Monday, May 06, 2002
It's a Ha'aretz kind of day. Yuli Tamir makes the argument that the Right, by saying that the most isolated settlement is no different from Tel Aviv, is no different from and, indeed, is helping the post-Zionist left and the Palestinians in their efforts to delegitimate the entire State of Israel. After all, if you are convinced that the settlements erected after 1967 are illegal, and the Israeli Right agrees with the far Left and the Palestinian rejectionists that there was no difference between the settlement of Tel Aviv and the settlement of Netzarim, then you can more easily be persuaded that Tel Aviv should also not be supported.
He has a point. But there are several ways to counter the argument. One is his preferred way: Israel should insist on the moral significance of the 1967 border. What is beyond is settlement; what is within is Israel proper. The problem with this position is that essentially concedes that the settlements are illegal, that the Palestinians and the Saudis are right that the entire area must be evacuated of Jews as a precondition to talking about peaceful coexistence. It suggests that the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank was legal, but Jewish control of the same territory is unique illegal. It suggests that there are no consequences to continued Palestinian rejectionism.
The other way to make the argument, and the way that the State of Israel has always made it, is as follows. Israel has a claim to the entire territory, grounded in religious tradition, national memory, and declarations by the mandatory power in the region, Britain. Of course, the Palestinians also have a claim, based on residency, and a natural right to self-determination. Israel has always respected this claim, and has repeatedly attempted to negotiate a compromise that will validate both claims and invalidate neither. Israel accepted the UN partition plan, but the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership rejected it. The refugee crisis was a consequence of this rejection; as a result, Israel has no moral obligation to repatriate the refugees of 1948 or their descendents. After 1948, Israel was open to peace negotiations with all the Arab states, but these overtures were rejected. Had these overtures been accepted, the cease-fire lines that obtained until the Six Day War would have become borders. Because they were rejected, and Israel was forced into defensive war in 1967, the consequence is that the pre-67 boundaries have no moral significance. Israel's settlements are not illegal, and Israel is under no moral obligation to accept the 1967 boundaries.
Israel was, however, still under the obligation to try to provide for Palestinian self-determination. Israel negotiated in good faith towards that end under the Oslo accords, which were inked not long after the PLO first declared their willingness to accept the existence of Israel. In 2000, Israel proposed a revision of the 1967 borders and a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that were far more favorable than any observer could have anticipated, and that settled all the major legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Part of the settlement would have entailed the establishment of a Palestinian State in Gaza and in the vast majority of the West Bank territories. These proposals were rejected, and no counter-offer has ever been advanced. Instead, a war of terror was launched against Israel. The consequence of this war is that the Oslo process no longer has any moral significance for Israel.
Where does this leave us? The legitimacy of Israel should not be a question for any party to negotiation. The permanent existence of the State of Israel, a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, should be accepted as a precondition to negotiations by all Arab counterparties. What remains to be negotiated are the borders of this state. The Egyptian-Israeli border is settled. The Lebanese-Israeli border is settled, even if Hezbollah will not recognize this fact. The Jordanian-Israeli border is settled. The Syrian-Israeli border is not settled, and the status of the Palestinian population in the disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank are not settled. These are the legitimate subjects for negotiations. Syria can take a maximalist position that the border should be on the Sea of Kinneret, and the P.A. can take a maximalist position that it should become a fully sovereign state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, including the eastern parts of Jerusalem. Who knows; under the right conditions Israel might agree to all of this in negotiations. But the existence of the Jewish state is not a subject for negotiations, and recognition of that state is not the reward for accepting maximalist negotiating positions; it is a precondition for negotiations.
Elon and Eitam are wrong, but not for the reasons Tamir gives. Netzarim is not Tel Aviv, not because Netzarim is totally illegal and Tel Aviv is totally legal but because Tel Aviv is essential and Netzarim is not essential. Israel can withdraw entirely from Gaza without there being an end to the Jewish State. Israel cannot similarly withdraw from Tel Aviv. Israel can defend the legality of the settlements without defending all the settlements, and Israel can defend all the settlements militarily without implying that they can never be negotiated away. Drawing a border at the Green Line in the current context is simple surrender, and that - not any notion of supposed sanctity of the settlements - is the reason why it must not be done.