Friday, September 3, 2010

What Are You Willing to Give Up for Peace?

It's that time of decade again. Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and a whole host of other nationalities are sittin' around the old peace-makin' table and trying to work out a final-status agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an odd issue, because most people seem to agree on the broad outlines of how to solve the damn thing, but for one reason or another, it's been kicking around the last 40 years. The conflict's longevity has led many to conclude that peace cannot/will not ever happen, although of course just because something has gone on for a long time does not mean it will go on forever. Just think of all those long peaces that occasionally break out into wars. Or periods of prosperity that turn into recessions.

I'm not going to get into what makes these talks different (in a positive way), because honestly I don't think they are. My sole reason for optimism is that everyone knows how to solve the conflict (at least, in a general sense) and that it's got to be solved sometime, and it might as well be now. Then again, or not.

What I'm more curious about is what the community, by which I mean Orthodox Jews or any denizens of Jewish blogosphere, is willing to give up in a final status agreement. Think of it as a negotiation exercise, the famous "getting to yes" of bargaining. One common reason for failure in any negotiation is that one or both of the parties does not have a clear idea of what they would be willing to take in a deal (i.e. the bare minimum to count it as a net win) and when they would be willing to walk away. I think it's useful to think these out, even if few of us will actually be involved in the negotiations. I'll start us off.

I'm willing to give:
a) 95-97% of the West Bank. When you get right down to it, I'd probably be willing to retreat to the 1967 lines for peace, but I don't think the Palestinians or the Americans think that's particularly possible or even desirable. I assume that what will be asked for is most of the West Bank and some land swaps in the Negev or something, which I'm also fine with.
b) East Jerusalem. It's mostly Arab anyway. (Ditto Hebron.) I'm assuming here that the final status agreement would let Israelis visit East Jerusalem (and indeed, anywhere really in Palestine), but even if it didn't, I don't think the need to control these Arab neighborhoods is enough to threaten peace.
c) Some sort of joint sovereignty over the Temple Mount. There's very little I agree with in the writings of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, but one of them is that I don't see any real pressing need for the Jews to control the Temple Mount. We're not using it, anyway. If it makes them happy, let them have it. When/if Moshiach comes, he can take it back. I'm sure the Palestinians will understand. Up until then, who really cares? Of course, I understand that I'm a huge outlier here. Most Jews will care very much, thank you. To many, it is a culmination, a vindication of the whole Zionist enterprise, religious or not. To give away the Temple Mount would be like acknowledging that the whole exercise was a mistake. For that reason, I think joint sovereignty is the absolute minimum that any Israeli negotiator can accept. And fair enough, though I think it's a bit irrational.
d) Complete independence for Palestine. None of this wishy-washy quasi-state business that Netanyahu is talking about. It seems pretty clear that the whole world is expecting a real, independent Palestinian state. A state which was not allowed its own military or control of its ports, entries and airspace would hardly be sovereign. Now, I get that people are understandably worried about what this new Palestinian state would be importing or exporting through said ports and airspace. It's a concern. But the Palestinians would never agree to a treaty where they just get some sort of autonomy without actual sovereignty, and I don't blame them. A real country has control of its own entrances and military.
e) Some sort of tunnel or bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. Pretty self-explanatory.
f) The removal of all settlers from the land destined to become part of the Palestinian state. While in principal there's no reason the future state of Palestine could not have a sizeable Jewish majority, I think in practice it's a bad idea. The point here is to separate the two populations. I think it's inevitable that either (a) the settlers would come under some sort of abuse from the Palestinian government or populace, or that (b) the settlers would do something stupidly provocative or (c) more likely, both. This would put Israel in a very awkward position, in deciding whether to intercede or not. The whole point here is to minimize entanglements between Israel and Palestine. We don't ever want Israel needing to decide whether to interfere in domestic Palestinian affairs.

