Back to the future

As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have resumed it will, once again, become clear that a full resolution to the conflict is not in the cards.

By
August 26, 2013 21:37
Israeli, Palestinian delegations meet in Washington for iftar dinner, July 29, 2013.

Israelis, Palestinians meeting for resumption of talks 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have resumed – but over time it will, once again, become clear that a full resolution to the conflict, including Palestinian statehood, is not in the cards. The reasons are plentiful and self-evident; not only is the very concept of separate Palestinian nationhood, (as historians of the Palestinian national movement themselves have admitted) largely contrived and recent Palestinian Arabs are a fundamentally tribal and clannish society whose separate parts often have closer ties with Arab societies and families in other countries than with their supposed compatriots.

Nor has the record since the Oslo agreements 20 years ago relating to Palestinian governance been very encouraging. To be fair, the Palestinian Authority has faced numerous, not easily surmountable obstacles – both from the outside and self-made – but on the whole, it is hard to be very sanguine about the chances of such an artificial, demographically challenged, economically, politically and territorially constrained entity to become anything but another failed Middle East state (especially if it will have to absorb hundreds of thousands of “returning” refugees).

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These, of course, are only some of the reasons for skepticism. On top of the persistent quandary with regard to the “core issues,” i.e. the so-called “right of return,” Jerusalem (twice: once as to its political status, and then again with regards to the control of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif), and the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

All the cited negatives should, however, not be construed to mean that the socalled “one-state solution” is a positive.

On the contrary, it would probably be affected by all of the above drawbacks, and then some.

The statement that “one state” would be incompatible with Israel being either democratic or Zionist or even Jewish may have become an over-used truism – but it happens to be correct. When Zeev Jabotinsky, many years before the Holocaust, envisaged the future Jewish state to include a sizable but patriotic (“patriotic” in terms of the Jewish state, that is) or at least pliable Arab minority, he counted on a massive Jewish majority, nor could he have been aware of how the Middle East and the Arab world in particular would look in the future.

His concept of the “iron wall” was correct, namely that only Jewish military superiority would convince the Arabs to accept a Jewish state and eventually live in peace with it – and this concept was shared, and practiced, by David Ben- Gurion (though not using this term). It is valid today no less than it was in Jabotinsky’s and Ben-Gurion’s days, but it is not applicable, in the long term, to the reality of an Arab majority, or even large minority, inside a de facto Jewish- Arab state.

Another factor speaking against “one statism” is that it would inevitably create a chasm between Israel and the Jewish world which would find it increasingly difficult to empathize with what in fact had become a binational state.

So, are all bets off? Does this mean the status quo should, or could, be perpetuated? Though those who have said for the past 46 years that it was “unsustainable” have so far been wrong, the basic fact is that the Arabs in the “territories” don’t want their lives to be run by Israel and, no less importantly, most Israelis do not want this either.

As the present bilateral talks (really trilateral, which may not be a wholly positive precedent) go on, approaching the end of the nine-month timeline the US has allocated for them it will transpire that investment in the effort to reach a permanent solution, including Palestinian statehood, will show increasingly diminishing returns.

Sooner or later, the US and Israel, each for its own reasons (though some of those will be shared) – although not the Palestinians whose strategic aim is deadlock and tactic is raising conditions or employing violence or both, in order to return to the UN – will start looking for a magic formula so as not to admit failure.

But perhaps they won’t have to look too far; on September 17, 1978, almost 35 years ago to the day, at Camp David, a “framework for peace in the Middle East to establish an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza and to fully implement Security Council resolution 242” was concluded (in light of recent events, identifying overall peace in the Middle East with the Palestinian issue looks ironic, not to say disingenuous).

The “framework” further stated that the planned arrangements “should give due consideration both to the principle of self-government by the inhabitants (of the “territories”) and to the legitimate security concerns of the parties concerned,” spelling out, among other things, that Israeli forces would stay in “specified security locations,” which Moshe Dayan pointed out at the time must be reinforced by a civilian infrastructure, i.e. settlements.

The Palestinians, true to their habit of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, rejected the autonomy concept out of hand. What followed was Madrid and Oslo, which the Palestinians undermined by resorting to either violence or procrastination, or both.

Though many things have changed since then (though not Palestinian rejectionism and intransigence), some have not.

Israel is still mainly concerned with security – even more so today, given Iran’s aggressive designs, Hamas, Hezbollah, al- Qaida, etc. – and it won’t allow the Palestinians to play open house to any of the above; demilitarization and preventing military alliances aimed at Israel are focal principles in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of any formula for a settlement, which must also include Israel’s right to maintain security (perhaps in conjunction with Jordan) along the Jordan river.

The Palestinians, though not fully sovereign in the traditional and largely outdated sense, would, as stated at the time (in a US 1993 draft proposal), have “real control over decisions that affect their lives and fate,” and this could conceivably include non-security related foreign relations and ties.

One may assume similar ideas were also in the mind of George W. Bush in making the “settlement-bloc” proposals, as well as at least partly in the proposed “Road Map.”

Begin’s ideas for the Palestinian Autonomy back in 1978 were probably too narrow, but in view of developments since they could be expanded and adapted without infringing on their central precepts or on Israel’s basic objectives and rights.

Anything agreed upon by the parties could be either permanent or provisional.

True to form, the Palestinians will probably continue to say no to anything which would oblige them to agree to compromise on any of the important issues, but this should not discourage Israel from making proposals of its own.

Agreement with the Palestinians is, of course, the preferable option, but the possibility of unilateral Israeli steps should not be ruled out altogether, either. According to the French, one always returns to one’s first love – Palestinian Autonomy is not necessarily anybody’s first or lasting love, but it may still have its day.

The author is a former ambassador to the US.


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