Sunday, June 14, 2009

Total Settlement Freeze? No, A Border.

Anticipating Bibi's speech, his coalition partners and Likud officials are flooding Israeli radio with interviews, insisting that settlements are not an obstacle to peace; that “natural growth” is, well, natural (“should parents tell their children they have to live elsewhere?”). Their claims will strike the ears of informed Americans the way old cigarette commercials do. You blush for people who think others this gullible, or wishful, or hooked. For my part, I have been waiting for an American government to insist on a total settlements freeze for over 30 years. One didn’t have to be a genius to see the danger.

Still, there is something about the anticipated stand-off between Netanyahu and the Obama administration that makes me queasy. Had Ronald Reagan, following Jimmy Carter's lead, demanded a total freeze in 1980, then we would have had something. Today the demand reminds me of the Steve Martin bit about the implacable customer at a restaurant who, having waited too long for his dinner, complains to the maĆ®tre d' that he can be appeased only by being served his steak “15 minutes ago.”

Sure, Obama needs to make a clear break with the past, indeed, to make a show of force to Israeli rightists. But insisting on a total freeze today, when settlements have turned into substantial towns full of mobilized youth—towns whose residents should be understood as on a scale somewhere between Pat Robertson and David Koresh—seems false. The real goal is a fair, recognized border between two states as soon as possible, so that both sides will know how to plan. Focusing on a total freeze means insisting on the symbol, which cannot seriously be delivered, and deferring the fight over what is symbolized, which will require a hard line from America and the world anyway.

We are supposed to be telling truth to one another, you see, and the truth about these goddamn settlements is that the June 4, 1967 border is no longer feasible, even if the principle of setting a border on the basis of June 4th. is. The only hope is for America to come out, now, for the principle of a 1:1 land swap to achieve geographical area for Israel and Palestine equal to what existed on June 4; to appoint an international commission to suggest a map. This map will need time to sink in. And it will be a way to reconcile the Arab League peace initiative to the difficulties of moving settlers back into Israel.

OUT OF THE half million Israelis who live over the Green Line, about 400,000 live in densely packed communities, more or less contiguous with Israel (like Gush Etzion), or in suburbs of Jerusalem (like Gilo). Some 75-100,000 live in outlying settlements scattered around Hebron and between Ramallah and Nablus. It is these latter settlers who will have to be returned to Israel. The former are obviously staying put.

But just getting the outliers resettled will take years, just like moderating Hamas and rehabilitating the Palestine Authority, reviving Gaza, and so forth, will take years. The IDF and Israeli police could never muster enough boots on the ground to simply move these settlers by force—anyway, a good part of the IDF’s officers sympathize with settlement. If the government tried force, even just to halt construction in Gush Etzion, the settlers would almost certainly commit provocations against neighboring Palestinians that would get Israel’s Arab citizens up in arms. In this polarized situation, we’d be a step away from Balkan-style violence.

Indeed, to get these people out eventually, you have to 1) politically marginalize them, that is, create a conflict of interest between settlers who fall within an agreed border and those more fanatic types falling outside it; 2) induce them to return to agreed settlements or to within the Green Line with time-limited financial compensation; 3) threaten them with power and water cuts on this or that date; and, these measures failing, 4) remove them by siege and, if necessary, force. This is going to be very hard. The IDF should require NATO forces to replace its own forces as it withdraws.

In other words, Obama should use the dispute over a settlements freeze as an occasion to rally the world community to drawing up a permanent border, something along the lines of the one offered in the Geneva Initiative, where Palestinian representatives and Israel peace activists themselves understood the need for a new border—and international forces to help secure it. Obama should make clear that a border is not Israel’s internal affair. That, for example, the world will never recognize the town of Ariel as part of a future Israel (Olmert insisted that it is, which is among the reasons his talks with Abbas went nowhere). A strong sense of where America wants the border would be an early win for the peace process, which could unlock many other possibilities.

I KNOW THAT my Palestinian friends will find anything less than a total freeze infuriating. Every new apartment feels like a new slap in the face, a continuing insinuation that their tragedy doesn’t matter or never happened. In this sense the settlements are not just an obstacle to peace but the continuing cause for hatred and war. After all, Israel conquered something like an area equal to the West Bank during the 1948 war, declared its 400 Arab villages abandoned and more or less leveled them, preventing its 750,000 residents from returning. It then settled the new lands with about a million and half Jewish refugees of its own: survivors from Europe and people expelled from Arab states. In the 1920s and 30s, land purchases by the Jewish National Fund from absentee landlords—for example, from Beirut's Sursok family in the Valley of Jezreel—led to the displacement of tens of thousands of farmer peasants.

