Private Property Rights and Middle East Peace

Televangelists, for all their buffoonery, are a fascinating lot, and, as a group, possess perhaps the finest rhetorical skills of contemporary times.  They are hard to resist while channel-surfing, and I have my particular favorites.  Normally, the more crazy I think they are, the longer I will watch them.

On Sunday nights there is a particularly outrageous televangelist who is absolutely obsessed with the New World Order and the End Times.  Some of his points are intriguing; many of them are laughable; but in any case I can never bring myself to change the channel in the middle of his caterwauling. The entertainment is just too good.

Woven into the conversation about the New World Order and the End Times, is, of course, the subject of the State of Israel.  (Note well the use of the word State, not nation, which I use advisedly, since I have no qualms with the people of Israel, a point that is seemingly lost both on supporters of Israel and certain not-so-closeted anti-Semites whom I run into every now and then.)  Fundamentalist Christians are strongly supportive of Israel and seem to brook no conversation about the fact that it takes two sides to make a conflict.

My favorite Sunday night mountebank is no exception.  On a recent show, he was bemoaning Barack Obama’s intention of bringing about compromise in land disputes in the Middle East.  This idea is, of course, anathema to him.  Why?  Because it says in the Bible that Israel belongs to the Jews.  Case closed.  Palestinians get out.  Next subject.

This is the very kind of smug self-righteousness that starts wars.  Interestingly enough, when the State of Israel was re-established by do-gooders operating under the banners of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, a debate raged in the Jewish community about whether or not this was the right thing to do:  God will re-establish Israel in his own time, said many Orthodox, while more progressive Jews were in favor of using the apparatus of man-made institutions to hurry the process along.  At any rate, the Biblical case is not one of the open-and-shut variety.

There is a great danger in enacting public policy that is built on sectarian religious beliefs, since not everyone accepts those beliefs.  Far better to stick to the basics:  Don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t do anything to anyone else without their permission.  This will never satisfy those who possess theocratic inclinations, but it’s what’s necessary to promote peace, since a far larger portion of society accepts these more general tenets.

How, then, should the situation in the Middle East be handled?  It’s all about private property rights.  Before the Palestinians were forced off their land in 1948, Arabs and Jews lived near each other in relative peace.  Many Jews established themselves in Israel through the tried and true method of buying land on the free market.  Imagine that!  The Palestinians had acquired their land peacefully and cared for it faithfully, but then came the Union Jackasses, who forcibly sent them on their way—away from their homes and businesses and whatever else they had worked to build up over the years.  And Westerners have the stupidity to say that these people are “evil” because of their understandable resentment.

Fundamentally, this outrage was a violation of private property rights, and only the re-establishment of private property rights—including the restoration of confiscated properties to those dispossessed owners or their families who, at this remote date, can still be found—can solve this horrifying situation.  At the same time, this is an object lesson in how tyrannical States are born when respect for property is cast aside.  In the case of the Middle East, everything happened very suddenly, but in other places, things happen more gradually.  It starts with coercive taxation, and then repossession of homes.  The precedent is then set for forcible removal entirely from a given area.

The mere mention of the term “private property” induces much vomiting in the current public discourse.  Private property is seen as dehumanizing, materialistic, and entirely too abstract, but in truth this ideal is actually what allows us to be human.   Our properties are extensions of ourselves, of our blood, our sweat, and even of our brain power, when we make entrepreneurial decisions.  John Locke recognized this when he said that man “mixes” his labor with objects and that this makes them his property.  There seems to be an innate recognition of this in human behavior.  When my brother and I were kids, if either one of us built something with blocks, we said that we owned it and that the other one couldn’t tear it down without the other’s permission.  It’s the homesteading theory for eight-year-olds.

I should emphasize that I am not an anti-Semite; in fact I have many Jewish friends.  I do not oppose the forcible establishment of the State of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians because I’m opposed to the Jews and to humanitarian principles; rather, my concern for the good of everyone involved, including the Jews, requires me to oppose such violent means of establishing a society.  Peace cannot come from the war-making State; it cannot come from the confiscation of property; it can only come from mutual cooperation, from respecting what everyone else has worked to build up (private property), and from exchanging goods and ideas on the free market.

There is a further implication here.  The establishment of private property rights in the Middle East would require the dis-establishment of States in the Middle East.  We hear much about a two-State solution, but what the Middle East needs is a no-State solution.  Even the compromises that the American government seeks—however well-intentioned—involve the drawing of lines in the sand through arbitrary government power, and not through free exchange of property on the market.  It will only be occasion for more arguing and more wars, and probably more land confiscation, too.  But if Arabs and Jews are free to trade properties with each other on an individual basis, peace would have a much better chance of visiting this troubled part of the world.

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