U.S. focus needed on problems at its borders
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–Numbers are not everything in the assessment of public policies, but they can at least justify questions about the efforts officials are making in X as opposed to Y.
The X in this case is the dispute between Israel and the Arabs. The Y is greater violence close to the Mexican border with the United States.
Currently we are seeing another concerted effort to deal with Israel and its neighbors. President Barack Obama made it the subject of a major speech in Cairo, as well as several meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trips to the area by special emissaries, and frequent high profile comments by the President, Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Advisor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other ranking generals. Some have gone so far as to say that the lack of resolution is a key interest of the United States; that it threatens American troops active elsewhere; and that it gets in the way of American efforts to deal with terrorism.
No doubt that both Israelis and Palestinians would profit from a resolution of their dispute. Yet the prevailing view that seems most persuasive, and has penetrated the comments of President Obama, is that neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities are prepared to make essential concessions. Better for both is the status quo than dealing with the numerous issues that have resisted efforts by foreign powers or the parties themselves for a century or more.
The deaths of Palestinians and Israelis during the latest flare up of violence are not the only measure of the dispute’s importance, but they help to gauge it in comparison to other problems.
According to the Israeli human rights organization Btselem, the period from the onset of intifada al-Aqsa in late September, 2000 to the end of 2008 saw 4,907 Palestinian deaths attributed to Israeli security forces or Israeli civilians; 593 Palestinians killed by other Palestinians; and 1,062 Israelis killed by Palestinians. All told, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been responsible for 6,562 deaths in recent years.
It is something of a stretch to link this conflict to important American interests. The deaths occurred about one-third of the world away from American shores, and the most persistent claims of its impact on the United States and other great powers come from Muslim countries that have their own reasons for seeing Israel as the source of all their problems.
Much closer to the United States, arguably more directly linked to it, as well as being more costly in human lives is what The Washington Post headlined as a “drug war . . . near (the) Texas border.”
“More than 22,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since . . . December 2006 . . . powerful and warring crime syndicates have now launched a campaign of terror . . . abducting journalists, beheading police officers and assaulting military garrisons.”
Comparing the drama of conflict in the Holy Land to chaos in Mexico is the stuff of apples and oranges. Every dispute is unique. But the differentials in numbers cause me to wonder.
Since I am writing from Jerusalem, it may only appear to me that the White House is spending more effort on a relatively small conflict far from the United States than on a larger conflict right along its border. Moreover, the nearer conflict is integrally associated with Americans.
I am aware of Israeli and American rhetoric about a special relationship. I also know something about the history involving the Untied States and Mexico, as well as the current American appetites for narcotics, and for low-wage, low-skilled workers. The Washington Post claims that 22,000 deaths are due to drugs meant for the American market. Presumably other deaths come from human traffic to the United States, including competition between the gangs that do some of the work.
It would be quite a show if President Obama decided to send his troops south of the border, like Presidents Polk and Wilson before him. Yet some of his advisers would impose a solution on Israel and Palestine. He has also increased American activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Rather than trying to untangle the arguments for what the United States is doing–or should be doing–in one place or another, let me throw up my hands and ask for help.
Some of you may be wiser than me, or at least better informed about what is closer to your home than mine. This old professor needs your guidance.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=4910