Israeli Intransigence? Try Palestinian Rejectionism
The conventional wisdom in diplomatic and media circles concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict is that Israeli intransigence—especially on the building of West Bank settlements—is the dead weight that prevents the achievement of a two-state solution in the Middle East. The Netanyahu government has been trying to convince anyone willing to listen that the real cause of the conflict's persistence isn't Israeli intransigence but Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Palestinian state so long as that means accepting a Jewish state alongside it. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, these efforts haven't met with much success.
But Israelis are nothing if not persistent; and two high-ranking officials in the Netanyahu government, Shalom Lipner and Yossi Kuperwasser, have just given it another try. Their article in the current issue of the influential journal Foreign Affairs faithfully reflects the reasoning behind the government's position and does so with careful documentation and lucid argument.
Lipner is a long-time civil servant in the Prime Minister's Office; Kuperwasser is Director General of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The head of the Ministry, former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon, is a soft-spoken, independent-minded kibbutznik who has been taking on conventional pieties ever since he was forced out of the IDF by Ariel Sharon for opposing, on strategic grounds, the "disengagement" from Gaza. True to form, Ya'alon recently argued that a construction freeze in the West Bank would amount to an "ethnic cleansing" of the region's Jews.
Lipner and Kuperwasser, acknowledging that "two decades of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have failed miserably," state their thesis: that "Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state stands at the root of the struggle and behind every so-called core issue, from determining borders to resolving the dispute over Palestinian refugees." Since signing the Oslo accords, they explain, the Palestinians have pursued "two complementary approaches" to dealing with Israel, "one that rejects Israel outright and another that accepts Israel as a political entity but continues to refuse to accept its character as the homeland of the Jewish people." In other words, the Palestinians have, on parallel tracks, pursued an explicitly rejectionist approach and an implicitly rejectionist approach.
It is unsurprising that Westerners remain unaware of the explicitly rejectionist approach, which is articulated in Arabic and reserved for domestic consumption. What is sold to international audiences as the voice of moderation is the implicitly rejectionist approach, in which Palestinians appear to have recognized the State of Israel—but never actually accept the existence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. They express willingness to recognize an entity called "Israel," but this entity does not possess a particular Jewish identity. As Yassir Arafat made clear, this "voice of moderation" calculates that the recognized entity called Israel will in due time lose its Jewish majority, through both the Palestinian "right of return" and the "Palestinian womb"—i.e., demographics.
The authors, reflecting the Netanyahu government's strategy, say progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians will require a "daring paradigm shift." And what is the character of this paradigm shift? The present paradigm focuses on "land for peace" as the key to ending the conflict; therefore, the building of settlements assumes an importance far beyond its inherent significance. The new paradigm would shift the focus to the mutual recognition of national rights. Israel must recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, reflecting Palestinian culture. As everyone with eyes in their heads can see, the founding of such a state will require the uprooting of Israeli settlements. The Palestinians must recognize a Jewish state—that is, the nation-state of the Jewish people. That means no Palestinian "right of return" to Israel proper, no Palestinian state encompassing all of mandatory Palestine, and an end to the conflict.
The article does not spell out all the implications of such mutual recognition, but they are clear enough. The day the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the Israeli public will more than be willing to support compromise on other core issues. If, however, the Palestinians cannot do this (and by all indications they can't), then again, everyone with eyes in their heads should see that this incapacity—this rejectionism—is the source of the conflict's continuation.
The logic of the argument would seem inescapable, but it isn't. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her recent memoir, recounts a story of classic Palestinian rejectionism. In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to hand virtually 100 percent of the West Bank over to the Palestinians, divide Jerusalem, appoint an international body to supervise the Holy Sites, and even allow some Palestinians into Israel. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused the offer because it didn't include a universal Palestinian "right of return." And what lesson does Rice take from this incident? Amazingly, but perfectly in line with the conventional wisdom, she concludes that an "Israeli-Palestinian deal is doable, but they can't keep missing opportunities." The possibility does not seem to have crossed her mind that the Palestinians will continue to "miss opportunities" so long as those opportunities require acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state.
Has the possibility crossed President Obama's mind? In his recent September speech at the UN, he termed the Jews' ancient connection to the land of Israel a "fact" and called on Arab governments to acknowledge this fact. This constituted a significant departure from Obama's 2008 speech in Cairo in which he referred to the founding of the state of Israel as a response to the Holocaust, and it's reasonable to assume that Israeli diplomacy played a substantial role in the change. But declaratory rhetoric aside, Obama has done little to show he is willing to make the Arabs confront "difficult truths" in the same way he has been willing to make the Israelis confront settlement-building in the West Bank.
Lipner and Kuperwasser's goal is the goal of Netanyahu's government: to get the international community in general, and the United States in particular, to "pressure the Palestinians" into recognizing that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. But the Obama administration's behavior is proof, if proof were needed, that the conventional wisdom dies hard. One wonders what measures the Netanyahu government will take, aside from diplomatic persuasion and the writing of learned articles, in order to achieve its goal.
