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Byrd: Thoughtful arguments on the Israel-Palestine conflict

BY MATTHEW BYRD | AUGUST 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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As more innocent lives are thrown into the meat grinder that is the Israel-Palestine conflict, I notice that there are almost as many bad arguments used against pro-Palestinian people (such as me) as there is bad news to digest. The anti-Semite slur, saying you think the conflict disproportionately affects Palestinians means you wish more harm on Israeli Jews, etc.

However, I tend to think that it’s the best arguments from the opposing side that deserve rebuttal, and over the past month I’ve heard two that, while not personally persuasive, deserve an adequate response. Here we go.

When Israel Disengaged From Gaza in 2005, the region should’ve built a secular, democratic state like Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurd-Gazan analogy is the favorite of commentators such as The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg (a man whom I have immense respect for, even if I don’t always or even usually agree with him).  The argument goes that after the end of formal military occupation, Gazans should’ve built a stable, economically prosperous democracy that could eventually achieve recognition from their Israeli counterparts, much like the Kurds of northern Iraq did when they were given an autonomous zone in 1992. Instead, they chose to become a 25-by-7-mile launching pad for rockets.

This analogy, however, dismisses the fact that Gaza never had this chance. As Haaretz’s Peter Beinart points out, the Israelis never gave Gaza the autonomy necessary to choose their economic destiny. Israel and Egypt had complete authority over the strip’s borders, and a security perimeter within Gaza was erected by the Israeli army that blocked entry to some of the best farming areas in the entire strip to ordinary Gazans.

The Israeli human-rights group Gisha has also noted that Israel maintained direct control over Gaza’s air and sea space prior to the election of Hamas in 2006, the moment Goldberg and others point to when they bemoan the failure of “Gazan economic development,” as the election of a group that in its charter calls for the obliteration of the state of Israel was what triggered more punitive sanctions from the Israeli government. But the idea that the sanctions already in place when Israeli troops left Gaza were not enough to prevent Gazans from developing a Kurdistan on the sea is a pipe dream.

Speaking of Hamas, how can one contend that Israel does not have a right to defend itself against terrorists who launch rockets against it?

For the record, Hamas is a theocratic nightmare of an organization that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, sees murdering Israeli citizens as a noble goal worth pursuing, and does nothing but harm the cause of peace between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. However, it should be noted that Israel has done just about everything in its power to ensure Hamas’ position as the sole governing body in the Gaza Strip.

As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has argued, when Hamas fires rockets and launches terror attacks in Israel, it gets results from the Israeli government. After the 2012 skirmish between the Israel and Hamas, the Israelis gave Hamas an expanded nautical mile range for Gazan fisherman and loosened border restrictions, according to the Washington Post, in exchange for halting the rocket fire. Both of these terms were later revoked by the Israelis (which is part of the reason for the current strife), but it goes to show that Hamas’ violence works as a means of getting the Israelis to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, which recognizes Israel, supports a two-state solution, and shuns terrorism, gets more settlement growth and virtually no concessions from the Netanyahu government. The message sent is self-evident.

In addition to justifying (not from a moral, but rather from an amoral political perspective) Hamas’ rockets, Israel continues to provide an ample amount of poverty and misery to Gazans, the necessary fuel to keep an organization that traffics in hopelessness like Hamas alive as Gisha has documented. The embargo (which, by the way, is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a signatory to) mentioned above asphyxiates any possible economic growth on the Strip, instead delivering a 40 percent unemployment rate, 12-hour daily rolling blackouts, and an economy incumbent on humanitarian aid. Not exactly an environment ripe for rejecting violent extremism in favor of peaceful democratic negotiations.

Pro-Israeli arguments have their merits in certain respects, but they sometimes disregard the events leading up to the violence, and they’re worth mulling over and analyzing more than black-and-white opinions on the conflict seem to do.


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