Thursday, June 6. 2013
Back in 2005, I wrote a modest proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I mailed it out to a bunch of people -- an example of "running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it" -- and it was uniformly ignored. The distinct feature of my piece was a mechanism that would allow Israel to keep all of the East Jerusalem environs they annexed in 1967. My argument was that if a majority of the Palestinians in the new territory voted to approve joining Israel, and annexation could be separated from the UN's 1967 assertion of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Jerusalem was one of the major sticking points in the "final status" negotiations under Barak in 2000. Even though there was at the time substantial support within Israel for a "two-state solution" that would give up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, every opinion poll of Israelis that I was aware of showed more than 90% refusing to return East Jerusalem. The equation on annexation for Israel has always been the trade-off between land, which Israel coveted, and people, which Israel feared and loathed. The alternative to the "two-state solution" would be for Israel to extend citizenship and equal rights to all of the people in the Occupied Territories -- a scheme that has become increasingly attractive as expanding Israeli settlements (those "facts on the ground") have made it ever harder, both politically and practically, to disentangle two states. However, Israel has always rejected such a "one-state solution" out of hand, for fear that its demography would tip against a Jewish majority.
However, I figured that the relatively small number of non-Jews in Greater Jerusalem, balanced against Israel's intense desire to keep the land, would be a trade-off that Israel might accept. I also figured that requiring approval of that non-Jewish population would do two things: it would justify annexation under self-determination, grounds that no one could reasonably object to; and it would urge Israel to campaign for the allegiance of a block of Palestinians. Given Israel's past treatment, one would initially expect the latter to reject such an offer, but Israel could offer much in the way of inducements to win the vote, including reforms that would help make Palestinians more welcome as Israeli citizens -- reforms that in general would help to lessen the conflict.
Like I said, my proposal went nowhere. By that time, the Arab League was floating a proposal that called for a full return to the 1967 borders (per UN SCR 242 and 338), albeit with no serious repatriation of pre-1948 refugees. The US was pushing a non-plan called "The Road Map for Peace," which was rejected by Israel, as was every other initiative. There have been proposals by ad hoc groups of Israelis (e.g., the Geneva Accords, the Israeli Peace Initiative of 2011), the coalitions running Israel, both under Kadima and Likud prime ministers, appear to have no interest whatsoever in ever solving anything. The problem isn't even that they have a proposal that Palestinians can never accept. It's that they prefer the status quo, where they face just enough danger to keep their security state sharp, where the settlement project continues to fire their pioneer spirit, and where their low standing in world opinion reinforces the Zionist conceit that the whole world is out to get them -- a unifying narrative with little downside risk, least of all to their standard of living.
I bring this up because I see now that John Kerry is trying to restart some sort of "peace process." Stephen M. Walt writes:
Walt is unsure why Kerry is even bothering, but the US has long had interests in the Middle East beyond Israel, and they demand a certain facade of balance. On the other hand, the Saudis (in particular) don't seem to be very demanding of results, much like they buy sophisticated American aircraft then never really learn to use it. Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East details how the US initiated three major attempts at "peace process" in Israel-Palestine, then bowed to Israeli pressure (or in some cases just anticipated it) to get nothing accomplished. Kerry is most likely to just add another chapter of failure.
Khalidi has a good description of how this works (pp. 119-120):
Israel has not only worked tirelessly to create "facts on the ground" that dim the prospects of peace. Israelis have also created a mental clutter of catch phrases and jargon that make peace impossible to talk about.
I'll break this post here, and put a first draft of my thinking about how to resolve the conflict after the break . . .
As the years went by, I kept trying to "think outside the box" and come up with some kind of solution. What kind matters little to me, other than that it be something most people on both sides might find agreeable, and something that will lead to less conflict in the future. For instance, the Clinton Parameters of 2000, the Arab League Proposal of 2002, the Geneva Accords of 2003, the [unofficial] Israeli Peace Proposal of 2011, and everything Mahmoud Abbas has proposed: any of those work for me, but Israel won't agree to anything like them without the US exerting a huge amount of pressure, and no US politician will do that. So the only way to break this logjam is to move to something that Israel might accept, and to line up pressure and inducements to nudge Israel over the line. That undoubtedly leaves you with something unfair and unpalatable to most Palestinians -- as indeed my 2005 punt on Jerusalem was. Still, I think there is a way out. I've had the idea of a long essay about this kicking about in my head for a while now. The rest of this post is a brief introduction.
