Synchronicity is a fascinating thing, and sometimes it gives me hope.
A few days ago, I read a report in Think Progress's Wonk Room regarding Rahm Emanuel's extremist father and the Israel/Palestine conflict that has caused so much grief and tragedy. It's a harsh look at the realities of the situation, and the things America does that only make it worse. The author talks about how if Rahm's family had been Palestinian terrorists rather than Jewish extremists, he wouldn't have been able to distance himself from his father's remarks. He likely wouldn't be serving our nation's government at all:
This is because of the double standard that applies to the discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the U.S. Americans identify much more closely with Israel than they do with the Palestinians, and thus tend to treat negative information about the former as exceptional, and negative information about the latter as the rule. Leaving aside why this is the case, the fact is that it places certain strictures on U.S. policy options, and create serious consequences both for the U.S.’s reputation and for the situation on the ground for Palestinians. More »
For example, responding to reports of increasing Israeli settler violence and intimidation, a few weeks ago Steve Clemons asked why the U.S. and Israel “don’t work to classify factions of settler extremists — organizing to propogate violence — as terror organizations or terror-supporting individuals.”
Such classification of these groups and/or individuals would allow the freezing of their financial assets in the United States and would create penalties for those who aided and abetted in their violence. Some very wealthy Americans are financing some of the expansionist settler activity in occupied Palestinian territories — and creating penalties for this assistance could be one way of squelching the violent dimensions of settler activity.
Such classification of violent settler extremists in Israel as terrorists would give both the Israeli and U.S. governments tools that will help protect Israel’s political leadership from tactics of intimidation and violence and would help to generate a new equilibrium in the region that satisfies both Israel’s legitimate security needs and the imperative of a viable Palestinian state.
A year ago, I published a story on a New York fundraiser for the illegal Hebron settlement, where between 500 and 600 settlers live — guarded by 4,000 Israeli troops — among nearly 200,000 Palestinians. Adalah-NY reports that another fundraiser is taking place on November 17 at the Marriot Marquis in Manhattan.
Clemons’ proposal is a good and reasonable one. It’s disgraceful that organizations such as the Hebron Fund can openly raise funds to support violence without any fear of public censure, let alone prosecution. And make no mistake, these funds support violence, which in turn fuels Palestinian hatred and terrorism.
If we really wanted to help lessen violence in the West Bank, shutting off the flow of American money to settler groups is one way, and there’s no intellectually consistent argument against doing it. The real argument against doing it on the U.S. end is that it’s too politically costly. Most Americans simply aren’t used to recognizing Israeli extremist violence for what it is, or its consequences for what they are, and our leaders really have no incentive to help us do so. The few who try can always expect to be viciously attacked, their associations rigorously explored and their friends impugned on television by half-wits, and eventually face a surprisingly well-funded challenger on election day. There’s very little upside.
But then came synchronicity (h/t):
Despite these very real factors, deep changes are occurring inside Israel itself. Little-reported, for some reason, were the outgoing words of former Likudnik Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, long of the Israeli hard right, when he went against all of his past and stated that Israel would eventually have to give up almost all the lands it conquered in 1967, including the Arab parts of Jerusalem.
Also this fall, the Israeli government announced it would cut off funding for illegal settlement outposts and crack down on extremist squatters (thus acknowledging Israel's complicity in their formation), after its domestic security service director, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, told a cabinet meeting that he is "very concerned" that Jewish extremists were going to attempt to assassinate moderate Israeli leaders.
Indeed, outgoing Prime Minister Olmert also warned at the meeting, showing the degree of concern that is growing even among former members of the anti-peace right: "There is a group, that is not small, of wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance. ... This is unacceptable and we cannot countenance it."
If Israel stops supporting those illegal settlements and works to negotiate a viable homeland for the Palestinians, if America stops the flow of funds that allow Israeli extremists to derail any hope for peace, and if both of them throw their full weight into the peace process, it's possible we'll see finally see a solution. It's not going to be easy. Palestinian and Israeli extremists don't want peace - they want to get their way. But I think it's possible that Israel and America together can foster the conditions necessary to reduce the violence enough for lasting solutions to take hold.
Years ago, during my research for those presentations, I read of Israelis and Palestinians who worked together, learned to understand and appreciate each other, and wanted to live side-by-side as good neighbors. The will is there. It always has been. With the extremists shut down, those good people will finally have the breathing room they need to become good neighbors.
It looks like the Israeli government finally has the will to try. With Obama in office, I believe America will, too. But we're going to have to restrain our own extremists so that they can bring about those necessary changes.
Considering America's had its fill of neocon extremism over the last eight years, I think we've got a chance to make that happen.