Monday, December 21, 2009

Terms of Compromise

All I am is a blogger. My positions on how peace might or might not be achieved are exactly as unimportant as those of anyone else. I've got one vote in Israel, and as often as not the folks I cast it for don't end up in the government (this time, for example). I've also got an expat vote in the US, but since I'm registered in California (don't ask), my vote always automatically goes for the Democrat, no matter what my opinion may be.

The only reason to write a blog post about how I think peace between Israelis and Palestinians is to give context to the rest of the blog. In recent weeks there have been quite a few cases where readers though that since I'd just made comment A, my overall position must be B. Since it ain't necessarily so, these assumptions deprive some of what I am saying of its impact.

Interestingly, none of my basic positions have changed since I wrote Right to Exist in 2002. So if you really need a full exposition of the matter, feel free to go read it.

The resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict has next to nothing to do with justice, and the large numbers of people on all sides who are, or claim to be, seeking justice, or assuming peace can't be had without justice, or any of those tired formulations, are all wrong. The fundamental structure of the conflict is that both sides are right, both of them have truly just claims to the entire (very very small) land, and these rights are mutually incompatible. If it's the historic homeland of the Jews, which they never renounced and actively focused on for millennia, while preserving a presence there the entire time, how can it also be the homeland of the Palestinians? And if it's the place the Palestinians define as their homeland because that's where they were when they became nationally aware (same as the Jews), how can it be the homeland of the Jews?

So if it's justice you're seeking, at least recognize that the only way for anyone to have it is for the others to have injustice. On the justice field it really is a zero-sum game.

The second thing to keep in mind is that international law is irrelevant. I honestly cannot think of a single lethal conflict in the history of the world that was ever resolved by international law. Some minor disputes, about which no-one is willing to kill or be killed, can perhaps be resolved that way, but never any shooting wars. If either side or both are willing to kill and be killed over a matter, no group of chattering outsiders mouthing legalese will stop them. In the Israel-Palestine conflict both sides are willing to kill and be killed, because they care deeply and are not about to stop caring.

One way to achieve peace is for one side to a war to win so decisively that the other side gives up. This can't happen in the Israel-Palestine conflict. That includes also the various dreams floating around about bludgeoning the Israelis to accept the agenda of the Guardian, perhaps by boycotting Israeli tomatoes and lectures by Israeli professors of comparative literature (but never medicine), or the contra-dreams of building so many settlements on the West Bank that the Palestinians will all move to Florida. Always keep that brutal reality in mind: Both groups are willing to kill and be killed rather than give up; given that reality, what other coercion might be even more compelling?

There's only one way to end a conflict such as this one, and that's by compromise. Each side needs to define the things it will continue to be willing to kill and be killed about, while making its list of things that are really important but not enough to die for. Peace will happen when both sides have the things they're willing to die for, along with as many of the other goals as possible while enabling the other side their minimum list. Hard-nosed horse-dealing and arithmetic. It's that simple.

Well, theoretically.

Logical condition number one: Both sides must recognize they can have only what's compatible with the list of the opposite side. Which means, neither side gets the entire land for themselves. There has to be a partition of some sort.

(I'm not going to deal with the One-State solution because it contradicts the fundamental list of the Israelis and is a non-starter. It may well also contradict the goals of the Palestinians, but that's immaterial. The moment a goal contradicts the fundamental needs of even only one side, it's off the table - assuming a resolution of the conflict is being sought. If not, what's the discussion about anyway?)

Partition means both sides reconcile to the fact that part of the ancestral homeland will be in the other country. This is why the positions of Hamas contradict the possibility of peace. Maybe one day this will change, but it hasn't yet. There are Israelis who likewise reject partition, but they don't win elections, and haven't since the early 1980s. Not remotely.

Here's the list of essential Israeli goals as I understand them. First, what Israel needs to have:
1. A sovereign Jewish state. Since the Israelis want it to be democratic, there has to be a large Jewish majority.
2. Once the price for peace has been paid, the wars will be over. We don't pay the price and then keep our fingers hopefully crossed; we don't pay the price and then keep on facing terror.
Thus, goals that must be supplied by the Palestinians:
3. A formal, binding, legal and unambiguous End of Conflict declaration.
4. Since words are cheap and can be renounced, the Palestinians must accept some limitations to back up the declaration. Essentially, this means they can't have a full army. There have been other countries - the most obvious is Germany - which had sovereignty along with limitations on the size of their military, so this need mean the State of Palestine won't really be sovereign. It will, but with limitations on its military.

