Friday, June 22, 2007

1967/2007: some comments (2)

One State, Two Countries
We may live in what is effectively one state but it encompasses two countries. Palestine and Israel overlap geographically but mentally these are two different lands. Alquds and Yerushalaim may both be translated into English as
Jerusalem but the two terms convey different memories and cultural meanings. In an important sense these are two different cities. And they will remain so for the foreseeable future, regardless of the political situation. This is a richness that we should embrace, not fear.

For too long maps have been used in this conflict as critical evidence in an ownership dispute. If my map was right than yours must be wrong; if your map included my territory than you must want to take my place. This two-dimensional view is flat and stupid. Real life have depth; and real places have more than one name. The atavistic desire to name and signpost in one correct official way, and to erase all other signposting, is a modern obsession which we can overcome.

So Yafa is a city in Palestine, just like Nablus and Haifa, and Hevron is a city in the land of Israel, just like Tel Aviv. Can we come to terms with such claims without feeling threatened?

The Political Framework is not everything
From the time I can remember, political debates concerning the future of Palestine/Israel focussed on the political ‘solution’. A Palestinian state or a Jordanian-Palestinian confederacy, border changes and territorial swaps, and the future of Jerusalem – these were the issues under discussion. But we should rid ourselves of the illusion that a political 'solution' - whatever form it may take - is sufficient to provide a closure for the conflict. There are issues which will not be decided by a political compromise, and are more important than the borders: from cultural memory of 1948 to the economic integration and separation between these unequal sides, from the control of land and water to access to work. I believe these issues explain why even when we were supposedly very close to finding a political “two-states” solution, it always escaped us, like a receding horizon. The economic future of Israelis and Palestinians, and the memory of the past are two core issues that cannot be “resolved”; they require ongoing engagement by both sides.

The Real Challenges are Different
Israelis and Palestinians have been spoiled for global attention: our daily dramas have occupied the world newspapers headlines for many years now. But probably not for long. In the coming decades we will find ourselves facing global challenges very different from the ones that have preoccupied people and politicians in the 20th century. Our world is threatened by the ecological holocaust of climate change and environmental degradation; our civilisation will find itself struggling to survive on depleting energy and water resources. The way we live today is wholly unsustainable and will have to change, and we don’t have much time.

Perhaps the last reminder for our shared human condition was the 1927 earthquake which shook Palestine and left many dead. When the earth trembled 80 years ago it did not care to distinguish between Jews and Arabs. Similarly, the future disasters will involve all of us, and affect all of us: climate change does not stop at checkpoints, and without energy and water none of us could live.

Horrible as this 90-year conflict has been, it may well seem insignificant in comparison with the ecological devastation awaiting us.


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