While there is seldom a let-up in calls from the State Department, White House, or the New York Times that Israel must do more to solve the problem of the Palestinians, there is much less noise about the mess just over the US border with Mexico.
There is considerable argument about what the US should do about what may be 12 million illegals immigrants, most coming from Mexico and points further south. Related problems concern the four million or so children of those immigrants. They have US citizenship if born in the US, which makes it difficult to deal with parents who shouldn't be there.
About illegal drug use, which is largely responsible for Mexican violence and governmental corruption, Americans do little more than put more of themselves in prison and provide advice and pressure on Mexico. Neither has appeared to dent Americans' demands for drugs or the spillovers in Mexico.
We could also talk about the borders between rich and poor European countries, and implications for the flow of migrants coming from the Middle East. There are some parallels to the southeast of Europe and over the borders with Turkey, but just as many differences between those places and the US-Mexico and Israel-Palestine couplets.
Its worth focusing on Mexico and Palestine, insofar as readers of these notes are more likely to squawk about Palestine, and see Mexico as someone else's problem.
Some may quibble about the designation of Mexico as a Third World country, claiming that it is at the top of the Third World, or so different from its southern and Caribbean neighbors as to require another label. Yet levels of corruption and violence make it something other than First World.
Both the Third World countries provide cheap labor for their First World neighbors. Some of it is legal, represented by Mexican agricultural laborers and Palestinians who provide skilled and semi-skilled work in construction. The issue of illegals is more prominent on the American agenda than are Palestinians illegals for Israel. Both groups of illegals are menial workers, employers want them, and do what they can to avoid controls and requirements for minimum wages.
The direction of greater damage done from one side of the divide to the other differs between the couplets. Conditions originating in the US damage Mexico more than Mexico harms the US, while--at least perceived from the political right and center of Israel--Palestinians do more damage to Israel than Israelis to Palestine.
Americans' demand for illegal drugs appears to be the principal reason for the violence that has marked Mexico in recent years, with warfare between gangs, warlords, or cartels concerned with drug production, transportation, and marketing. Damage in the Israel-Palestine relationship comes mostly from the Third to the First Worlds, in the form of terrorism directed at Israeli civilians.
Major differences between the two places are the lack of a Palestine state, and the religious infrastructure of Islam that supports Palestinian individuals, political movements, and militias. Associated with this is region-wide support for the Palestinian cause. Years ago, support from numerous Muslim governments was impressive, in terms of money, the smuggling of armaments, some infiltration of fighters, and political support in international bodies. More recently, a number of key governments have tired of Palestinians' incapacity to move beyond infighting and empty rhetoric. The Sunni-Shiite split has become important, with Iranians providing the loudest support and occasionally something more tangible.
The Mexican War of 1846-48 and the transfer of territory still rankles. There was a smaller war a century ago during the Wilson administration. It was associated with US meddling in Mexican presidential politics, banditry in northern Mexico that reached over the border, and efforts by Germany to incite Mexican actions, which came with a promise to return captured territory to Mexico. John J. Pershing's career got a major boost when he led forces against Pancho Villa in 1913, prior to Wilson's appointment of him to lead the US forces in World War I.
The American television drama, The Bridge, describes border tensions along with Mexican violence and corruption in Ciudad Juarez and its hinterland, on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso.. The series is modeled after a Danish show about police cooperation between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden. Comparison of the two series provides lessons about the differences in borders between First World countries and First World-Third World,
Nothing about this comparison leads to a solution of the problems associated with Mexico, Palestine, Israel or the US. Perhaps that is endemic to the Third World, which features ineffective government, populist politics, and corruption, as well as population pressure that impacts on the better-off neighbor.
Things are not fixed. South Korea has moved from Third to First World status. India and China have become significant economic actors with more effective governments. In contrast, much of Africa has gone downhill, while several Latin American countries seem unable to get out of a cycle of good years and bad.
Both Mexico and Palestine offer climatic, cultural, and price advantages that attract visitors from over the borders. Americans like the beaches of Mexico. Years ago it was common for Israelis to visit the restaurants and shops of Jericho, especially in winter. They were 1200 meters below the Judean mountains, not much more than 10 miles from Jerusalem, significantly warmers, and unlikely to be bothered by seasonal rain. There was also a flurry of Israelis spending money at a Jericho casino. Both opportunities disappeared under the upsurge of violence, and roadblocks that define borders not agreed upon.
What is most serious for Mexico is the American habit for illegal drugs, while that of Palestine may come from the fantasies associated with Islam. The one provides Mexico with a great flow of money that feeds violence, and corruption. The other feeds Palestinian certainty of its justice, the inevitability of conquest with the help of Allah or international powers. Palestine also suffers from the lack of state institutions capable of dealing with the many factions motivated by nationalism and/or religion, accepting a decent offer from Israeli or international sources, and imposing an agreement on those who want more.
Some would say that Palestinians' principal problem are the Israelis and other Jews, inching their way with more settlements over what should be Palestine.
Messianic fanaticism is apparent in Israel, and feeds back into Palestinian extremism via the slogans against "settlement," reinforced by Israeli leftists and overseas individuals, organizations, and governments that take the Palestinian side. Israel deals with its extremists, perhaps less successfully than it deals with Palestinian violence. It has made several offers about borders and other matters, but Palestinians have so far failed to accept the shrinking reality of what they claim.