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In my previous blog post, I looked at the last days of Apartheid South Africa, and the eerie parallels between the attitudes of White South Africans at the time, and the apparent mindset of much of Israel today. In both cases, there was/is the widespread belief that (a) we can stand alone against the world, because of a whole range of strategic and other factors, and (b) we can hold out/carry on this way indefinitely, for generations or centuries to come in need.
Despite the bravado, South Africa was eventually forced into a negotiated settlement with the ANC. Similarly, I believe that unless Israel uses the current opportunity to grab the best deal she can, she will eventually be forced to accept something far less favourable than what can be had today. Writer Uzi Silber took issue with the concept of a negotiated settlement, due to the absence of a credible partner for peace on the Palestinian side. I have no argument with that; a Holocaust-denier turned “moderate” would not be my choice of negotiating partner either. If not negotiation, then what?
In broad brushstrokes, this is my analysis:
For now, Israel is still largely in charge of her own destiny, not Abbas or Obama. Israel can take the initiative to move the so-called peace process along, and the other players will follow.
Israel has a decade or so at the most before the world completely loses patience with the running sore that is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and imposes a solution that is unlikely to be in Israel’s best interests.
In the next few years, therefore, (e.g. by end of Obama’s 1st and hopefully only term), Israel should negotiate OR IMPOSE a settlement that the real key players can live with, if not actually like (the US would be seen as a key player, Saudi Arabia not).
Essentially what I’m suggesting is that Israel begin unilaterally implementing the best possible deal she could expect at the negotiating table, then wait for the other parties to catch up.
What are the outlines of a solution that Israel should be demanding, negotiating, unilaterally imposing, or all of the above?
- No “peace at any price”, “land for peace” or “a price for peace”. Instead, “peace for peace”, and reasonable concessions where this is in Israel’s interests.
- Not disengagement, but rather disentanglement. Any withdrawals would be of a civilian, not a military nature. This is about reducing points of friction, getting out of one another’s faces.
- Set definitive borders between Israel and the remainder of Palestine. Only the major settlement blocs contiguous with Israel should be retained, and a contiguous Palestinian entity on the West Bank must be enabled.
- Borders should be based more on Israel’s strategic needs than the present locations of settlements, which are in many ways a strategic liability.
- The remaining settlements and outposts should then be formally abandoned by the Israeli government, and security and other services eventually withdrawn, once the inhabitants have been given the opportunity to relocate.
- The security barrier must be rerouted to conform to Israel’s new international frontier.
- Formal annexation of any retained territories once precise borders have been delimited.
- The boundaries of East Jerusalem should be reduced considerably, to exclude as many predominantly Arab neighbourhoods and villages as possible, while still retaining the Old City and the central urban core.
- The IDF would not be withdrawn from any area, and must retain complete freedom of movement within Israel’s security envelope (essentially, Western Palestine plus the Golan).
- No power vacuum must be permitted to emerge in the West Bank. Power should only be devolved to a stable West Bank authority, or an Egyptian or Jordanian or combined authority. (Remember when we used to think that the worst possible thing for Israel was Egypt poking her in the ribs from Gaza, or the Arab Legion looking down from the heights of Latrun? How times have changed!)
- The West Bank authority would remain demilitarised for the foreseeable future, with security services only being permitted to have small-arms/side-arms.
- Any form of extra-territorial land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza should be ruled out.
- While I am opposed to an exchange of territories, i.e. to compensate the PA for land lost to the Settlement Blocs, this may be unavoidable. (The right-wing fantasy of Israel shedding territories heavily populated by Israeli Arabs is just not on, unless we’re keen to rack up another violation of international law.)
- Return to an emphasis on rights-based instead of a concessions-based diplomacy for Israel.
Israel should not anticipate a diplomatic round of applause, pat on back, greater understanding from the world, or any other rewards flowing from this process, as she did following the Gaza withdrawal. This is just something that needs to be done, in Israel’s own interests.
(Speaking of Gaza, in this scenario, the withdrawal would have been of civilians only. Settlements contiguous with Israel’s border would have been retained and formally annexed. The IDF would have retained control of the Philadelphia Corridor and a much greater degree of freedom of movement. Last but not least, the IDF could have prevented Hamas from seizing power.)
With this process completed, I am confident that Israel will have neutralised at least some of its current existential threats, reinforced its place in the family of nations, and starved the current efforts to delegitimize her. With the Palestinian threat now at least externalised, she can at last begin confronting her massive internal challenges.