Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel, Palestine (including Gaza) and respect for property rights


Even in normal times, if you buy a house (in the United States or any modern country), you have to take out title insurance. Why? You have to do some due diligence to make sure that the property you are “taking” really belongs to the seller, and that it will “really” belong to you. There’s nothing controversial about this in itself; insurance companies have been able to do actuarial calculations on the risk for decades. That compares well to many other new risks in our economy.

Look, then, at the middle East. If you go to live in a kibbutz in the West Bank or any occupied territory, you ought to have good reason to know that a large population of people around you believe that the land will not be “yours.” That’s because, in a series of steps taking several decades of history, land or property was essentially expropriated from the Palestinians and given to the settlers of Israel. There may be a religious justification of some kind extending over centuries or millennia, but the people living there did not cause the problem. (They did not cause the Holocaust.) Okay, maybe one says they should know about it and care about ancestral religious conflicts. Maybe.

But having one’s property and essentially one’s life expropriated by force, being powerless to stop it, is for many people in the region a source of personal shame, a most unacceptable emotion. It’s not surprising that the individual violent acts that follow do make a certain nihilistic statement. Of course, much has been written about what makes terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere “tick” including what explains 9/11.

To libertarian ways of thinking, the Palestinian people living in these areas, like West Bank, Gaza, and some other areas, have a legitimate property right to the land. Of course, one could extend this kind of reasoning into other areas, like native Americans in the United States (and get into a debate about the legal structures around tribal reservations).

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