Thursday, April 15, 2004
Okay, I've said enough critical things about Bush for today. Let me say something nice: he's been an almost unimaginably good friend to Israel, and he proved it yet again this week.
I am very apprehensive about Sharon's Gaza pullout for one reason only: I worry that it's not so easy to get out of Gaza. Even if a Gaza withdrawal doesn't lead to a huge explosion of terror in the West Bank (if Palestinians interpret the withdrawal as a sign of weakness, as they did Barak's withdrawal from Lebanon), it will likely lead to chaos in Gaza. And I simply do not believe that the world will stand by and watch Gaza deteriorate into anarchy. Someone will come in to restore order, and that someone will restrain Israel's freedom of action to retaliate against attacks from Gaza - which will continue; the fence won't keep everyone out.
So I worried that, as in Lebanon, Israel would be getting rid of one problem (defending indefensible settlements like Netzarim) only to inherit a worse one (an Islamist terror-state in Gaza, or anarchy and a UN peacekeeping force in Gaza, or a continued IDF presence in Gaza and an explosion of terror in the West Bank).
Well, now at least Israel is getting something for the risk it's taking. Israel is getting diplomatic acknowledgement from the U.S., explicitly, that the 1949 Green Line is not the presumptive border between Israel and occupied territory, and that any repatriation of Palestinians living in Lebanon, or Egypt, or elsewhere will be to a future Palestinian state, not Israel.
These are big statements. They should not be minimized. America has always maintained a "constructive ambiguity" about the precise meaning of Resolution 242, neither explicitly affirming nor denying that it meant what the Israelis said it did. America has now explicitly endorsed the Israeli interpretation (which I also believe to be the correct one, based on my understanding of the negotiations that took place to come up with that wording).
The settlements that Israel is going to retain inside the fence are mostly unproblematic and are all within the "consensus" that a wide spectrum in Israel assumes would be incorporated into the state in any peace deal. The Ezion bloc, Ma'ale Adumim and the seam line settlements encompass between them the majority of Jewish residents of the territories, and they can be incorporated on the Israeli side of the fence without significant damage to contiguity in the Palestinian areas. Ariel adds another 25,000 souls, and can be incorporated with a little more difficulty, but it must be; Ariel is an important location for security reasons, standing as it does on the heights of Samaria. There will be suffering on the Palestinian side in areas where Palestinian villages lie close to the Green Line and the fence cuts through their land. These people deserve proper compensation on an individual basis. But the question of whether Israel has the sovereign right to build the fence where it needs to is now, from the American perspective, settled: it does. (Israel will also presumably retain control of the Jordan Valley, which is also strategic but has little population; this is not a plausible stance long-term in the context of a peace negotiation, but in a context of a unilateral withdrawal it's essential that Israel stay put there, for security reasons.)
Is Bush's support for Sharon something that will boost the chances for peace? No. Nothing will boost the chances for peace. We are not going to see peace in our time. But Bush's support for Sharon will boost Sharon's chances for implementing his plan, and will also create an obligation on Sharon's part to follow through and actually implement what he has proposed. And that's a good thing for America, not just for Israel, because the volatility of the situation in the territories is bad for America, and an Israeli withdrawal, for all the risks it poses to Israel, opens the possibility of reducing that volatility.
Bush has been astonishingly firm and consistent in his support for Israel's legitimate security needs. He, more than anyone, has created the political conditions within which Israel can take the risk of withdrawing unilaterally. Clinton had a lot of detailed knowledge of the area, its geography and demography and the political sensitivities of all sides. But he profoundly misjudged Yasser Arafat, and he presided over a process that produced political conditions among the Palestinians that were profoundly opposed to peace with Israel, and within Israel that created a dangerous utopian flight from reality. Sometimes, having the right instincts and the right values really is the most important thing. This is one of those times. Kudos to Bush.
There remain huge issues to be worked out about a withdrawal, and if Sharon did uproot the indefensible settlements in Judea and Samaria these issues would become even greater. Who is going to be the recognized authority in the areas that Israel withdraws from? What will be the sovereign rights of that entity? We have no idea, and we need to find out - soon.
And what would be left to negotiate when the Palestinians finally get around to coming back to the table, in good faith? If Sharon evacuates not only Gaza but much of Judea and Samaria, and retained only areas in the "consensus" then what is left to offer as a carrot?
Well, there's always the possibility of monetary compensation to the Palestinians, individually or collectively, for property lost in 1948, or 1967, or subsequently. There's the status of the IDF's presence in the Jordan Valley and Palestinian rights to that area. But no, basically, there's no territorial carrot to offer anymore. Unilateral separation is the end of "land for peace." And good riddance. It would be the beginning, one day, of "peace for peace" - a far more promising formula.
A Palestinian entity isolated from Israel's economy, surrounded by fences and by IDF bases, with an unclear degree of sovereignty and limited international recognition will not be something to brag about. A Palestinian state with full sovereignty in its territory, trade with its neighbors, and access to the wider world would be a far greater achievement. The Palestinians will gain a lot when they finally decide to make peace with a sovereign Jewish state. If they decide to wait another hundred years to do so, the idea of separation is that Israel will be able to afford to let them wait. Israel will no longer have any claims on territory in Palestinian control, and will no longer control any territory that it intends to hand over to someone else. Israel will have defined its own borders to its own satisfaction. The benefits of peace will then have to stand on their own merits.