In his column Looking Around (June 5, 2001), Ray Fleming, re: the Palestinian-Israeli confilct, writes: my interest is primarily assisting in better understanding of how we have all got into this mess and how we might all get out of it. Mr Fleming, if anything, is pro-Arab, and the occasional careful choice of words does not mask this bias.
May I suggest that for the purpose of presenting an historical preamble to support a particular argument, he should not confine himself to quoting only from encyclopaedias.
The subject is covered in many books and articles. Indeed, the available literature is so voluminous that just about everybody has an opinion. Surely his reference to the relevant events of 1948 misses the point. In History of the Jews, 1987, Paul Johnson writes: the UN Partition Plan (29 Novmber 1947) was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs... the Palestinian Arabs ended with no state at all, just the Gaza Strip and the West Bank run by Jordan.
Mr Fleming, for completeness, could have pointed out that as soon as Britain withdrew (in 1948) the Arab armies in the region attacked the fledgling State of Israel with the express purpose of overturning a UN Resolution and at the same time destroying the Jews. In his book The Siege C C O'Brien writes: On the expiration of the Mandate, five Arab states attacked Israel, etc.
Apart from repeatedly citing Israel's disregard for subsequent UN Resolutions, where has Mr Fleming contributed to the debate ways of getting out of this mess?
Israel's prime concern is its security and its continued existence as a nation.
National borders suitable for its defence obviously will vary as a function of current military technology and the relationship with close neighbours. Most Israelis understand this. However, there are some who for ideological reasons embrace biblical criteria. The latter are in a minority and do not make Israeli policy. Arab intention in general is mixed also, though the destruction of Israel remains policy in much of the region. Whatever the real intention of the Palestinians, the Authority (PLA) under Yasser Arafat clearly is impotant to act alone. Hence the dilemma.
The main intermediary in the dispute between Arabs and Jews is the US. An agreement is, of course, desirable. It would please the US who fear a major regional conflict in the Middle East; it would enable the aid promised to the Palestinians to be delivered so that the peace-loving majority could prosper; it would allow the Israelis to lead a normal life for the first time.
The previous Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak under US pressure offered a deal to Mr Arafat which essentially gave him all he wanted. It is not clear whether or not the Israeli parliament would have accepted Mr Barak's offer had Mr Arafat said yes!' In the event, he showed his hand, either voluntarily or otherwise, by adding a new condition, namely the right of return of over a million displaced Arabs to the State of Israel. Since all citizens of Israel have the right to vote, this potentially could have ended in catastrophe for the Jewish State as such.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Mr Barak abandoned his negotiated proposal, outlining a unilateral plan that could in the end become a reality. Clearly recognising the futility of negotiating with an adversary bent on destroying Israel, without a leader strong enough to control the extremists at his side, even assuming he was willing to work out an argument, Mr Barak proposed that Israel set the borders of a Palestinian State, in effect, separating the two peoples until such a time as they could live in harmony.
Sensible borders would not be easy to achieve in view of the distribution of Arabs and Jews. The initial partition plan was bad enough. Undoubtedly some Jewish settlements would have to be abandoned and the settlers paid compensation.
For those who know the country it will be obvious that secure borders from Israel's viewpoint require some broadening of the narrow corridor north of Tel Aviv. To achieve this Mr Barak proposes a defence zone along the Jordan Valley to prevent a surprise attack by hostile neighbouring countries through Jordan.
Sealing the border would deprive Palestinians of jobs, and seriously affect an already precarious economy.
Israel would also suffer but to a lesser degree. Given the unrest presently in Palestinian occupied zones, it is likely that chaos would ensue. Fortress Israel', prosperous and booming, would live uncomfortably, to say the least, next ot a potential powder keg.
Arab neighbours have not proved overly generous in the past, so that Europe is now starting to come thorugh with aid - and the US would have to provide funds for development. The US's present administration appears eager to disengage, and Europe is not over generous in these matters.
The Israeli public will not tolerate much more terrorism. They may settle for the plan outlined above, however unsatisfactory. The future indeed looks bleak.
Ray Fleming comments: As Mr Seabrook says, there are many books on the Israeli/Palestine question which can be used to support differing viewpoints. That is why I prefer to rely on authoritative sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britanica whenever possible.
Mr Seabrooke makes many constructive observations on this troublesome issue but I cannot agree with him that the offer made to Yasser Arafat by Ehud Barak at Camp David last year gave the Palestinian leader essentially all he wanted. For instance, what did it offer for the return of Palestinian refugees to their land?
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