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My views on Israel, Gaza, and the possibility of peace

<uld like to start by thanking Katie Blanchard and Dan Curme for opening up the discussion about the Gaza war on campus in a way that allowed the conversation to continue and in a way that did not simply deteriorate into hostility as it so easily could have. It is never healthy to try to ignore festering and inevitable controversy or conflict. Thus, I am writing this in order to continue this debate and to present another viewpoint.

The last month has been horrifying, terrifying, and extremely depressing. The prospects for peace in the region have been sorely compromised and over thirteen hundred lives in Gaza have been taken. So, what, as Americans, should we do to help rebuild Gaza and to make peace possible again? This is what I think.

1. Criticize Israel, don’t question its existence. My brother is an Israeli citizen, until age four I spent half my life in Jerusalem, I have the Israeli equivalent to a social security number, I have spent numerous summers in Israel and my senior year in an Israeli kibbutz high school. I am very much connected to the land and to the people of Israel. I am embarrassed by its origins of displacement and discrimination and of its violent actions, but I am also proud of the resilience, self-determination, and strength of the Jewish people. However, you don’t have to agree with the idea of a Jewish state in order to recognize its reality. In the aftermath of so much destruction, it is tempting to condemn the two-state solution as a failed option, but to do so is to give up on the possibility of any peaceful solution. Jews are not going to leave, they are not going to relinquish their right to self-determination or security and saying that Israel is illegitimate or that the two-state solution is obsolete will engender reactionary and defensive and counterproductive responses.

2. Put pressure on our government to help build a feasible negotiating partner for the Israelis and to force the Israeli government to make real and immediate concessions. The destruction in Gaza was horrifying and disproportionate, and it reflects an increasingly cynical Israel. Israel seems to no longer believe in the possibility of peace and they are fast becoming even more despairing. According to the New York Times, in 2007 in Annapolis, Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas a full return to pre-67 borders with every inch of land Israel gains by keeping its largest settlement blocs to be swapped for gains in Palestinian territory, the return of East Jerusalem, and the internationalization of the Old City. On February 10 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu will most likely be elected the next Prime Minister of Israel and has vowed that, contrary to Olmert’s agreements, he will not dismantle settlements. Unless the US is very engaged, peace is unimaginable.

3. Educate ourselves. In order to begin to understand the conflict it is necessary to appreciate its complexity and in order to change the status quo we have to think imaginatively and deeply. If you didn’t recognize some of the names here, you should Wikipedia them. While you’re at it also look up: the Balfour Declaration, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Aliyot, the Arab Rebellion of 1936, the 1947 Partition of Palestine, the War of Independence/El Nakba, David Ben-Gurion, Suez Crisis of 1956, The Six Day War, Yassir Arafat, the PLO, Gamal Nasser, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Anwar Sadat, The Yom Kippur War/the October War, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, the Al-Aqsa martyr’s brigade, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmud Darwish, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Perez, Ismael Haniyeh, Khaled Meshal, Mahmoud Abbas, Hassan Nasrallah, UN Resolution 242, Camp David, Oslo Accords, The First War in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila, The First and Second Intifadas, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Zakaria Zubeidi, Hosni Mubarak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Benjamin Netanyahu… the list goes on and no matter how much you think you know, you still won’t understand exactly what is happening or why. This is an incredibly complex issue that we have a responsibility to try to understand in order to form a more even-handed American response. If anybody says they know what will happen next or if they have simple answers, then they are undoubtedly wrong.

This is a scary time and anybody who is optimistic is probably naïve. But there is still room for hope. With George Mitchell in Jerusalem, Dennis Ross in Tehran, and Obama in the White House, real change and progress is possible.

If I could have my way, the first step would be to open up Gaza’s borders while still retaining the right to retaliate when Hamas fires rockets into Israel, next a peace treaty has to be made with Syria (this will involve the return of the Golan Heights). Then, all settlement activity needs to be halted and check points reduced in the West Bank. All of these actions would strengthen the moderate Palestinians led by Mahmoud Abbas (or maybe someday Marwan Barghouti) and reopen the possibility of talks for a permanent peace and a two-state solution along the lines of Olmert’s 2007 offer. Violence clearly does not bring peace or security, but many Israelis (somewhat understandably) don’t believe anymore that anything else can keep them safe. The only way to change that perception is through strong pressure from the Obama administration, of which I believe it is capable. This conflict is not close to being over, but the possibility of peace isn’t either.

-Jesse Rothman is second-year student

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