What I need from the Palestinians:
a) A cessation of claims. This is it. They sign this deal, and they're square.
b) No right of return. My inclination is that a Palestinian right of return to Israel would not be as catastrophic as commonly assumed. In fact, many RWers in Israel have lately taken to the idea of annexing the West Bank and making all of its residents Israeli citizens, which would almost surely be worse that any conclusion to the Right of Return. However, it really is not going to happen.

What I don't need from the Palestinians:
a) Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. I'm not even entirely comfortable with Israel's recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. But that's a different matter. From a nationalist standpoint, though, it's pretty clear why you would want this. It reinforces the whole cessation of claims thing. If the Palestinians recognize Israel's Jewish character, the thinking goes, it vindicates Zionism and serves as an indication that the Palestinians are serious about peace. On the other hand, it's ludicrous to actually expect the Palestinians to do this. First of all, there's no reason to ever assume that the Palestinians will ever make peace with Zionism. They perceive 1948, and the events leading up to it, as a catastrophe. They still see all of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as the Palestinian homeland, much as Jews see it as a Jewish homeland. We can demand that they make peace with the political reality of Israel, but not that Israel was right all along. Just like no one should expect Netanyahu to recognize East Jerusalem and the West Bank as rightly belonging to an Arab homeland (just to a Palestinian state), no one should expect Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland, just as an Israeli state.

Secondly, the Palestinians have concerns that if they recognize Israel's Jewish character, it would endanger somewhat the rights of Israeli Arabs in Israel. I don't think their concern is absurd, but I do think it's overstated. It's definitely true that Israel's Jewish character deprives its Arab citizens of some important rights. The best thing, however, for Israeli Arabs in the long run (at least, vis a vis equality) is a separate Palestinian state. The average Israeli Jew will be much more willing to incorporate Arabs in to the State if there is no real fear of the polity being overrun by Arabs.

I should probably finish by describing what I see as peace. I would be happy with even a cold peace, such as exists between Egypt and Israel. Even such a peace would largely solve Israel's security concerns regarding the Palestinians, and would be enough to normalize relations with most states in the Middle East. (The remaining holdouts, probably Lebanon, Syria and Iran, are different matters entirely. Although the prospects for normal relations with them would only be improved by a Palestinian peace.)

What about you?


Izgad said...

I would be willing to give up quite a lot for peace, but only to a Palestinian people that I could trust to be serious. For example I would not be willing to sit down with any Palestinian people not willing to accept most of the settlers to continue living where they are as part of a Palestinian State.

Vox Populi said...

>I would not be willing to sit down with any Palestinian people not willing to accept most of the settlers to continue living where they are as part of a Palestinian State.


Izgad said...

It would demonstrate to me that the Palestinians did not just object to borders, but to Jews. France can have peace with Germany in large part because they know that the German government is not revolted by the idea of Frenchmen being in Germany.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

Vox Populi said...

>France can have peace with Germany in large part because they know that the German government is not revolted by the idea of Frenchmen being in Germany.

I think you have it backwards. After WWII, all the European countries that had been "colonized" by Germany or had large German minorities expelled them, and sent them to Germany. This was widely hailed around the world, even by Great Britain and the United States, because it was widely understood that this would help peace in the long run. Two nationalities that hate each other and have a history of violence could often do with a cooling off period. Indeed, this was the logic behind the Mandate Partition Plan.

And now, Germany and France, to take the two from your example are the very bestest of friends. Had the Americans, however, insisted that ethnic Germans stay behind in France, one could imagine a different post-War Europe emerging. There would be revenge attacks by nationalist Frenchmen against Germans, which would lead to reprisals, which would lead to the German Government getting involved, and before you know it, WWIII.

Germany and France are friends and countries at peace because they realize that their interests dictate that they be friends. Israel and Palestine should also be friends, but they don't realize it yet, and are not in a position to, for a variety of reasons. What is important now is getting an end to the hostilities. BFF status can come later.

