Monday, February 02, 2009

Peace? Plan?

A post by Dylan Matthews, guest-blogging for Ezra Klein, has been nagging at me for a couple of days now.
Netanyahu's policy position here is based entirely on negatives. He doesn't want to divide Jerusalem, even though annexing East Jerusalem is illegal and would cripple the Palestinian economy. He doesn't want a return to 1967 borders, even though that would secure Israel recognition from the entire Arab League. But the problem isn't just that the planks are wrong. It's that they're not a policy. There's nothing in Netanyahu's litmus test that suggests what end-state he prefers. Does he think continuing the occupation indefinitely is viable? Would he support some pathetic joke of a Palestinian state with smaller-than-1967 borders and without East Jerusalem? Does he back population transfer, like Benny Elon, or exchanging settlements for Arab Israeli areas, like Avigdor Lieberman?

Really, there's is no shortage of non-viable, right-wing "peace plans" out there. If Netanyahu is to bash the API/Geneva/Taba consensus, he should pick one of them and run with it, or roll his own. Otherwise, there's little in his platform but obstructionism.

Most Jews, inside and outside of Israel, identify broadly with a two-state solution. Which is good. But this commitment, if it is to be taken seriously, has to be backed up with some sort of concrete plan for attaining it. It's not enough to vaguely say "I want peace". There has to be a there there.

This hit home with me thinking about my identification with J Street and the need support American policies which concretely advance the cause of peace. Denigrating J Street as a "fantasy", a colleague of mine (whom I won't name, but who is free to identify herself if she wishes) expressed support for a two-state solution, but told me that the United States should not pressure Israel in any way, shape, or form to move in that direction. This, to me, is not supporting a two-state solution -- at least as a matter of American foreign policy. It's supporting an American foreign policy of allowing Israel to do whatever it wants, regardless of whether it gets us closer to a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict or not. As far as I'm concerned, adapting that position is simply inconsistent with being "pro-two-state solution". I honestly don't think someone who is unwilling for the United States to ever challenge Israel to do something it might be reluctant to do can reconcile that with pro-peace commitments. Hell, I don't even think that's reconcilable with being pro-Israel. Sometimes even friends require a little bit of leaning on. If you're unwilling to do that, you're not a real friend.

Supporting peace in the middle east means supporting a viable plan to get us there. Obstacles to peace exist on both sides. I happen to think the more serious obstacles come in the form of Palestinian anti-Semitic ideology and terrorism. If you support a two-state solution, you have to have a policy agenda that meaningfully reacts to (and allows Israel to meaningfully react to) this violence and incitement. A concrete step that all players (Israel, Palestine, the EU, the UN, America, and the Arab League) should be taking is cracking down on maximalist ideologies which are poisoning Palestinian civil society and making peace impossible. There is a reason why UNRWA textbooks are considered a big deal in Israel -- they're an abdication of the UN's responsibility to try and dissipate, rather than fan, the flames of extremism and create the conditions where peace can occur. I'm not that interested in the psychological or social reasons why some Palestinians might buy into hateful ideas about Jews, or be reticent to adopt an outlook hinged on mutual equality and respect. Descriptively, that might be the state of affairs -- but that's all the more reason why the actors working to create peace have to break down those mentalities, not ignore them and let them fester and multiply.

But the Israeli settlements are major obstacles as well -- and ones that really serve no purpose but to aggravate Palestinians and make it more difficult for peace to be achieved in the long run. If you support a two-state solution, then, you need a plan which actually will see most if not all of the settlements dismantled in the foreseeable future. Simply waving your hands and saying "Israel will deal with them" is not a plan. It also shows a shocking ignorance of Israeli parliamentary politics, which makes evacuation of the West Bank settlements unbelievably difficult without external pressure even though it'd be supported by a popular majority in Israel. The US has the leverage to help break this stalemate and strike a huge blow for peace. It needs people who are willing to mobilize on behalf of Israel to put their money and politics where their mouths are, and press America to intervene on the side of Israel and Palestine -- which is to say, the side of peaceful co-existence.

As Matthews says, there are alternative right-wing "plans" for peace out there that compete with the framework I believe in. I don't particularly think any of them are viable, and I think many of them would exact unbearable costs in terms of violation of human rights of innocent civilians. But in some ways I actually prefer people who advocate for those proposals, because at least they are owning a position that can be analyzed and critiqued. While a larger part of me prefers those who at least theoretically prefer two-states than "Greater Israel" or binationalism, because I think their end-point commitments are on the mark, saying you support a two-state solution (or some other peaceful solution) while refusing to support any concrete steps that might actually take us there is cowardly, and it is not what Israel and Palestine need right now.

