The Price of Not Keeping the Peace.
By Arthur Hertzberg

The cycle of violence that is once again gripping the Middle East presents the United States with another setback in its role as regional peace broker. Never has it become more clear that diplomacy alone cannot secure a workable truce between the Israelis and Palestinians. No resolution of the conflict is possible unless the United States pressures the two parties to make concessions that they have refused for decades to make. But what tools can Washington use? What if angry combatants on both sides decide that it is in their interests to continue to fight?

The United States does have the means to impose its will, but we must put limits on what we should and should not do. Our government should not put troops on the ground to hound those who send suicide bombers into Israel, or to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank. We would be playing the unsuccessful role of the British in the 1930's and 1940's as the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians became ever bloodier. Yet, peace plans, of which President Bush's road map is the latest example, can only work if the power of the United States is behind them; otherwise they are merely part of the ongoing theater of the peace process.

The most effective way to force a reduction of the violence on both sides is to take punitive economic measures. The United States finances about $4 billion a year, on average, of Israel's national budget. The continuing effort to defend, support and increase settlements in the West Bank and Gaza costs at least $1 billion a year. The money spent annually in directly subsidizing the existing settlements was estimated in 2001 at $400 million.

An American government that was resolved to stop expansion of the settlements would not need to keep sending the secretary of state to Jerusalem to repeat that we really mean what we say. We could prove it by deducting the total cost of the settlements each year from the United States' annual allocation to Israel. To show that we were not being unfeelingly mean, the United States should add that we would hold $1 billion a year in escrow to help those settlers who would peacefully move back into Israel's pre-1967 borders.

No doubt there would be an outcry among some supporters of Israel, especially the ultranationalists, whose goal is to realize their vision of the "undivided land of Israel." But an American government that had the courage to force the end of settlement activity would find far greater support among Jews both in Israel and in the United States than many people in Washington imagine.

Much of this support is because of the pressing matter of demographics in the "undivided land of Israel." Between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, the total population is now more than 40 percent Arab. Since the Arab birthrate is far higher than the Jewish (by a ratio of more than two to one), there will be an Arab majority in at most 20 years. At that point, Israel will effectively be a binational state. It will have to make a fateful choice between being a democracy that will empower the Arab majority to dominate its government or to subject the Palestinian Arabs to a rule resembling apartheid in South Africa.

The hard-liners in Israel and their supporters abroad avoid this prospect by talking about the "transfer" of population or of making life so difficult that the Palestinians would choose to leave. This is nonsense. Life has been difficult for the Palestinians for several decades, but they have not gone away in large numbers.

The mainstream in Israel and in the Jewish Diaspora will be grateful to America for saving Israel from itself. The United States government must act with comparable tough love toward the Palestinians. No Israeli government, whichever party might constitute it, can put up with the defiance of the Palestinian militants who keep reiterating that their ultimate aim is to push the Jews into the sea.

Yet the United States cannot replace Israel in the day-to-day battle with the enemies of peace. We cannot police the territories, for that task might become endless. What American influence can achieve is to dry up the financial and military support of the Palestinian war-makers. A good first step came on Friday, when President Bush ordered the Treasury Department to block the assets of the leaders of the militant Palestinian group Hamas and the charities that officials say help finance it. The group had claimed responsibility for a bus bomb a few days before that killed 21 people in Jerusalem.

But the United States can do more. It is within our power to insist that other countries - both our allies and enemies - freeze the financial accounts of militant groups and to demand that they also cease supplying the most violent Palestinian factions with weapons.

If this does not work, there is no choice but to cut off all but the most basic humanitarian help that the United States, along with many other nations, is giving to the Palestinians. It will surely be an unpopular move, as we are certain to hear statements of compassion from those speaking out in the cause of human rights. But Israelis, too, have the right to ride in a bus or go to a cafe without endangering their lives.

In the end, the anger at these tough measures will fade. The Palestinians will be left with their real problem: how to find work and living wages in a region that is economically depressed. And the two sides will have a common cause, to find ways of helping each other wage peace.

The United States must act now to disarm each side of the nasty things that they can do to each other. We must end the threat of the settlements to a Palestinian state of the future. The Palestinian militants must be forced to stop threatening the lives of Israelis, wherever they may be. A grand settlement is not in sight, but the United States can lead both parties to a more livable, untidy accommodation.

[Source: NY Times, 27Aug03. Arthur Hertzberg, visiting professor of the humanities at New York University, is author of the forthcoming "The Fate of Zionism."]

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This document has been published on 21oct03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.