New Rule: What the Middle-East conflict needs is a good comedian-statesman-diplomat-therapist, like a Henry Kissinger but with better empathy skills. And more comedic talent. All right, maybe he's a poor start.

Obviously the first thing on the agenda is to get the Israel issue solved. Or that what everyone always says, anyway. For one, although the U.N. is a hideously hypocritical, bordering on powerless entity, the conditions in the occupied territories have been declared a human rights violation about 537 times (check that - it's called U.N. Resolution # 537) at least some of those sanctions are appropriate. I think the wall is a necessary measure, but it has cut off and dismembered numerous Palestinian (and Israeli) communities, through no reason other than the farther east the wall extends, the more security Israel has, and the happier Israel's expansionist extremists will be. The IDF has done bad things, and this happens with any army. However, the objection is legitimate that army occupation of the territories period is the real issue here, not the behavior of the army in general. This is a complicated issue, because military occupation of the adjoining territories is proper in war. It's arguably a necessary security policy when those territories have no centralized power capable of controlling and eliminating rogue and extremist terrorist organizations that would otherwise take over the area. Nonetheless, the effects of fifty years of occupation are undeniable. Like all other arab peoples, Palestinians have their own national identity and aspirations, which actually reached maturity in the 1960s with the newly minted Arafat and the PLO of all things, before it assumed its current non-negotiation stance. The inability of these aspirations to reach fruition to even the slightest extent is no doubt a terrible humiliation for Palestinians. Poverty, which has as much to do with Israel as ongoing non-existent infrastructure, also has negative effects. And of course, no one likes living under military occupation.

Don't get me wrong, I believe the way the Israeli army conducts itself is still incomparably better than the way an Arab army would if the situation were reversed. But the situation in the territories is becoming a worse and worse human rights problem, and a legitimate grievance. I most of Israel's hardliners are even realizing this. A solution to the problem is complex, but I think most mainstream people are currently putting their bets on a push for democracy and control in the Palestinian Authority, and a simultaneous disengagement from the West Bank. Of course, I am not counting on any of the West Bank settlements being relocated before or after then. And the wall will probably stay up for a while. But it's different when the Palestinians have their own sovereign nation. Then, instead of dividing its constituents, Israel is exerting its sovereign right to build a wall on its territory wherever it wants to, just like I have the right (well, if I own a piece of land) to erect a wall between me and my neighbor's house, as long as the nice part of the wall faces outward. (actually the law, check it out if you don't believe me...)

The Palestinian issue is a huge bugaboo and, I would argue, prohibitive barrier to any steps toward reconciliation between the West and the Arab world. We all know it's exploited disproportionately by leaders in Arab countries. For instance, just yesterday, Iran's hardliner president stated that Israel's existence was an affront to Islam, put in place by the West to oppress Islamic states. This is a common meme in Muslim countries. Of course, the speech concluded saying that Israel must be wiped off the map, and any Islamic state that negotiates with it is committing treason. The name of the conference was "A world without Zionism." You have to give credit to extremist Islamists: they don't beat around the bush.

Two summers ago, the Egyptian "media" made real press by asserting that all terrorist attacks around the world were perpetrated by Zionists. I'm not kidding about this. Of course this is really just manipulating definition. But it's also an even more ludicrous extension of the idea, also popular in Egypt for a time (and in the U.S. as well), that Israel perpetrated the 9/11 attacks - or less extremely, knew about it days before the fact and failed to notify the U.S. Of course, every one of these allegations is untrue. The establishment of Israel, which was in effect granted by the British, was hardly more divisive than the arbitrary division of nation-state boundaries in an area of the world that has always been a territory of the prevailing world empire. This should go without saying but, Israel is not an affront to Islam, any more than Arab nations are an affront to Judaism. Both arguments can be made from each respective religion's holy book, and this is just silly. The allegation that Israel (and only Israel) carried out the 9/11 attacks is an insult to the intelligence of Arabs everywhere.

After this is accomplished, the Middle East and a few western countries ought to enter some serious therapy to work out these issues with the mysterious entity known as "The West." What is "The West" and what did it do? Is the West the victors of WWI and particpants in the Sykes-Picot agreement? Or is the British, who were assigned the Mandate of the area under that agreement and it is fair to say are fully responsible for granting the state of Israel existence? Is the West the United States, which tacitly supported all of these historical steps, and is currently by far Israel's biggest financial and political supporter? Maybe if we could figure out what "The West" is, and what it did, we could take steps to act constructively about it. Of course, the West is a real entity and it did do real things, but the point is people need to think in a little more complex way about these issues.

There's more to say, but I'll have to say it later.

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