I think both sides have some good points.
I think that Israelis and Palestinians as societies share a lot in common. They are both really very frightened, and ultimately they both just want to have a nice home where their families can be safe. And neither society has elected leaders which are truly acting in their best interests.
If you are able to distance yourself from the impassioned arguments that Palestinians are fighting a war of hatred against innocent Israelis, and if you accept that Terrorism is a legitimate form of warmaking typically used by those who can’t afford the tools of mechanized warfare, then events look a little different. I can, because I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim, and I live in Vancouver.
Ultimately, the citizens of a democracy are never “innocent”. They elect governments, and governments are supposed to act according to their best wishes. Where a government doesn’t do so, it is the job of every democratic citizen to resist, protest, or even fight to oust that government from power. So on some level, at least, neither Israeli nor Palestinian citizens are truly “Innocent”. Their hands are drenched in the same blood as those of their Prime Minister.
Now the Israelis — out of fear, jingoism, or frustration — elected a general at the end of 2000. My experience is that generals make for bad politicians — once a warmonger, always a warmonger. Sharon rose to prominence at the right end of an M16 and so it makes sense that he should see the solution to every problem at the wrong end.
History will record that Sharon did in fact incite the Al Asqa Intifada by walking to the summit of the temple mount during his election campaign, defying the Palestinians. His campaign to unseat Arafat from the PLO has created fracture within the Palestinian people and has allowed much more violent factions like Hamas and the Al Asqa Revolutionaries to gain prominence in the occupied territories. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a peace settlement because the other side of the table is not unified.
Sharon’s actions to date tell me that he is either evil and hateful, or ignorant and stupid. It’s not up to me to decide which, but it is probably both. What is true is that his campaign promise to bring a lasting peace and stability to the region has never been further from being realized than it is now. He has brought us to the brink and will likely leave us teetering there for decades.
On the other hand, Arafat claims he would like to return to being a civil engineer. He too has blood on his hands. As I have said before he must necessarily be a hypocrite by talking tough and acting tough to his people and by talking peace to the West. He must do this to retain (or regain) the confidence of the Palestinian people in his leadership and, on the other hand, to assure the rest of us that his intent is peace. Go ahead, call him a hypocrite. He is a politician. The two terms are synonymous.
Israel’s “Evidence” of Arafat funding terrorists is a letter requesting money. This is akin to a Venture Capitalist being held responsible for a failing company because that company once solicited the VC for funding. Even if true, there never will be defensible proof because these transactions do not occur on paper.
Mike has an interesting point about the other Arab nations. King Hussein of Jordan, in particular, has acted at various times to thwart the efforts of the PLO in warning Israel of attacks or in helping the Mossad to locate key PLO chiefs and Terrorists. Where it’s expensive and politically risky to fight Israel in the open (1967); it is relatively cheap and probably more effective to continue to push the Palestinians toward Israel.
Like the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey or the Bosnians in the Baltics, the Palestinians bounce between a gallery of people who would ultimately like to see them dead. This tends to increase one’s level of desperation.
I think that I have been criticized of viewing the Middle East within the context of America and Israel as the Protagonists, and the Palestinians as the Reactors. Probably true. But where one people do not have a homeland, nor property, nor true self-government; and the others have the latest and greatest in attack helicopters, tanks, and night vision gear I will allow myself that luxury.
Ultimately, I’d rather drive my Mercedes home from my high-tech job in Tel Aviv to my beautiful Terraced condominium and be afraid for my life than to live in squalor in a refugee camp with no plumbing, heat, or water and be afraid for my life. Of course, if the latter were my situation, then the option of strapping on some dynamite and heading out to the local Kosher bakery might not seem like such a bad one.