Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2003
 
Take a careful look at what Saul Singer, editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post, considers to be the "Plan B" options if (or, rather, when) the Road Map fails:

The *less* radical solution is a U.S. "Mandate" for the areas to eventually constitute a Palestinian state after a suitable period of tutelage and terror-fighting. In other words: an American occupation would replace the Israeli occupation.

The *more* radical solution is a Jordanian-West Bank confederation and the abandonment of the idea of an independent Palestinian state (and Gaza . . . ?).

A few things to note:

1. The right-wing Jerusalem Post is no longer suggesting that Israel can achieve victory in its war. It can, clearly deny the *other* side victory, and have done so. But they can't actually win. If there were any plausible formula by which Israel could achieve decisive victory, the Post would be advocating it. They aren't. There isn't.

2. Singer assumes that America could succeed where Israel failed, but no reason why is given. I actually thought this was a reasonable idea back in 2000; it was clear then that Arafat had to go, and that there could be no Palestinian state, but that a reimposition of an Israeli occupation for a period of years was a non-starter (among other things, the Palestinians simply would not accept "tutelage" from the Israelis). Israel had just done everything America wanted and more - they'd done everything *Europe* had wanted - and gotten a bomb in the face in return from Arafat. A united Western front against Arafat, including NATO intervention, might have worked. It would have been accepted by both sides as the cavalry coming to save them, and both would have settled for half-a-loaf without a peace treaty. But now? America is already occupying Iraq. We have to worry about Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria. We have to worry about North Korea. We're desperately trying to free up our troops from peacekeeping duty in Iraq to prepare to meet the next threat - and we're going to take on another huge challenge of occupation? And worse - we're going to bail out the Sharon government and eliminate Arafat for him? Remember, there is no direct threat to America festering in Nablus. (A far better case - and I've made it - could be made for intervening in Lebanon, home of Hizbullah.) I think the odds of success of an American occupation of the Palestinian areas has to be rated much lower now than three years ago, the potential risks much higher, and the opportunity costs of tying up American forces in this way much, *much* higher.

3. All roads, as always, lead eventually to Amman. There is room in the old Mandatory Palestine for two states at most. Any third state would necessarily be a practical dependency on one or both of the two larger states. The two states are Israel and Jordan. The Palestinian population centers can be ruled from Jerusalem, which means Israel becomes either an apartheid state where millions of Arabs have no vote (probably an unstable solution) or a bi-national state that will rapidly cease to be the Jewish National Home promised by the Balfour Declaration and which was the original goal of the Jewish return to the Land. Or they can be ruled from Amman, which means the Palestinians would be subjects of a modernizing but still feudal Arab Bedouin monarchy with Western leanings. The latter is probably also an unstable solution, and will eventually lead to a Palestinian state where Jordan currently is, but encompassing the Palestinian areas west of the Jordan. The hopeful scenario has this change happening slowly, without violence; the nightmare scenario is violent revolution. This solution, and the hopeful scenario, is actually more likely in the wake of Iraq, because Jordan has little to fear on its eastern flank, and therefore more flexibility to take on problems to its west. BUT: there's no carrot. What's in it for Amman? Why should they play ball? Singer doesn't say, and nobody else can either. Israelis can fantasize about a Hashemite Iraq or a Hashemite Mecca, but neither is going to happen. Those who are convinced that the Jordan option was and remains the only solution for the Palestinian problem - and I'm one of them - NEED to come up with the carrot to entice Jordan back into the process, otherwise the only solution will remain no solution.

4. And whither Gaza? Gaza is a running sore, a hopeless dead-end zone. It didn't have to be, of course; Singapore is about as densely populated and has comparable natural resources (none), and look what they have done. But it is what it is, and wishing the Gazans were Chinese will not make them so. Would Gaza consent to an Egyptian occupation, even if one were offered? Highly unlikely. Singer has no better idea what to do about Gaza than I do, or than Sharon does. It will be a running sore for another generation, it seems.

