Only a day before a new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were slated to begin, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that plans for new settlements in East Jerusalem were “illegitimate” but that shouldn’t be any problem for the peace talks.
Of course, the United States can still be an honest broker of impartial peace talks between the two parties. It’s not as if we just took a position against one of the two parties … or did we? Mr. Kerry stated that this was the position of the United States for which he is chief diplomat. No doubt, he has had words with the President about this matter.
Since history dooms us to repeat it if we don’t pay attention, what parallels exist that might be instructive?
Manifest Destiny was the phrase invoked to describe the fledgling United States’ need to expand westward. We had a growing population and needed the room. Israel might learn from that lesson of history.
The United States became a global empire due to the Spanish-American War, in which we acquired both The Philippines and Cuba. Both island nations were returned to their own self-rule and the last U.S. base in The Philippines, the Subic Bay Naval Station, closed in 1992. The last U.S. military base in Cuba closed … well, we’re still figuring out that Guantanamo Bay thing so the U.S. is still holding territory acquired via the “right of conquest.” Israel might find that example instructive.
Perhaps the United States can continue to counsel forbearance in the face of terrorism. After all, we have been able to restrain our anger and provide due process of law for the Boston Marathon bomber and his accomplices. Israel must have already learned that lesson as it began the process of releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners who were jailed on multiple charges, including killing civilians in bombings, as a pre-condition to the renewed peace talks.
History can also teach us lessons through contrasts, not just parallels.
For example, the United States has also had to find its way to the table for peace talks. Most notable were the talks in Paris in 1973 that led to the end of the Vietnam War and the ultimate return of U.S. prisoners of war later that year. Many of the preliminaries had nothing to do with release of prisoners but about weighty matters such as the shape of the table, where the flags go, and who sits where. Sort of like planning a wedding reception.
The French were able to be the neutral host, even though they had been the colonial rulers of the area once known as French Indo-China. It may have been because the French took their ass whipping at Dien Bien Phu and quit the country in 1954. Granted, the French did leave behind the whole North Vietnam-South Vietnam problem as part of their Geneva agreement on the way out.
All of which brings us back to Israel’s positions and its current state of affairs.
Surrounded on all sides by adversaries, the Israelis also have a lengthening nuclear shadow being cast over them at a distance half of what it would be to get from this desk in Florida to Las Vegas. The odds are surely against a nation roughly the size of New Jersey.
Even the previous example of the Boston Marathon bombing is instructive. It was surely a horrible event, one that has been addressed in this column previously. Ordinary people were out for a holiday and to enjoy a public sporting event when men, women, and children were shattered by an explosion. It was a day not easily forgotten.
In Israel, that would be called “Monday,” as it is as likely as not that any day of the week a bomb could go off when people were just trying to get on a bus, see a movie, go shopping or anything else that would be part of an ordinary American day. The United States may still be involved in its (ssh, don’t say it out loud) War on Terror. Israel has been on a wartime footing every day since ten years before I was born. Imagine if we had a Boston Marathon bombing every third day.
Where does the Secretary of State get the moral superiority to tell Israel what is legitimate or not within its own hard-pressed territory?
(Author’s self-disclosure: While I have never been to Israel, I have been fortunate enough to have developed good relations with my Israeli counterparts. When I was with the Florida State Fire Marshal’s office, I was honored twice by successive Chief Fire Inspectors of Israel — essentially the national fire chief — and presented with medals from Jerusalem, City of Peace. I cannot imagine what my brothers there have had to endure in their daily duties.)