Saturday, July 31, 2010

Israelis and Palestinians: One State, Two States, or More Confrontation?

Saree Makdisi has written a detailed and compelling description of what life is like for Palestinians living Israel, Jerusalem, and in the occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. He describes the myriad ways in which the Israelis discriminate against and torment the Palestinians in hopes of encouraging them to leave and, where possible, force them to leave. A bleak picture is painted in which the native Palestinians are gradually being squeezed into ever smaller enclaves where entry and exit are completely and arbitrarily controlled by the Israelis.

The Strategy of Israel was formed many years before the holocaust and has changed little over time. The goal was, and is, to create an ethnically pure state for Jews and to render the creation of a viable Palestinian state difficult, if not impossible. Israel does not rule out such a state, but its intention is that should one be created it would be dominated economically and militarily by Israel. Israel’s motives are clear. They may not be deemed honorable, but at least one knows where they are coming from. What is not clear is the extent to which they might be willing to compromise.

Makdisi depicts the Palestinian people as having the simple motives of just wanting to lead a normal life on the lands they have traditionally owned. The Israelis are characterized as tormentors who use arbitrary and suffocating "security" measures to make leading a normal life all but impossible. I have no doubt that that is true. The author gives many personal accounts of abuse and assorted harassments that the Palestinians must endure. However, he weakens his case by barely mentioning the incidents of Palestinian-originated violence and terrorism. It may be that the Israeli response is disproportionate and inappropriate for the actual threat. If he had presented an Israeli side of the story—and then proceeded to demolish it—he would have had more credibility in the eyes of the unfamiliar reader.

Makdisi says early on that he is in favor of a single-state solution. It is not until the end of the book that he discusses what that means and how he thinks that will come about. What he envisages is full right of return for the displaced Palestinians to a state where Jews and Palestinians would coexist as citizens with equal rights. This would be a state where the Palestinians would have a significant population advantage. He believes that a combination of public opinion and the types of sanctions, boycotts and divestments that were used against South Africa would be successful in forcing change. He goes on to say
"The idea that people should be forcibly separated from each other according to their religious preferences has no place in the twenty-first century. And if such an approach —separation based on religion—is a guaranteed recipe for future conflict, only its opposite—secular and democratic cooperation between people—offers a chance for genuine peace."One could write a book about all the scary things that are contained in those two sentences. In fact, Niall Ferguson has, The War of the World. The Jews were highly dispersed throughout Europe before the Second World War. According to Ferguson the country in which the Jews were the most highly integrated—with secular and democratic cooperation—was Germany. The prewar chaos and the War itself unleashed ethnic violence on a scale that may seem inconceivable to us now in the twenty-first century, but we need only think back to the Balkans and what happened there just twenty years ago. The ethnic cleansing and mass murders only ended in Europe when the various groups had been separated by voluntary migration, or by the mass migrations of populations enforced by the allies after the War. Consider Tony Judt’s description from his book Postwar.
"At the conclusion of the First World War it was borders that were invented and adjusted, while people on the whole were left in place. After 1945 what happened was rather the opposite: with one major exception boundaries stayed broadly intact and people were moved instead....If the surviving minorities of central and eastern Europe could not be afforded effective international protection, then it was as well that they be dispatched to more accommodating locations. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ did not yet exist, but the reality surely did—and it was far from arousing wholesale disapproval or embarrassment....The outcome was a Europe of nation states more ethnically homogeneous than ever before."In terms of considering how comfortable the Jews might be with their minority position in Makdisi’s one-state solution, recall that even after all that had transpired during the War, the Poles, in 1946, were still participating in pogroms in hopes of driving away or killing the few remaining Jews. Tens of thousands of Jews had to flee to Germany for safety. How ironic is that! The Jews of Israel are never again going to allow themselves to become a minority.

I can only view Makdisi as either hopelessly naive, or transparently devious.

Curiously, Makdisi makes no mention of the Arab League, which should be his most dependable ally. The Arab league has bought into the two-state solution which Makdisi deems impossible. He also dismisses the Palestinian authority as a feckless and corrupt bunch of Israeli tools. Consider this view from a 6/29/2010 column by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.
"What’s that? It’s the P.S.E., or Palestine Securities Exchange. Based in Nablus, in the West Bank, the Al-Quds Index has actually been having a solid year—and therein lies a tale.....The P.S.E. was established in 1996 with 19 companies and now has 41—and 8 more will join this year....The expansion of the Al-Quds index is part of a broader set of changes initiated in the West Bank under the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the former World Bank economist who has unleashed a real Palestinian ‘revolution.’ It is a revolution based on building Palestinian capacity and institutions not just resisting Israeli occupation, on the theory that if the Palestinians can build a real economy, a professional security force and an effective, transparent government bureaucracy it will eventually become impossible for Israel to deny the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem."
"The most senior Israeli military people told me the new security force that Fayyad has built is the real deal—real enough that Israel has taken down most of the check points inside the West Bank. So internal commerce and investment are starting to flow, and even some Gazans are moving there."
Friedman ends with a note of caution. He worries that this new tack by the Palestinian Authority is upsetting many on both sides. The Israelis have grown accustomed to the notion of incompetent Palestinians who are no longer a concern while penned behind the security wall. The last thing they want is competence in a potential adversary. Many of the Palestinians have grown comfortable in the perpetual role of the exploited victims, dreaming of revenge and the reclamation of their historic homeland. That dream will not die easily.

Ehud Yaari, an Israeli author and policy expert, has similar concerns. He has written an article entitled An Interim Agreement for Israel and Palestine that appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs. He suggests that the two-state solution should be put into concrete now even if all the details cannot be ironed out until later. He fears that the two sides may drift further away from reconciliation if too much time passes. As the Palestinian Authority grows stronger, it may conclude that it is in a position to make greater demands on Israel than Israel is ever likely to accept. On the Israeli side, the majority of people are currently in favor of a two-state solution, even though that would certainly lead to a violent response from conservatives and settlers who would have to be moved. The longer the settlers reside in place and the longer the Israelis have to grow comfortable and secure behind their barriers, the less interested they will be in any traumatic accommodation. Yaari claims that the following offer was made and ignored by the Palestinian Authority.
"The secret high-level negotiating sessions in 2007-8 ended in failure even though Olmert offered Abbas more territory than Ehud Barak had offered Arafat in 2000, when Barak was prime minister: all but six percent of the West Bank. Israel would have compensated the Palestinians by transferring areas adding up to a similar size to Palestine and relinquishing control of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Olmert’s offer included entrusting management of the Holy Basin—Jerusalem’s Old City and its immediate surroundings—to a multinational commission in which both Jordan and Saudi Arabia would have been partners. Palestine leaders never responded to this offer....."If true, that seems like a reasonable offer for the Israelis to make. It would require destruction of a large number of settlements with much grief for the Israeli government. The Palestinians apparently felt they had to hold out for even more. Meanwhile, a more conservative government is now in power in Israel and is not likely to ever make that good an offer. Now we also see a revitalized Palestinian Authority. Will they, with renewed confidence, be willing to accept a practical compromise, or will they feel they have a stronger bargaining position and demand more than they will ever get? Will they feel that, with growing international support, they can confront the Israelis again, either violently or with nonviolence?

This is a complex situation with no single obvious solution. However, there are obviously bad solutions, such as Makdisi’s concept of a single state.

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