Friday, December 05, 2003
I don't know that I'll be able to do this justice in the time I have, so I may return to it. Two new peace plans for Israel and the Palestinians were brought forth this past week. The first, more trumpeted, comes from Geneva. The less-heralded comes from the West Bank.
So now, we have left- and right-wing versions of partitionism (Beilin on the left, Sharon on the right) and left- and right-wing versions of bi-nationalism (Tony Judt on the left, Pinchas Vallerstein on the right).
I think it's constructive that the far-right is finally thinking about what the alternative is to partitionism. The lack of an alternative has a lot to do with why Israel has come to her current pass. Orthodox thinking since Rabin's election has been that Israel needs - badly needs - an agreement, for her own sake, to protect her own security and secure Israel's identity as a Jewish state. That being the case, and since the other side knows Israel needs an agreement, and since the other side is willing to spend blood and treasure indefinitely in its struggle with Israel, the other side has never had an incentive either to compromise or to live up to its agreements. Arafat & Co. have employed violence and rejectionism against left- and right-wing governments; they are not deterred by threats nor have they ever been beaten into submission. Which is why the Oslo idea won't die; there is no apparent military solution so long as Israel's objective is partition.
But the far right has lived too long in fantasy land, and it is good to see them coming down to earth and thinking about what an alternative solution would actually look like. Their new plan is still a fantasy, of course, one that will never be supported by the Palestinian people. Maybe - maybe - such a thing could have been possible in 1970 or 1980 or even 1990, though I doubt it. But putting these things on paper will at least bring their assumptions out into the open air.
In this case, two things have become clear: if Israel is to hold on to the territories, it must give up being a unitary state and it must accept a large number of Palestinian citizens.
People on the left assume that to hold on to the territories Israel would have to accept as equal citizens every Arab resident in the territories, and that these voters would then vote to disestablish Israel as a Jewish state. Anything less, they confidently assert, would be "undemocratic." This is, of course, hogwash; there are all kinds of democratic and liberal systems in the world, and few of them involve strict proportional representation in a unitary state with universal sufferage. But the right has never frankly admitted that holding on to the territories means vastly expanding the number of Arab voters in Israeli elections. Now they have.
Moreover, they have never admitted that giving Arab citizens control over their lives means limiting the control the central government has over their lives. By suggesting the federalization of Israel - breaking it up into cantons with substantial autonomy - the writers of this plan implicitly recognize that even the most favorable one-state solution from the Jewish perspective will necessarily grant to Arab-controlled entities the ability to control land-use in their areas - effectively, the ability to limit Jewish settlement, though not necessarily Jewish residence. This has enormous significance not only for the territories but for Israel proper; for a long time, Israel has been trying to establish a critical mass of Jewish towns in the Galilee - not to drive the Arabs out, but to prevent the Arabs from taking the territory with them in the event of any two-state peace settlement with the Palestinians. In the context of the new settler one-state peace proposal, such an effort would seem to be problematic at best.
My views haven't changed. The problem with Geneva is not, fundamentally, that the Jewish participants are undermining the government, nor that the "accord" makes too many concessions. The "accord" is basically a publicity stunt; it does not meaningfully extend Israeli concessions beyond what Barak offered at Taba, and everyone knows that were Amram Mitzna or someone like him elected Prime Minister, similar terms would be offered again. No, the real problem is that the other side is still killing Jewish children as a form of political protest. Peace under any terms is impossible in such circumstances. And that's Bush's consistent message, which is why I'm not really worried about Powell meeting with the Geneva accordians.
And the problem with one-state solutions is that there is no reason to believe they will remain stable. A bi-national Israel, however constituted, will become an Arab Israel because that's what the Arabs - on both sides of the Green Line - want. Fantasies about a federal structure and cantons and an electoral college and what have you will last until the first Arab riots in favor of constitutional change. And then what? Use tanks against people who are now citizens of Israel? Nice solution.
The only solution was and remains to give the bulk of the territories away to Jordan, a power that actually has a reason to want to keep the peace with Israel and to stifle the terrorist groups. They have no interest in taking on that unpleasant task. The right-wing partitionists around Sharon should be working much harder than they are to figure out what carrot they can offer to lure Jordan back to the table.