Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just Say Yes

For a moment, imagine if Palestinians said yes to the creation of Palestine. An utterly naive proposition, I know. But instead of insisting on the chimera of “1967 borders with land swaps,” imagine if Palestinian negotiators in Amman provisionally accepted Israel's latest reported territorial offer, with the security wall essentially defining the international border and all West Bank settlements persisting as part of Israel. Many believe Israel must withdraw west of the 1967 green line, but let's assume that it won't and no one can make it do so. The concession would cost Palestine the equivalent of two-thirds of Anaheim’s land mass. If you find authorities who say it would actually be two Dearborns, the advantages of immediate statehood would be the same. What should matter is if Palestinians get enough land to run a country, settlements and all. A slightly smaller Palestine now would be infinitely better for its people and the region than a larger one in five or ten years or never.

Myriad issues would remain -- settlement security, water rights, transportation, and border crossing rights for Palestine’s citizens. If Israel balked at the PNA’s bold move, we would see which side was the stumbling block once and for all. If not, we may hope that in return Israel would stop building settlements and promise post-statehood talks on the status of Jerusalem, where Israel has the stronger claim (notwithstanding the likely presence on the holy mountain of pre-Davidic indigenous peoples). Israel thrived with its capital in Tel Aviv. For the time being, the Palestinians ought to be able to do so in historic Ramallah.

I understand President Abbas and Fatah would run afoul of their Islamist cousins, Hamas, by abandoning the green line and immediate access to a Jerusalem capital. The Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, plans to step down soon, some say because he has his eye on a bigger job. Would that be Abbas's? In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has to worry about his obstructionists, too.

But it's not just extremists who are delaying peace. Significant swathes of both populations aren’t sure they want two permanent states. Israel expresses its ambivalence, its resentment over having to cede land to Arabs and fear of what will happen to its security if it does, by continuing to build settlements on occupied territory. Palestinians expressed theirs by spurning prior Israeli concessions and letting the Obama peace initiative fizzle over the secondary issue of settlement construction. Many Palestinians, perhaps a majority, still don't believe Israel has a right to exist, and they may be thinking that someday soon, it won’t. Watching events in Egypt, they may expect that the Arab spring will give way to a winter gale of Islamist hostility toward Israel. Until the Amman talks, to increase the external pressure on Israel, Abbas had been focusing not on negotiations but UN recognition. Many Palestinians who do favor two states believe a demographic reunification of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs will eventually put an end to the Jewish nation.

Which is why a security wall state, or any other breakthrough anytime soon, is a fantasy. Palestinians and their advocates find it more advantageous to invoke the international consensus against the occupation, proclaim the illegality of settlements, and continue to make comparisons to apartheid (prevalent in the Arab, Muslim, and haredim worlds against women but not in Israel against Arabs). Israel and her friends prefer to talk about the Palestinians as an invented people who are Jordan's problem, remind critics that Israel won the West Bank in a war provoked if not started by Arabs, and reliably promise that it would win the next one against any nation or group that dislikes its negotiating tactics. But none of the maps and legends, the endless game of historical, geographical, rhetorical tit for tat, would matter if both sides were fully committed to having two permanent states – because if they were, the states would probably exist.

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