Monday, January 19, 2009

Response to my "proposal"

A reader on the New Zealand Jewish Email list sent a response to my last post.
He raises a number of very good points which I'd like to look at.

Michael, my first reaction is that you are a very thoughtful person who undersells himself :)

Your suggestions strike as very much in the mould of "be the change that you want to see", in that much of what you suggest could be achieved by private persons on their own initiative.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I like the concept of "be the change that you want to see", however I currently don't have the time, resources, connections, or political or managerial skills that would be required.
Also, I'm not convinced that my proposal is feasible, I'm hoping that this type of discussion will encourage others to at least explore other ways to approach the current issues, not necessarily my specific ideas.
You need freedom of movement to make your vision of co-operation a reality, yet you also note that checkpoints etc cannot be dismantled because this would be a "suicide pact." There will not be many takers for casual card games if checkpoints are more than a formality.
I agree that freedom of movement is important, but almost impossible to achieve in the current reality. I did suggest ways to improve the system of checkpoints, however this wont solve the problem.
The other possibility is to develop Educational and/or Industrial facilities between Jewish and Arab population areas, and give access to anyone who has passed a careful background check.
This is similar to what was tried in the Erez industrial zone between the Gaza Strip and Israel, the problem there was that there were not sufficient protections against terrorism (the zone was regularly closed when they found suicide bombers trying to use it as an entrance to Israel, or carried out attacks there). But even when it was working, it didn't build good relationship between Jews and Arabs, rather it was used but Israelis as a source of cheap labour. An Arab factory worker is unlikely to develop a friendly relationship with the Jewish factory owner.
Ideally an industrial (or educational) zone based on the Erez concept would be a place where Jews and Arabs can develop joint ventures as partners.
The peaceful, apparently federated jurisdictions you envisage need to start with trade in goods and services. Economic engagement is the precursor of other kinds of engagement. Eg, look at the current EU, which is now well on the way to becoming a federated Europe. Its roots lie in a free trade zone. See "freedom of movement".

These chicken-and-egg problems probably need 3rd-party intervention.
I don't think that we should use a third party to intervene. We have to learn to get along. If we can't sit down and do that on our own, I don't think a third party is going to help.
As a parent, one of the things I learned is that whenever an adult gets involved with a disagreement between the kids, it doesn't "solve" the problem, at the most it stops them physically hitting each other (until the adult is out of sight).
Everyone in New Zealand knows (or should know) that there is more to land ownership than market price or an arbitrated disposition. You say "right now there is a case before the Supreme court regarding land between Modi'in Alit and the a neighboring Arab Village. Instead of using that land to build hostilities and mistrust between the parties, why isn't the land used to build a high-tech university, and the Arabs claiming ownership compensated heavily h for their loss of land (i.e. buy it at well above the market value)."

It's good that you see that people object to the alienation of their land, but you need to take the next step to see why they will not accept other people, no matter how benevolent, dictating its use. No doubt you could spend my money better than I could, but I will resent you commandeering my bank account. You could probably landscape my back garden more attractively too, but I like it how it is and don't want you to chainsaw my scrub.

The disposition of formerly Arab land is fundamental. What you propose is _a_ neat solution but I fear it is unlikely to obtain "buy-in" from people who believe they already own it.

Could there be an analogue to the Waitangi Tribunal? That would be neat, but I can't see how that would happen at this point.

(Did this paragraph refer to Bilin?

The case of Bilin, is an excellent example of the root of the problem, and the opportunity to make things better.
Right now there is an land ownership dispute in the land between Bilin and Modi'in Illit.
I'm not an expert in the details of the case but it seems that a farmer in Bilin claims that the land is his and he has exclusive right to decide what happens there, and an Israeli representative claims that it is Government owned land and he is a squatter (or possibly it is his, but for security reasons, the land must be appropriated).
Let's say for argument's sake that the Bilin resident is correct and the land is his. The most optimistic outcome for him is that after many more years of violent protest (contrary to what's written on the web site that I linked to, the protests there have been very violent, recently a soldier lost his eye), and a long drawn out legal process, the supreme court will rule that the fence must be moved a few hundred meters and the land belongs to the Bilin resident.
In the mean time, it will be very difficult for him to farm his land, and even after he wins, it will be difficult to farm freely there as there will be a large army presence nearby, and the area will be known as a place of tension.
But at least the owner will be able to say that he was proved right in court, and if it has increased the ill-will between Jews and Arabs in the area, at least he won and they lost. (Of course there is a more likely possibility that the Supreme Court will rule against him).

My suggestion is to try to turn the area into an opportunity. That an investor should set up a meeting with the person claiming ownership of the land, together with the Mukhtar or village elders and say that they would like to make an offer of a high sum of money, and use the land to build an institution that would provide education and/or employment opportunities to both residents of Bilin as well as Modi'in Illit.
If the person claiming ownership agrees to the deal, great, a source of tension can be turned into a source of trust-building.
If he turns down the offer, the educational or industrial infrastructure can be built elsewhere - and the courts can decide whether the land is his or not - although hard to see how anyone would win in this outcome.
I think the really fundamental posers for you (or anyone trying to follow your vision) are how you a) succeed in conveying that they are acting in good faith, b) deal with challenges to your right to live somewhere where other people used to live and c) maintain the fortitude to overcome what are likely to be severe short-term setbacks.
Agreed that these are all problems but at some point someone is going to have to say that irrespective of past rights and wrongs, we either find ways to get on and build opportunities together, or we decide to fight it out in the courts and through violent protests.

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