Monday, June 24, 2002
I have to say, the much-heralded Bush speech calling for a "provisional" Palestinian state is much ado about nothing. Here's why:
* The state is only to be brought into existence after the end of terror and comprehensive reform of the Palestinian Authority, including a new constitution and the election of new leaders.
* The sovereign powers of the state are not spelled out, nor are its borders, which are to be determined by negotiation between the two sides.
* Jerusalem and the refugees are to be discussed as part of later discussion between the two sides.
By my reckoning, this puts Bush in the same corner as Sharon with only a small difference: Sharon has said that a Palestinian state could not be created for many years (he implicitly assumes that a state must have borders), while Bush is calling for a state to be created quickly - 18 months - but only after the same practical preconditions that Sharon has identified. Even the business about ending settlement activity is not really a difference of position; Israel is currently not engaged in building new settlements, only in the expansion of existing settlements onto land already allocated to them.
As such, what is there to complain about? Mostly, that Colin Powell, George Tenet and Shimon Peres will remove the preconditions and call for a state now, regardless of P.A. violence and corruption, and that the P.A. and the E.U. will assert that Area A and B constitute the "provisional" borders and that Israeli military activity in these areas is therefore illegal or an act of war.
In the end, the facts remain the facts. The Palestinians must have some security in their lives, some freedom to control their destiny. They didn't have this under Israeli military rule and they will never have it under Arafat's P.A. or under the "rule" of Hamas and Jihad Islami gangs. By the same token, Israel must have the right to maintain itself as a Jewish state, and to protect its citizens from terrorist violence. And, an unfortunate additional fact, it is impossible to create a fully sovereign and viable Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. There is just no way that such a state would not be a dependency economically and militarily of Israel, Jordan or both. Anything else is a sheer fantasy.
All these things being true, we can all see what the necessary outlines of a settlement are, and the only question is whether both sides will agree to them. The Palestinian population centers must be governed by Palestinians, not the Israeli military. The Israeli military must be able to keep Iraqi tanks out of Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem - all of it - must be practically under Israeli control. Palestinians who trace some part of their ancestry back to pre-1948 Israel must have somewhere to go where they are citizens, and that place cannot be Israel. Within this outline, all sorts of things are negotiable. Would the Palestinian entity be in confederation with Israel? Jordan? Both? Neither? Would its capital be in the eastern part of Jerusalem? Would the Old City be a corpus separatum like the Vatican? Would the Temple Mount be Israeli sovereign territory? Palestinian sovereign territory? Nobody's sovereign territory but God's? Would citizens of the Palestinian entity be Jordanian subjects? Would Jordan have a military presence in the Palestinian entity? Would Israel? Both? Would the Palestinian entity be technically a state with restricted sovereignty? Or would it be a commonwealth of some sort?
Nothing President Bush or Prime Minister Sharon has said forecloses any of the options discussed above. The direction seems to be towards calling the Palestinian entity a state with limited sovereignty; that seems to be an important point of honor. If you look at polls of Israelis, they are willing to go along with this - indeed, they seem to be willing to go along with anything that does not impair Israeli security or deny Israel's legitimate connection to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. That includes sharing Jerusalem in some fashion. The precondition is peace. The precondition is a Palestinian leadership willing to say: Israel is the sovereign country within its borders, and we do not seek to undermine it, only to have the authority to run our own affairs and build a stable polity for our own people in our own piece of Palestine. That leadership does not exist now, and so long as Bush's plans are predicated on its emergence, those plans are much ado about nothing. And a good thing, too.