The Oslo "final status" negotiations in 2000 foundered on several "intractable" issues: refugees, borders (including Jerusalem), and Israel's "security" concerns -- a set of issues that mostly came down to Israel reserving various aspects of sovereignty that prevented the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state (air space, ocean access, armed forces levels and armaments, etc.). I think we can work around these issues.
Two key things have to be understood. The first is that the Zionist movement has won: Israel, against long odds, exists as a Jewish State and is stable and secure for as far as one can imagine into the future, and they've accomplished this largely on their own, following an often brutal strategy that has generated much enmity but no serious risks or threats. (Sure, they make much ado about Iran's "nuclear programme," but surely they understand that they could turn Iran into a wasteland many times over, and that Iran would never risk that. And they moan inconsolably about the threat of rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, but they've tested both in war and found them inconsequential.) One thing this means is that there's no way to force or pressure them into any agreement that runs counter to their core beliefs and concerns.
On the other hand, the Palestinians have no leverage other than to withhold their surrender, and to insist that their basic human rights be respected. The second key point is that they are right to do so, and any proposal that doesn't respect the basic rights of all cannot solve anything. The notion that Israel has triumphed isn't new or all that controversial: Egypt gave up its opposition in 1977 to get the Sinai back, and had offered peace several times before, under Nasser as well as Sadat. No other Arab state has seriously challenged Israel since the 1973 war, even though Israel has felt free to bomb Iraq (in 1981), invade Lebanon (1982, again in 2006), and repeatedly attack Syria. The PLO adjusted its ambitions over the 1980s, ultimately surrendering way too much for its subordinate role in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas, too, has come to accept the long-term existence of Israel. There still are a few isolated groups holding onto the notion that they can ultimately forcibly reject Israel (maybe Islamic Jihad, certainly Al-Qaeda) but they are marginal -- murderous but ineffective.
So let's apply these two key points to the refugee situation. From 1947-50, more than 700,000 people (mostly Palestinian Arabs, about half of the non-Jewish prewar Palestinian population) left their homes -- most fled, but some were driven out by Israeli forces. The UN, which managed "temporary" refugee camps, passed a resolution requiring Israel to either accept the return of the refugees or compensate them for their property losses. But Israel, having achieved their long sought-after Jewish majority, refused to allow any refugees to return, while the refugees declined to accept compensation and give up their right of return. Another 200,000 refugees left after the 1967 war. The refugee population has since grown to about five million, and many (especially in Lebanon) have been unable to secure citizenship elsewhere.
The Zionist movement was built on the assumption that Jews could wrest control of Palestine from its pre-existing population, the key insight the need to establish a Jewish majority. This is so deeply ingrained that there is no chance that Israel will open its borders for non-Jews. Indeed, their entire history since 1950 shows that they'd rather continue hostilities than risk return of their refugees. So forget about any "right of return." Nor does the notion that Palestinian refugees can "return" to a rump Palestinian state offer a viable solution: the West Bank and especially Gaza lack the resources to absorb even a fraction of the five million Palestinian refugees. The only thing to do is resettle the refugees, making sure they have citizenship, full rights, and a viable work path wherever they go. This will take money, and the more money the better. So the first thing the international community should do in order to resolve this conflict is build a bank. This is just one of many areas where it may be easier to solve the conflict by monetizing it.
Israel should, of course, pay for much of the cost of resettling the refugees, but one cannot force it to do so. Indeed, as history has shown, they'd rather prolong the conflict than face peace, let alone pay for the damages they have inflicted. So the money is going to have to come from elsewhere, from countries all around the world in recognition of how much continuation of this conflict hurts us all -- but perhaps most of all the US, Europe, and the petro-states of the Middle East.
It should also be recognized that the refugee population isn't fully established. However the "borders" question is dealt with will surely generate more refugees. The Occupied Territories currently house almost two million of the nearly five million UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees. Regardless of the "borders" outcome, they should have the option of resettling, and one can make a good case that the right should be generalized to all Palestinians. I would go further and establish a "right to exile" which while generally individual could apply to the whole classes of Palestinians and Jews, based on long-term historic mistreatment. (Israel's "Law of Return" has the same practical effect for Jews, except that to take advantage of it a Jew has to immigrate to Israel. Israel may indeed be the preferred destination for most Jews, but it would be better for the Jews -- if not necessarily for Israel -- to have more options to pick and choose from.)
As for borders, they can (and will) be determined by Israel alone, subject to nothing more than the sense that the US and other countries have of their legitimacy, and the de facto occupation of the land by its people. In the former case, even though Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, they have remained subjects of negotiation, at least through 2000 when Ehud Barak was working on deals with Syria and the PA. The latter case cuts both ways: it is hard (but by no means impossible) to dislodge Israeli settlers, as it is hard to uproot Palestinian villagers.
