Murari Sharma: Churchill Disease

Violence between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has flared up again. Hamas is lobbing rockets from Gaza and Israel is pounding Gaza with its full military force. More than 140 people have already been killed and more are being murdered as we speak. We must treat the Churchill Disease to resolve the problem of recurring violence permanently.

The latest violence started when Palestinian extremists abducted and killed three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank on 12 June 2014. In retaliation, Israeli extremists abducted and killed a Palestinian teenager. Hamas, which presides over the government in Gaza, is launching rockets into Israel. And Israel is killing Palestinians and pulverizing their homes in Gaza in a collective punishment.

This is the latest spark in a cycle of violence that refuses to stop. Evidently, the Middle East is a tinderbox ready to catch fire at the slightest provocation due to the ancient grievances and new complaints. The Ottoman empire had expelled Jews from Palestine 2000 years ago. Turkey lost World War I, and Palestine came under Britain, which divided the territory into Jewish and Arab homelands. In 1947, United Nations resolution 181 formally partitioned the territory into Jewish and Palestinian areas and the City of Jerusalem.

In 1948, Jews set up the state of Israel, which Palestinians and Arab countries did not accept. The wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 broke out between Arabs and Israelis over Palestine. The Israelis prevailed in the first two and the third was stopped through negotiation. After that, Palestinians have launched two intifadas against Israel. All these conflicts have resulted in colossal losses of lives and property.

Fast forward, now the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support two-state solution, one for Jews and another for Palestinian Muslims. However, extremists Israelis and Palestinians, including their leaders, deny each other’s right to have their homeland. This has been the source of perennial conflict.

Israeli extremists want the entire Palestine for themselves. Similarly, extremist Palestinians do not accept Israel’s right to exist. The position of both groups is untenable in this day and age. Some leaders understand this, but others are blinkered by their nationalist zeal. Those who fail to understand this this reality suffer from the Churchill Disease.

Winston Churchill was a great political leader and writer. He also had his darker side: He was a white supremacist bigot. For instance, he once said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” Another time, he said, “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.” And this, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”

Churchill did not find Gandhi a reliable partner for negotiation and did not like Indians, for he had no intention to grant independence to India. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and other rightist leaders dislike Palestinian leaders and say they have no reliable Palestinian partner to negotiate peace, for they have no intention to find peace and agree on the two-state solution.

Similarly, some hardline Palestinian leaders also suffer from the Churchill ailment, which turns them blind to ground reality. Like Churchill, who thought he could thwart Indian independence by denigrating Gandhi and Indians, they believe that denying Israel’s existence will wash the Jewish state into the sea.

If Israelis and Palestinians do not free themselves from the Churchill Disease and agree on the two-state solution in time, the default outcome from the stalemate will be a one-state solution: No Jewish Israel and no Muslim Palestine but a condominium of both. Due to high population growth rate among Muslims, the condominium would be a Muslim majority state in a few decades.

The onus of finding a comprehensive solution rests mainly with the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. However, the international community — particularly the Quartet of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations – too has failed in its obligation to nudge the two parties to the negotiating table and persuading them to find the common ground. The problem with the quartet is that some are biased and some inconsequential.

US secretary of state John Kerry tried to bring the two sides to the table, but failed. He failed since Tel Aviv rejected his push and he almost lost his job when he said Israel could turn into an apartheid state if the two-state solution is not worked out. The United States is not a neutral player, to boot. It supplies sophisticated and lethal weapons to Israel to kill Palestinians and other Muslims, supports Israel blindly in international fora, and provides economic and political assistance disproportionately to Tel Aviv.

The European Union may occasionally dare to disagree with Washington on the margin, but it has no guts to do so on critical and significant issues. Russia and the United Nations have little influence over Israel. Tony Blair, appointed as Middle East envoy at the behest of Washington to work for the Quartet, is tainted by his appointment and by his personal business interests. He has recently established a consulting office in the United Arab Emirates.

The time is running out for the two-state solution. Radi Jarai, a political science professor in Jerusalem, has launched a campaign for one-state solution and the young Israelis and Palestinians are increasingly joining his campaign. Nearly 30 percent Palestinians support one-state solution. Liberal Israeli politicians are open to this option as well. Helena Cobban, an Israeli columnist, too detected increasing support for it. Even the late Col. Gaddafi of Libya supported it.

Actually, the one-state solution will be beneficial to Israeli and Palestinian people, though their leaders may think otherwise. The Jewish-Palestinian condominium will be bigger, be more powerful, have a bigger market, and have much larger potential for progress than individual two states. It will also minimize the numerous contests over scarce resources like fertile land and water. For the majority of countries, it will be readily acceptable and indeed welcome.

Perhaps, Israel and Palestine need a cooling off period, in which the Palestinians should have home rule and the international community should provide policing and defense for them. If Israeli and Palestinian leaders work the two-state solution modalities, let us say in five years, there should be two states. Otherwise, the international community should help them form a federal state with Jewish and Palestinian provinces. It will render what looks increasingly inevitable both smoother and less painful for both sides.

The current cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians is just one more in a series. Until a comprehensive solution is found between them, the Middle East will remain a tinderbox, ready to burst into violence at the slightest provocation. If the international community cannot nudge the two sides to agree, it should at least try to mitigate the humanitarian problem in Palestine by treating it some sort of an international trust territory.

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