I understand why you would want for Palestinians to be comfortable with the continued presence of Jews in the West Bank, but I think it's silly to insist on it as a precondition for an otherwise satisfactory peace agreement. First, it's unnecessary, as there's no reason to think that Palestine can't refrain from attacking Israel even if they're not comfortable with Jews staying behind in Samaria, and, second, it's just not going to happen. It just seems like an excuse to scuttle any potential deal.

Personally, even if the PA was perfectly okay with them staying behind, I would want every Jew out of there. It's a recipe for disaster. One side will provoke the other, there will be violence, and before you know it, Israel has to consider getting involved in, and even invading Palestine. Three little wars later, and we're right back where we started.

moshe said...

I would give a lot for peace, on the condition that the "Israeli" arabs went to the new state of Paelstine.

Why should the Jews be banished from the "Palestinian" state, while the arabs remain in the "Jewish" state?

If that is not done, then it is not 2 states for 2 people but 1.5 states for the arabs and 0.5 states for the jews.

Vox Populi said...

>I would give a lot for peace, on the condition that the "Israeli" arabs went to the new state of Paelstine.

>Why should the Jews be banished from the "Palestinian" state, while the arabs remain in the "Jewish" state?

I imagine the thinking is that the Israeli settlers are there illegally, as most countries believe that Israeli settlement of the Occupied Territories is illegal. To the Palestinians, therefore, they are illegal immigrants, and should be deported. Also, the Palestinians really, really, really hate the settlers.

Israeli Arabs, however, are not immigrants, and are Israeli citizens, and neither international nor domestic law allows for them to be deported in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the two territories.

And, also, practically speaking, it doesn't make sense for 300,000 settler Jews hated by the Palestinian establishment to stay behind in Palestine acting as scapegoats and lightning rods or provoking the Palestinians, whereas the over 1 million Israeli Arabs have been leaving under Jewish government for over 60 years without major incident (relatively).

moshe said...

Thank you for showing in simple words why there will never be peace. I thank G-d that we are not as suicidal as you are - even with all of your logic, we still have the absurdity of 1.5 states vs 0.5 states. We will not commit national suicide.

It is easy to pretend that the "Israeli Arabs" and the "Palestinians" are two distinct people - when in effect they are brothers, cousins, aunts/uncles - all separated by a war that drew boundaries indistinctly. They are one and the same.

Vox Populi said...

>I thank G-d that we are not as suicidal as you are - even with all of your logic, we still have the absurdity of 1.5 states vs 0.5 states. We will not commit national suicide.

I don't understand. Is my logic incorrect? Do you disagree with my reasoning? Otherwise, why is it suicidal?

Furthermore, why is "1.5 states vs. 0.5 states" absurd? There are like 22 other Arab countries out there, two German, two Korean, five Scandinavian, etc. Are you saying that there can only be one country per ethnicity?

Second, how is it 1.5 vs. 0.5? Within Israel proper, Jews outnumber Arabs 4 to 1. Arab parties have never sat in a government coalition, and Arab immigration is severely restricted. In what sense do Jews control only half the state? And how would a Palestinian state control half of the Israeli state?

And how would it be national suicide? Right now, you are committing national suicide. Your government controls almost an equal amount of Jews and Arabs, and is trying to integrate the two populations, so as to make their territories inseparable. At some point, the faster growing Arab population will dwarf the Jewish one, and that point is coming soon. Before that point, it will become obvious to the Arabs that this is so, and they will stop looking for half a loaf (a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza) and start seeking the whole in earnest. Even if they don't, it will be untenable to govern a majority of the country (or even a large minority) without according them equal democratic rights. What are you going to do? If you give Arabs the vote, you lose the Jewish majority, and with it, the Jewish state. If you refuse to give them the vote or their own state, Israel will be shunned and be declared illegitimate. Either of those options are national suicide.

My solution will make Israel smaller, but existant. Scuttling a peace deal because you insist on Palestinians recognizing the right of settlers to live in the West Bank is national suicide.