So according to the Palestinians, or shall we say (in nice post-modern language) the Palestinian narrative, the settlement project since 1967 only seems more of the same. Likud people, for their part, respond that there were no West Bank settlements before 1967, and Arab countries threatened attack anyway—as if Israelis were ever reconciled to Palestinian rights when Palestinians did not prove that they could not be overwhelmed militarily. Likud people also insist that if the Zionists are wrong to settle around Hebron now then they were wrong to settle around Haifa in the 1930s—a view breathtaking in its shallowness. As I've implied here before, we’d cheer Javert for hunting down Jean Valjean if, after the latter became a mayor, he continued stealing candlesticks.

NEVERTHELESS, VIRTUALLY ALL Palestinians I know are prepared to say what Obama said, that, tragically, the Naqba resulted from the Jews’ European tragedy, and that they will compromise on the 1967 border—so long as a way can be found to compensate and resettle the original refugees of 1948 in a Palestinian state—indeed, so long as the futures of Israel and Palestine are linked to larger federal arrangements. These two city-states cannot be disentangled economically or in almost any other way. We need a border even if five years after it is drawn hardly anyone will care where it is, except when elections are called.

And Obama is right to prevent any new settlement projects from being added to the 160 that already exist—right to insist that Israel remove new outposts, or prevent building that fills in the gaps between existing settlements; prevent projects that compromise still further East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Yet it is unimaginable to get a total construction freeze across the Green Line today. We need a border and we cannot depend on new negotiations to produce it. The original border between Israel and the aborted Palestinian state was produced by UNSCOP, not by negotiation. Something like a new international commission, reporting to George Mitchell, should go to work. The Roadmap is fine and well, but what good is it without a driver?


Y. Ben-David said...

This is a classic example of the "Jewish progressive" transferring HIS guilt to someone else. His fantasizing about the settlers being "thrown out", ideally by foreign forces (Germans?), seeing their synagogues and yeshivot burned down and pillaged as happened in Gush Katif, no doubt makes him feel good and gives him something to look forward to.

Dr Avishai calls the settler youth something like "David Koresh". Tell me Dr Avishai, were the Karl Marx-quoting Palmachniks and Hagana people who drove the Arabs out of the German Colony in Jerusalem (is that where you live?...a lot of your "progressive" friends live there), and the Arab village of Sheikh Munis where "progressive" Ramat Aviv and Tel Aviv University sit. So would you compare THEM to "David Koresh"? So they called themselves "progressives" and "socialists" instead of quoting the Bible as the settlers do, but does that make a difference to the Palestinian refugees in refugee camps who lost their property to these "advance guard of the proletariat"? Is YOUR wish to see synagogues burned down and desecrated make THEM feel any better while YOU are still sitting on THEIR property?

In any event, your dream of an imposed peace can only work if the Arabs agree to the terms of it (the US has NO leverage to force them to agree to anything-recall that Abbas told the Washington Post he is is no hurry-the situation in Judea/Samaria is "good") and they are nowhere near this situation so you can dream all you want about seeing the settlers beaten up and pushed out, it isn't going to happen.

Anonymous said...

YBD, your argument is tiring and morally vacuous, while you correctly point to the land theft and ethinc cleansing that took place in 1948 - you seem to belive that this gives you a carte blanche to practice and advocate for additional ethinc cleansing and land theft.

I agree with you that the US cannot "impose peace" on the region, but it has enough leverage to force Israel to end the continual land theft and oppression of the Palestinians. (of course, Israel can dig in its heels in difiance and go solo in its repressive policies- there are a few precedents: Apartheid South Africa, Iraq 1991-2003, Bosnia; or if you look for a nuclearly equipped Pariah state - present day North Korea.)

Y. Ben-David said...

We have a right to live in the entire territory including Judea/Samaria, or we don't. I don't say that Israel taking control of the places I mentioned was wrong.....the Arabs started a war of genocide, were defeated and paid the price, just like the Germans of Sudetenland, Pomerania, Silesia, East Prussia and other places. I say that it is hypocritical of "progressives" to rant and rave about how evil the settlers are (and they have settled on empty land, unlike what happened to the settlers after 1948) and then to pretend that they are so moral for doing this while benefitting from sitting on formerly Arab land. I have no problem with someone saying "you are right, we do have a right to live in Judea/Samaria just as we do in Ashqelon and Ramat Aviv, but we should be practical and divide the territory. But this is not the message I am hearing at these "progressive" blogs. They simply dehumanize the settlers as being the enemy, when they are really no different in substance.

Sagredo said...

YBD, could we please dispose of this silly "empty land" myth? At least a third of the settlements are on land taken from Palestinian private ownership by Israel under pretext of security, and then simply handed over to the settlers says Israel's own civil administration, see also this.

Y. Ben-David said...

The land was empty, not cultivated, and ownership was NOT determined. Some of the land was bought by Jews privately as well. I know Peace Now is recruting Arabs to claim that land was theirs although they had never lived on it or cultivated it nor shown any claim, and according to existing Turkish and Jordanian law this made it state land. I am not a legal expert but there is a strong legal case to say the land was NOT privately owned.

