Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel/Palestine: what politicians needs, and what the people need

Given the current deep polarisation between the governments of Israel and Palestine, and the supporters of both parties, it might be useful to consider the difference between a people and their Government. They are not the same thing, even in an (ideal) perfect democracy.

Democracy aims to make Government to some degree responsive to the wishes of the people, but there are many layers of influence that separate the aggregate wishes of the people and the policies of their government. Israel is a democracy, albeit with a system that always seems to make the theocratic tendencies part of Government; and Hamas was successful in a democratic election; but these two Governments are not co-extensive with their people.

Opinion in the West is polarised between pro-Palestinian factions and pro-Israeli factions, more or less along predictable left-right lines; America supports Israel, therefore the Left has an inclination to dislike them (over and above Israel's unacceptable actions in ethnic cleansing and warmongering); the Left therefore finds itself on the side of Hamas, but Hamas is an Islamic theocratic movement, which would among other things, be into stoning "adulterers" and executing people who belong to the LGBT section.

I was criticised for giving a cautious welcome the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia for exactly this reason. The ICU brought peace to Mogadishu through imposition of Sharia Law. Secular democrats in Somalia who were critical of Sharia nevertheless preferred a pax Islamica to the terror of warlord anarchy. America disagreed, however, and gave the nod to warlords to go in and fight the ICU, thereby probably deferring the return of peace and democracy to Somalia.

Political alignments are therefore mightily complicated, and there is no simple solution to be had by simply making judgments on the basis of "our enemies' enemy is our friend". We have to think things out from the reality on the ground, from the viewpoint of the people themselves.

What do all the people in the Middle East need most of all?
They need peace and security. This means less warfare and less armaments, not more warfare and armaments.
They need adequate water supplies. This means a huge programme of water conservation, solar desalination and water harvesting.
They need access to land where they can grow their food. This means a massive programme of sustainable agriculture development, on the back of the new water infrastructure, and a huge programme of afforestation, beginning at the coastal areas.

These are the real needs. Instead of working at these needs, the Israeli and Palestinian governments are engaged in a mutual, stupid vicious circle of violence and destruction based on ancent religious ideology and a political argument about who has a right to live where.

This is not to minimise the importance of discussing and resolving these political problems, but in the end, what is more important, who has the title deeds to a piece of land, or whether that land is under sustainable cultivation?

Looked at from the point of view of governmental politics, the argument is infinitely complex, but looked at from the ecological point of view, there is a simple truth: basically, humans are designed to eat food, not bullets. Food needs labour, land, sun and water. IsraelPalestine has plenty of the first three, but is going to need some assistance to provide enough water - but it can be done - if politicians empower the people to become constructive, instead of indulging in their love of military technology.

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