Sunday, February 25, 2024

Dealing with the Deal After the Day After

Bibi Netanyahu has finally released a "day after" plan for Gaza. It's not a real plan, for many reasons. It's not surprising it took this long, and it's not surprising it's not real: even though the nominal military objectives Israel is pursuing in the Gaza Strip are obviously impossible to effectuate without some serious plan for "what comes after", any serious day after plan is a conceptual non-starter for the hard-right coalition keeping Bibi in power. So of course Bibi is going to tap dance around this issue and defer it as much as possible; a new iteration of the old "airstrikes while you wait" policy. While in theory Israel is blowing up Gaza to accomplish certain policy objectives -- from the short-term bringing the hostages home to the long-term securing of the Gaza/Israel border -- in practice Israel is blowing up Gaza because as long as it's doing that it can avoid thinking seriously about how to accomplish those objectives insofar as a serious grappling with said issues would require concessions that are ideologically unacceptable by the Israeli right -- for example, recognizing Palestinians' legitimate rights to self-determination. 

But tempting as it is, I'm not going to go on a rant regarding the inadequacies of this plan (though, to stress again, it's woefully inadequate and intentionally so). Rather, I want to focus in on one aspect of it -- the vague nod to some "local" Palestinian administrators and operatives who would implement these policies on the ground. The questions that immediately raised include "who exactly does Israel have in mind" and "what self-respecting Palestinian would agree to serve as the Israeli government's cat's paw?" My friend Layla referred to it as a proposed "quisling" regime, and in context that's difficult to argue against.

Yet I do think we need to unpack that issue a little more. One of the most unfair features of an eventual Israeli and Palestinian peace agreement is that it is going to have to be agreed to by people you hate. And by hate, I'm not referring to some sort of atavistic bigotry, I mean a hatred that has very real and justified foundations behind it. It's going to be agreed to by people who supported kidnapping Israeli kids on October 7. It's going to be agreed to by people who supported destroying Palestinian cultural heritage throughout the Gaza Strip. And that's going to be very difficult to deal with.

Consider the following statement: "If you find yourself agreeing with Hamas, stop and turn back, you're doing it wrong." Seems straightforward enough. And yet, any deal in the foreseeable future we might reach will be, quite literally, in part an agreement with Hamas. That's unavoidable (as Rabin famously observed: "You don't make peace with your friends."). And the problem is that where "agreeing with Hamas" is (understandably) taken as strong evidence that a position is a bad one, then necessarily every possible proposed deal will immediately become suspect the moment Hamas signals it might agree to it (i.e., it becomes an actual deal). It's a huge thumb on the scale in favor of rejectionism.

The same is true running in the reverse direction: a deal with Israel means a deal with Israel; by definition, the governmental structure that emerges in Gaza as part of that deal will be one that is at some level acceptable to Israel. Indeed, that's the hope of a good deal -- it's one that everyone will be happy or at least content with. But this very fact also means that any "deal" will be vulnerable to the charge that it represents capitulation to the hated Zionists -- the very fact that they find it agreeable proves it is a deal not worth taking. Again, to reiterate, I'm not accusing Layla of this -- in the context of this proposed "deal" the charges have very real legs. The point, though, is that this is an omnipresent phenomenon -- it stands ready to sabotage any agreement, insofar as agreeability from the wrong party can always be leveraged as proof that we're being taken for a ride.

I think this dilemma is what generates one of the great misguided fantasies that pervade discussion of Israel and Palestinian -- the belief that it is possible for one side ("my" side) to generate a solution and just impose it, without having to account for the other. Some "pro-Israel" writers imagine a sufficiently vanquished Palestinian people such that Israel can simply write the terms of the final arrangement and have it be accepted durably ever after; this fantasy is in many ways what motivated the plan Bibi just released. To the victors go the spoils and all that. And this also can be found in the "anti-normalization" kick amongst some "pro-Palestinian" activists: they affirmatively reject collaborationist peacebuilding initiatives with Israelis in favor of a fantastical future where practices of ostracization and coercion sufficiently squeeze the lifeforce out of Israel such that they can just decree the ultimate solution and Israelis will have no choice but to accede (or leave). 

In both cases, the fantasy is one where one can come to a "deal" without actually having to deal with the party that one hates. And while I can in concept understand the appeal of the fantasy, it is ultimately a fantasy. It can't be made real. Worse, it comes perilously close to suggesting that the way we know a deal is just is that the "bad" side hates it and has to be coerced into accepting it -- if they agree to it with any emotion other than miserable defeatism, then we're being exploited. That way lies disaster.

I've long been a fan of Amos Oz's observation that, on a national level, what Israelis and Palestinians need is a divorce, not a marriage. And the events of the past few months only reinforce that view. As distant as a just two-state solution may seem, a just one-state solution seems farther still. Given what Gaza's government did to Israelis on October 7, and what Israel's government is doing to Palestinians now, if you believe that there's a viable route to "and then both polities unite under a single political structure in the spirit of brotherhood and liberal tolerance, happily ever after", I'd say you're either hopelessly naive or you don't actually care about one faction's happily ever after at all (for casuals, it's typically the former; for more committed partisans, it's definitely the latter).

But that doesn't mean divorces are easy. While it might seem to be the most straightforward thing in the world -- just get two parties who hate each other to agree to separate from one another -- what makes some divorces impossibly acrimonious is when the participants decide that their dead giveaway for a "bad deal" is that their interlocutor finds it acceptable, and their lodestone guide for a "good deal" is that their counterparty despises it.

So I write this to prepare us all for the uncomfortable future we'll have to deal with if we want to see an actual deal (not a fiated decree by our righteously prevailing host). Making a deal will mean agreeing with people every bone in your body may say "it's a bad sign that I'm agreeing with them!" That challenge will always be on there by people who want to sabotage the deal. But it can't be enough. You don't make peace with your friends.


Ben said...

Sometimes it feels like I'm the only non rabid Palestinian cheerleader who not only isn't invested in Bibi being a leader at any level of Israeli society but firmly believes Israel can move on from him and find future PMs who are qualified for the job and will be better at it than he has been.

David Schraub said...

I'm not sure what you mean -- my sense of the hard pro-Palestinian cheerleading faction is that they tend to minimize the importance of Netanyahu, thinking that any "mainstream" Israeli leader would be functionally the same.