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Caseythoughts Imagine the phrase 'peace in the Middle East'. Picture it, let the words and implications roll around your tongue and brain. Even if you’re not politically minded, you have an innate sense of the historical and social breadth of that phrase “peace in the Middle East”.

Last week that phrase was uttered in capital letters on the White House lawn as Israel and the United Arab Emirates shook hands and agreed to recognize, in diplomatic language, each other’s reality and right to exist.

At the same time as that historic photo op (on the level of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shaking hands with Jimmy Carter in 1979), other less publicized but just as important events were occurring. Oman has issued a statement supporting Bahrain’s diplomatic move, while Saudi Arabia has approved Israeli flights through Saudi airspace and Morocco is reported to be close to allowing direct flights to Israel. In a parallel move, Kosovo has become the first Muslim-majority country in the world to agree to put its embassy in Jerusalem in exchange for Israeli recognition of its independence from Albania.

Middle East peace. If I had saved all the newspaper clippings I’ve read since 1967 about the near-apocalyptic warfare in the eastern Mediterranean, those clippings would be mountains. Among my fiction and nonfiction reading on that region’s troubles are Leon Uris’ Exodus, James Michener’s The Source, and everything Thomas Friedman has ever written from those troubled lands. And now comes an impossible dream, peace in the Middle East.

Maybe we should look again at this photo op, this headline-grabbing event that only held the world’s attention for a day or two, and occasioned no worldwide bell ringing.

It was a Trump-Kushner deal that pulled it off, but also guaranteed a cynical response from the media. I remember how Camp David was heralded as practically the canonization of Jimmy Carter and the accolades that seemed to follow that historic handshake. A former terrorist in the first Israeli-Arab War had come to terms with him implacable Semitic enemy across the Sinai and agreed to a peace which has held since 1979.

There’s something wrong here, something missing. Can it be? Is that an empty chair at the table?

Empty chair indeed. It’s someone to represent over three-million Palestinians. Remember them? They live there, too, and have lived there just as long as the Jews. They tilled the land, raised livestock, built homes and families, generations that lived and died there at the western limits of the Levant.

Their story, like that of the Jews, stretches back to the very edge of recorded history and cannot be denied. American right-wing radio has claimed that there never was a country called Palestine (I heard Mark Levin say that one night), but the Palestinians are real. They have been squeezed onto one of the poorest pieces of land on Earth called Gaza, and are near the bottom of the world’s wealth scale.

“I’ve got it!”, exclaimed Kushner. “Just drop the American belief that the Palestinians have any right to exist. If we ignore the Palestinians, and wave some money around, it will be a diplomatic cinch.” And so it was.

The Palestinians, too, have dreamed of a country of their own, and envisioned East Jerusalem as its capital. Their communities on the West Bank have been gradually eroded, in some cases taken forcefully, in violation of U.N. Resolution 242, which recognized their rights, but has never been enforced.

The Palestinian chair at the so-called peace table was empty because the Trump/Kushner/Pompeo/Pence juggernaut came up with an ingenious solution to the Middle East Gordian Knot. The only thing truly holding up peace in the world flash point has been the people who never seemed to act as we thought they should. The Palestinians have no real, honest backers. The Arab world couldn’t quite take the Palestinians by the hand and lead them, perhaps due to militarism or perhaps a Palestinian inability to nurture a home-grown Sadat, much less a Carter. They were a righteously angry people, as angry as post-World War Jews, convinced of the injustice of being kicked off their farms and vineyards and watching the destruction of their neighborhoods. They were never fairly compensated and have even been denied a ‘right to return’, much less any real diplomatic status. Israel took over the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967 and practically annexed it, promising only to delay annexation until Netanyahu is acquitted of bribery and tax evasion.

Middle East peace without the Palestinians? They’ve been abandoned by the Arab world, and current events and turmoil fell into place to bring about what may be called the Palestinian tragedy. What turmoil remains? Here are a few things that have led to this Palestinian “Shoah” that don’t seem to garner even a slight nod by observers.

Iraq is torn into three indistinct countries, thanks to George Bush’s disastrous invasion and assassination of Saddam Hussein. That former powerhouse is a shambles as the last of the U.S. troops pull out their weaponry and their Pizza Huts. Syria is a train wreck, as well, occupied by Iranian operatives, Russian special forces, and frustrated American advisors who are forced to play games of all terrain chicken with Ivan.

Lebanon, once the jewel of the Arab world and a model of inter-faith cooperation, is an international basket case that can’t even depend on Syria for economic aid and succor.

The Gulf oil states, formerly the nominal allies of the Palestinian cause, are now reeling in economic uncertainty as oil prices plummet and the primary oil junkie, the U.S., becomes a net oil exporter, no longer needing the Saudi hypodermic needle dripping with hydrocarbons. The Arab world now needs us, instead of vice versa, and what we have to offer is American arms and dollars if they just play nice, exchange ambassadors, and stab the Palestinians in their backs.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are as out of luck as the Kurds or Tibet or any one of the other landless peoples. Back in 1918, they thought there was a promise in Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points that related to self-determination and what Jimmy Carter later defended as human rights.

There were two countries that weren’t at the peace table, and they are watching very closely while former enemies clink their champagne glasses: Iran and Turkey. Their militaries are strong and they have regional aspirations, and are licking their chops as Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq splinter. Meanwhile, the oil rich states quietly and secretly flounder in their royal machinations and inner turmoil.

Prediction: If we don’t find a way to placate the Palestinian right to a homeland, Iran and Turkey will. Those two countries are quite capable of causing another Middle East catastrophe. No one in Washington seems to understand this, least of all Israel’s best friend. To be continued…

Take care of each other. Thanks for listening.

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