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January 12, 2009

Guest Blogging Day: Diplomacy in the Middle East

January 12. Day 196.

Today I'm turning this page over to the reader who won the New Year's Riddle and so earned the opportunity to post anything here that doesn't get me kicked off Blogger. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of this guest blogger.

Feel free to comment, below!

Foot in the Mouth in Israel

In every country, there are politicians who are tactful and diplomatic, and there are those who are not. Israel is no exception. Not-so-diplomatic Israeli politician: Matan Vilnai. Diplomatic Israeli politician: Tzipi Livni.

Not so diplomatic

Let us begin with the not-so-diplomatic politician: Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai. He threatened the people of Gaza with a "bigger Holocaust" last February (Reuters report). Needless to say, he soon had to clarify: He was misunderstood. He did not mean what he seemed to be saying.

And how could he have meant it? A bigger Holocaust is a mathematical impossibility. There aren't six million people in Gaza. Even if there were, killing them all would not be practical. Look at what’s happening now:

There was a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel. Next, Israel violated the truce by blockading the civilian population and launching military operations. ( See video clip where CNN anchor is bewildered to realize who was the first to break the truce .) Then Hamas responds by rocket fire which fails to kill even a single Israeli during the truce period. With the truce period over, the Israeli siege and violence from both sides continued, forcing Israel to take defensive measures to protect itself from the perennial existential threat posed by the Palestinian people. So, Israel launched the recent all-out assault. And, so far, it has barely killed 1000 Gazans (mostly civilians and policemen). Less than a thousand dead? That is only a tiny fraction of the total population of Gaza. It's certainly nothing by the standards of the Holocaust. Goes to show how wide off the mark the Holocaust threat was. Better luck next time, Vilnai!

Literally diplomatic

Now, let us turn to a diplomatic Israeli politician, in fact one who, as Foreign Minister, is officially in charge of Israeli diplomacy, appointed to that job to show Israel’s good side to the world: Tzipi Livni.

In November, Livni said that when and if a Palestinian state is created in West Bank and Gaza, then the current Arab citizens of Israel proper should be invited to leave their homes and emigrate to that state. “You are citizens with equal rights, but the national solution for you is elsewhere,” she says to the Palestinian citizens of Israel-proper.

A little background on this polished and graceful rising star of Israeli politics is in order. She belongs to Kadima. Kadima is one of the two main parties contesting Israeli elections next month, and it is the more peaceful one. If a new Holocaust were to occur, it would more likely be thanks to the initiative of Kadima's rival, the Likud Party.

Actually, the next Israeli prime minister is expected to be either Livni or her rival from Likud, Netenyahu, an eloquent speaker of English who in the past has called for the forcible mass expulsion of Palestinians (see here, for example).

In short, Livni is the diplomatic face of the relatively peaceful party, the one that is taking the current defensive measures in Gaza, and the one that took equally defensive measures in Lebanon two years ago. (Remember that war? In purported retaliation for two of its soldiers being captured, Israel killed 1000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure.)

What shall we make of a cabinet member inviting a part of the population of her own country to leave the country? Unless you are steeped in American and Israeli public discourse, you are going to have a hard time sympathizing with Livni. So, let me try to help you see her side. You see, one of the numerous existential threats Israel faces is its Arab citizenry, which makes up 20% of the population of Israel proper. They present a major problem for the Jewish state. The problem they present is that they are Arab. And the problem is getting worse, since pairs of them have been known to have children, thus producing even more Arabs. Although this hasn’t been proven, it is thought that within a century or so Arabs might equal or exceed Jews in number. This possibility is invariably given an ominous name: the demographic “bomb”, “threat”, or “peril.” It is a harbinger of the “destruction of the Jewish state,” and possibly the end of the world as we know it. You don’t see the problem yet? Well, think about the U.S. In a few decades, whites might no longer be the majority, as there’ll probably be more blacks, Hispanics, and Asians than whites. Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine? How could this be called a white country if most of its citizens were not white? Or think of South Africa, when the government ceased to be white. While that did not bring about the Apocalypse, the ruling regime did change fundamentally to the detriment of the said ruling regime. Similar deal in Israel. Now you get my drift.

Some might object that Livni’s proposal is not practical. The hitch, again, is a mathematical one. How will the Palestinians leaving Israel fit into Gaza? There's no room for them. In Gaza, Palestinian refugees are already packed like sardines. They ended up there like that after the Jews destroyed their villages and towns in 1948, expelled them, and told them they can’t go back home. (Don't get me wrong; every one of those actions was in self-defense.)

There's also another hitch: Gaza is a poor place, with nearly 20% of the population malnourished. You can’t tell the Hispanic citizens of the US to leave for Mexico as long as Mexico is poorer than the U.S. The same logic applies here.

But these objections are nitpicking. I’m sure Israel will find a way to persuade the Palestinians to leave of their own free will. If they do not, appropriate defensive measures need to be taken to save the Jewish people from annihilation this time around.

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