Sunday, November 28, 2010

It Takes Two, Baby

This Jerusalem Post captures two very distinct elements on my outlook on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

The first thing the article talks about the Fatah Revolutionary Council's latest meeting, in which it refused, among other things, to permit recognition of Israel as a Jewish state ("The council also renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion in accordance with international law and human rights conventions.") or to consider lands swaps as part of comprehensive peace agreement with Israel ("[I]llegal settler gangs can't be put on an equal footing with the owners of the lands and rights."), or the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders in preparation for final status talks. All this leaves me wondering precisely what Palestinians think is being negotiated over here? If negotiations are about compromises and give-and-take, is there anything the FRC is prepared to, well, "negotiate" over?

When it comes to negotiations, Palestinian officials seem to think only one side has an obligation to show up. It's not that there aren't things they have just claim to -- of course there are -- but there's scarcely any notion of reciprocity. "Jewish state"? No. Land swaps? No. Temporary borders? No. Recognition of basic historical facts like the Jewish connection to the Western Wall? No. It's paralleled by the seeming Palestinian approach to armed conflict, where, there too, only one side is apparently allowed to show up.

It's ridiculous. The refusal to countenance land swaps in principle is an arbitrary red-line on a subject which, until now, everyone took for granted would play a role in a final status agreement. And paired with the refusal to consider temporary borders, it puts the kibosh on one of the more promising proposals (by Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz) which would create a provisional Palestinian state on roughly 60% of the West Bank (comprising 99.2% of the West Bank's Palestinian population, plus additional land to create territorial contiguity), as a first step to final borders. Undoubtedly, the ceding of certain settlement blocs to Israel would be matched by land swaps back to the Palestinians. It's a decent plan, and is the outline (subject to negotiation) of a fair one, and now it appears to be a dead one. Go figure.

Meanwhile, shoehorned into the bottom of the article is a proposal by Yair Lapid (son of Shinui founder Tommy Lapid) that we detach the creation of a Palestinian state from the question of peace between Israel and Palestine. It's an idea that's appealed to me for awhile now. Often, the question of Palestinian statehood is debated as a question of dreams and nightmares: the dream that it will lead to a rapid solution to the entire conflict (in which case it should happen immediately), the nightmare that it will lead to a catastrophic and irreversible deterioration in Israel's security situation (in which case it shouldn't).

But of course, those aren't the only alternatives. Also possible -- and I think most likely -- is that the creation of a Palestinian state would neither solve the conflict, nor exacerbate it. It may bring peace moderately closer, or it may make Israel moderately more precarious, or it may have a negligible effect. In that case, it seems like the balance of rights would counsel immediate creation of a Palestinian state, as the benefit to the Palestinians (independence) would outweigh the prospective harms (at worst, moderate deterioration in Israel's security). As Lapid writes, the creation of an independent Palestine may not bring peace, but it certainly will make the conflict easier to manage than in the status quo:
[T]he establishment of a Palestinian state would “take the world off our backs, curb the process of turning us into a pariah state, enable us to maintain our security with fewer restraints, lift the burden of controlling three million people, and enable us to manage the discussion on our final borders and the future of the settlements.”

Whatever else one might say about Israel's security posture towards, say, Lebanon or Syria, it's clear that it has been easier to manage than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The reason is simple -- interstate conflict is well-studied, well-modeled, is easy to predict, and possesses well-established rules and norms of conduct governing the parties. Intra-state occupations and ethnic conflict possesses none of these qualities. Changing the status of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to something like the Israeli/Syrian conflict would be decidedly less than ideal, but it would also be a marked improvement over the status quo.

Of course, as the first part of this post indicates, simply establishing a Palestinian state is not so simple, as the Palestinian approach to negotiation appears to be stuck in near-maximalism. But what can you do?


joe said...

On maximalism, very similar critiques can be leveled against Israel's idea of negotiation (or of armed conflict). Arguably the only reason any offers from Israel have seemed generous (before being yanked when Palestinians didn't jump all over the chance right away) is because they represent a contrast to some all-too-common claims that there's no such thing as a Palestinian (and thus, they conveniently have no claim to self-determination) and rejections of the very idea of recognizing a Palestinian state.

And say what you will about the PLO, but they long ago recognized Israel's right to exist. So, since we see that there's not a Palestinian state yet, we can see why there'd be reluctance to give much ground and an inclination to cede ground only very grudgingly.