What Israel and Palestine need, right now, is active engagement that can create the conditions where both sides can make the requisite changes in their behavior to create justice and peace. Palestinians need to renounce terror, anti-Semitism, and maximalist ideology that demands destruction of Israel as the end-goal of the conflict. Israelis need to evacuate the settlements, commit themselves to negotiations as the primary method of engagement with the Palestinian people, and abandon the "Greater Israel" ideal which contemplates permanent dispossession and occupation of the Palestinian people. All of these steps are in some ways politically perilous, all of them are risks. The actors need to know that the United States will have their backs as they take the tough steps on the road to peace. They also need to know that if their counterparts hesitate, the United States will move swiftly to keep them on track.

If you're not willing to support America actively intervening to forge peace in the region, or at the very least not willing to support some practical plan for getting Israel and Palestine to meet their obligations to one another, you're not pro-peace. Period.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes the prerequisites for peace are unnacceptable.
East Jerusalem is where the Kotel is -the most holy of Jewish sites. IF handing over the most sacred holy place in Judaism would truly bring peace then perhaps... but to hand it over for a nebulous promise? Take a look around. Do you seriously think that promise will materialize?
Or is it more likely that after handing over the Kotel, certain people with guns and missiles(and possible nukes) will say "now hand over all of Israel or war will continue."?
And after some more war and killing some nice guy like yourself will say, "well we have to give peace a chance so let's hand over all of Israel after all it's serving no purpose "other than to annoy the Palestinians" and that's the only "viable" peace plan.
And after that who knows. Maybe it will be like how certain xtians tortured and persecuted Jews telling us if we'd just accept Jeebus we'd have peace.Just become xtian and there will be peace.Just hand over the Temple Mount and there will be peace. Just submit to whomever and whatever and there will be peace. As a women it reminds me of people telling abused women to submit to their husbands for the sake of peace in the marriage.
People talk about peace as if it is only good and cannot possibly ever be bad.
SO it depends on whose peace we are talking about and on what terms.
If you are Jewish and care about peace then say the Shema. If you are not doing then then maybe it is YOU who do not truly desire peace.

M said...

With all due respect to the Shema or the Kotel they are irrelevant to the identity of the State of Israel as a secular and Western-oriented country, without mentioning the fact the Jewish religion as a concept was always more metaphysical than physical. In addition, nobody talks about "handing over the Kotel" as it is obvious to the Palestinians that under a peace treaty, holy places for religious Jews would be under Israeli authority.

I agree with you to some extent that signing a peace treaty at the moment might be a frightening step. However, a more frightening and dangerous step would be to keep the status-quo as at is, or alternatively keep expanding the illegal and "legal" settlements. Regardless of the peace treaty, Israel should dismantle the settlements as they are nothing but an abhorrent mistake that breed radical Jewish groups that threat the identity of Israel as a secular and democratic state, and make the life of the Palestinians in the West Bank unpleasant to say the least.

Israel has several options on the table, and one of them to show its willingness to help establishing a Palestinian nation state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There is no doubt the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and smaller radical groups are not going to fully accept this agreement, but reality will force them to either loose support or confront the interests of the Arab world and the State of Israel, in a step that will only lead to their destruction by the appropriate means. Furthermore, Israel must reclaim its higher moral grounds in the region, and the only way to do so is to show the world it is willing to risk some of its interests in order to see a viable Palestinian state in the region. If the Palestinians will continue rejecting such offers, Israel will eventually be able to build up enough legitimacy to end this conflict in a different manner. But this will have to take place only after Israel is dismantling the settlements, already before signing a peace treaty, and keep its military control over the area.

Cycle Cyril said...

There are problems with the US leaning on Israel to bargain with the Palestinians.

It is one sided in that most of the tangible concessions are forced out of Israel. Even an intangible concession of changing the Fatah covenant to eliminate the elimination of Israel has never been done.

And as an outsider the US is not cognizant of the facts and psychology of either party but particularly of the Palestinians.

The US motivation can also be suspect in that much of the pushing and direction comes from the State Department which is predominantly pro-Arab.

In the past the peace treaties that have somewhat worked were worked out bilaterally between Israel and Egypt/Jordan. America was only brought in with Egypt when they realized they needed money to pay for aspects of the treaty and then they gave Carter some credit for the treaty as cover.

Because of the lack of even intangible concessions a two state solution is impossible for the foreseeable future. A more stable solution though one that is not likely is for the Gaza strip and the West Bank to revert back to Egyptian and Jordan control respectively. An independent Palestinian state at this time is an invitation to greater Iranian control and disaster.