What I propose doing on borders is to set up a series of trade-offs then let Israel decide what it wants to keep and what it's willing to give up. The first tradeoff is that any land it keeps comes with the people living on it, who have to be accorded citizenship with full and equal rights. The second is that there is a cost associated with each parcel of land. The idea here is that it is inadmissible to seize land by force, but it would be OK to pay a fair price for it. The prices would be set through some sort of appraisal process. (This isn't title to the land, which stays with its current owners, but a "sovereignty right" which changes the nationality of the land.) There may also be "zoning concerns": for instance, you can't carve up the land in a way that isolates it from the rest of the Palestinian territory; and you can't carve up the land in a way that denies it water resources. The funds used to buy Palestinian land would go into the bank, earmarked for Palestinian economic development. (Israel could use this same process to buy some or all of the Golan Heights, in which case the funds would go to Syria.)
The assumption here is that Israel will not wish to keep Gaza, so a minimal Palestinian state can be established there practically at once. Decisions on the West Bank and Jerusalem need not be made all at once, although an indecision penalty could be tacked on to try to move things along. Also, withdrawal from settlements could be encouraged by tying each one to a future commitment and providing a rent payment for the time Israel retains the settlement. Terms for withdrawal could allow as much as 30 years. (Give the market some time to adjust real estate values.) The future Palestinian state should allow Jewish settlers to stay on in their houses -- although they could also be treated as refugees if they aren't comfortable staying on -- as citizens, subject to the same laws as everyone else. (I would also recommend that Palestine allow Jewish immigration, even reproducing Israel's "Law of Return," and offer Hebrew as an official language. A Zionist movement is never going to overwhelm Gaza and the West Bank, and doing so would set a better example for Israel.)
Israel has never had a serious discussion about what its goals are in the West Bank, and this would force the issue: they would either wind up with less territory or more non-Jews, a choice they've artfully evaded for 45 years by posing to negotiate then not doing so. Aside from Gaza, it's doubtful they'll leave the Palestinians much, but either way it ends the uncertainty and should clear up the development task. There is little we can do to ensure fair and equitable treatment of Palestinians who under this plan become Israeli citizens, but their increasing numbers should give them more of a stake in the country, and it should help to be integrated into a prosperous economy. As for the lands freed up by Israel, it is critical that Israel have no say in how they are to be run. Israel's only legitimate concern is for its own security, but that's the one area that's easiest to fix.
An independent Palestinian state could at worst be no more of a threat to Israel than any other independent Arab state in the region, and would probably be much less. Actually, we've already proven this: Hamas-controlled Gaza has managed a number of lengthy cease-fires over the last three years which have only been broken in reaction to Israeli attacks and/or blockades. Freeing Gaza from Israeli interference would eliminate the rationale for the rocket attacks, which have never produced much damage anyway.
An independent Palestinian state with unregulated trade could arm itself with weapons that could inflict serious damage, but doing so would risk far worse retaliation, and in an arms race the Palestinians are at a huge disadvantage. The best would be not to compete at all: to limit its security forces to what is necessary to police its own fringe groups, and to appeal to world opinion to restrain Israel. As always, it would be best to set up international structures to referee complaints from both sides. (Needless to say, Palestinians have as much to fear from Israeli terrorists as Israel has to fear from Palestinians -- the Baruch Goldstein incident being the most notorious example.) Again, it would help to monetize the damages, penalizing the Palestinians for actions of their people and the Israelis for actions of their own -- the penalties higher where the guilty parties are not punished. In effect, the bank would provide terrorism insurance to both parties.
The numerous other items on Israel's security laundry list are mostly unnecessary intrusions on Palestinian sovereignty -- and given the long, damaging history of intrusion should be avoided. Palestine should be able to trade what it wants with whoever it wants, just as Israel can. There may be practical considerations where joint efforts should be established, such as in air traffic management, but in principle each country manages its own air space.
Similarly, neither country should interfere with the internal affairs of the other. The frequent Israeli demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish State" is especially ridiculous: the status of Judaism within Israel is of no concern to Palestine, nor is the status of Islam or Christianity or Voodoo in Palestine to Israel. Both states should have regular relations with the other, but can regulate imports of travel and trade as they see fit. If they choose, they may have arrangements for extradition, but only by mutual agreement.
