Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Eight Percent Solution

Last month's Israeli pullout from Gaza and its aftermath underscored the difficulties of a two-state settlement in Israel/Palestine. None of the incidental obstructions thrown up in the path of "disengagement" can change an unalterable truth, however- Zionist principles require a two-state solution if Israel is to survive and remain true to itself. The "Jewishness" of the Jewish state is not enshrined in iron-clad draconian laws. Israel is, as the Zionist founders intended it to be, a liberal democracy- its Jewishness is purely a function of demography. The moment that Jews are no longer a majority in Israel it ceases to be a Jewish state. Were Israel to simply annex the Occupied Territories and declare all residents citizens Israel would no longer be a demographically Jewish State (this new Greater Israel would have roughly 4.8 million Jews and 5 million Muslims, Christians, and Druze). Current demographic trends would quickly make Arab Muslims the plurality among Israeli voters. These hard facts leave Israel only two options- pursue a two-state solution or perpetuate a limbo state that subverts all the democratic principles upon which Israel is founded, in which the 4 million+ residents of the Occupied Territories are denied the rights of citizenship.

The closest Israelis and Palestinians have come to a two-state solution was the Camp David Summit of 2000. The basic framework for a Palestinian State conceeded by Ehud Barak at that summit was the most practicable and fair- a Palestine situated within the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with Israel's borders returned to the so-called "Green Line" of occupation. Though other issues stirred controversy, the 2000 Summit foundered over departures of Barak's proposal from the basic Green Line framework.

Barak's proposed Palestine could not claim sovereignty over all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem because 350,000+ Israeli have settled in parts of those territories in the last twenty+ years. Unlike the settler movement in Gaza, which was always a limited affair, many of the Israeli settelments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are profoundly substantial. Billions of dollars of real estate development and infrastructural investment have created communities with a climate of solidity and permanency, their deep economic and institutional roots would make any attempt at "Gaza-style" disengagement a grotesquely violent affair.

The 2000 Summit proposal suggested that 92% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem could come under Palestinian authority while the 8% of territory that contained untransplantable Israeli settlements would be annexed to Israel. Palestine would be compensated for these concessions with "land swaps" of Israeli territory from inside the Green Line. Palestinian negotiators rejected this proposal on the grounds that it would result in a geographically irrational and ungovernable Palestinian state. Long "islands" of Israeli territory would divide critical sections of Palestinian sovereignty from one-another, creating insurmountable difficulties in communication and resource management. The peace process is thus at an impasse. Disengagement is impossible on the Israeli side, extreme concessions on the geographic parameters of sovereignty are impossible on the Palestinian side.

Given the urgency of the peace process for both Israelis and Palestinians, it is surely worth considering one albeit radical solution. Palestinian nationhood will only come about in tandem with a basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and establishing definite protections for the security and welfare of both parties. Thus rather than contorting the map to accomodate intractable pragmatic concerns, the Green Line should be affirmed as the rightful boundary between Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty. Included in the basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestine should be a clause guaranteeing Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem bestowal of Resident Alien status and rights from the new Palestinian government. These settlers could choose to remain in their homes and retain Israeli citizenship, in return they would only have to apply for a Resident Alien permit, submit to Palestinian law, and pay Palestinian taxes.

While seemingly simple on the surface, this type of solution would in fact be excruciatingly complex and contingent on a comprehensive and detailed set of safeguards and protocols hammered out in advance and committed to in writing. For example, a ban on all transfers of real property owned by Resident Aliens for an interim "stabilizing period" (20-30 years) would likely be required, to assure Israeli settlers that they could not be coerced to sell their homes or stripped of property through the exercise of "eminent domain." Practical political conditions would also make this policy extremely dangerous. Radicals on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide would seize upon the situation to incite violence and subvert the peace. Relatively small provocations could quite easily snowball into open war- the utmost diligence, forbearance and diplomacy would be required of both governments to make the peace win through.

Given all these legal and practical difficulties, however, I would still venture that a "Resident Alien" compromise holds out the best hope for peace. The abstract possibility of peace hinges on the hope that Israel and Palestine could be good neighbors in a common region. What better way to embody and nurture that hope than to require Israelis and Palestinians be good neighbors in a common country?

7 comments:

Kate Marie said...

An interesting solution, Madman. My concern would be that the radicals on the Palestinian side who would "seize upon the situation to incite violence and subvert the peace" may prove too great in number (and in the percentage of the population which supports them) to be held in check by Palestinian forbearance and diplomacy.

Would you recommend waiting, for a reasonable period, to see what happens in Gaza? If the radicals can't be contained there, further attempts to solve the problem seem rather quixotic to me. But maybe -- since, as you say, the problem must be solved -- any honest attempt at a solution is worthwhile.

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Kate Marie,

The solution I propose would require such a complex set of institutional and legal arrangements that even if the process to implement it were started today one would have many months or years to observe outcomes in Gaza. On that score I don't see that anything that happens in Gaza will alter the raw demographic facts that I've outlined above.

As to the radicals you mention, it is impossible to surmise what effect the creation of a sovereign Palestinian nation with a substantive and effective government might have on their influence within the Palestinian community- the Sharon government's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza surely provides no gauge. If and when the Palestinian nation is a reality ordinary Palestinians' enthusiasm for "driving Israel into the sea" may fade very quickly. Israel will never accede to the creation of a Palestinian state that has offensive military capability, so once the Palestinian state is made it will always remain within the power of the Israeli army to "unmake" it if sufficiently provoked. Under those conditions support for the provocations of groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad may reach a low ebb among their own people.