Ultimately, this conflict will be decided by the usual methods, which decide most historical quarrels over pieces of land: military might, economic strength, and demographic predominance. Israel has always held the military superiority card because of the utter corruption of the surrounding Arab states, which have been unwilling and unable to "help" the Palestinians in their conquests. For a long time, the economic card favored the Arab boycott states, from which the Palestinians expected to get some "help;" but it no longer does, since Israel is now the economic power in the region.
However, the real trump card for the Palestinians has always been the demographic one, flooding Israel not only with the descendants of the 1948 refugees but with the high rate of natural growth of the resident population of the West Bank and Gaza, plus the Israeli Arab population. This last dream has now, finally, been shattered on the rocks of the unprecedented collapse in Arab fertility that has occurred across the Arab world, including the Palestinian Authority territory. This trend has been accompanied by the unprecedentedly high fertility of the Israeli Jewish population, also unpredicted by the usual collection of experts. David Goldman has recently written a book--How Civilizations Die--in which he outlines some demographic details of these two fateful trends.
The three factors mentioned--military, economic and demographic--will be the determinants of this conflict over the next 30 years, not any more ridiculous peace process charades.
Let me put it this way, if I lived between the Crips and the Bloods in LA, my inclination would not be to pick a fight with both and then see if I couldn't egg on the Eight Tray, Black P Stones and Eighteen Street gangs for good measure thinking people would just accept that I was the good guy. To each his own. Just remember, you sleep in the bed you make.
But going back to Arie’s question what to do about current situation, any solution involving “return of land” (to Jordan or Egypt?) must include (1) a land swap of areas there is Jewish majority; (2) full recognition of the right of Jews to have a Jewish state; (3) the Arab side's acceptance of their blame in the conflict (including the history of injustice towards Jews in the last century in the Middle East and North Africa; (4) a grant of citizenship to Arab Palestinian refugees in the countries in which they live, in line with UN policies and resolutions for all other similar cases, or return to the Arab Palestinian state to be created (with financial compensation for the Arab refugees only as part of the compensation of other refugees, especially Jewish refugees from Arab countries); (5) an Israeli military presence at strategic points on the borders and the right to stop illegal weapon transfers (similar to the U.S. presence in Germany and Japan after World War II, with any hostilities like missile fire from the Palestinian side treated as casus belli).
The last thing: Improve the Hasbara effort. The vast majority of the public is not aware of the basic facts of this conflict. Unfortunately, this includes many Israelis and Jews. The public opinion war is not easy, but neither were the real wars that Israel has won.
The Palestinians' last remaining significant lever of power (other than the discredited Barack Obama) is the European Union and their hypocritical support for the Palestinians as a sanitized way of expressing their very genuine anti-Semitism. Luckily, economic collapse comes to the rescue every now and then; and, for the EU, the time is now. It is by all accounts in a state of terminal decline, and many individual states will literally go bankrupt in short order. The EU, therefore, is in no mood or condition to strike out at Israel economically. There are far more fateful things going on there; the Jewish question can wait.
Unfortunately, this is a just going to be a long drawn-out war of demographic attrition between Jews and Arabs. I believe the Jews will win, just as Ben Gurion believed it 100 years ago against much greater odds. But, that is a matter of faith, not an evidence-based prediction.
Israel's isolation has prevented all of this and more. It has allowed the development of a flourishing Jewish national culture, mostly unperturbed by the pathologies of the Arab encounter with modernity, on display in every direction. It has forced Israel to develop a high-tech economy that today exports its products to every corner of the world, except to its Arab and Muslim neighbors. Hence, the ongoing collapse of these states has absolutely no ripple effect on the Israeli economy.
Israel's isolation from its Arab neighbors is an advantage, not a deficit, and should be compared to India's cultural and economic isolation from its Muslim neighbors, which is forcing India to become a global economic and military power, not a regional one. In fact, both Israel and India have leapfrogged over their degenerating neighboring states and are now strategic allies and partners in both economic and military matters. What possible outcome could be better than that?
Israel simply cannot afford to continue to irritate others in the region, where hatred toward Israel has not diminished but grown over the last 30 years. Instead of making excuses, Israelis need to start asking themselves why. More than any other nation, Israel needs to work with its neighbors and seek compromise, understanding, cooperation, trust, and peace. Blaming everyone isn't going to address or solve Israel's basic security needs. Moving more Israelis onto Arab land increases Israel's problems instead of decreasing them. That makes Israel not more secure but less so.
Israel needs to start reducing the tension, hate, and anger in the region. It needs to start building bridges instead of walls and start increasing dialogue instead of continuing inflammatory rhetoric. There is much that Israel can do to further peace and that it is not currently doing.
Israel will not survive if its neighbors decide to wipe it off the map at any cost. The reason lies in the numbers. Israel cannot dominate or control its neighbors' populations and land masses. If Israel's neighbors ever decided to carry out a protracted war against it, there is no way Israel could win in the end. Israel has never fought a protracted war. It has relied on the effectiveness of short, decisive conflicts. Israel cannot afford to gamble that all future wars will be the same. Thus, it is in Israel's best interest to work to ensure there is less chance of war, not to feed the flames that encourage war as a more likely outcome.
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