In today’s world standing still is not considered good. Movement and change (and don’t forget hope) are demanded of leaders. Nevertheless, barring any earth shattering event, maintaining the status quo in Israel is the most desirable option currently available.
There are a number of alternatives, the most widely repeated of which is the “two state solution.” This “solution,” supporters of which claim it bring peace to the region, advocates for a Jewish state roughly within the 1949 armistice borders, and an Arab state in the rest of the land between the river and the sea. Setting aside the issue of the right to sovereignty over the land, very little in their actions says the Arabs even want a state of their own.
Israel has a lot of experience with withdrawing from land over the past couple of decades. Egypt, arguably the most successful example, is lead by a president who refuses to visit Israel, is in constant violation of the treaty between the two states, and is in an arms race – but against whom? Yet, one could argue the Camp David treaty from 1978 was successful, and largely beneficial to Israel. After all, Israel has not fought a war against Egypt in three and a half decades. Further, Egypt was already an established state in 1978, and Israel’s relationship with the P.A. is very different.
The “two state solution” assumes a peace treaty between Israel and what would be Palestine. Such an agreement, of course, would need to be respected. However, the short history of the P.A. is a lesson in how to boost one’s international reputation while violating obligatory agreements. There is no need to elaborate Arafat’s murderous riots (aka “The Second Intifada“) after Ehud Barak’s refusal to actively eliminate Israel. Yet war in the guise of “the peace process” did not begin in 2000. As far back as 1996, a time period many Israelis would characterize as euphoric, the very guns supplied to the P.A. by Israel were used to murder Israelis.
There is no reason to think times have changed. After winning 4-5 years of difficult fighting, terrorist attacks against Israel have become less frequent. This is not for lack of trying. Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006, as wonderful as democracy may be, shows that a deal is as far as it has ever been. In other words, not only is such an agreement unlikely to garner the requisite popular support, it would have a very short life, after which Israel would be left with an enemy/terrorist state in its midst, of its own creation no less.
Another popular plan is unilateral withdrawal, the policy that was pursued by Ariel Sharon in his “disengagement plan,” followed by Ehud Olmert’s “realignment,” the latter of which abandoned due to Olmert’s limited political capital after the war in Lebanon. In recent years Israel has ceded land under fire (in contrast to Sinai) in a number of instances, and has paid dearly for it each time. The experiences in Lebanon and Gaza, not to mention the various pockets of “Area A” have shown anyone with eyes in his head that when Israel cedes territory, whether unilaterally or as a result of an agreement, it shall be repaid with fire.
If neither unilateral nor bilateral withdrawals are feasible – what is?
If Arabs left the area between the river and sea clearly the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” would be a non-issue. The question is, can this be accomplished? I would like to reiterate that I am not examining what is right or wrong from a moral standpoint. I am looking at the strategic aspects of these plans alone.
Mass expulsion of Arabs, and the Rehavam Ze’evi plan are two such approaches, yet both are unfeasible. There is a difference between the two. The former is self-explanatory. Ze’evi’s, on the other hand, advocated “making the lives of Palestinians so miserable they would relocate, by use of military force during wartime, or through an agreement with Arab nations.” Even if we set aside the issue of American aid and the strings attached to it, Israel, like nearly every other country on the globe, is not completely independent. Both of these tactics will undoubtedly bring about international opprobrium, and possibly sanctions, maybe even regional war. These are not risks to be taken lightly, and will likely stem any initiative drawn up along these lines, not to mention that no foreseeable Israeli government would dream of adopting such a policy.
Ze’evi has also suggested paying Arabs to emigrate. While this will not carry with it quite the same level of international criticism of mass deportations (which would be, in effect, population exchanges), this plan is unlikely to get off the ground, as well. Even though the price of oil is not as stable as OPEC would like it to be, money would probably start flowing out of Saudi and Iranian coffers in order to maintain the “refugee problem,” thereby keeping the focus off of their own corrupt regimes. Many want to leave anyway, but regional pressure, and the offsetting monetary offers would render Israeli financial incentives moot.
Furthermore, international pressure would be intense. The world has been wed to the “two state solution” for a long time, and any action that would undermine this vision would not be taken kindly. The UN, for example, would be extremely unhappy. The UN has a vested interest in maintaining the conflict, since ending it would mean the dismantling of an entire UN agency.
Even before 2005, Jordan expressed opposition to a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Considering Jordan’s inherent instability, this is understandable. The last thing the Hashemites want is a coup d’état on their hands. One creative idea, that has recently been reintroduced by Benny Morris, is a regional federation. Such an arrangement is not clearly defined, and the variations are nearly endless. The most significant impediment to such an arrangement, however, is Arab opposition. While King Abdullah might be in favor of an agreement that could lay to rest its fears of an uprising, the success of a federation is heavily reliant on popular support. Since terrorist activity is still very much alive, and has a considerable amount of popular support, it is hard to believe that the Arab residents of the region – on either side of the river – would acquiesce to such a deal. This settlement (or category of settlements, as seen in the JCPA paper) would mean that Jews and Arabs would be living in closer proximity than the framework of any the other “solutions” suggest. The societies would be much more intertwined, which is currently not something either side wants. Without widespread popular support this plan is dead on the table.
There are moral issues to be considered, as well. Although I do not delve into these here, I would like to point out that I do not see how outright mass deportations, or actively making people’s miserable are defensible from a moral standpoint. This is especially true considering the probable inefficacy of such actions, as outlined above.
New plans are constantly being floated, and someone more creative than I might come up with a way to bring peace and quiet to the region. For the time being, however, the The Middle East is nowhere near peace. The way US foreign policy is being handled these days, primarily with regards to the de facto acceptance of a nuclear-capable Iran,the possibility of a major regional war is growing by the day. Major wars mean widespread population shifts. Until a significant shift occurs in Middle Eastern attitude no “solution” is possible, two-state or otherwise. Taking action that has only proven to add instability, cause strife, and cost lives is a bad idea. For now, staying the course is the best course of action.