N. Friedman said...


With due respect, what you write is contrary to fact. The Israelis have, in fact, negotiated over every detail and have done so repeatedly. See the latest proposal that came from Israel via former PM Olmert - a proposal which was never responded to and which, in fact, met every alleged PA redline for resolving the dispute. Now, there have been Israelis unwilling to give anything. But, the government of Israel has been willing to do so.

The argument that there was no such thing as Palestinians is made about Palestinian nationalism, not about Arabs living in the land. Most historians note that Palestinian nationalism is not a long standing phenomena. And, moreover, it is one which groups like HAMAS reject to this day. At the time of Meir's comment, her statement reflected reality about Palestinian Arab politics, not the existence of Palestinian Arabs.


The logic of ceding land if it does not end the dispute is baffling to me. I think it would, in all likelihood, mean the end of Fatah and the rise of HAMAS throughout the Palestinian areas. Why? Because it would show that resistance works. Each time Israel has ceded land, its situation, diplomatically and security wise, has weakened. Do you think that HAMAS will give up the chance to shoot at Israeli aircraft at Ben Gurion? Do you think that those in the West who wear their Anti-Zionism on their sleeves will be satisfied? I think this is a serious misreading of the situation.

One interesting point that comes from the wikileak documents. It does appear that Arab nations do not make the Palestinian Arab cause their prime focus. Rather, their main concern appears to be Iran. That, it seems, calls into question Obama's approach based on the linkage concept, since the Arabs do not need peace with Israel to help the US deal with Iran. They appear to be more frantic than Israel is about the matter.

N. Friedman said...


What you write is simply not true. It is not arguable that Israel's proposals have merely been maximalist. Israel has not, in fact, denied that there are Palestinian Arabs. What Israelis have said is that, historically speaking, Palestinian nationalism did not exist until recently. And, if one picks up a book or so, you notice that such view is held by many Palestinian Arabs. In fact, it is held to this day by the Hamas party.


I do not see the logic of the cede land without something real in return. Ceding land for nothing will do what ceding Gaza did, which is help convince more Palestinian Arabs that Hamas understands the situation better than Fatah.

Your real argument appears to be that ceding land will gain Israel friends outside of the Middle East. I think that is based on a false underlying premise, which is that the objection to Israel derives primarily from moral considerations - good or bad morals.

I think you will see that the reason for anti-Israel sentiment that means anything is that such point of view helps governments gain entry to lucrative Arab business deals. In that regard, it is a policy which is very similar to the policy taken up by European powers during the 19th Century towards the collapsing Ottoman Empire, where feigned (and some real) concern about human rights abuses [note: many of the assertions were true] were used by European governments to gain a foothold in the region. E.g., France coming to the aid of the Maronites by setting up Lebanon - which did much for France.

joe said...

Well, NF, I seem to recall that Zionism wasn't always as popular with Jews as it is today, so I don't really follow you as to the importance of a similar observation about Palestinians.

Though I would point to your view on ceding land, as proof that it's not intransigence is not something that just got in the water supply in the West Bank and Gaza. (To say nothing of the assumption that all that land is Israel's to bargain away in the first place.) As the title of this post notes, it indeed takes two.

I don't think David would want to see much more back-and-forth between us, and I'm not feeling like it anyway, so I'll leave it there.

N. Friedman said...

joe writes: "To say nothing of the assumption that all that land is Israel's to bargain away in the first place."

Not to put too much emphasis on this point but, in fact, yes it is a reasonable assumption that it is for Israel to bargain away land that it now rules. Calling the land occupied does not alter the fact that Israel rules the land.

I have not said that Israel has not at times been intransigent. I have said that Israel has made reasonable offers to settle the dispute.

Your argument about Palestinian nationalism concerns a statement made by Golda Meir, a statement which has been widely misinterpreted in the manner you cast onto what Israelis think. The issue, however, is not what Israelis think but what the Israeli government says and is willing to do. And, as I noted, they have compromised.

Your view, by contrast, seems to be that it is not for the Israelis to compromise over the land it controls. Evidently, you have not read UN 242 which says that it is. Israel is, according to that important resolution, entitled to a secure and recognized boundary. That is something for those involved to negotiate about.

N. Friedman said...

There is more fodder for your review of views among Palestinian Arabs. These polling data show that, as I have argued all along, Palestinian Arabs do not support a two state solution as a final resolution of the dispute; instead, only as a interim solution.