Alan Garten traveled to the campus of Goucher College last week with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its most current incarnation. He walked away feeling more hopeful than ever.
“I think it’s the only viable solution to keep Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” he said of creating a Palestinian state in Gaza and on the West Bank of the Jordan River, roughly using the Israeli border established at the end of the Six Day War in 1967. Garten attended a discussion of the so-called “two-state solution” sponsored by the Baltimore Zionist District and Goucher Hillel.
Garten traveled to Israel last month with a group from Beth Am Synagogue. While there, he met with both Israelis and Palestinians and tried to deepen his understanding of the issue from every angle, he said. At Goucher, he was especially excited to ask the speakers, Ori Nir, communications and public engagement director for Americans for Peace Now, and Gabriel Scheinmann, director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, for their thoughts on Rawabi, a new planned city built for and by Palestinians in the West Bank.
“I think that rubs against the grain, against sort of what the Palestinian leadership would allow,” noted Scheinmann. But “is it hope? Yes, I think it’s a glimmer.”
“Rawabi is an anomaly,” echoed Nir, who emphasized that the town, which just recently saw its water supply green-lighted by the Israeli government, is the first one built by the Palestinians in decades due to Israeli prohibitions that prevent the formation of new towns. “It just goes to show how miserable the situation in Palestine is.”
The pair spent the lengthiest portion of the night discussing the status of Israeli settlements in territory deemed to be part of a future Palestinian state, a point on which they disagreed.
If Israel does not withdraw from the West Bank, the security risk for the country will be even greater, Nir argued.
“It’s unclear to me whether Israel stops building settlements, whether it makes a difference,” countered Scheinmann. He added that the rate at which settlements have been constructed under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no faster than the rate at which settlements have been constructed under previous leaders.
The talk also focused heavily on Israel’s relationships with other international powers, an issue thrust into the spotlight by the deterioration of relations between the Obama administration and Jerusalem in the lead-up to and aftermath of Israel’s March 17 elections.
Israel is far more integrated into the global economy than it was even a decade ago, said Scheinmann, who argued that the relationships the Jewish state has developed with countries such as China and nations in Africa have made the potential for strained relations with America and other Western countries less worrisome.
The announcement from the Obama administration that it will be “re-evaluating” its working relationship with Israel, however, is not something that should be taken lightly, argued Nir. The veto protection the U.S. supplies Israel in the realm of the United Nations alone, he said, is a hugely important cornerstone in the success of the Jewish state.
“This is serious,” he said, adding that Israel is risking becoming a pariah state in the international arena. “It will push Israel very close to the status of South Africa during apartheid.”
Both Scheinmann and Nir agreed that the Palestinians are not the ideal partner in a peace negotiation. But, said Nir, “you deal with who you have.”
“For them, it’s all or nothing,” he said. “But their all is too high.”Palestinian politics, he added, are the “politics of the weak.” Palestinian leaders know that they are the far weaker party in any negotiations, and they are determined to force their issues by saying no to anything that does not accommodate all of their needs.
The recent victory of Netanyahu’s Likud Party also says a lot about Israeli priorities, both men said. While the pre-election debate concerned so-called “pocketbook issues,” security seemed to be the issue on the mind of Israelis at the voting booth. And Netanyahu is the man they trust to protect them.
“The healthy thing would be for Israel to get rid of this occupation, to get rid of the Palestinians by creating a Palestinian state,” said Nir.