries also cooperate on military research and development and share certain high-technology advances. Middle East oil imports remain crucial for the United States.

Another question for policymakers: could peace in the Middle East actually be achieved with Sharon and Arafat as leader? There is animosity between the two and Mr. Sharon would probably rather not deal with Mr. Arafat. He calls him a killer and a liar, and, as Israel's minister of defense, led a campaign into Lebanon in 1982 to drive the PLO out of Beirut. Mr. Arafat was allowed to flee to Tunisia but Mr. Sharon said last year he wished he had gotten rid of the Palestinian leader when he had the chance. On the Palestinian side, Mr. Sharon is regarded as a war criminal for his part in the massacre by his Lebanese Christian militia allies of between 800 and 1,000 people, including many children, in two refugee camps. It would probably be best if both men stepped down, and new political leaders grapple with the existing conflict.


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