The costs and benefits of no solution
There is another proposal for solving Israel’s problem with the Palestinians. Michael Oren, recently Israeli ambassador to the US, has proposed that Israel recognize the impossibility of reaching a deal with the Palestinians, define its borders, withdraw from the rest of the West Bank, and hope for the best.
Oren was trashed by the hosts of a popular discussion program for not being at all sure that the international community would accept something the Palestinians would be likely to reject.
All this suggests that the end of Oren’s ambassadorship came not so much as due to his own decision as that of the prime minister.
Put the idea into the file—more properly the library—of other proposals that have been offered over the course of five or 10 decades, depending on when you start the counting, then go ahead and do what you planned for the rest of the day.
It seems better to recognize that no deal is possible, and leave it at that. We don’t know what Kerry is proposing, only that he feels he has the key.
Latest coming out of the Kerry initiative are reports that Kerry offered Abbas the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina for the Palestinian capital, and Abbas rejected it out of hand. He wants a lot more than the up-scale Palestinian neighborhood in the north of the city, bordering the outskirts of Ramallah. He also changed what had been his willingness to accept a de-militarized Palestine, relying for internal security on a beefed-up police. Now he wants a full-scale army.
What we are left with is the status quo, an admittedly fluid and imperfect accommodation between Israeli and Palestinians, which requires a high tolerance for ambiguity.
In our most optimistic moments, we can express the Judaic epigram that it is forbidden to rush the Messiah. He, She, or It will come when ready.
The Israeli left is fond of saying that everyone knows the solution, and no one but them has the guts to do it. However, they have been at the top of Israel’s government, or at least a part of it for much of Israel’s history, and they were never able to do it. Recently they haven’t gotten the votes of a population that seems to have given up on the idea of a solution, so the left is out there in the weeds complaining about those who have gotten the votes.
If we’ve tried without success for decades, it seems appropriate to admit that there is no solution.
How we got here? is a question that provokes more argument than agreement. Among the candidates:
Arab intrasegence, Jewish insistence
The religious traditions and norms of each, which themselves are open to considerable dispute, but proclaim among other things that territory or rights are inherently Jewish or Muslim, and cannot be compromised.
The blundering of various Arabs, Israelis, and others who have promoted one or another idea, up to and including John Kerry.
Rivalries within Arab and Israeli camps that have prevented each side reaching united postures capable of being negotiated.
Meanwhile Israelis and Arabs, some of whom describe themselves as Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship live, give birth, age, die, and leave their children to wrestle with one another over their acceptance or intolerance for the status quo.
Each self-proclaimed prophet, whether John Kerry, Michael Oren, Ehud Olmert, or anyone picked out of the Labor-Meretz crowd claims to know what must be done, but fails if given a chance to try.
Palestinians claiming to be national leaders would rather dither among themselves, threaten catastrophe, travel the world, hear nice words and get good meals from national leaders, and go the UN General Assembly, but can’t overcome internal bickering and Israeli power.
Outsiders’ meddling makes things worse. It may be good for one’s ego or political standing, but produces frustration among Israelis and Palestinians, and provides incentives to extremism.
Currently we are seeing an uptick in violence that may be traced to both Israeli and Palestinian suspicions about Kerry. Right wing Members of Knesset felt a need to demand that Israel proclaim its sovereignty over the Temple Mount. That effort, known to be both superfluous and a failure in the Knesset from the get-go, provoked a verbal outburst from the Jordanian Parliament and a surge in behalf of al Aqsa with stone throwing, Molotov Cocktails, and protest marches in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.
Small steps, taken by those below the level of those getting headlines, have contributed to improvements in accommodation. Most notable is the training of Palestinian security personnel, financed by the U.S. and carried out by Jordanian personnel, done in the shadow of the destruction produced by Israel in response to the last wave of Palestinian violence.
Some of the newly trained police have gone bad, and participated in terror attacks against Israeli civilians. For the most part, however, they have cooperated with Israeli security personnel, and have added to the quality of Palestinian life by reducing the threat of violence by criminal gangs within Palestinian communities.
Money going to the Palestinian Authority has paid the salaries of an inflated bureaucracy, meant to funnel living wages to a large part of the population, without bothering with meaningful taxation.
Unknown portions of the foreign money go to keep happy those at the top of Palestinian politics, via payments siphoned to personal accounts.
Among the unresolved problems are a failure of Palestinians to carry through with water and sewage treatment programs despite offers of funding.
Perhaps the administration of such projects is beyond the concern of leaders who thrive on issues bringing higher visibility. Or maybe they hope that the stink and disease will add to the sympathy for Palestinians.
And in the spirit of fairness, we must also admit that the constant threat of unrest serves Israelis, overseas Jews, and Jewish organizations--some of them with great prestige--that compete for our contributions and purchases at their on-line stores on the basis of claims to be protecting us from adversaries.
Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.