While we wish to do everything possible to free Palestine from Israel's overview, the international community may insist on some form of oversight limiting Palestine. This is to assure contributors to the bank that Palestine will be run competently. This may include assurances of honest elections, government transparency, and individual freedoms, and may include setting up a system for auditing expenses and for prosecuting corruption. (Some comparable accountability may be demanded of Israel, although it should be noted that Israel has a lot of practice prosecuting corrupt politicians.)
No one is likely to be satisfied by these proposals. Palestinians have always been behind the "facts on the ground" in terms of what they were sought. Before Israel's independence, they rejected the UN Partition Plan. After the armistices ending the 1948 War they started to like the Partition Plan but not the armistice borders (the "green line"). After 1967, the Green Line gradually became acceptable, ultimately being endorsed in the 2002 Arab League Plan. On the other hand, there's little reason to think that Israel has ever been sincere even about its own proposals. They've never been satisfied with their borders: ignoring the UN Partition Plan to expand their territory, decrying the results as "Auschwitz Borders," with Begin and Shamir insisting that the East Bank of the Jordan should be theirs too, while Ben Gurion coveted Lebanon south of the Litani River.
Similarly, both sides have had excessive ambitions for Jerusalem -- the "eternal, indivisible capitol of Israel" and "the third holiest city in Islam." The one thing Israel does appear to be willing to do is to cede everyday control over the Haram al-Sharif to the Jordanian waqf which has managed it since 1948, and that appears to me to be a better choice than saddling a Palestinian state with religious responsibilities.
So in some ways what I'm proposing would seem to the solution Israel would dictate if it could, there is no reason to think that Israel would embrace this readily. For one thing, they'd rather keep the future open, in case they can improve on it; for another, they depend on the conflict to maintain Zionist unity, and don't know what they'd do without it. Peace would undermine the deepest of Zionist beliefs: that the whole world is inexorably anti-semitic and therefore bent on their destruction. It would also end the need for Israel to run a universal draft that binds most of its population to the military from ages 19 to 60 -- a degree of militarism far in excess of any other nation. Peace should ultimately result in huge savings for Israel, but a big chunk of their costs are defrayed by the US, and that aid, and the arms industry it supports, would also be at risk.
Besides, Israel already controls all the land they would keep in this plan (plus some), and they exert an extraordinary degree of domination over Palestinians, a sense of superiority they take great pride in. Moreover, they seem to be largely oblivious to the other nations, including their great ally, the United States. So it will take some pressure as well as the attraction of money to bring Israel to accept even this favorable a solution.
But the roots of that pressure are building as it becomes ever more clear that Israel has gone beyond its own legitimate concerns to oppress and degrade the Palestinians, and to provoke hostility in the region. Gaza is perhaps the clearest case: with no Israeli settlements there, what possible excuse does Israel have to patrol the skies and seas and try to choke off the borders, not to mention periodically raining down death and destruction? A few small rockets and some words in the Hamas charter? That's pretty trivial compared to the 1,417 Palestinians killed (5,303 wounded) in Israel's 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, their three week assault on Gaza.
There is no guarantee that Palestinians would approve of what I've outlined above, but they don't especially have to. As much as possible I've designed this as a series of acts that can be taken piecemeal, without any need for any sort of "grand bargain" on a "final status." Meanwhile, the Palestinian position turns out to be almost exactly what is mandated by international law. The Green Line borders are recognized, but the extra territory that Israel seized in the 1967 war and has occupied since then cannot be kept by Israel -- not even the old Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem -- and the Israeli effort to colonize that territory is illegal. And the refugees from as far back as the 1948 War have the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel, or (if they, not Israel, chooses) to be compensated for their losses. There even used to be a time when the United States government recognized exactly this understanding of international law -- that later presidents, especially Bush and Obama, have wavered parallels America's own increasing disregard and contempt for international law, something anyone concerned with world peace should find seriously troubling.
So one way to put pressure on Israel to accept peace is to start taking international law seriously. Israel's violations of international law go far beyond military occupation and building of settlements: it includes acts of war, assassinations, arming of foreign groups, as well as the whole gamut of occupation tactics. Another way is to put economic pressure on Israel with "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" -- a movement currently limited to ad hoc group, which more than its direct impact reminds one of the shame of South Africa's apartheid policies, and the efforts that helped peacefully them.
The point I'm driving at here is that Kerry is barking up the wrong tree in trying to bribe the Palestinians to waste their time letting Netanyahu string them along. For peace to be possible, the first thing that must happen is for Israel to get on board and offer proposals that respect and advance the basic rights that all people everywhere expect. Beyond that the details can be worked out and implemented piecemeal, adding up as we go along.
