In that spirit, I'm thinking of starting a new series on "Unthinkable Thoughts". These are questions that I hate to ask, and whose answers are deeply uncomfortable for me, but which I've generally been able to get away with not asking because I've viewed their premises as sufficiently remote as to not require consideration. Now, by contrast, I think they're plausible questions that someone like me does have to think through.
That "plausible" is important to stress. For example, today's unthinkable thought is "What if Israel doesn't agree to a fair peace deal?" What if it's the case that Israel would reject even a fair deal put on the table?
In raising this question, I'm not asserting that I now believe "Israel will not agree to a fair peace deal." I'm saying that it is no longer unthinkable that Israel would so not agree, at least not without some degree of external pressure. It's a sufficiently realistic possibility that someone with my commitments has to reflect on it.
Of course, different people have different thoughts which are "unthinkable" for them. For me, some other questions I'm thinking of working through in this series include:
- What if the Democratic Party "Corbynifies"?
- What if a one-state solution becomes the only plausible solution?
- What if leveraging antisemitism is the most effective way to advocate for Palestinian rights?
Some of you have thought the above thought for years -- congratulations. This is not an invitation for you to pass judgment on what should and shouldn't be a hard thought to think. If these thoughts come easily to you, then feel free to come up with your own unthinkable thoughts and contemplate them.
That said, I think I occupy a sufficiently well-populated ideological space within the Jewish community that I imagine some of these thoughts that have been unthinkable for me, are also starting to nibble at a good few of my peers as well. And so I hope that, if nothing else, this series provokes some renewed thought among that set.
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So -- today's unthinkable thought is the prospect that Israel might not -- of its own volition, anyway, agree to a fair peace deal with the Palestinians. The proximate cause of thinking about this came upon reading a variety of people -- some earnest, some not -- asking what tactics the Palestinian people could use in order to pressure Israel for their own liberation if BDS (and, obviously, violence) were taken off the table?
I have some answers to that direct question, but what I want to focus on here is why that question I think has typically not been contemplated by many in the pro-Israel camp. Simply put, it is an article of faith among pro-Israel sorts -- and this is one of the rare things that still unifies left, right, and center pro-Israel sorts -- that Israel "wants to make a deal". They may be skeptical of the Palestinian Authority's ability to deliver, they may be pessimistic that Palestinian leadership will come to a table, but they are absolutely sure that if a deal was put forward, Israel would accept.
The reason why that article of faith matters is it suggests that the only thing standing in the way of a Israeli/Palestinian peace accord is Palestinian rejectionism. It's a step beyond the (fair) point that the failure to make a deal isn't solely Israel's responsibility -- of course it isn't, it takes two to tango. But this view posits that Israel bears no responsibility. Palestinians need to be pressured or induced into cutting a fair deal; Israelis are simply waiting for that pressure to bear fruit. If and when it does, Israel will sign on.
There's a historical narrative that supports this view -- starting from Israel's acceptance of the UN partition plan alongside Palestinian/Arab rejection, and moving through Camp David at the turn of the millennium. We know Israelis would make a deal because they have put forward such deals, and its been Palestinians who have said no.
Of course, Pro-Palestinian historians have a different take on this, but for my purposes I can accept it simply by observing that Israeli politics today are very different than they were in 2000, let alone 1948. So can we say, with absolute confidence, that if Abbas came forward today and said "okay -- we're ready to sign on the dotted line: compensation for refugees but no right of return, Israel keeps big settlement blocs near the Green Line in exchange for corresponding land swaps, Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem but Israel maintains control over Jewish neighborhoods," that this Israeli coalition would say yes? Really?
Absolute faith blinds us to troublesome reality. I mentioned this when Jonathan Tobin spoke of Benny Gantz saying settlement blocs (including some which could not remain under Israeli control under any reasonable peace deal) will remain Israeli "forever". Tobin said this proved that even the Israeli center doesn't see much hope in a peace deal "right now" or "for the foreseeable future". I pointed out that "forever" is quite a bit longer than "right now" or "the foreseeable future."
Maybe if the right opportunity presents itself, someone like Gantz will change his mind. Maybe he'll be able to bring 61 votes in the Knesset with him. I think it's plausible. But it's hardly guaranteed.
The fact is, there is no circumstance where a peace deal between Israel and Palestine will not require a leap of faith. And so there will always be a temptation -- even among people who say that they want a deal, even among people who in some sense genuinely do want a deal -- to step back from the precipice, and find a reason to say "no". Can we trust them? Will they follow through? Is this border a kilometer too deep or too narrow? Is that detail a dealbreaker?
Given all this, it may well be that Israel will not, of its own accord, accept even a fair deal if it were put out on the table. Which means it might need a little push. That doesn't mean they're the only party that might need pushing; but nonetheless, it is plausible that Israel will have to be induced into accepting a deal.
And that raises the question: what are the viable candidates for that "push"? What can justly be done, and what is a bridge too far?
These are uncomfortable questions -- and I don't think the right answer is "by any means, no matter the cost." But surely the answer also cannot be "nothing -- if a fair deal is on the table and Israel rejects it, then that's that." And given Israel's increasingly rightward tilt, I think we in the pro-Israel community need to start thinking through these questions sooner rather than later -- because if we don't, others will do the thinking for us.