Home > Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Gaza, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Soviet Union (historical), Spain, Switzerland, Syria, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States of America, West Bank > Berlusconi’s plea to Israel to return Golan Heights to Syria not likely to win compliance

Berlusconi’s plea to Israel to return Golan Heights to Syria not likely to win compliance

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The front page headline of Ha’aretz is that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, about to visit Israel, comes with a recommendation that giving up the Golan would add to Israel’s status in international politics.

Italy is a great place to visit. The food and wine are first class, the clothes and shoes well made and attractively displayed, and it is a comfortable place to enjoy scenery, historical landmarks, and cultural variety. The Roman Catholic Church has made the Papacy multicultural, and friendly to Jews. The country has come a long way since World War II, but as arbitrator for Israel’s problems, it is in a huge crowd of semi-informed meddlers.

The secondary headline in Ha’aretz notes that Berlusconi is up to his neck in corruption and sex scandals, and implies that he would be wise to keep his own finances orderly and his trousers fastened.

More than other unresolved disputes, Israel’s attracts the curious and creative. The attention comes partly from Muslim countries’ adoption of the Palestinian cause going back to the 1930s. For these participants, it is a way to excite their own locals to demand justice for fellow Muslims, and to distract them from local shortcomings. Islamic theology and its history of conquest is part of the mix. Israel is only one of the targets. Some of the faithful would return Spain to Muslim control, and extend their rule to Britain, Switzerland, and other places where they have migrated.

Israel has been an issue for the United Nations from its birth, and together with the still-born Palestine is on the organization’s agenda more than places with greater poverty, ill health, and other miseries.

Religion adds to the prominence of Israel and Palestine. The Biblical prophets wandered on the Judean landscape I see from my window. Jesus was born and died within six miles from these fingers, Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven from a rock only two miles from here, which is that same place that Jews claim Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and a key location in ancient Temples.

Israel required outside help at several stages in its history. The pantheon of those who provided diplomatic recognition and aid with financial, food, and military needs has featured the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, France, Britain, Germany, and the United States. The United States has been the most prominent source of support, and occasionally the only source since Richard Nixon took on the role of Israel’s patron. American presidents, secretaries of state, and special advisers have been the most intense providers of solutions since then. 

Has any outside resolution, suggestion, urging, and pressure helped Israel solve its problems with Palestinians or other Arabs?

Most impressive was Jimmy Carter, not currently among Israel’s warmest friends. His presence and prodding at Camp David may have been what was necessary to bring Israelis and Egyptians to consummate their ground breaking peace agreement. Representatives of the two countries had done most of the work prior to Camp David, and Henry Kissinger may deserve as much credit as Carter on account of what he did during and after the 1973 war, but the pieces may not have come together without Carter.

The most recent and continuing efforts of other American presidents have paled in contrast. Bill Clinton may claim some of the credit for the Israeli-Jordan peace treaty, but that was largely in place and represented by the unsecret visits between Israeli and Jordan leaders going back to the 1940s, which continued despite bouts of serious fighting.

America’s recent contributions to Israel’s dealings with Palestinians and other Arabs have been closer to the accomplishments we can expect from Prime Minister Berlusconi’s visit than to Jimmy Carter’s work at Camp David. Good intentions without doubt. Financial aid always welcome, and more free of corrupt siphoning off in the case of Israel than in the case of Palestine. The status of the United States in the world assures that its advice gets a serious hearing, and some kind of positive response. President Obama’s calls for a total freeze of settlement building, including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, is the best recent example of a polite hearing following by partial compliance and partial refusal. The same initiative illustrates how outsiders complicate the prospects for peace, and might actually push Israelis and Palestinians further apart. Obama brought the Palestinians to harden their demands, caused Israeli settlers to escalate their building plans, and added to the feelings among Israelis as well as Palestinians that the American administration was hostile and naive.

The countless resolutions coming out of the United Nations and its various commissions may demonstrate the strength of Muslim votes in those councils, but have not moved Palestine closer to statehood or done much to improve the life of Palestinians. The Goldstone report is the latest effort doomed from the start by one-sided commitments and only the most superficial gestures at balance.

UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency provides food, education, housing, and other assistance to Palestinians claiming refugee status in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere. It has done at least as much harm as good to the Palestinians’ national cause by inducing their dependence on others.

Mahmoud Abbas, like Yassir Arafat before him, is assured a welcome, hand shake, smile, and photo op with many heads of state, at least on those occasions when Palestinian comments or operations have not proved embarrassing. The public does not know what is said–if anything–in the private meetings between Palestinian, Arab, European, American,  African, or other dignitaries. Whatever it is has not been helpful in any dramatic sense.

The bottom line is that Palestine is still where it has been for a long while, and Gaza noticeably worse. Israel is no longer an impoverished and weak supplicant. It remains a laggard with respect to the richest countries on a number of economic and social indicators, but it does well on those which measure health, higher education, technology, and the quality of its security forces. 

Prime Minister Berlusconi will come and go without moving the Golan Heights from Israel to Syria. Today the flags of Italy are on the lamp posts of Jerusalem. Next week it will be those of some other country, and the week after yet another set of flags. Until the Palestinians can solve their own disputes, and think beyond the dogma promoted by religious and political extremists, those expecting inspiration would be advised to look at the first verse of Ecclesiastes rather than the  comments of important visitors. Among other things, it counsels,

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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