Jeff said...

The Y Ben Davids and Ben Y Davids will one day in the not too distant future be sent packing because the world is already showing signs of growing overtired with their racism, their arrogance, and their sense of entitlement at everyone else's expense. Not one single Israeli has any legal justification for living on Palestinian land, every settlement is illegal, and at the end Israel will be lucky to survive as a single state within the 1967 borders. An Israeli Project poll shows that Israel now only has the support of 44% of the American people who have been fooled far too long by the Zionist propaganda machine and are now showing signs of waking up. A new day is looming on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

First I have to congratulate Bernard with agreeing with many points espoused in my older response and integrating them in this blog.
This blog allows us to "argue" opposite viewpoints without degenerating down to lowest human denominators with personal attacks, let keep it that way.

Israel-Palestinian conflict is not about land. It's about who is going to run it. In short Power. Interestingly, the Israel would gain more by two state solution. At the same time the Palestinian leadership both PLO and Hamas would loose. They would loose financial support. Therefore they would lose power. (Gaza figures are $5000 GDP per person, almost entirely based on UN contributions from less then $100 before 1967)
This is Ibn Verga

Y. Ben-David said...

People have been writing us off for thousands of years, yet we are still here. Most "experts" said we would be pushed in the sea by the Arabs in 1948, and a lot expected it to happen in 1967.

Too bad.

BTW-did you see how many Americans support the Palestinians in that poll? IIRC it was something around 5%.

Jeff said...

It isn't important or likely that any sizable number of Americans will ever support the Palestinians, but it has always been important to Israel and the Zionist lobby how many Americans do, otherwise why spend millions on hasbara and buying the support of silence of the US Congress?

Following George Bush Sr.'s press conference on 9/12/91 which lambasted the lobby over the loan guarantees, he received an 85% support rating on ABC and a month later there were only 44% supporting US aid to Israel while more than 70% supported aid to the glasnost Soviet Union and Solidarnosc Poland.

There was no internet in those days and Israel's leading critics, such as the now irrelevant Noam Chomsky, dismissed the lobby's role, blaming evil in the world on that convenient bogeyman, Uncle Sugar.

Since the arrival of Mearsheimer and Walt and Jimmy Carter, coupled with the internet, things are changing.

Also, you should be careful not to confuse the longevity of the Jewish people with a political state.

While a remnant of the Jews survived in Palestine over the centuries, without the diaspora it is likely that Jews would have disappeared as did other peoples from ancient times. Of course, then, they wouldn't have been around to collect the royalties on that best seller.

Sagredo said...

YBD, pretty sure the Civil Administration's admission is more credible than your non-expert "strong legal case".

Y, Ben-David said...

I don't know that they have the last word in the matter. Land ownership in Judea/Samaria (in fact throughout the Arab world) is a very complicated matter. Unused, fallow land reverted to the Sultan (i.e. the state) after a certain number of years, if those who claimed previous ownership stopped using it.
It is not clear at all that the "illegal outposts" listed in the Sasson Report are really illegal, and I heard recently that the Justice Minister pointed this out.
In any event, no one disputes that Tel Aviv University is sitting on privately owned land (you can still the original Arab buildings of the old Sheikh Munis village there) and so while the "progressives" there are yelling about the "illegal outposts and settlements" in Judea/Samaria, I think they would be serving as a major moral example if they would track down the original Arab owners of the land and give it back to them, even before there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Sagredo said...

YBD, this is land seized by military order, so yes it really was in active private Palestinian ownership.

InternetFred said...

Looking forward, the problem I see is Hamas or Syria taking over the new Palestinian State. They'll get foreign aid from all over and military aid from Iran.

They'll start the next war when they feel the time is right. Ten thousand people could die in that war.

I don't see how we can believe in the existence of a demilitarized Hamas state after the results of the Treaty of Versailles. When Arab Palestine starts training military pilots will some force have to go in and put a stop to it. Who? I don't call that peace.

If I really did believe we'd get real peace, I'd be in favor of pulling out of some of the settlements. But I don't believe we'll get real peace. Do you?

cohendc said...

Is there really any difference between "natural growth" and "manifest destiny", or (dare I say) "lebensraum"?

Y. Ben-David said...

The Arab/Muslims sure believe in such a thing. Why do you think the Ottoman Empire invaded Europe in the 17th century. Why did the Arabs burst out of Arabia and conquer North Africa and the Middle East and then force their religion and culture on the native populations. Why do you think they are so determined to get rid of Israel, the only non-Arab, non-Muslim state in the Middle East between Iran and the Atlantic Ocean? They view it is their destiny to purify the Dar-El-Islam, the realm of Islam of all kuffars (non-believers) who refuse to accept dhimmi status and then they say they will go on to spread Islam to the rest of the world.
"Manifest destiny" in Arabic.

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