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The US, Israel and the Palestinians

Hank Levin calls for a new start in the Israel-Palestine conflict: "I don't think that we are going to get any real progress unless we go around Sharon and Arafat. Sharon is a scoundrel. He has always been one and always will be. Arafat has never been one who has kept his end of the bargain or meant what he says. So, there it is. For the sake of world peace I think that some western countries are going to have to get "pushy". I agree. On both sides there are excellent potential leaders, but it will take strong collective Western diplomacy to effect a change.

Paul Simon says: "I would like to know the basis for the assertion that the US has helped Israel develop weapons of mass destruction. I did nonproliferation work for 2 years in Washington, and my opinion is that that was decidedly not the case. Israeli scientists are brilliant and probably quite capable of developing major weapons systems on their own. The Israeli research reactor came from France in 1958, if I recall. Jane's claims that the Israelis have a formidable nuclear arsenal, possibly one of the largest in the world, after the US and Russia". US collaboration on armaments is very real, though much of the information is secret. In any case, Israel's "formidable nuclear arsenal" is far more real than those allegedly being developed by the "rogue states", and therefore deserves stronger condemnation. Other NATO countries are fairly explicit about this, but the US keeps a conspiratorial silence.

Curiously, to get an understanding of the Palestine viewpoint, we should go to the University of Oklahoma. Its president, David L. Boren is a former US Senator and the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Professor Edward J. Perkins, Director of the university's international Program Center, served as US Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Director General of the Foreign Service, after several ambassadorial posts. there is also a Center for Peace Studies, which has a Board of Advisers headed by Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan; the director is Joseph Ginat, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Haifa in Israel. His special field is Middle East society, on which he has written several books. Why this special interest on the Middle East at the University of Oklahoma? The answer must be oil, but that is another story.

Professors Ginat and Perkins have co-edited The Palestine Refugees. Old Problems--New Solutions (University of Oklahoma Press, 2001, pp. 341). It was published in England by Sussex Academic Press, and the US edition, also printed in Brighton, was published by special arrangement with it. It is divided into two parts, "The Historical Background and the 'Right of Return'" and "Policy Positions and Solutions".The first part (over 200 pp.) is historical, the second (less than 100 pp.) is obviously hypothetical and controversial. Part I has fifteen chapters, Part II has nine. The last, "Public Opinion Polling" is entitled "How the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish Publics Perceive the Issues". While obviously opinions go up and down with events, the stable factors are pretty discouraging. Six issues are listed: Palestinian state, Jerusalem, Borders, Refugees, Water, Jewish settlements. Both side say that Jerusalem is the main issue (Arabs, 51%, Jews 48%). Jerusalem is essentially a religious symbol, and both sides worry about that, not about practical issues, which to an outsider seem much more important. In the book there is practically no mention of the Christians (except that some groups encouraged the return of the Jews) and none of the attitude of the Vatican. My own view is that Jerusalem should be made an international city, possibly run by Jews, Christians and Arabs, but there is no indication that this would be acceptable to either side in the conflict. A majority of Arabs, a minority of Jews agree that Jewish forces expelled the refugees. UN Resolution 194 gives the right of return to all the Palestinian refugees and compensation to those who do not return. A large majority of Palestinians agree, but only a tiny number of Jews. These and other polls quoted make a solution seem almost impossible.

In their "Concluding Remarks", Ginat and Perkins call for "the international community to begin organizing itself and prepare resources to facilitate the rehabilitation of the refugees". They also call for "a creative formula". The team of 29 authors has produced an important volume on a most important subject, but it does not leave me more optimistic about solving this seemingly intractable problem. Must the world live perpetually with this festering sore?

Ronald Hilton - 2/6/02