Rattling the Cage: Quicksand in Yesha

Evacuate most of the settlements in the West Bank and redeploy the IDF there.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Ehud Olmert said it about as well as anybody. "We're nearing the point where more and more Palestinians are going to say: 'We're convinced. We agree with [Avigdor] Lieberman. There isn't room for two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. All we want is the right to vote.' "The day that happens," Olmert continued, "we will have lost everything. Even when they commit terrorism, it's hard for us to convince the world that we're right. It'll be that much harder when they're demanding equal voting rights. I dread the thought that the leaders of the struggle against us will be the liberal Jewish organizations that carried the fight against apartheid in South Africa." That was from an interview with Yediot Aharonot in December 2003. Since then, Ariel Sharon made the good faith effort to avoid Olmert's nightmare scenario by getting us out of Gaza. Then Olmert wanted to go further with his "convergence plan" to withdraw from about 90% of the West Bank. But the Second Lebanon War, the Kassams from Gaza and the rise of Hamas doomed that idea. Instead, the settlements and outposts in the West Bank have only been growing, and there's no end to their growth in sight. MEANWHILE, ISRAELIS are thoroughly complacent. It's the Palestinians' fault there's no peace process, they say. When the Palestinians prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're through with terror, then we'll talk, but only then. Of course, there's more than a little justice to this view. The Kassams and Hamas have given Israelis, including me, a very good reason not to want to withdraw from the West Bank: the very legitimate fear that if we do, rockets will start hitting Ben-Gurion Airport. Yet there's an opposing argument that has more than a little justice, too: Israel may say it's ready to give up settlements, may say it's ready to live alongside a peaceful Palestinian state, but Israel's actions say different. Israel's actions say it wants more and more West Bank land for itself, and less for the Palestinians. This didn't start with the intifada, or with the Kassams; this started 41 years ago. The disengagement was a fluke. Only a leader of Sharon's magnitude could have pulled it off, and a prime minister like that comes along once in a generation, if you're lucky. There's nobody like Sharon in Israel today, and nobody like him on the horizon, either. PUT THESE two arguments together and what you get is this: Even if the Palestinians were ready to give up terror, which they're not, Israel is not about to uproot the 50,000-100,000 settlers necessary to make room for a Palestinian state. Bottom line: Israel is staying in the West Bank indefinitely. The question is: What are the Palestinians supposed to say to that? I know what I would say if I were a Palestinian. I'd say: I'm convinced. There isn't room for two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. All I want is the right to vote. Citizenship. Equality. How's that for an existential threat to Israel? It's called the "one-state solution." Abu Ala, chief peace negotiator for the Palestinians, says it's the only alternative if the two-state solution fails. Polls say about one-quarter of the Palestinian public is ready for it right now. If Palestinians as a body ever become convinced by Israeli settlement expansion that the one-state-solution is their only path, what will Israel say to them? "No, you can't vote, you can't have citizenship, you can't have equality"? We're a democracy, remember. We're joined at the hip with America. Or will we tell them - "Yes, you can be equal, voting citizens"? Then that's it for the Jewish state. The Arabs will have a majority, if not now, then soon, and I'm not sure we'll do so well here in the minority. So if Israel becomes forced by world pressure to choose between abandoning democracy, abandoning Zionism, or abandoning the West Bank, will it take the third way? Sure. And risk seeing Ben-Gurion Airport, Kfar Saba, Modi'in, etc. turn into new versions of Sderot. So what on earth will we do when the Palestinians finally wise up and demand citizenship and voting rights, knowing this will either lead Israel to become a pariah state, turn the Arabs into Israel's majority, or give the Palestinians the West Bank in a hurry? For now, I'd say we should stop doing nothing. We should stop telling ourselves the ball is in their court and that we've got all the time in the world. Because we don't. The status quo in the West Bank may be tolerable for us, but it isn't for them. It's not going to last forever. So maybe now's the time to make a plan, then start carrying it out. Here's an idea: Uproot the West Bank settlers on the far side of the security barrier - but keep the IDF there, unless and until a final peace agreement is reached. Evacuate 50,000-100,000 settlers and redeploy the army in the West Bank for the sole purpose of defending Israelis behind the security barrier, instead of on both sides of it. Pulling the settlers out but keeping the soldiers in - pending a final peace treaty, if and when it comes - would probably be good for Israel's security. It would definitely be good for Israel's democracy. The gridlock with the Palestinians would be broken; a giant step toward peace would be made. Yes, it would be traumatic for the many thousands of settler families who'd lose their homes, but there's no way of avoiding that trauma if Israel is going to remain a Jewish, democratic state. AND AFTERWARD, if the Palestinians demanded citizenship, equality and the right to vote in Israeli elections, we would be able to say: No, but you can have an independent Palestinian state so long as it's peaceful. We've just demonstrated that what we want is security, not more land; now it's your turn to demonstrate that you'll deliver. I don't know if even then the Palestinians would hold up their end, but I think the democratic world, the world whose good will Israel needs, would see that we had held up ours. I think Olmert's bleak vision of international sanctions and boycotts against Israel would be forestalled. I think the Palestinians would have lost the political leverage they're gaining from Israel's filling up the West Bank with settlers. But I know this is a dream. Israel is not about to start moving out 50,000-100,000 settlers. It's not about to move out even one. The iron will isn't there, not in any potential prime minister, not in any potential government, and not in the public. Ever since Sharon's stroke 2-1/2 years ago, the settler movement and its supporters have been back in the saddle. No, Israel doesn't look like it's going to wise up anytime soon. Like Olmert, I fear that the Palestinians may.