FEEDING MIDDLE EAST PEACE

IBEX IN THE NEGEV

FEEDING MIDDLE EAST PEACE

By Ben Barber

Jan 4, 2018

Did anyone in the White House think through what would be the result of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

Dozens of dead Palestinians protesting the decision – that was to be expected. And ignored as necessary collateral damage in the wake of Donald Trump’s “shoot from the hip” comic book foreign policy.

Then Trump suggested that if the Palestinians would not swallow the insult of losing all hope to share Jerusalem, he would double down and cut $700 million in annual U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinians.

Strangely, it was Israel rushing to defend the aid program. They saw the aid as necessary to at least provide food, medicine and education. Without the aid projects, the crowded Gaza and West Bank towns might explode in rage said some Israel experts.

I’ve often questioned why some five or six million Palestinians descended from the 1948 and 1967 refugees are still kept in camps supported by international (mainly U.S.) aid.

Ten million refugees from the 1947 partition of British India were settled in Pakistan and India. Some 700,000 Jewish refugees were resettled in Israel after fleeing Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

But despite ample resources and land in the oil-rich Gulf states, and a host population speaking Arabic, the Palestinians are prevented from settling in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq -- prisoners of a policy that forces the Palestinians to remain stateless until they can overthrow Israel. Fat chance that.

I have also seen how the U.S. aid program in the West Bank works to improve lives and reduce the chance of terrorism. I went to the Jordan Valley as a public affairs official with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and saw huge greenhouses carpeted with plants heavy with tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. The plastic hot houses are not for warmth but to reduce water loss by evaporation.

USAID also provided trained health workers and medicine to stock small clinics And the rows of Palestinian date palms growing in the former desert were as straight and tall and productive as those farmed by a nearby Israeli kibbutz.

The problems of farm production can be solved. What remains to be done is the security issue. Once the fruits and vegetables from Palestinian farms are picked and packaged they need to be trucked swiftly to a port for shipment to European markets. But too often the trucks are stopped at Israeli checkpoints and never get clearance before the produce rots.

Israel and the Palestinians are like an old married couple. They harbor grievances going back decades, but they are unable to make a clean break of the marriage.

And when the two sides are divided -- by a separation wall snaking roughly parallel to the old 1967 Green Line --they remain linked by shared issues. These include water, power, agriculture, pollution, security, and external borders. The enlightened on both sides are drowned out by extremists amplified by foreign influence from Arab Gulf states, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan on one side; and ardently pro-Israel American Jews, political conservatives and evangelical Christians on the other side.

I recently met a retired senior Israeli general. Like most Israelis he lived his whole life prepared to fight to defend Israel against threats. “How can one reach a peaceful future,” I asked him. He called for the solutions that overwhelmingly are popular in the two communities: separate into two states living in peace side by side.

He cited the Arab plan tabled more than ten years ago. It calls for:

n Israel to return land seized in the Six Day War (minus some land swaps along the Green Line)

n In return, Israel would gain diplomatic recognition by Muslim states and Arabs would end calls to transfer millions of descendants of refugees since 1948 into Israel.

He and many other Israelis fear that if the 4.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza remain under Israeli control, they will become an apartheid-like sub-culture which the rest of the world would brand a violation of human rights. And soon they would become the majority of the population in a combined Israel-Palestine.

Solutions:

1. Clearly declare the goal is to separate into two states

2. Consolidate remote Jewish settlements into a few major blocs close to the Green Line

3. Transfer a small percent of Israeli land to the Palestinians in exchange for the settlement blocks.

4. Continue or increase aid that can provide jobs to Palestinians.

5. Pressure and support neighboring countries to settle the “refugees” and let them work, attend schools and become citizens.

6. Provide a secure corridor to connect the West Bank to Gaza and both to a Mediterranean port near El Arish in Sinai.

7. End all incitement to violence on all sides

One can still dream.

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