I attended the farewell party for the German Consul General Wolfgang Drautz yesterday. Drautz was extremely friendly and interested in cultural affairs. I will miss him. At the party I met the president of the local Donauschwaben society. The Donauschwaben (Danube Swabians) were Germans settlers in the Kingdom of Hungary, residing largely along the Danube river. As a result of wars between the Ottomans Turksand the Habsburgs, the area was devastated, and so following the defeat of the Turks, the Habsburgs invited German-speaking settlers to repopulate areas of Hungary. These settlers founded communities throughout the region, ultimately numbering about 500,000 by the 1930s. My ggg-grandmother Irma Resch was a descendant of one of these communities in Kula (now in Serbia). Many of the Donauschwaben were dispossessed and expelled from Hungary after World War II. Many simply fled, including the parents of my aunt Anne.
David Schulman has an article in the New York Review of Books “Israel in Peril” that discusses Israel’s more recent problem with settlements. He describes very movingly the harshness of Israeli actions removing electricity apparatus for West Bank Palestinians residing in huts and caves, allegedly on the grounds that they were unlicensed. It is a sympathetic story. But it reminded me of one of my principle complaints regarding how Israel treats the non-Jewish populations inside Israel, which demonstrates the opposite side of the problem. As I understand it, in many Palestinian villages within Israel (not the West Bank), the Palestinians are given a good deal of autonomy. Often this results in local “chieftans” running the towns, sometimes in a corrupt fashion, while Israeli authorities look the other way. As a result, Israeli construction and safety codes are largely unenforced in these parts of Israel, and it shows. So, the problem discussed by Schulman, as with most issues, has two sides. When Israel is too strict in applying its construction codes, it is accused of relegating Palestinians to living in caves without electricity. When it is too lax, it is condemned for allowing Arab Israelis to live in substandard housing, denying them the protection of Israeli law. A classic Catch-22.
Settlements and ethnic struggles are not unique to Israel, although Israel does get most of the world’s attention these days. I like to point out that in 1947-48, at the same time as Israel’s war of independence, the Partition of India and creation of Pakistan resulted in the dislocation of between 10 and 12 million people, as Muslims flocked to one side, and Hindi to the other. A few years earlier, about 2.4 million ethnic Germans (Sudentendeutsch) were expelled from Czechoslovakia. And I mentioned the Germans in Hungary (Donauschwaben) already. The world is mostly silent about these and other population transfers in the 1940s.
I agree with Israel’s internal critics like Schulman that the country could use a dose of reality when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. But the rest of the world could too. How is it possible, for example, that no country recognizes Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. The city was supposed to be an international “free city” according to the original 1947 UN partition plan, but that plan was rejected by the Arabs states, who declared war on Israel in 1948. Israel then occupied and ultimately annexed West Jerusalem, building its capitol there. The city had already had a Jewish majority since well before 1900. In the 1967 war, Israel occupied and annexed the rest of the city. But so far no country has been willing to recognize Israeli sovereignty over even West Jerusalem. The U.S. even refuses to move its embassy to West Jerusalem, despite a 1995 law approving the move. And it won’t allow a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem to say “Jerusalem, Israel” on his passport (the subject of a recent US Supreme Court decision in a case brought by my friend Alyza Lewin.)
Lack of a realistic approach to Jerusalem by the rest of the world has destroyed any chance for realism in Israeli politics. There is simply no possible “solution” to the Arab-Israel problem that would not keep at least West Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. And yet no country in the world is willing to recognize that reality. It is time for the United States to stop playing games and to take some of the pawns (like recognition of Israel’s 1948 annexation of West Jerusalem) off the table, so that the Israelis and Palestinians can focus on the real issues of settling final borders. As long as the US and the rest of the world hold on to the fantasy that the status of West Jerusalem is still up in the air, there’s no sense in criticizing Israel or the Palestinians for being unserious.
With West Jerusalem’s status officially resolved by the international community, it would hardly take a few months for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resolve the rest of their issues. Will it be peaceful when the territory issues are resolved? Probably not. But then India and Pakistan aren’t always so peaceful either. But if Czechoslovakia and Hungary are examples, even massive population transfers accompanied by expropriations can be generally accepted over time if the international community accepts the facts of the situation. It is time for the world to approach Israel like it did Hungary, Czechoslovakia and India, and allow everyone to move on.