Columns / Discourse / September 28, 2011

Voice of Reason: Focusing on what matters

The upcoming United Nations’ vote on Palestinian statehood forces me to do a column I’ve been putting off for quite a while on the question of (obviously) Palestinian statehood. With abortion as the possible exception, there is no issue where it seems anything I write will accomplish less.

Mindsets are deeply entrenched and no one really seems all that interested in changing their minds. Is Israel a beacon for democracy and stability in a turbulent region, or an apartheid state that has been illegally occupying the ground it sits on for 60 years? Chances are you’ve already decided.

In charged issues such as this, it becomes especially important to separate wheat and chaff and find out which issues really matter in this debate. For starters, the competing historical claims on the land are pretty much both nonsense, in the sense that the arguments supporting them both are ignored in pretty much every other case worldwide. Validate the Jewish claim and there’s no reason why Native Americans aren’t entitled to just about all of North America. Validate the Palestinian claim and with it the millions of Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II.

Two should then be granted the same rights of return. Rarely will anyone argue the cases of the Native Americans or the Germans, yet they will turn around and use the exact same reasoning for the Israelis or the Palestinians. So let’s ignore all of this and simply state that neither side has an ironclad claim on the land.

With that in mind, where do we go next? Here in the West, we should be going precisely nowhere. Solving the Palestinian question is second only to breaking America’s dependence on foreign oil in terms of things every president feels obligated to promise yet ends up going nowhere with.

The Netanyahu government has proven remarkably ungrateful given the amount of American money they receive, entirely ignoring Obama’s suggestions on curtailing settlements in the West Bank, for example.

For their part, the Palestinians certainly don’t seem to be in any hurry to comply with American demands. All America can really do is attempt to play honest broker for the two in conducting deals. Given how we are perceived in the region, it’s doubtful that we could accomplish very much with that either. We cannot force a peace through until both sides really want it. Therefore, it would be best if we just stepped back for a little bit.

This can happen because the status quo cannot possibly endure. The dirty little secret that the pro-Israel crowd often ignores is that the region is a demographic time bomb. In the absence of a two-state solution, Palestinian birth rates are exceeding those of Israelis by enough that they might become the majority within Israel proper as early as 2035, according to The International Business Times.

If the Gaza Strip and West Bank are included, that year moves up quite a bit sooner. That presents Israel with a fairly stark choice: an independent Palestine or Jews a minority in the Jewish state.

If I were the Palestinian Authority right now, I would be willing to sit and wait for Israel either to give up the Occupied Territories or wait until Arabs form a majority in Israel, who then, combined with leftist Jews, would be able to get an independent Palestine at the ballot box. If I were the Israelis, I would be hurrying to make a deal before my very identity as a state is extinguished.

A problem as intractable as this one is unlikely to solve itself, whatever the demographic trends. But if all sides take a calm look at what their positions really are (which, admittedly seems unlikely), there is no reason why some rational could not be injected back into this debate and lasting progress could be made.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.


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