Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blood and Soil

Yes, Blut und Boden, as some used to say.  It was a phrase imposed by the more romantic, and therefore the more dangerous, Germans not all that long ago.  The thought (if we may use that word) behind it was not limited to the Nazis, of course, but I think permeated German thinking since at least the time of the French revolution, and certainly after Napoleon humiliated Prussia in several battles thereafter.

The belief that descent and a homeland defines a people, and more particularly the rights of a people, is not peculiar to the Germans, however.  Others have taken a similar position.  And here I tread on shaky ground, as I address in this post the tendency of certain Israelis to believe that they have certain rights with respect to certain lands, the consequences of that tendency, and how to address that tendency as a practical matter.

In an effort to deflect criticism if not anger, let me note I'm not saying the Israelis are Nazis.  It happens that various peoples have thought they have rights to land, and indeed the exclusive right to land, for various reasons.  These reasons seem to me to be primarily mystical or religious in nature.  I don't mean to single out Israelis for doing so, or contend that only they and the Nazis have done so, or imply that they in particular are misguided or wrong.  It happens that the fact that certain Israelis do so, now, has great significance, now, however.

I should note initially that I don't find religious claims to land compelling.  I don't accept the belief that God conveyed property or the right to use property to any people or person.  Nor do I think that the fact particular people have lived on property some time in the past, for however long a period, means necessarily that they have the right to live on that property exclusively, now and forever.

As a result, I think any such claim should be disregarded, or at least should be treated as of no particular weight in making any decision regarding who should possess what property in this dispute.  If God is to be invoked in addressing this problem, it will not be addressed, or resolved.  It will be perpetuated.  Invoking God seems to have this effect in most cases.

So, when the amiable Mr. Netanyahu comes to these shores to lecture us on such a basis I am unimpressed.  And, to put all my cards on the table, I should say that as an American (or more properly a United Statesman as Gore Vidal has said) I find it annoying to be lectured by the leader of a state so completely dependent on American aid and protection on most any subject.

In my not necessarily humble but likely unimportant opinion, the United States in addressing this problem, as I think it must, should put aside any claims based on God as grantor on a deed or in any other capacity, or on historical occupation of land.  The simple fact is that the state of Israel exists, and its existence has been the focus of conflict and probably will be the focus of conflict for some time.  It is the focus of conflict in part due to the fact that Palestinians also exist.  Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are going to disappear.  This should be taken as a given, regardless of what Israelis or Palestinians may believe.  This should be made clear to them.

It should be made clear to both parties that as far as the United States is concerned, their claims as to right to land based on religion or history are not relevant to resolution of the dispute.  It should also be made clear to them (what should in any case be clear to any reasonable parties to a dispute) that at least as far as the United States is concerned, that if there is to be a settlement, neither party will be satisfied with its terms.  That's what settlement is about.  They must decide, in other words, whether they prefer to engage in this dispute endlessly, with all that entails, or whether they desire to take this issue off the table, with all that entails  They must make a judgment regarding which alternative they are willing to accept.

If the United States is to be involved as mediator, they should be told that it will engage in that function only after they make a judgment which alternative they wish to pursue.  That is to say that if the U.S. determines that a settlement is unlikely, it will quite simply walk away from the mediation, after having politely noted to both parties its continued involvement is a waste of time. 

If the Israelis take the position they will not give up any land they possess, this is in effect an indication that they are not interested in settling.  If that's the case, there is no reason for the United States to mediate.

The United States must then make a decision regarding what role it wishes to take if that role will not be that of a mediator.  In making that decision, it should likewise give no weight to religious or historical considerations.  It should consider what's in its own best interests, economic and otherwise, as that should always be its primary concern.


  1. I'd suggest that the key point of Netanyahu's address to Congress was that Israel was willing to concede land, but that the Palestinians needed to revoke the portion of the charter that specifically called for the destruction of Israel and the return of all lands to which the Palestinians are entitled. That is to say, I think your concerns are better aimed at the Palestinians than the Israelis.

    See, The Palestinian National Charter:

    "Article 15: The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine. Absolute responsibility for this falls upon the Arab nation - peoples and governments - with the Arab people of Palestine in the vanguard. Accordingly, the Arab nation must mobilize all its military, human, moral, and spiritual capabilities to participate actively with the Palestinian people in the liberation of Palestine. It must, particularly in the phase of the armed Palestinian revolution, offer and furnish the Palestinian people with all possible help, and material and human support, and make available to them the means and opportunities that will enable them to continue to carry out their leading role in the armed revolution, until they liberate their homeland."

  2. I certainly agree that the Palestinians must accept the existence of Israel. As I said, or at least tried to say, its continued existence must be accepted as a given. Refusal to accept that would be a "nonstarter"--a word, of a sort, too many lawyers are using these days. And, to the extent that the Palestinians rely on some mystical or historical basis for the claim there can be no Israel, I think these should be disregarded as well.

    However, I think Netanyahu in his speech to Congress made it quite clear acceptance of a Jewish state by the Palestinians is not enough, and that any compromise regarding new boundaries would need to incorporate large portions of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Also, that there can be no division of Jerusalem.