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Margaret Atwood versus George Will on the Mideast – The Globe and Mail

In Canada on August 16, 2010 at 01:44

Israeli and Palestinian flags fly side by side in the West Bank town of Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem, in 2001.

Sunday, August 15, 2010 3:29 PM

Margaret Atwood versus George Will on the Mideast

Norman Spector

In Saturday’s paywall-protected edition of the Times of London, Margaret Atwood sets out six future Mideast scenarios — some darker than others — before expressing her preference for a seventh:

“In [the seventh] future there are two states, ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine.’ Both are flourishing, and both are members of a regional council that deals with matters affecting the whole area. Trade flows harmoniously between the two, joint development enterprises have been established, know-how is shared, and, as in Northern Ireland, peace is paying dividends.”

Interestingly, Ms. Atwood’s seventh scenario almost precisely mirrors the work of another Canadian, Ivan Rand, who helped draft the United Nations partition plan while serving on the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in 1947. Notably, however, though she sketches a path for getting to this seventh scenario, she does not address how the two peoples got to where they are today instead of to the two states voted by the UN.

That’s precisely where George F. Will begins his decidedly more pessimistic view of the region in Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post:

“When Israel declared independence in 1948, it had to use mostly small arms to repel attacks by six Arab armies. Today, however, Israel feels, and is, more menaced than it was then or has been since. Hence the potentially world-shaking decision that will be made here, probably within two years.

To understand the man who will make it, begin with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s belief that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is integral to stopping the worldwide campaign to reverse 1948. It is, he says, a campaign to ‘put the Jew back to the status of a being that couldn’t defend himself — a perfect victim.’

… Any Israeli self-defense anywhere is automatically judged ‘disproportionate.’ Israel knows this as it watches Iran. …

He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.”

Ms. Atwood, on the other hand, believes that Israel has lost control of this narrative; its leaders must now “guide their people towards a better future…not over the edge of a cliff.” Here’s what she has in mind:

“First, the Golan Heights was returned to Syria under a pact that created a demilitarised zone with international supervision. The few Israeli inhabitants were allowed to remain if they wished, though they then paid taxes to Syria.

Then, with the help of a now-friendly Syria, Hamas was invited to the peace negotiations. The enlightened leaders realised that they couldn’t set as a precondition something that remained to be negotiated, so they didn’t demand the pre-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Hamas, to the surprise of many, accepted the invitation, as it had nothing to lose by doing so. Peace was made between Fatah and Hamas, and the Palestinians were thus able to present a single negotiating team. … The agreement took less time than expected…Then the occupation — disastrous for those in both countries, physically and morally — was over, and Palestinian independence was declared. A mutual defence pact was signed, along with a trade and development pact….the borders reverted to those of 1967, with a few land swaps along the edges. Jerusalem was declared an international city, with both an Israeli parliament building and a Palestinian one, and access to the various holy sites for believers.

Gaza was joined to the West Bank by corridors…Development money poured in, creating full employment. Fair-access- to-water agreements were signed, pollution cleaned up, and more fresh water created through a new cheap solar-driven desalination process….

Settlers could stay in Palestine if they wished, under lease agreements. The leases and taxes paid by the settlers were a source of income to the Palestinian state, and as their products were no longer boycotted, the settlements did better. On the whole, peace reigned. There was even a shared Memorial Day, in which all those fallen in past wars were honoured.”

In concluding her piece, Ms. Atwood says “the seventh future is within reach,” but that it “depends on the wisdom of the leadership… How to promote such wisdom? It’s a prophet’s traditional duty to lay out the alternatives: the good futures and also the bad ones. Prophets — unlike yes men — tell the powerful not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. “How can I put this?” thinks the stargazer. “Something beginning with the handwriting on the wall . . ?”

Notably, in her longish piece, Ms. Atwood does not address the Iran factor — a consideration that raises scenarios that neither she, nor Mr. Will for that matter, dares to contemplate.

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