Jerusalem: The city is at the heart of the conflict, but too complicated for this post. For the moment I'll simply say both sides will have to agree to an accommodation regarding Jerusalem.

The essential Palestinian goals as I understand them
1. A sovereign Palestinian state.
2. The Palestinians have as good a shot as anyone in the Arab world at having a democratic state, so they can reasonably expect to have no more than a small minority of Jews, and these Jews may not have the preferential status of somehow being protected by Israeli law or military might. My understanding is that many Palestinians might be willing to accept Jews who are willing to be Palestinian citizens; I doubt many Jews will be eager to test the proposition. The Palestinians reject the possibility of having settlements of Israelis in their territory, and whether this is nice of them or not is immaterial.
3. The Jordanian and Egyptian territory of June 4th 1967, i.e Gaza and the West Bank in their entirety. This is not because of any mystical holiness of the1949 armistice lines, which were officially defined as temporary in 1949; they are simply an expression of what the Palestinians seem to have decided: they're willing to stop killing and being killed for a state in those lines, but anything smaller they'll continue to kill and be killed for. There can apparently be small land swaps.
4. A land connection of some sort between Gaza and the West Bank. A bridge over Israeli territory, or a tunnel under it, or a combination, or something.
5. Right of return of refugees. This, alongside Jerusalem, is an issue where the basic Israeli requirements andthe basic Palestinian ones are still not reconcilable. Any significant return of Palestinians to Israel would endanger item number 1 on Israel's list. The question which has not been resolved yet to the best of my knowledge is if there's a compromise to be had. Some Palestinians have said that if Israel grants the legal principle the Palestinians will do without the practical application. Personally, I wouldn't trust that sort of an agreement, which to my mind would contradict the need for an "End of Conflict" declaration. Well-intentioned negotiators on both sides may someday come up with a mutually acceptable fudge. They haven't yet.

So far for today's lesson.

These are the principles, so far as I understand them, of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I did not spell out what they mean on the ground - that's a subject for another day.

As of the end of 2009, the sides have not yet fully accepted all of the principles.

Ah, and as I noted, there's Jerusalem....


Anonymous said...

The idea that those are the essential Palestinian goals is, I suggest, a misconception. And more: the near-ubiquitousness of this misconception is itself a major component of the problem.

The actual, overarching goal of mainstream Palestinians is that the hurting of Jews, for being Jews, remain legitimate. Everything else that is important to them, such as being prosperous and physically safe, is secondary to that. And details like whether they have national sovereignty are not very high on the list - except when, as often happens, they are tactically useful in promoting the primary goal. But when circumstances force a choice, the primary goal trumps any other.

This no doubt sounds bizarre; yet it is not at all unusual. Many cultures in history have had antisemitism built into the fabric of their individual and collective identity in a similar way.

Nor is this a reason for despair. Quite the contrary. The conflict will be solved, and a Palestinian state will be born into peace and prosperity (though not, as you have pointed out, actual friendship with Israel), when - but only when - that aspect of Palestinian culture is superseded by something rational and decent. This, too, has happened in many societies, especially during the late twentieth century. It will happen in Palestinian culture too, sooner or later. So why not sooner? The more this is recognized by their opponents, the sooner they will realize it too - to the enormous benefit of all, especially themselves and their children.

chareidilite said...

they're willing to stop killing and being killed for a state in those lines, but anything smaller they'll continue to kill and be killed for

Is this true? It seems that there are a sizable number of Palestinians who want more than that. Hamas, which can lay claim to being the legitimate government representing the Palestinians, does not seem to accept this. ULtimately, it isn't what the "Palestinians" will agree to that matters, it is what the controlling leadership will agree to that matters.

Mr. Gerson said...

Really well written comment Anon.

Gavin said...

I've tried to stay informed on the negotiations over the years, I've found it very difficult to follow because the Palestinian side is very Arab in the way they never commit to anything. It reminds me of haggling with merchants in Cairo, name a price & they keep saying "More, more"

That said a negotiation is merely two parties who want something the other has got, the rest is just haggling over the details. Cut to the chase and the only thing the Palestinians have to sell is peace. There's nothing else that Israel wants from them. The real question is; have they put it up for sale?

Yaacov have the Palestinians EVER put forward a concrete proposal of their own? You've listed what you think they'd settle for, but have they ever actually fronted up at the negotiating table and put their cards on the table? I ask this because I've never seen or heard of any offer from them. It's always appeared to have been one-way traffic.