The radicals among the Jewish settlers are another matter- their motivation to undermine the peace process will never be affected by the establishment of Palestinian nationhood- quite the contrary. In the long run I would argue that they posed the greatest threat to the success of a "Resident Alien" solution, as some might launch a terrorist campaign against the Palestinian government in order to "return Judea and Samaria" to Jewish rule.

alex said...

From a news account describing the burning of Israeli synagogues in Gaza:

"Flames shot skyward from four abandoned synagogues in the Gaza Strip on Monday, as thousands of celebrating Palestinians thronged through former Jewish settlements and headed straight for the only buildings left standing....Helpless Palestinian police stood by and watched, admitting they were outnumbered by the crowds and had little motivation to stop them."

This is despite the fact that policemen were ordered to stop the throngs.

Don't you think its a bit naive to believe things would be any different if the Israeli residents of the West Bank were placed under Palestinian sovereignty?

Who, exactly, would protect their safety? The same Palestinian police that cannot even protect the safety of their own citizens (see the execution-style killing of Moussa Arafat), who cannot stop militants from shelling Israeli cities on a regular basis, who cannot control the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad - who as of writing this (Sept. 24) have prevented the Palestinian police from controlling Gaza's borders, and who stand helpless whenever faced against an angry crowd?

You write,

"The solution I propose would require such a complex set of institutional and legal arrangements that even if the process to implement it were started today one would have many months or years to observe outcomes in Gaza..."

I think that in the week since you have written your post there have been a few observations to make, and they are not terribly encouraging.

As for hoping that things will improve - that the Palestinians will develop a set of legal institutions that would make your idea work - at this point it is just wishful thinking. It is not at all clear whether it will ever happen or how long it would take. It is only clear that the Palestinians are quite far from that now.

In light of this, it seems like the 8% solution would be more practical.

P.S. Barak actually offered Palestinians 97% of the West Bank territory at the Taba Summit, which they rejected. The current version of the separation wall would give Palestinians 93% of the West Bank. Given that it would leave the West Bank contiguous, and that over roughly 99.6% of the Palestinians would be on their side of the wall (Israeli government figure, it should be noted), i'm not sure that "insurmountable difficulties in communication" would be developed. I'm quite sure that if a comprehensive settlement requires the laying of some new roads, there are a number of interested parties who would be willing to pay.

Madman of Chu said...

Alex,

The vandalism of the abandoned synagogues in Gaza is no gauge of the prospects of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation. The Israelis had wisely planned to demolish those structures along with every other building in those settlements, the Cabinet voted to circumvent those plans less than 24 hours before the final pullout. This last minute decision by the Cabinet was completely unfathomable, the synagogues were obviously going to come down at some time. If the Israelis wanted the Palestinian authorities to oversee the demolition in a calm, dignified manner they should have taken more than a day to work out and coordinate plans.

Those scenes are an object lesson in how critically Israel needs a genuine partner in the peace process, acting unilaterally and without warning is no way to foster the growth of robust institutions among the Palestinians. Expecting an effective authority to emerge among the Palestinians before even a principle agreement on sovereignty exists is like expecting rain without clouds, even more so when unilateral action on the part of the Israeli government persistently erodes the credibility of what Palestinian governing institutions do exist.

The Taba talks also don't really signify as an index of possibilities- they did not fail over disagreements on territory but over the uncertainties attendant upon regime change in Washington and upcoming Israeli elections. If the Sharon government had been willing to pick up the thread of the Taba talks they may well have led to a final settlement.

Hoping that the Palestinians will develop institutions of governance is not what I suggested. Rather, I would propose that Israel genuinely cooperate with the Palestinian authority in establishing and expanding its control- in the final analysis Israel's existence is as dependent upon the success of such a process as is the cause of Palestinian nationhood.

alex said...

Madman,

"The vandalism of the abandoned synagogues in Gaza is no gauge of the prospects of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation...This last minute decision by the Cabinet was completely unfathomable..."

The vandalism of abandoned synagogues is, however, a gauge of the ability of the Palestinian police to resist throngs of militants. I brought up this incident not to point fingers, but simply to point out that relying on Palestinian institutions to protect Israeli citizens is completely unrealistic. Whether it will ever become realistic is, at best, unclear.

"Hoping that the Palestinians will develop institutions of governance is not what I suggested. Rather, I would propose that Israel genuinely cooperate with the Palestinian authority in establishing and expanding its control..."

I'm not sure that there is much Israel can do except stay out of the struggles between the PA and militant groups that resist its control. Any interference would likely be resented by both sides. Therefore, given the limited options for action available to "cooperate with the Palestinian authority in establishing and expanding its control," this option to me sounds essentially the same as hoping that the Palestinians will develop robust institutions. What, precisely, do you believe Israel should do in this regard, and why do you think it will make much of a difference?

P.S. I'm not sure that election-related uncertainty can be used to explain the failure of the Taba talks. Its fair to say that if any US president were to be presented with a negotiated end to the mideast conflict accepted by both sides, its hardly a tough decision to endorse it. As for the Israeli election, if the proposals at Taba were truly amenable to the Palestinians, their best bet would have been to agree - at worst, they would be no worse off is Sharon came into office, and at best a settlement might have aided Barak.

alex said...

I also don't see any evidence that,

"Expecting an effective authority to emerge among the Palestinians before even a principle agreement on sovereignty exists is like expecting rain without clouds..."

Given that Israel has repeteadly offered to recognize a Palestinian state - and that the sticking points were related to territory, refugees, and the fate of Jerusalem - I fail to see why you think a principle agreement on sovereignty would be so important. Your opinions seems not to be shared by the PA itself, which is asking for quite different things, not another interim agreement.

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