Sunday, January 16, 2011

Israel-Palestine: the Emerging Reality on the Ground

A commenter on my post about how growing numbers of Palestinians in East Jerusalem would prefer to be Israelis wonders what would happen if the Palestinians of the West Bank (and Gaza) were to take the same line. What then? The question demonstrated to me once again how detached the reality in this area is from the discussion of it elsewhere. Set aside the malicious observers who seek somehow to roll back a century of Zionist success or millennia of Jewish aspirations, and revert to a Mideast without those pesky Jews. I'm not relating to them, but rather to the more-or-less well-meaning foreigners, Jews and non-Jews, who think there are theoretical principles that can be applied in an academic manner to the problems of this region, and they'll be resolved.

Here then is a description of the major development on the ground; there are other parallel developments that are pulling in other directions, but this most significant of them seems to be remarkably unremarked on.

Between1967 and 1987 the various territories of what had once been Mandatory Palestine were in a process of slow but noticeable convergence. It was all one political unit. There were no internal borders. Everyone roamed freely throughout. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the territories worked in Israel, mostly in construction and other low-skill jobs. A growing number of Israelis were moving to the territories - though their percentage among Israeli Jews was always very small. The Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and the ones without were slowly growing closer; about 100,000 West Bank and Gaza Palestinians moved into Israel, often by marrying Israeli Palestinians (so the transfer of Jewish and Arab populations across the Green Line was roughly balanced).

In summer 1987 Sari Nusseibah went on Israeli television to announce that he and other Palestinians were playing with the idea of dropping their demand for Palestinian independence: "You Israelis are making partition impossible, so let's accept it and have a bi-national state", he said. Israelis of the Left (I was one, in those days) were horrified. This means the end of Jewish sovereignty, we warned; within a generation there will be an Arab majority, and by-and-by Zionism will be over.

In November 1987 the first Intifada broke out. This may have meant that Nusseibah was never reading his own community correctly, or it may have meant something else; I don't know. I do know that it changed the direction of the momentum. The Israelis stopped going to the West Bank (Gaza had been uninteresting all along), fewer and fewer Palestinian men came to work in Israel, Israel began importing Phillipinos and Thais in their place, and, perhaps most important, mainstream Israelis accepted that someday the Palestinians would have their own state and the settlements were a gamble that had lost. The convergence ended, and seperation emerged.

20-some years later, the separation is largely a done thing. Israel's radical Left still loves to tell about the Israeli occupation of Gaza, but they don't do facts. There is no meaningful way in which Gaza can be counted as part of the same political unit as Israel, and certainly not the same social or cultural unit. The West Bank is not far behind. Israelis, except for settlers and a dramatically dwindling number of IDF troops, never go to the West Bank (the current number of IDF forces there is smaller than at anytime since 1987). Palestinians effectively don't travel to Israel, except a small number of businessmen,and a large number (tens of thousands) who travel to Israeli hospitals. The ties between Israeli Palestinians and the rest are limited. The Israelis have a ramshackle and highly ornery political system, but at the end of the day it functions far better than most democratic governments these days, and under far greater pressures. The Freedom House report that came out last week places Israel solidly among the free. The Gazans have a ghastly theocratic police state, while the West Banker's have an inefficient kleptocracy under an unelected prime minister who seems to mean well. Freedom House puts them both near the bottom, deep in the Not Free category.

The Palestinian territories do not yet have political sovereignty, and there still are Israelis on the West Bank. So the partition is far from complete, clearly. But the major trends are clear. Societies create and maintain nation states when they've got some common denominator, a common something that enables them to act together, to live together, to accept political compromises. When they don't, sooner or later they either do, or they fall apart. India is a case for the former, Belgium is a case for the latter.

My point is that the geographical unit that was once Mandatory Palestine doesn't. The advocates of a One State Solution may chatter on to their heart's content; the reality on the ground is that with every passing month their option is getting further away. Jews and Palestinians never shared a language, history, a religion, culture, political tradition,a sense of common purpose - nothing. The Jews and the Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (and to a lesser extent this includes the Palestinians of Est Jerusalem) are slowly and haltingly forging such a commonality. The Jews outside Israel still share a lot with the Israelis, though I fear the links may be weakening. The rest of the Palestinians, in the West Bank, Gaza, not to mention in the rest of the Arab World, are taking a different road. The moment when there could have been convergence has passed, and there's currently nothing to suggest it will ever be back.


Victor said...

You meant to say that you sabras still share something with us, the Diaspora ;)

Aaron said...

Interesting post. Still, I think most people who are worried about a Palestinian demand for a single state don't envision the peoples west of the Jordan organically integrating until some day they want to live together in a single state. The scenario, rather, is that a demand for a single state will be a self-conscious political maneuver designed to create an Arab-dominated state of Palestine, including what is now Israel. If Palestinians make that demand, it won't be because Gazans suddenly want to share a state with Jews. There will be no intention to coexist permanently in a binational state.

I'm skeptical of predictions of a demand for a single state, too, but not for the reason described in this post. Here's one question people never ask, much less answer. If, as the growing settlements close the window of opportunity, such a demand is inevitable, then why haven't the Palestinians already made the demand? They're already close to 50% of the population west of the Jordan, and they'll certainly be more than 50% if such a state is created, because many Israeli Jews will flee. So if it will be a good deal for Palestinians five or ten years from now, it's already a good deal today. What's stopping them right now?

Victor said...

