Short of choosing “sides” in the Israel-Palestine debate, I think it is important to identify specific policies that currently block the path to peace. Unfortunately, some observers of this conflict remain mired in polarizing generalizations about ‘the other side,’ and in doing so they fail to display the very same level of understanding which they claim to promote. In terms of identifying the correct course of action for groups on campus and for Americans as a whole in this conflict, the question should not be “Whose values do we share,” or “Who has worked harder to promote peace so far,” rather, “How can we work to promote a peaceful two-state solution?”
In answering that question, it is incredibly important to engage with the more moderate critics of Israel, of whom I consider myself a part. I do not question Israel’s right to exist, I do not condone acts of terror that have been perpetrated upon its people and I cannot imagine living under the constant threat of violence, but I still think there has to be recognition of what Israel has done and continues to do to contribute to the conflict. If, as many of its biggest proponents point out, Israel shares our values of democracy and human rights, then clearly the burden will be on them to ‘be the bigger man’ at the peace table. To date, that has simply not been the case.
While many supporters of Israel cite the recent settlement freeze as an example of Israel’s willingness to work toward a two-state solution, they often fail to address the heart of the issue: Israel continues to build settlements in contested territory. Most recently, Israel has proposed a “temporary” settlement freeze which would last for roughly three months. However, even that modest concession would explicitly exclude the most controversial areas in and around Jerusalem. And in return for this, Israel demands that the U.S. provide them with expensive military equipment. Thus, Israel’s efforts on the settlement front can hardly be seen as an indication that Israel is seeking peace for peace’s sake.
When we consider the comments made by Progressive Dane and other groups calling for divestment in Israel, it is important to also consider American interests. Unconditional support for the most hated country in the region is quite simply not a prudent position for our government to take when we are embroiled in two wars. While Israel is undeniably an ally, the United States must show flexibility in its partnership with a country that has a very checkered past in terms of its respect for international treaties and laws. With this in mind, my support for divestment in Israel is not a rejection of a two-state solution, but instead is an attempt at producing the same permanent peace so often sought. Rather than chastising Progressive Dane or the University of Wisconsin’s Middle East Studies Department, it seems to me Israel’s most vocal supporters here in Madison should focus their energies on making more nuanced arguments about tangible issues: For example, explaining why the Israeli government’s position on settlements is fair, or why divestment in Israel would not lend itself to promoting peace.
There will always be extremists in this discussion, but not all critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. It is insufficient to simply say Israel or Palestine has been working harder for peace. As pragmatic and thoughtful future leaders, it is our job to not be sidetracked by polarizing generalizations or to get caught up in choosing ‘sides,’ but instead to identify and discuss the substantive issues that we can control in ways that promote a peaceful two-state solution.
Henry Bluestone Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in political science.