By Rachel Ring
These past three weeks I have been involved in a short session intensive study abroad program to Israel. As an American leaving right when the Gaza fight erupted, I was a bit apprehensive to continue with the trip, but excited too, because this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Because of my experience there, I can now say with a solid background and knowledge my opinions, and am not just some idiot in a political science wearing a Che Guevera t-shirt in class pontificating on what the Israel Palestine problem should look like and how it should be solved.
With that being said, having been to areas all over Israel, including the West Bank, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Umm al Fahm, the settlements, seeing the security wall, Beersheba, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Golan Heights, I can say that I completely get why both sides fight as hard as they do. (Which, I think some people miss the point on this issue). There’s an intertwined history, there’s a religiosity on both sides, there’s a victimhood syndrome that paralyzes both sides into not negotiating and cooperating. And let’s face it; to keep the status quo in Israel and the territories is easier for everyone, because then no real changes have to be made. Settlements won’t have to be uprooted, lines won’t be drawn, and there will not be a huge social upheaval when both sides don’t get their way 100%.
Besides the places I saw, I also had the privilege of meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials (on levels that I could never dream of meeting as a college student in a conflict resolution course in the USA, such as the equivalent of the secretary of state for the Palestinians and an Israeli foreign minister taking time off during wartime to speak to students). I saw two common themes in these meetings, one is that Israel’s prime concern is its security, and it is achieved both through police force and by land acquisition, and on the other side I saw that Palestinians just want their own state and economy. However, how they want to achieve it, and how the Palestinians manage their own people and affairs is a huge deterrent to ever getting the borders finally drawn and being free of “occupation”.
Furthermore, Palestinian leaders (and this is a trend throughout the Arab world) tend to have a bit of a revisionist history when it comes to the past and present. There’s a constant blame the “big bad Zionist Israel” theme, with no sense of responsibility for the way that the Palestinians have been dealt with in the peace process. Fatah (or the PLO remnants) is not some nice, moderate group. Sure, they act like it now, because they realized that Israel would crush them if they didn’t, but this is not the core attitude or belief of the group. Hence, why Israel doesn’t trust them, and Fatah’s dual identity problem is one of the reasons why Hamas has flourished.
Lastly, Israel is not some golden angel in this argument either. While I do believe Israel has the right to exist, is a viable state and will continue to prosper, the settlements are a travesty and need to go. Settlement building needs to be stopped immediately, and the settlers need to be relocated. While I understand the religious fervor for the land, there could be negotiated ways to set up Jewish sites to visit or worship at, but the religious settlers are a small part of the settlement population (Just like the Muslims want in Jerusalem). The rest of the settlers are “quality of life” settlers, and receive tax breaks and benefits from the government to populate in the less expensive West Bank settlements. This is clearly a flawed policy and not a plan for peace, which should be Israel’s ultimate goal, especially to get the borders drawn before the demographics get out of hand against Israel, when they will face a huge problem in trying to keep the Jewish democratic state a viable option.