5. And what about the "refugees?" Israel embarked on the Oslo process for four reasons. First: the Rabin government, like all Labor governments before it, was convinced that most of the territories seized in 1967 would have to be returned as part of a negotiated peace. They were bargaining chips, never expected to be integrated into Israel proper. Jordan renunciation of claims to the West Bank in 1988, Arafat's equivocal renunciation of terror around the same time, the fall of the Soviet Union, the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf War, and the rise of Hamas all convinced Rabin that the time was right: Arafat could only rehabilitate himself from obscurity by making peace with Israel, and Israel should seize the opportunity. Rabin was also convinced that the occupation was damaging the readiness and morale of the IDF, and therefore was eroding Israel's conventional deterrent, making conventional war more likely; and Rabin was convinced that peace would pay enormous diplomatic and economic dividends to Israel (which he was right about). But behind all of these considerations was demography: the realization that, even if Israel wanted to absorb the territories, it could not do so without becoming either an apartheid state or by ceasing to be a Jewish state. Physical separation was never enough to ensure Israel's demographic integrity. What was required was an agreement on the part of a recognized, legitimate Palestinian authority that claims to sovereign Israeli territory would be ended. And included among any such claim are claims that millions of "refugees" would have to be repatriated to Israel. It was necessary for the Palestinians' leaders to say: we press no claims for repatriation, only for compensation; and for negotiations to be entered into in order to set that compensation and thereby end the claims. That's why Barak leaned so far out the window to grasp Arafat's hand at Camp David and again at Taba: because an end to the conflict was worth an enormous amount to Israel. And Israel didn't get it. And nothing Singer proposes as "Plan B" involves Israel getting it. A precondition for an American or Jordanian occupation's success, then, is an agreement on the part of the Palestinians that they are abandoning all talk of a "right to return" and limiting their claims to just compensation. In the absence of any recognized Palestinian authority willing to make such a declaration, it is minimally necessary for the Arab League to adopt such a posture. In the absence of such a position, any attempt to "separate the parties" by means of a non-Israeli occupation would amount to a victory for the Palestinians: they would be on the road to their state (albeit with a long detour) without having made any significant diplomatic concession versus their maximal claims against the Jewish state - claims that amount to the denial of that state's legitimacy. So why should Israel agree to this? And why should a *right-wing* Israeli publication like the Post endorse such a "Plan B"?

6. And, to connect points 2 and 5 above: Singer is putting additional pressure on America because of the refugee question. So long as America is not *imposing* a solution, it can maintain its current stance of ambiguity on the question of the refugees, as it does on the territories. To whit: America has never said that there are particular territories that the Palestinians are entitled to or that the Israelis must surrender, other than to say that the Palestinian state must be viable. And America has never said that there is no legitimacy to the demands for repatriation as opposed to compensation, nor has it endorsed the legitimacy of those claims, merely calling (as numerous UN resolutions do as well) for a "just" solution. But once America is in the position of *dictating* a solution - which is what an American occupation would mean - America would necessarily have to dictate on these matters as well. Which means that America would be responsible for the "dispossession" of the Palestinians "refugees." Taking that responsibility in the context of at least some Arab support would be one thing. Taking that responsibility in the *absence* of that support . . . let's just say it's not obvious to me how that would *help* in prosecuting the war on terror. I should think it would be less dangerous for America to simply adopt the Israeli position in negotiations, and declare that the "refugees" are entitled to press for compensation only, not repatriation.

7. Finally: the settlers. Obviously, an imposed solution like an American occupation would mean the repatriation of Israeli settlers - not necessarily all by any means, but certainly those in Hevron and other heavily Palestinian areas, and no one should presume that Ariel or even the Gush are sacrosanct. It's not obvious to me that Middle Israel would view this as a negative aspect of an imposed solution; indeed, while Middle Israelis don't despise the settlers the way the bien pensants of Ha'aretz do, they do recognize that a significant fraction of the settlers - and a bigger fraction of the leadership - is "ultra" and will resist any kind of a deal. And Middle Israel wants an end to the conflict, even at the expense of losing most of Judea and Samaria. So what's interesting is that the editorial-page editor of the Post is saying the *less radical* Plan B alternative to the Road Map is an American occupation, which would unquestionably mean the evacuation not just of illegal outposts but of all the isolated settlements. After all, it's one thing for Israel to spend blood to defend the citizens of Tekoa. But why should America do so? An American occupation could only take place if established settlements are physically removed. Which is why I say it is interesting that Singer should effectively endorse such an alternative.

Israelis should recognize that the road from here comes in various shades of ugly: a seemingly endless war of attrition, or a renewal of the occupation under more brutal conditions, or a strategic retreat behind a barbed-wire fence, or surrender of some of Israel's sovereign right to self-defense to a foreign power (America). There's no happy solution short of victory. And no one in Israel knows what victory looks like. Israelis should look hard and ask themselves whether they really want an American intervention, or whether they still value their sovereignty highly enough to want some greater degree of control over their own destiny.