Sunday, April 11, 2010

Israel's Three State Solution

(I write this post with great trepidation, knowing the consequences that speaking aloud about this subject can bring. Hopefully all the blessings that my family got at my brother's weddings this weekend will protect this blog.)

Isaac posted along the subject very near and dear to my heart, Israel. He highlighted the New York Times article about non-violent resistance (which isn't the only example -- here's Palestinians dressed as the Na'vi), and asks the sage question:
I believe that violence against civilians is inexcusable and violence against the IDF is counterproductive if peace is what you're aiming for... but when the Palestinians lay down their weapons, what happens then? Is Israel really going to go "ah yes, here's the West Bank in its pre-1967 state, including all that water we use for our farms"? I hope so, but I doubt it.
The question is, is non-violence going to work for Palestinians? What's the end-game here?

This all is close to my heart because I am an Israeli-American. My family left Israel when I was a little baby, partially because my father was serving in the Israeli military at the time that the First Lebanon War was going on. With that in mind, my parents did not want my brother or myself serving in the Israeli military when we grew up; they also thought there might be better opportunities in the US, Australia, or Canada. The US was the place where my dad was first able to get a job and a visa, so that's where we went.

Isaac is right that Palestinians are increasingly seeking non-violent paths to protest. The Times and, of course, the Israeli government are downplaying the extent to which the violence has declined in the West Bank. Back at the height of the Second Intifada, when right-wing leaders Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat were facing off, car and bus bombings in Jerusalem would happen multiple times a year. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the number in the peak year (2002) was 55. This year it was 1. (The validity of the numbers isn't necessarily important; even Israel, whose bias would be to inflate the numbers, only count 1 this year).

The main thrust of this has to do with the little-commented on battle between Fatah and Hamas that, by the end of 2007, left Hamas with unilateral control over Gaza, and Fatah with almost unilateral control of the West Bank. Fatah, who may be corrupt up to their neck, have taken a fairly good-faith approach to negotiations; Hamas continues to call for the eradication of Israel.

However, you'll notice that the title of the New York Times article is "Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance." Not "West Bank Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance." Currently, Israeli and Western policy ties the future of the West Bank and Gaza together. In practice, what that means is that Israel can't reward the non-violence in the West Bank if rockets are still falling on Israel from Gaza (in December 2009, it had been over 500 rockets and 200 mortar shells since the Gaza operation, according to Israel's internal security)

Here's the thing, though: in Gaza, the problem is the Qassam rockets. Qassam are not much more sophisticated than fire-works: they're basically a tube full of gunpowder. Note that for all the rockets launched, the death toll (according to Wikipedia) has not been what you might call at war-levels. At the end of the day, Qassam rockets are just high-stress versions of knifings (or ax attacks). It takes one or two individuals sneaking to the Gaza border, shooting off a rocket, and scattering. Looking at the numbers, there is a clear difference between Hamas encouraging violence and Hamas deciding to lay low. But it's not a situation in which even Hamas could fully end the rocket attacks if they were trying.

But suppose that Hamas is fully responsible for the Qassam. The Palestinians in the West Bank certainly are not. At this point, the blockade has largely separated the populations of the two; they are administered separately, have different leadership structures that don't talk to each other -- by any measure you could think to choose, they are two separate regions. Except, of course, race and religion.

The right-wing fringe, which have undue influence on Israel (they control the Interior Ministry, who control the expansion of settlements, and the Foreign Ministry) and control Gaza, can create a cycle of violence that is mutually beneficial to both fringes; measurably, both Israel and Gaza continue their steady march to the right politically. Currently, Israel's major right wing, center left wing, and the largest third party all are led by people who used to be part of the right wing party (Likud). That would be as though the Republican, Democratic, and Green parties where all led by former Republican party members and operatives.

Because of this cycle, any time that the non-violent protesters in the West Bank might make any progress, Gaza increases the rockets a little, and then Israeli tanks move in, and we're back at square one. Never mind that the West Bank has created a stable and peaceful infrastructure that polices itself (after all, they drove out Hamas) and has created meaningful (if weak) economic growth. So long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, there will be no peace.

So here's my solution. It's a three state solution. If Gaza and the West Bank are administered separately, then Israel should propose a good-faith peace negotiation with the Palestinian Authority that treats Gaza as a separate entity. That means a settlement freeze, withdrawal to 1967-borders-or-similar (in the West bank), tearing down the West Bank Barrier, and Jerusalem as a joint capital on the table. Unlike Isaac, I don't know if Israel needs to give up the right-of-return (although it can't keep the question completely closed before negotiations begin), but at the very least it needs to create some sort of compensation system.

As peace progresses, Hamas should regularly be given the option of laying down arms and conducting a referendum on whether or not to rejoin the West Bank as a unified state. If Gaza chooses to join the peace process as a separate entity from the West Bank, let them; so long as they are peaceful, there is no need to broker a unity government between them and Fatah. This removes the fear from Hamas that if they join the peace process, they will be forced to concede power to Fatah.

From the people of Gaza's perspective, they can watch the West Bank. If the West Bank achieves meaningful concessions from Israel, gets some level of autonomy, economic growth, territorial integrity, and even some of the big dreams like shared control of Jerusalem, than Hamas' argument that Israel is operating in bad faith will be seriously eroded, and Gazans may start to realize that they can join the process, and Hamas' support will be eroded as well. Gaza will turn the tide of extremism, and start to follow the path of non-violence.

This is all a pipe-dream, however. The problem right now is that Hamas' argument that Israel is operating in bad faith is true. And I fear that Israel's intentions will only worsen in the near future. They are not thinking strategically about how to approach security; they are only responding to threats in increasingly blunt and harmful ways. Humiliating diplomats, stealing passports to assassinate people in other countries, repeatedly timing announcements of settlement increases to humiliate our VP and our President -- it is clear that the Netenyahu government is not after peace. And the only major alternative is the group of people who brought you Operation Cast Lead.

Ah well. Dourness aside, there may come a time when the pendulum swings and Israel is up for the challenger. Or there may come a time when the international community has enough pressure and inclination to pressure Israel that it can bring even the hard-line right to the negotiating table. If so, the Three State Solution is, in my humble opinion, the only way to avoid a situation in which the same kind of thinking that brings us Terrorball and the 1% Doctrine reboots the peace process every ten days.