First, the settlements aren't growing. They take up the same landmass they took five years ago. Second, this must be the window of opportunity that never closes, because nothing is stopping Israel from simply transferring political sovereignty over west bank lands, including settlements to Palestinian political authority, even without dismantling the settlements. The only conceivable way in which one can then read your remark is that Jews should not be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. Is this what you're suggesting?

Finally, the demographics are not at all clear, and may not be favoring Palestinians in the short or long term. The permanent political division between WB and Gaza eliminates the demographic argument entirely.

To answer your question, what's stopping them is reality. No one actually expects Israel to accept a one state solution against its will, and making that demand would nullify the basis of forty years of security council resolutions. Finally, the PA is a power structure with an interest in self-preservation.

Barry Meislin said... unelected prime minister who seems to mean well.

Um, so who exactly is the one "detached the reality..."?


So if it will be a good deal for Palestinians five or ten years from now, it's already a good deal today. What's stopping them right now?

They don't want "a deal".

(How many times must this---irksome litte?---fact be repeated until it's understood?)

Ah, but what do they want?....

Silke said...

What's stopping them right now?

payments of tribute?

that's how the Romans and the Byzantine stopped the irksome ones at their border, not to mention the other asses they had up their sleeves.

Is it in any way different because it is called aid these days?
if only it wouldn't incentivise population growth.

NormanF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NormanF said...

The Arabs and the Jews have always been separate communities but the Palestinian Arabs as a minority have never been able to figure out a common direction. That has foundered all efforts to create a Palestinian state over the years and it won't be any different in the future. Israel on the other hand, will grow and flourish with or without Arab agreement.

Just a Thought said...

"not to mention the other asses they had up their sleeves"

Silke, you are a treasure. Even your unintentional slips have meaning and humour!

Empress Trudy said...

Be that as it may. Organic dissolution. That, as far I know, ever stopped an aggressor from demanding all. If there were zero Palestinians in Israel this would cause them to yell all the harder for all of Israel. And if there were 40 Jews left in all of Israel Palestinian demands would not abate either.

Anonymous said...

If there is no agreement acceptable to the Palestinians, their only final resort will be to disband the PA and to unilaterally end the occupation by submitting to Israeli sovereignty. Thus, will begin the long march for civil rights, something that will pull Israel completely down from the moral high ground.

Israel needs to move quickly to end the occupation to avoid this future. In this day and age of assymetric threats, holding the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank do not provide security. The huge "military zones" of the West Bank that exclude Palestinians threaten Israel instead of providing security (in Oslo Accord Area C).

The current project to create a reservation system, complete with tribal police and government, will, in the long run, destroy Israel, as the "indians" will eventually seek their civil rights and Israel will destroy itself by denying those rights.

Silke said...

Just a Thought

thanks for pointing that one out - even if it is by me I must admit it is a good one and it has gone "viral" already:

In this day and age of assymetric threats,

but seriously predictions being notoriously difficult especially if they concern the future Anon's scenario seems to be a good one except for the other one which I favour i.e. giving the high ground to neighbours who have proved their untrustworthyness for decades and decades is more than risky.

It is a decision between Scylla and Charybdis which one should remember Odysseus avoided (and thus survived) because he clung to a rock ledge and waited until his boat was spewed out again. (at least in my version he does that)

Barry said...

if such a state is created, because many Israeli Jews will flee. So if it will be a good deal for Palestinians ....

If those Israeli Jews flee what part of the deal will be left for Palestinians?
They certainly won't be left with the wealth because that will escape in the heads of those fleeing.
The Palestinians will find themselves with real estate and some gas but nothing to provide the vibrancy and standard of living that the current state enjoys.

Silke said...

don't underestimate how much fun it is to dig tunnels while being sheltered in Green Houses

and also, once Jewish Israelis will be gone we will surely see a revival of the culture of translating Ancient texts into Arabic and thus preserving those for mankind whose Greek originals didn't survive.

and mosaics and water fountains and graceful arches

as the saying goes: man doesn't live by bread alone

Anonymous said...

What matters for Israel now is the moral high ground, not the literal high ground. Israel has so far out-run the regional military competitors at this point that only its erstwhile ally, the United States can threaten it.

Main stream American Jews will not defend Israel for long as the reservation program becomes clear. Losing their support will mean losing the entire game.

The truth appears to be that Israelis really want most of the West Bank but are afraid to admit it. Lebensraum?

It's very sad to watch all of this happening . . . been watching for years and the dots do connect onward into the future.

Victor said...

Lebensraum. Reservation program. You've been reading Andrew Sullivan, haven't you, Anonymous. You've come to the right place.

Silke said...

Mr. Anon Lebensraum

how ingenious you are, how witty, how knowledgeable, got some more of those filthy asses up your sleeve?

it is not only your use of inappropriate language with putrid insinuations I object to, it is your implied threats, either you behave and become our sweet little Disney Land providing us with sentimental holidays in Jerusalem or we'll turn away from you.

Shame on you for your lack of respect for a sovereign state and you presumably are a citizen of the land of the free, how very shameful. If you were European I'd find your behaviour normal in the sense of frequent but since you are not it is in violation of all I've always admired about Americans.

Y. Ben-David said...

It should be pointed out to him that the US would strongly support Israeli even if there were no Jews in the US. There was strong American support for Zionism as far back as the 1840's, long before the "Jewish vote" had any weight in the US. Note how these propagandists use false information because all they are doing is grasping at straws.