I've been thinking about the above for the better part of the last year, wanting to put down a detailed and cogent argument in the form of a publishable essay. What I just wrote is more like a one-pass brain dump of the essential conclusions without all the steps along the way. To understand Israel requires several significant mental leaps. For one thing, you have to put it into the context of comparative white settler projects. It turns out that those were all determined by demographic balance: in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the natives were overwhelmed and lost. In South Africa and in Algeria the settlers failed to establish a majority and ultimately lost -- in Algeria, forcing a French retreat; in South Africa resulting in an accommodation where the whites lost their political power but maintained their economic dominance. Israel had several disadvantages: the movement started late; the "natives" were relatively sophisticated, aware of the threats and challenges at an early date; the assumptions behind Zionism precluded any sort of compromise. That Israel succeeded to the extent that it did has been a remarkable feat, involving both exceptional leaders and an extraordinary degree of collective will.
Even so, what made Israel successful makes it fragile today. The early threat to the Zionist project was rejection. The longer term problem is delegitimization, which the United States and others avoided by liberalizing: finding ways for "natives" to equably participate in the dominant society. This is much harder for Israel, most obviously because they don't have the enormous demographic advantage of other successful white settler states, but also because they are much more tightly bound to a restrictive identity than Americans or Australians ever were, because this struggle is so recent, and there are more refugees than likely potential Jewish immigrants.
There are, of course, Israelis who think that all they have to do to survive, and indeed to thrive, is keep doing what they've done along: keep the Palestinians down, keep their "iron wall" towering. This leads them to invent crises that are little more than projections of their own fears: they worry about Hezbollah having rockets even though they have effective defenses and way more deterrence then they need; they worry about Syria obtaining new anti-aircraft weapons even though they're purely defensive and have never stopped Israel from bombing Syria any time it wanted; most of all they worry about Iran's phantom nuclear program even though the Islamic Republic was an ally of Israel all through its war with Iraq and has never shown any evidence of anti-semitism against its own Jewish population.
Before 1948 Arabs feared Israeli power, and after 1948 they resented it, but over time they got used to it, and the will to fight it faded -- except, that is, when Israel rubs one's face in it. The Palestinian intifadas weren't delayed reactions to 1948 or 1967 but to the everyday hassle of living under Israel's thumb without rights or recourse, in an economy and society that is set up exclusively for someone else's benefit. Unless someone intervenes to break that cycle, it will continue indefinitely, and even though Israel may never "lose," the effort it takes to continue their dominance over the Palestinians takes its toll.
It is particularly difficult to propose that the US take a lead role in bringing this conflict to an end, because the US has taken such a brazenly partisan role in supporting whatever the leading clique of Israeli politicians think best. However, it has to start here, if for no other reason than that otherwise the US and Israel reinforce each other's worst instincts. (On the US side, see the neocons, whose core ideas about US intervention in the Middle East are based on Israeli models, even when they are not directly in service to Israeli interests.) One can try to challenge US partisanship, but what may be more effective is to dress up the peace proposals as something essential for Israel's long-term security. Every other white settler movement has had to liberalize its treatment of "natives" in order to stabilize its success, and the same is true for Israel: their security depends the acceptance of those who might otherwise reject and revolt against Israel, and that ultimately depends on a sense that Israel's power stands for rather than against justice.
One way to illustrate this might be a thought experiment: imagine what would happen if the United States treated its Native American population the same way Israel treats Palestinians: if, say, we built "security fences" around the reservations, often nudging them in to grab a little land; if we required arbitrary permits for building; if we set up checkpoints to restrict travel; if we allowed settlers to further encroach on their lands, and had a two-tiered system of justice that allowed settlers to get away with violence, while Native Americans could be rounded up arbitrarily and held without charge; if we periodically blew up their buildings and assassinated their leaders. If we did that, we wouldn't be surprised to see some of that violence blow back our way. But we don't do that. We've moved on since the Indian Wars ended in the 1880s, and they've moved on. The current state isn't ideal, especially for Native Americans, but we understand that more force, and they understand that more violence, won't solve anything.
The Israelis are too close to the conflict, are too wrapped up in its violence, to let go easily. They need help, and so do the Palestinians, and all things considered the world owes it to them. And we owe it to ourselves, too. In 1947, the British, having bungled every which way their "stewardship" of the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, dumped the problem on the United Nations, which for all sorts of reasons failed to handle it. Perhaps by finally fixing this failure we can revisit the early idealism behind the UN and the idea that the world's conflicts can be solved through worldwide cooperation.
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