Friday, August 22, 2003
And here's Ze'ev Sternhell taking the easy way out from the left.
Now, I've argued in favor of an imposed solution in the past. In *diplomatic* terms, I think there is a rough equivalence to the Palestinians' claim of a "right to return" and the Israeli claim of the right to settle the territories seized in 1967. Implicit in both claims is the assertion of a sovereign claim to the entire land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. There is some logic, therefore, to having some God-like power come in from the outside and say: for any other compromise to work, you must each surrender this claim. You Israelis must accept our judgement that the settlements are illegal, as the Palestinians are sovereign in the territories seized in 1967, and you can only live there with their permission, which they are unlikely to grant; you Palestinians must accept our judgement that Israel is sovereign within the 1949 cease-fire lines, and therefore you will only be allowed to settle within those lines as an immigrant, with Israel's permission, which she is unlikely to grant.
But there are a few problems with this eminently logical script.
After all, Ehud Barak offered a compromise pretty close to this only a few years ago. He offered the Palestinians a state on the overwhelming majority of the territories, offered to divide Jerusalem and to share sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. But more than this, he offered to admit over 100,000 Palestinians into Israel proper and to provide monetary compensation (understood to really be provided by the USA) to permanently settle the remaining Palestinians in their new state, implicitly recognizing some Palestinian refugee claims vis-a-vis Israel and the need for compensation. And more than this: he offered territorial compensation from the Negev - within the Green Line - to expand the Palestinian territory around overcrowded Gaza, as compensation for their "lost" territory in the Gush, east of the Sharon region, etc. This implicitly recognized the pre-1967 borders as the basis for negotiation. All he asked for in exchange was for a declaration that this was THE END. That this compromise was the end of the conflict. He was answered with bombs and bullets.
Now our Ha'aretz correspondent wants the USA and Europe to impose some similar solution. Wonderful: and when Yasser Arafat, or Sheikh Yassir, or Sheik Nasrullah or whoever claims to speak for the Palestinian people refuses to accept the imposed solution, then what?
It is not hard to craft reasonable compromises. It is hard to get the Palestinians to agree to them. They have much less to lose than Israel; that's why you can, sometimes, pressure Israel successfully. Simply asserting that the "only solution" is to have the US and Europe "impose one" is to assume the can-opener.
That is why my despairing comments from earlier are couched in the terms they are. I don't despair of a solution. Solutions are easy to imagine; compromise between hypothetical Palestinians and Israelis is easy to design, and Barak and Clinton did a pretty good job of designing it, whatever anyone's particular quibbles with the deal. And I don't despair for Israel; Israel will survive, even thrive, as she has thriven under harsh conditions in the past.
But I despair for *victory.* I don't know, and no one in Israel knows, what victory would look like. And victory is what is needed. Where I agree with Mr. Sternhell is that the next turn of the wheel will be very ugly. The security fence will surround Jerusalem; this will trap tens of thousands of Palestinians in a legal no-man's land on the Israeli side of the wall. The security fence either will or won't encompass Ariel; either way, Ariel will be the most exposed point for terrorists to attack. For Israel to "crush" Hamas and Jihad Islami means the full reoccupation of Area A, which will be terrible for the Palestinians and terrible for the IDF's readiness and morale - and terrible for Israelis' morale as well, because this time there will be no end in sight. The alternative is to simply take more hits, and wage a low-intensity war in the P.A. territories, without a full re-occupation and without recognizing the P.A. as a sort of sovereign authority in these areas. That alternative will be even uglier from a diplomatic perspective, and would probably cost more in Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, but it would probably be better for the IDF. But none of this is victory, but merely an escalation of the conflict.
Israel has already taken the first, small steps towards this escalation. They have targeted key enemy leaders, moved the army into place for bigger operations, and has declared a policy of direct response to terrorist groups rather than hitting the P.A. The latter, previous policy was premised on the notion that the P.A. was like any other Arab country, and was therefore responsible for hostile activity coming from its territory. For Israel to take the war directly to Hamas and Jihad Islami means on the one hand that Israel no longer recognizes the P.A. as such an authority. On the other hand, it means that any victory against terrorism means nothing for the viability of the P.A. as a subsequent peace partner. Mahmoud Abbas, after all, will not have bloodied his hands with the work of preparing his people for compromise. Rather than fight a Palestinian civil war, he will have let the Israelis fight the war for him. How much credibility will he have at the end? Not much.
And in the end, that does matter, because victory for Israel - for everyone in Israel except the extreme far right - means an *agreement.* Israel is fighting for peace, not for land or for honor or even for justice. Peace comes when the other side says: enough; we would rather compromise than continue to wage war. Israel could kill a generation of terrorists, but if after all this the Palestinians still say: we demand the right to take over your country, what will have been accomplished is not peace but, at most, quiet.