Peace Prospects

 I worked on a kibbutz in Israel for a couple of summers while I was in college several decades ago.  On Saturdays, the kibbutzniks would drive me and the other foreign workers to various parts of the country so we could see the sights.  Once, we made trips into the occupied territories of the West Bank to visit the city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, intending to do a bit of sightseeing.  I had visions of shops and buying souvenirs.

            As we got off the bus, we noticed a group of perhaps twenty or thirty people gathering off to our right.  Within minutes, they were pelting us with stones.  The Israelis who had brought us to the city quickly herded us back into the bus and we left.  According to the expectations that some pundits have, I suppose we had done something to “provoke” them.  But I can’t recall any other cities I’ve visited—except Ramallah—that ever treated tourists like that.  I should also point out that the Israelis who were with us—about six of them—were all heavily armed with Uzis and M-16 machine guns.  Remarkably, no Palestinians were gunned down—in fact no shots were fired—despite the belief of many pundits that Israelis are bloodthirsty savages who delight in shooting unarmed Palestinian children.

The search for peace in the Middle East is a desirable thing, and occasionally peace actually happens there instead of war.  One of the more spectacular examples of that occurred between Israel and Egypt in 1977, when Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, unexpectedly flew to Israel and addressed its parliament.  Within a year, Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement and normalized relations.  In exchange, Israel gave up control of the Sinai Peninsula which it had acquired following the six day war with Egypt in 1967. 

            Why did peace happen between Israel and Egypt, and later between Israel and Jordan in 1994—which also normalized diplomatic relations with Israel—while no real peace has yet been achieved between Israel and the Palestinians or between Israel and Syria or the other Arab nations that are still technically at war with Israel?  Some try to argue that Israel is to blame, but that seems hard to demonstrate given Israel’s track record of repeatedly attempting to achieve peace with its neighbors, and a demonstrated willingness to give up territory captured in war in exchange for it.

Many seem to forget how the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and Golan Heights happened to come into Israel's possession in the first place. Hint: several nations attacked Israel in 1967 but lost the war with them. Oddly, although the Arab states had controlled those regions from 1948 to 1967, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), formed in 1964 never attacked Jordan, Egypt or Syria.  They only threatened Israel.  No Arab state ever suggested, between 1948 and 1967, that Jordan, Egypt or Syria establish a Palestinian state, despite the fact that the original UN mandate that had created Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 had also created a Palestinian Arab state that Jordan, Egypt and Syria merely annexed for themselves in 1948.