Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where to from Here?

In last week’s column, I put out a call for proposals to solve the heretofore intractable Israel-Palestinian situation.

Readers did not disappoint. I have tremendous respect for those who take the time to read this space – like a true Irishman, I admire the wisdom of those who seek my opinion – but even I was surprised by the strength of the responses.

Some of the sagest suggestions began more or less like this: No matter your sentiments on this issue – whether you feel the creation of the State of Israel was fair or not, and whether you believe Israel has merely been defending itself against overwhelming odds or oppressing unfortunate people – both sides have suffered. Most important, the past is prologue and there’s no going back. So, we must stop being concerned with who was right or whom to blame, and focus on what to do next.

There are myriad challenges about which we could ask similar questions. The war in Afghanistan was a necessary undertaking when it began, but what is our best move today, nine years on? The invasion of Iraq may not have yielded WMD, but what steps can be taken now to help that recovering country, comprised of three distinct groups, develop into a secular Middle Eastern ally? Western nations may have mishandled Iran for decades, but what should be done as its despotic regime nears nuclear capability? This week, Canada announced, in conjunction with other countries, it would stiffen sanctions against the Iranian government. Was that the right thing to do? (Hint: Yes, it was.)

To find the future you want, you must put aside the past. Learn from it, certainly, but don’t allow your judgment to be clouded by injustices. In this way, forgiveness can be highly practical. It is difficult, nonetheless.

But on the Israel-Palestinian matter, let us give one another substantial credit and assume we can take a purely objective, forward-looking stance. Now what?

Several readers took issue with the premise of my original question – “What should Israel do?” – pointing out that the plight of the Palestinian people is not solely a responsibility of the Jewish State. Their Arab neighbours can also take steps to help.

As columnist Khaled Abu Toameh recently observed, “Not only are Palestinians living in Lebanon denied the right to own property, but they also do not qualify for health care, and are banned by law from working in a large number of jobs,” adding, “Ironically, it is much easier for a Palestinian to acquire American and Canadian citizenship than a passport of an Arab country.”

So if we want to help the Palestinian people – and as a matter of human decency, all good folks share that goal – perhaps the best approach is to spread the pressure. That is, rather than focus solely on, say, Israeli checkpoints and Jerusalem building projects, we might also find the dialing codes for Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, ring them up and ask, “Could you find a path to citizenship for the Palestinians in your midst?”

We might add, “We’d love your help in achieving a peaceful Palestinian state and, in the meantime, would you please drop any restrictions on them working as journalists, pharmacists, physicians, what-have-you, so they can earn a living?”

It’s not perfect or complete, but it’s a way forward.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.