“Annapolis” is a separation process, not a peace process
By Ted Belman
David Samuels, who wrote “In a Ruined Country”, the definitive article on Yasser Arafat in The Atlantic in 2005, and a stunning article last year in The Jewish Press entitled “The Silence of the Lambs”, has now written another essential article in the February 13 issue of The New Republic entitled “The Father of Palestine”, dealing with Pres Bush’s attempt to birth Palestine.
Before sharing with you some key paragraphs in this very profound article, I would like to comment on the central idea driving the peace process from the point of view of the Government of Israel. It is to arrive at a Declaration of Principles which is really a negotiated separation as opposed to a “unilateral” disengagement. It tells us, it will only be a “shelf agreement” but the reality is that it will cast a giant shadow on all Israeli policies. Israel will have received a “recognized border” that is given the stamp of approval by the western world and Abbas on behalf of the Palestinians. Then Israel will proceed to implement it as she see fit. Thus all settlements east of the agreed border will no longer get any government support and all Israelis living there will be offered compensation to return to the west side. I am confident that this D of P will not include the final agreement on Jerusalem, other than a commitment to solve Jerusalem in ten years, nor will it include an end to the “right of return”. This issue will be fudged. The name of the game is separation, negotiated or otherwise.
I have been advocating annexation rather than separation but understand annexation is also problematic. I am willing to switch to separation providing it was more favourable to Israel. Thus it has to be unilateral or de facto. This D of P gives us nothing of value and requires us to accept the greenline, with minor modifications, as our border. It also requires us to divide Jerusalem. Rather than view the D of P as a licence, I view it as a straight jacket.
[..] Bush told Olmert that he would not waste his precious last year in office on brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians unless both sides were serious about reaching a deal. It is the opinion of the government of the State of Israel that a deal can in fact be reached, Ramon says. “It doesn’t mean that on the first of January, 2009, a Palestinian flag will be raised over Jerusalem, ” he cautions. “But we will reach a framework, a Declaration of Principles, in 2008, and that will be the agreement that will be implemented in the future.”
When I ask Ramon whether he shares Olmert’s opinion that Israel will be “finished” if the two-state solution collapses, he cocks his head. “I say that Israel is risking itself as a Jewish and a democratic state,” he says. In Ramon’s view, and in the view of most members of the cabinet, continuing the occupation poses a strategic threat to Israel. “We are not doing a favor for the Palestinians,” Ramon says. “This is a conflict between Israel and Israel itself.”
It would be wonderful if the Palestinian government somehow gains enough strength to carry out its commitments under the road map, Ramon suggests. If not, he continues, “we have to take unilateral steps that will solve these issues.”
A sharp glimmer of understanding penetrates my foggy brain. The Americans and the Israelis speak with such assurance about reaching an agreement by the end of 2008 because they are talking about a paper agreement with a paper partner to create a state that will only exist on paper. If a strong Palestinian government “untainted by terror” never arises–as seems quite possible, if not likely–then Israel will withdraw from most of the West Bank anyway. “It is up to us to secure our own future,” Ramon says, spreading his hands wide apart.
“We can live without peace with the Palestinians, but we can’t continue to live with the occupation. We need to separate from them. We need to define our borders and tell them, ‘Bye-bye, go live however you want, and peace be with you. And, if you want to keep fighting, we’ll kill you until you stop.’”
Among the range of sources I speak to inside and outside the current Israeli government, no one suggests that Olmert’s weak coalition is up to the task of bulldozing large Israeli communities like Kiryat Arba that are located east of any future border. No one I talked to, from politicians to generals, expects combat-hardened U.S. or British or French troops to arrive to police the West Bank. No one wants to see the West Bank become another Gaza Strip. No one believes the badly fractured Palestinian polity is capable of meeting its commitments. Which means that most Israeli troops and settlers will stay more or less exactly where they are today. If the Palestinian security commitments will mostly exist on paper, the Israeli disengagement from the West Bank, unlike the disengagement from Gaza, will also exist mostly on paper.
From the standpoint of its inventors, at least, the paper disengagement is a stroke of political genius that gives all the parties most of what they want. The Israelis will get international credit for committing to do in the future what they are not able to do in the present–namely, to withdraw large numbers of Israeli soldiers and settlers from the West Bank. The fiction of an Israeli withdrawal can support the fiction of a Palestinian state run by Abbas and Fatah, whose physical security will be insured by the presence of actual Israeli troops on the ground. The Americans can get a diplomatic success that can give added credibility to a diplomatic alliance against Iran, or peacemaking efforts with Iran, depending on how the wind blows in the next six months. Starved of political legitimacy and government funding, settlements east of the future border will slowly wither on the vine, making an actual Israeli withdrawal–when it happens, with or without the establishment of a Palestinian state, whether Fatah or Hamas is in charge–that much easier.
It is easy to imagine why, within the historical parameters of the conflict, any Palestinian leader worth his salt would find such a reasonable yet utterly ridiculous exercise–in which the “right of return” is finally assigned to the dustbin of history–to be an unbearable humiliation, and refuse to sign it, just as Yasir Arafat refused to sign the real-life version of the same agreement at Camp David. Then again, in another two or three years, the Palestinian Authority may no longer exist, even on paper. The fact that the State of Israel is widely loathed does not diminish the extent to which 15 years of failed Palestinian state-building followed by the failure of the Second Intifada have turned the Palestinian national cause into a byword for gruesome terror bombings and children wearing toy suicide belts in parades.
This is not a peace process. Everyone knows that. It is a separation process.
The Arabs represent a problem to Israel whether they live in Israel or Judea and Samaria. The advocates of annexation in the main believe the Arabs must be induced to leave. There are some idealists among them who believe that Israel can remain a Jewish democratic state even if all Arabs stayed, (they would represent 1/3 of the total population.)
Exclusive of the territories, Israel can in no way be considered an apartheid state though many argue so. In the main when they do they include the territories in their assessment and demand equal treatment of the Arabs there and make no allowances for the war that is going on. This puts pressure on Israel to end the “occupation”. That’s what the G of I wants to do but can’t. So the government feels a “shelf agreement” will lessen the pressure.
Bill, you rightly ask what I mean by separation. The population in J and S is now separated. I mean population separation. It is also separated into zones by Oslo each of which has different rules. Jews live in their settlements and Arabs live in the rest. Even here there is no apartheid situations. The Arabs have a government and it holds periodic elections. They even have their own courts and security services and media. The fact that they don’t also vote in Israeli elections does not make it apartheid. The fact that “Palestine” has autonomy rather than sovereignty does not make Israel apartheid. Those who level this charge are against the existence of two entities. They want a single state with an Arab majority.
Olmert said recently, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights … the State of Israel is finished.” This is the fear. I have commented a number of times that as the vision of two-state solution disintegrates, a clamour for one state, in which the Jews are outnumbered by the Arabs, will become our next battleground. Israel must preempt it with the vision of a single Jewish state. No easy task.
Ideally this separation should continue. It is a de facto separation. The “peace process” is trying to agree on what that separation should ultimately be. Thus to make it a de jure separation and then to make the de facto separation conform.
So in conclusion, I argue that the benefits from this paper agreement do not warrant signing it. We must continue doing what we are doing and that is going through the motions in order to prevent the debate from arising in which we must defend Israel as a Jewish state.
So the question arises, is time on our side. Iran and its proxies are only getting stronger and nothing is going to deter them not even a shelf agreement or a retreat to the greenline. Thus Israel should see this as their primary threat and not chase after better public relations through a paper agreement.
Time is on our side. The Palis will continue to disintegrate and emigrate and Israel will get stronger and aliya will grow.