Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Over-Dramatization of Israel’s “Dilemma“ - Max Singer

by Max Singer

Hat tip: Dr. Jean-Charles Bensoussan

While there are undoubtedly peace-seeking Palestinians, as a community the Palestinians have not even begun to discuss the possibility of making a peace that accepts Israel and ends the Palestinian effort to gain all the land “from the river to the sea.”

Ehud Barak has a very long review in Haaretz of Micah Goodman’s important new book, Catch 67.  Goodman argues that Israel’s 1967 victory created a “catch” or trap reflected in Israel’s current dilemma where both sides are right.  Barak disagrees; he says the choice is clear; the left is correct.  Both Barak and his telling of Goodman ignore the reality of Israel’s actual choices today.  We are not facing a dilemma about giving up territory; we are facing a distasteful task and a need for patience (decades).

Israel does not now have any choice about giving the Palestinians land or creating a Palestinian state.  We are not facing a dilemma.

 Nor have they begun public discussion of the possibility of most of the “refugees” settling outside of Israel.  And the Arab world encourages them to reject peace with Israel.

There is zero chance that there could be a real peace agreement now regardless of how much land Israel would be willing to give up.  A true two-state solution would defeat Palestinian and Arab efforts of a century and they are not yet ready to accept defeat.  Whatever disagreement there is among Israelis about how much land, if any, Israel should give up to get peace, that disagreement is not standing in the way of peace.  

Theoretically there are two other possibilities that might create a dilemma for Israel about giving up land.  One, an agreement with the Palestinians to take over some of Judea and Samaria without making a full peace with Israel.  Second, unilateral action by Israel to separate the peoples and end the occupation, without Palestinian agreement.  For the reasons discussed below, neither of these is a realistic possibility regardless of how much of Judea and Samaria Israel is willing to give up.  Again, no real dilemma.

The Palestinians have a voice in what happens, and the choice they have made is to force Israel to “occupy” them, because they want to keep up the struggle to destroy Israel.  Being a victim, an “occupied people,” improves their diplomatic position, makes Israel feel pain, and causes internal conflict in Israel.  Just as these effects are bad for Israel they are good for Palestinians.  And the more harmful they are for Israel the more desirable they are for the Palestinians.

There would have to be a lot more disadvantages to the status quo for the Palestinians before they would give up such a weapon against Israel in order to improve their living conditions.  This is especially true for the Palestinian leadership, which suffers less from the status quo than most Palestinians and benefits more from the conflict.

    But if the Palestinians will not make an agreement now which would give up the advantages to them of continuing to force Israel to be an “occupier” while the war continues, is there any way that Israel can force them to do so by taking unilateral action to separate the peoples?  This idea appealed to Sharon and so he organized Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.  Some Israelis say the withdrawal was a good idea that only worked out badly because it was done unilaterally.  But why should we think that the Palestinians would have agreed to arrangements that would have been better for Israel?  They consider themselves to be at war with us.  They want to cause us pain and disadvantages and are willing to accept casualties and suffering to do so.

Gaza was simple and the West Bank is complicated.  There is no way that Israel can separate itself from the Palestinian population in the West Bank without Palestinian agreement.  Because of Israel’s military needs for the Jordan valley – and access to it, this would be true even if there were no settlement blocs.  And, even if all the ideological settlements and hilltop outposts were gone, no unilateral Israeli withdrawal could produce a stable new status quo that we could impose on the Palestinians.  Also, diplomatically Israel is still regarded as occupying Gaza even though it has withdrawn completely.  The same would be true for Judea and Samaria after any Israeli unilateral withdrawal.

So the Palestinians have us trapped.  Although we have committed ourselves that the occupation in Judea and Samaria is temporary, we are stuck with it for a long time.  Just as we have to continue taking casualties and needing our children to become soldiers and to kill people.  We were not given our home on a silver platter.  

This reality means that the question of what land we should give up is a question for the fairly distant future.  When there is a real possibility for improving things by giving up land, conditions in our region and perhaps the world will be unpredictably different than they are today.  Our disagreement about how much land, if any, to give up makes absolutely no difference today.  It does not present a practical dilemma.  There is no reason we should continue to beat up each other about what land, if any, we must keep, and what land, if any, we should be willing to give up, and for what benefits.

A solid majority of Israelis and our government have decided that Israel should be willing to give up most of Judea and Samaria in order to have peace – and perhaps even to separate ourselves from the Palestinians without peace.  And there is a bigger majority opposed to withdrawals while the Palestinian community is as it is now.  Therefore it is not true that our conflict with the Palestinians is the result of a stubborn or selfish insistence on holding on to all of the land of Israel.  But there is nothing we can do now to implement our willingness to give up most of the West Bank.

What can we do to make things better while we are living with the status quo?  First, if we recognize that the Palestinians will not give us any way of getting out of being “occupiers,” we can work together, left and right, to reduce the moral and other harm of the “occupation.”  And we can stop the internal name-calling and harsh charges against each other for not trying hard enough to end the occupation.  We shouldn’t be fighting with each other about something we have no power to change.  And the energy used for such fights should be used for efforts to make the occupation less harmful.

Our diplomatic position would also become better if there were not so many Israelis blaming other Israelis for the continued occupation when in fact Israel has no choice.

For the longer term we have to do whatever we can to make the Palestinians and the Arab world more willing to give up their determination to destroy us.  Perhaps being nicer to them will help, although generally that is not a very effective strategy in the Middle East.  It may be more useful to let them see that we are not riven by internal division or unable to bear the moral burden of being occupiers, and so we are as willing as they to continue living with the status quo for a long time.  And the U.S. could help by replacing false “even-handedness” with a truth-telling strategy that showed the Arab world that the U.S. will not help them to destroy Israel.

Many Israelis argue that we have to find a solution for our conflict with the Palestinians, and some insist that it is such an urgent problem that we have to do so soon.  (“Peace now.”)  But the experience of our first 60 years should teach us that patience is at least an advantage and may even be a necessity.  What entitles us to have a solution available?

This is not to argue that the status quo does not have dangers.  Israel is not safe.  We are strong but also vulnerable, and quite capable of making decisive mistakes.  But eagerness to move toward settlement with the Palestinians will not make us safe, nor is there anything else that will.  Keeping our home here requires that we accept danger and human costs of all kinds.

Max Singer

Source: Wall Street Journal

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