Regard, Gavin

Anonymous said...

Imagine what happens, if negotiations with Palestinians are successfully concluded along these outlines. No more treatment of their leaders way beyond their actual international importance. No more red carpets, no more pre-eminence, maybe one more Nobel Peace Price and then obscurity.

Even in prosperous highly industrialised states with lots of different areas (finance, manufacture, arts, science, politics etc. etc.) where competition and eminence is to be had that's a lot to ask of those on top but what if your chances of becoming No 1, 2 or 3 in anything are less than realistic? After being the one and only pivotal entity resigning yourself to be just another one of "them". Even if I leave everything else aside just for that one reason I can't imagine it happening, even if the Palestinians came up with an absolutely exceptional leader, what would happen to all that euphoria created by him once the deal was done? Therefore I believe the best deal to be had in order to preserve a maximum of peace is sincere negotiations, to the brink, then failure and restart.


Empress Trudy said...

There is a key glitch in this. The day, the moment, an independent Palestinian state is declared and recognized, is the day, the moment when every other Arab state will literally flush themselves of every least Palestinian. Every Palestinian in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Muslim Africa. Every single one. This will have the effect of doubling the population of this nascent Palestinian state overnight. And if you believe that they are profoundly unable and unwilling to erect and maintain the basic infrastructures and organizations of civic order then there is zero possibility in them being able to handle this problem. It will result in anarchy on a scale even the Palestinians haven't seen and UNRWA is even less prepared to cope with. Which will result in new Jewish blood libel and calls for Israel to 'deal with it' or be invaded or whatever the OIC yells about on that particular day. None of which will actually address or alleviate the problem. The Palestinians are bound for a hellish existence of their own creation whatever course they take at this point. Blaming the Jews and saying "NO!" won't change that.

Avigdor said...

Yaacov, first, thanks for this. I must admit, I haven't read your book yet, but I intend to. Everything you said is logical and sensible. There is no point in boring you with arguments you can make yourself, so I have just 2 points.

1) You assume the Palestinians, and in particular, their leadership, desire the same basic outcome you do.

2) You assume we - well, you, Israelis - can absorb the failure of a 2 state solution to end the conflict.

I can't prove you wrong. You've laid the two state argument about as well as anyone I've seen. I just don't agree with your starting assumptions.

Regardless, why not create a hedge for all these bets you're making? By leaving Jewish communities in Shomron and Yehudah in place, we create a buffer by which to judge Palestinian actions. Should they choose to build a peaceful society, all will be well. However, should they choose not to, the settlements will be our canary in the coal mine.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I (or anyone) can remain impartial when dealing with this topic. But honestly-do you really think that the Palestinians would be satisfied with that? they've never "missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity". They've been offered land, their own state-but I don't think they'll ever (I'm talking about the extremists who rule by force) be happy unless the entire Israel becomes Palestine..

Barry Meislin said...

It's not a question about being happy.

It's a question of principle: The Jews do not deserve a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish state is not legal, is not just, and must (and will) eventually be erased.

(And for good measure, Jews aren't even Jews.)

As for the epigram "not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity", it is a non-sequitur (albeit clever-sounding), since it presupposes that any "opportunity" the Palestinians may have "missed" was the opportunity to live in a Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

However, establishing a state side by side with the Jewish state has never been an option for the Palestinians (and they have taken great pains to show that it will never be one); hence, the epigram makes no sense.

The only opportunities missed by the Palestinians (thus far, at least) have been to eliminate the Jewish State.

Not to worry, however. They are still working at it with zest, zeal, and an increasing sense of hope.

And if it takes another 10, or 50 or 100 years, so be it. Allah (along with generous donations from the West, and even Israel) will provide.

Steven said...

Barry, you have a lot to learn. Your comment is showing supreme ignorance due to exposure to ridiculous propaganda, right down to denying the Jewish people their identity. You have nothing to add to the conversation until you learn facts.

Barry Meislin said...

Just expressing the Palestinian viewpoint, as I understand it.

I don't agree with it.

But I believe it's necessary to articulate it, and to articulate it clearly, so that those who dearly wish to believe that the Palestinians really want to live side by side with a Jewish state will understand that their wishful thinking is no more than just that.

Not that they will be persuaded, though....

NormanF said...

Israelis have accepted the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism. On the other side, there is still no acknowledgment of the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism, viz, Zionism.

And until that changes all talk of peace between Israel and a putative Palestine will continue to remain a chimera.