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Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is much easier – and cheaper – to prevent problems than to suffer the consequences or clean up the mess later. Too often this common sense adage is ignored. We could have taken steps to mitigate or prevent many environmental problems including climate change. We could have a sensible, less expensive, national health program instead of a bureaucratic for-profit mess.
Similarly, wars – like the latest tragedy in Palestine – could be prevented. But this requires taking action before hostilities begin. Often conflicts have roots that go back decades or even centuries. Over time economic rivalries, territorial disputes, imperial ambitions or ethnic and religious differences fester and intensify. People who are not aware of the history of a particular conflict may mistakenly think some recent incident caused the war. They fail to see how small actions or decisions from the past accumulated and led to the current outbreak of fighting. It is the failure to satisfactorily address these small disputes that snowballs into disastrous wars.
Preventing wars requires building a culture of peace in which the use of violence is not an acceptable national policy. This requires preparing for and funding peace as diligently as we prepare for war. War requires continuous, very expensive investments in weapons, equipment, infrastructure and training. The world spends over $2 trillion a year on preparation for war and only a tiny fraction of that on diplomacy or peaceful conflict resolution.
General James “Mad Dog” Mattis (Secretary of Defense 2017 to 2019), explained this disparity. He told a congressional committee, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition...”
Our total “defense” related spending typically consumes 85% of the annual, discretionary budget. The State Department gets about 3%. The United Nations 2023 regular budget is only $3.4 billion. The UN peacekeeping budget currently funds 10 missions with 86,000 personnel spread across three continents. At $6 billion this spending is approximately 0.3% of annual global military spending. It is pretty obvious that military force, and threats of force, dominate our international relations. We, and the world, get what we pay for and reap what we sow.
There have been numerous opportunities in the past to peacefully resolve the conflicts between Jews and Muslims in Palestinian and to prevent the cycles of violence the region has experienced over the last 100 years. In the past Jews, Muslims, and Christians had lived together in that area. There were conflicts, prejudice and inequality, but there were not wars of ethnic cleansing. Peaceful coexistence has always been possible.
The first missed opportunity for peace occurred during WW1 and the subsequent British Mandate for Palestine. In 1917, as part of the war against the Ottoman Empire, Britain released the Balfour Declaration announcing its support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine (then part of the Ottoman Empire). The Balfour Declaration guided British policies during the Mandate period (1923 to 1948) and set the stage for future conflict.
The Balfour Declaration encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine and fueled Jewish hopes for reestablishing the ancient nation of Israel. Their dream of a homeland was not for coexistence in a pluralistic society within an existing country. The result was increased terrorist violence by both sides during the 1920s and 1930s.
The second missed opportunity was the creation of the nation of Israel. In 1947 the United Nations passed Resolution 181 which divided Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. This “two state solution” was a failure from the beginning. At the time Jews were a minority of the population and owned only 7% of the land. Palestinians were two thirds of the population and owned a majority of the land. But the new state of Israel received 56% of the land including most of the best agricultural land.
The Palestinians and other Arab governments never accepted this unfair division. They rejected partition of Palestine as unfair and a violation of the UN principles of human rights. The result was the 1947–1949 Palestine War which Israel won to become a nation. The current territorial divisions are the result of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 Six-Day War. Creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine unjustly displaced Palestinians from their homes and land and is the root cause of today's war.
In 1947 there were other proposals for Palestine. One called for a single state of Palestine with autonomous regions for Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Another called for a single state, based on majority rule and equal rights for all residents. This would have been a more just solution for the Palestinians. But U.S., British and Jewish pressure for a homeland won out in the fledgling United Nations.
Another alternative could have been for other nations to take in the Jewish refugees. But antisemitism was widespread across the world. Dumping the Jewish problem on Palestine was more politically expedient. Sharing the burden of Jewish resettlement more widely could have prevented 75 years of suffering and violence for everyone involved.
The biggest missed opportunity for peace has been the decades of unqualified support for Israel by the U.S. and other western countries. The U.S. has provided billions in military aid and on numerous occasions used its Security Council veto to protect Israel. None of this contributed to a negotiated resolution of the problems.
The U.S. did provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians (in much smaller amounts than military aid to Israel) and did, at various times, attempt to mediate negotiated settlements. But these diplomatic initiatives were always based on support for Israel. Never was our support used to pressure Israel to compromise. Never was our influence used to promote a truly just settlement for Palestinians. Many times in our history we have failed to see how our actions contribute to conflicts around the world. We fail to see, or act upon, the alternatives to military violence. We are repeating these mistakes today.
As of this morning's news, more than 9,000 Palestinians (many of them children) have died. The latest $14.5 billion in military aid for Israel makes us complicit in these atrocities. As has been amply demonstrated by the war on terrorism, killing the “bad guys” only breeds more aggrieved, oppressed people to become the next generation of terrorists. When will we ever learn?