Would Martin Luther King, Jr. Back The Palestinian Cause Today?
The civil rights lawyer and New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander speculates that he would in the above piece from January 19.
She makes a good case. King was out in front of many with his criticism of the Vietnam War before most mainstream leaders were opposed to it. It was in a 1967 speech he gave in Manhattan’s Riverside Church exactly a year before his assassination that he came out against the war. He was right, as he usually was. Is the same the case now? Would he have backed the Palestinian cause even as he did back Israel’s right to exist while he was alive.
This is really a tough one for me who is a strong supporter of Israel, but fully cognizant that Palestinian land was seized in 1948 and even more was taken in the 1967 war. But that was a war that was started by the Arabs (far beyond the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria), and the Israelis won fair and square. To the victors go the spoils. But that’s really making this far too simple.
First, Israel is a major military power, the strongest in the region. The Palestinians are no match for the Israelis on any battlefield.
Second, the Arab peoples living in the land that was partitioned after World War I by the British (my definition of Palestinians) are not very organized even yet and their leadership is awful. Much of the aid sent to the region is siphoned off by the so-called Palestinian leadership. And why isn’t Jordan the Palestinian state in the area?
Third, there are two factions of Palestinian leadership, the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. That makes any deal with Israel hard to arrange.
Fourth, the Palestinian history of the use of terrorism has just about negated any chance to work out a real solution in this part of the world. Donald Trump may dream of a wall but the Israelis have a fence to keep out the Arabs. In some places it is a thirty-foot high wall with checkpoints to keep out the unwanted and violent. That wall works. It’s not perfect, but things are way better for the safety of the Israeli people since the fence went up.
Finally, the Palestinians need an MLK act alike. The Palestinian cause has had corrupt and violent leaders who have never returned any of the faith the Arab peoples of the region may have had in them. This is true to this day.
In thinking hard about this, I have come to a few conclusions.
A one-state solution where Arabs have equal rights with the Jews in Israel is unlikely to ever see the light of day. The Jewish State is the Jewish State and that is not going to change. No matter what the laws might say, all those Arabs are unlikely to be fully integrated into Israel with full citizenship and if they were, would Israel really still be the Jewish State? Not likely.
A two-state solution might work, but we’ve been waiting for the principals to solve this somehow. America cannot do it for the Palestinians and the Israelis. Israel has the government to cut the deal if it wants to. The Palestinians do not. That may be the single biggest need to solve this problem—honest Palestinian leadership that has the Arab people of the region first on the agenda, not their own power and wealth.
What has made this even tougher now is that both sides are digging in a little deeper. There are traditional Jewish liberal groups in America backing the BDS movement of boycotting, sanctioning and divesting in Israel. This is hurtful to Israelis and to the Americans who really rely on the existence of a Jewish State to feel comfortable in their home state. Like, me. Israel is the most critical bulwark against a repeat of the Nazi aggression that led to WWII. Nothing can shake the belief of many American Jews that Israel simply cannot just leave the land it occupies, nor can it let the Arabs who were displaced back to regain the land they think is theirs. That is no more likely than South Dakota is to secede from the United States and be established as a new country under the control of American Indians. War is real and winning and losing have consequences.
That being said, there has got to be a place for some sort of peace in the region. That usually involves the Israelis giving back some of the captured land from 1967 in exchange for the Palestinians agreeing Israel can exist and that Palestine, a new state if created, would not harass Israel.
I am not sure what Dr. King would do now. Michelle Alexander seems to be, but Dr. King was a deep thinker and capable of holding contradictions in his great mind. Maybe he would lead a delegation to the region to get the two sides talking again. Maybe. For now, the standoff goes on and no thinking American Jew can be happy with that situation, even if Israel surely has the upper hand. The outlines of a final peace process are there. Jared Kushner was supposed to have this done already, but no American is likely to solve this, particularly one led by Donald Trump who clearly favors Israel, as Mr. Obama seemed to try to curry favor with Arab countries. Our position in the region should be what is good for the strategic interests of America.
It’s up to Israel, whose leadership is in turmoil over possible indictments of Prime Minister Netanyahu, with no obvious successor, and Palestine with octogenarian leadership that is both inept and corrupt. There is no relief in sight and I am far less confident than is Ms. Alexander of what Dr. King would do now. Nonetheless, I sure wish someone like him would arise in the region as a beacon of hope, especially if he came from Hebron or Ramallah or Nablus.
The real question may be why can’t the Palestinians ever get any effective leadership?