Monday, July 22, 2002
A. B. Yehoshua has a well-argued piece in the Jerusalem Post: For a Jewish border. Yehoshua is one of the smartest Israeli lefties on the scene, and very worth engaging. A synopsis of his argument: Zionism sought to end anti-Semitism by changing Judaism and Jews, from a people without a country to one sovereign in its own land. The acquisition of the territories in 1967 corrupted this change because it put Israel in the position of ruling another people, of asserting a demi-sovereignty that could never be realized. His cure for this new malady: unilateral separation, the creation of a border that can be defended and that does not include the vast bulk, if not all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Yehoshua doesn't say whether he favors a unilateral withdrawal from the Old City of Jerusalem. I think I can confidently predict that he does not. He is not so foolish as to suggest that a unilateral withdrawal will usher in an immediate era of peace and good feeling between Israel and the Palestinians, nor that security measures will be unnecessary post-withdrawal. In practice, then, his withdrawal is a continuation of the Oslo process, in that Israel withdraws to new boundaries and the Palestinians attack across those boundaries. Rather than impose closure on the Palestinian population centers, closure would be imposed on most or all of the territories as a single unit. Rather than fighting to liberate all of the territories, the Palestinians will be fighting particularly for Jerusalem. It is manifestly unclear how his proposal will change anything. And I don't think I need to detail all of the dangers it poses, which should be obvious.
And Yehoshua himself knows why a withdrawal will solve nothing, as is clear from this key section from his piece:
In trying to understand the sudden collapse of Palestinian inclinations towards rapprochement and peace, which took more than a few Arab-world experts and scholars by surprise, we must study Palestinian historical and cultural codes, addressing the "problematicness" of a national identity swinging between affiliation with a big rich Arab family, on the one hand, and the existence of a small people that never experienced a single moment's independence in its land, on the other.
Palestinian identity was forged by struggle and conflict with the Jews; prolonging the conflict may possibly be a sine qua non for the continued emergence of that identity.
That is the key to understanding the conflict, and to understanding why Arafat could walk away from the only deal that would give his people a state, and be supported wholeheartedly by his people for his intransigence. Palestinian identity is the negation of Jewish claims to the Land of Israel, and the affirmation of the suffering of the Palestinian people on account of those claims. That is the entire substance of that identity. Palestinian nationalism, therefore, can never be satisfied until the Jewish state is destroyed, whether violently or peaceably.
I don't say that Palestinians will never be satisfied; Palestinians come in all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. But Palestinian nationalism cannot be satisfied. Oslo was premised on the notion that this nationalism had changed its character, that the Palestinians accepted Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and demanded only their own self-determination alongside, ultimately in the form of an independent state, however small and defenseless. It is simply very difficult to maintain that that is the case, after all that has happened. If Yehoshua agrees that the PLO is the embodiment of a Palestinian nationalism that can only be satisfied with Israel's destruction, then Israel can only survive not by fleeing from a new PLO state but by destroying it.
Of course, the Palestinians will still be there. And Israel's options for dealing with them will be the same as they always have been. Either they must join Israel as equal citizens, which would turn Israel into a bi-national state. Or they and their lands must be traded away to Jordan, the only state in the region to have accepted the Palestinian people and the only logical locus for their national aspirations. Or some kind of autonomy arrangement must be worked out for Palestinian self-government. Whether this last involves formal Palestinian statehood is somewhat secondary; the state cannot possibly be viable, and so will be a practical dependency of its neighbors - and, to the extent that Israel wants to have access to the Palestinian areas for its military for security reasons, this probably would mean accepting a similar role for the Jordanians.
So I agree with Yehoshua. The choices are what they always were: share the state or share the land. I simply disagree with him that running away from an enemy ideologically committed to your demise is in any way constructive. And I think his own arguments support my position more than they do his.