Israelis and the eternal double standard

DAVIS, Calif. (U-WIRE) — The state of Israel is forever bound to a moral conscience and responsibility unlike any other nation in the world. It is also being forced to exchange land rightfully and legally gained during two wars Israel did not start.
The government of Syria, under the helm of President Assad, is forcing Israel to return the Golan Heights, a large land mass in comparison to Israel’s small size and to the 3 percent of Syria’s land area. Why does Syria want the Golan Heights?
Assad probably wants it for its relative abundance of water, which occurs few and far between in the mostly arid Middle East. But more realistically, Assad wants to save face and reputation by regaining a piece of land he lost in a war he started.
Perhaps if Assad and Syria really wanted peace and normalization — which is what Israel is really looking for — then Israel would be at no loss to be of a higher moral conscience and return land for peace.
However, there are some very good reasons why Israel is and should be very hesitant when dealing with Syria. First of all, how can Israel be expected to take seriously Syria’s interest in peace when its leading national newspaper spoke openly, only weeks ago, about “the myths of the Holocaust” and printed cartoons showing Israel’s prime minister in Nazi regalia.
This is an extremely sensitive topic to this day in Israel, whose foundations rose from the horrors of Nazi Germany. What kind of peace does Syria want when it denies the premise for Israel’s creation and negates the starting of normalization talks until Israel first unilaterally cedes to all of Syria’s demands? Furthermore, why should Israel be forced to relinquish land it won in a war it did not start?
Jordan withdrew its claim to the West Bank in 1988, leaving Israel with the responsibility of the Palestinians. Furthermore, the Palestinians, who do deserve a state, should not be so quick to break things off with the Israelis. Israel, on its own accord, has made it possible for the Palestinians to be able to achieve this.
They should be happy to have Israel there, which has, on multiple occasions in the negotiations, offered its army to protect the exterior of Israel and the future Palestinian State. That’s right — Israeli soldiers will be protecting Palestinians from various outside threats, such as Iran and Iraq. Why wouldn’t Palestinians want the world’s most efficient army protecting them?
Why does Israel have to hold itself to a higher standard than the rest of the world, and why is anything below that standard deemed unacceptable to society and politicians? Israel also allows free practice of religion, and no other country in the region can even pretend to be on Israel’s level in that respect.
Israel has given the Islamic Waqf control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the site where the First and Second Temples were built and destroyed over 2,000 years ago. It is considered to be the holiest place in the world for Jews. But it is also the third holiest spot in the world for Muslims, and the Jewish state has respectfully relinquished its control to a Muslim authority. It has done the same for all of the Christian sites in and around Israel.
Israel is by no means a perfect country. In fact, it would be arrogant for any country to ascertain it was perfect. Israel is, however, the only working democracy in the generally hostile surroundings of the Middle East.
Though with the recent resumption of talks this week between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the prospect of peace looks to be more realistic. It is crucial that these talks succeed in formulating a final agreement. If they fail, the peace process will once again slow down with a new U.S. president and the waning health of both Arafat and Assad.
In order for the talks to succeed, the Palestinians must be able to declare a state multilaterally, Assad and Barak must compromise on final borders and there must be an increased U.S. involvement in the mediation process.
Israel is now, once again, making the right moves toward peace. But why is this country always the first to make concessions? The recent Israeli cabinet decision to pull out of Lebanon by July is a great step towards peace in the region. But Syria, for some reason, disapproves of it, claiming it will lessen Israel’s willingness to move out of the Golan.
Israel should be proud to be the leader of peace in the Middle East. It is unfortunate, though, that Israel is portrayed more often as the bad guy. Israel is giving something tangible (land) for an idea (peace). It will have to trust its neighbors and future peace partners for a lasting peace to survive in the Middle East.
Brad Bernstein’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of California-Davis paper, The California Aggie.