Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

The Israeli - Palestinian conflict: Part G

 

A Two State Solution: Election Day!

 

A Two State Solution:

By initiating the Olso process Israel stated its clear intention of negotiating and reaching a two-state solution. A two state solution must include a contiguous Palestinian state.

 

President Bush declared in April 2004 when he approved the Gaza disengagement plan that the right of return was a nonstarter and that the large settlement blocs near Jerusalem would remain in the hands of Israel. The Palestinians have not accepted either of Bush’s statements which were also rejected at Camp David in 2000. 

 

 

The Israeli occupation of Palestinians must end for moral, demographic and political reasons. It endangers Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. (When 30-40% of the population living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea cannot due to religion or nationality – the Palestinians - become citizens they are being occupied. That is why the Gaza withdrawal ended that part of the occupation.) A democratic state cannot be an occupying power. In addition Israel’s security situation must be strengthened. Whatever strategies are used to reduce the occupation they must reduce the security threat as well.

 

Are the majority of Palestinians committed to this two state solution? Is Hamas? Recently the Hamas leader on the West Bank, Sheik Hassan Yussef, declared that the group would consider an indefinite ‘hudna’ - or pause in armed conflict. The ‘hudna’ meant that both sides in the ongoing conflict could live in safety and peace as long as it lasts, and that it could even be extended indefinitely. ‘We can dream about all Palestine being Muslim - like some Israelis dream of a Greater Israel that includes all our lands - but it is not practical,’ he said. 

 

The two state solution requires addressing Israel’s security problem, the Jerusalem issue and Palestinian Refugee problem.

 

Security:

Israeli’s security must obviously be considered in the final border decisions. This includes among others the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. The Jordan Valley, Israel’s eastern border with the Hashemite Kingdom, given the Hamas victory, the chaos enveloping Shia Iraq and the very real possibility of the Shia nuclear armed Iran make this border more problematical than previous. The Golan Heights taken from Syria given the current status of that country and its government are clearly an Israeli security problem.

 

Syria and Iran have had a long term axis; they share common interests in Iraq where they have cooperated due to their mutual antipathy toward the Israel and United States. Damascus believes that by cooperating with Iran it can stave off international pressure while expanding its freedom of action in Lebanon and Israel. Both countries helped create and fund Hizbollah beginning in the 1980’s. In January of 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Damascus in order to cement ties between the two increasingly isolated countries.

Despite this Damascus tells the United States and Israel that if its government is removed from power, Islamists will be waiting to take power. In fact, Damascus has feverishly attempted to depict itself as a victim of radical Islamic militancy to counter charges that it promotes such activity, and has more or less staged clashes between Syrian security forces and militants to prove the point.

Damascus works rather transparently to maintain Lebanon in an ongoing state of instability; a state to which Lebanon is certainly accustomed. Saudi Arabia, another neighbor anxiously fears that Damascus may attempt to destabilize the Saudi peninsula if pushed too far.

In the West Bank the settlements were once considered part of the security strategy; the IDF Planning Branch no longer consider that the case. According to Haaretz correspondent Aluf Benn “The general view in the defense establishment is that settlements do not contribute directly to security and also force the IDF to deploy troops for their defense” (March 6).  This referred to isolated settlements and was not intended to include the major settlement blocs near Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Golan. This new strategy uncouples settlement activity from security considerations. The result at least temporarily will be the equivalent of the Bantustans of South Africa. This may be the best that can be Israel can do given the current interim strategic solutions. It does however contradict the long term two state solution.

 

Jerusalem:

The two state solution requires the State of Palestine to have a capital in Eastern Jerusalem; without Jerusalem a two state solution does not exist. This capitol must be connected to the West Bank. Unfortunately Israel planning for the security fence and building Jewish neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem are undermining that connection. The expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim (the E1) and the creation of new Jewish neighborhoods at the perimeter of the municipal boundaries would create a Jewish belt around Arab East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the West Bank and constricting Palestinian growth within the city. A majority of Israelis are willing to give up on East Jerusalem even without a peace treaty; excluding the Old City. 95% believe a Jewish Jerusalem is important. The only way to achieve that is give Arab Jerusalem to the Palestinians. (Tazpit Research Institute for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Haaretz and Jerusalem Post, Jan. 19)

 

East Jerusalem cannot be separated from the West Bank if there is to be a satisfactory two state solution.

 

There are approximately 250,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem; the fence has 80% on the Israeli side. When the fence is completed, some 200,000 Palestinian East Jerusalemites will end up inside Jewish Jerusalem, live under Israeli control, and increasingly be separated from the West Bank; the remaining 50,000 will be outside the barrier, disconnected from the city that has been their centre of gravity, fearful of reduced social services and, in many instances, determined to find their way back into the fenced-in areas. Does this increase Israeli security or lessen it? "In fact, it will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists, by incorporating hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the fence, and sowing the seeds of growing radicalism".  Mouin Rabbani, a senior ICG analyst, said it could become easier for militant groups to recruit Palestinians from Jerusalem to carry out attacks as resentment and hardship rose. (International Crisis Group, August 2, 2005). Is a Greater Jerusalem ideology replacing the Greater Israel thesis?

 

At some point the Arabs in Jerusalem who have nearly 40 percent of the city's population, may vote in a municipal election. They have thus far chosen to boycott Jerusalem municipal elections. Israel's Jerusalem is in danger of being taken over legally - perhaps in coalition with Jerusalem's anti-Zionist ultra orthodox Jews.

 

Jerusalem is the true epicenter of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. It is difficult, although not impossible to see any near or even mid term solution to the Jerusalem old city problem.

 

Ruth Lapidoth (retired Professor of International Law at the Hebrew University) recently heading a team of experts under the auspices of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) laid out five options for the division of Jerusalem. Most require international involvement in administration of the Old City, in the areas of security, preservation and supervision of the holy places. The new report states: "It is especially complicated to plan and put into place a special regime for the historic basin, but it may be assumed that there is no other solution that could gain the agreement of the two sides and of the international community”. It requires concentrating on our commonality and not our differences!

 

This Israeli growth plan is at war with the two state solution. This will vastly complicate future attempts to resolve the conflict by both preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem and obstructing the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state.

 

Palestinian Refugees:

Many Palestinians live as "refugees", primarily the descendants of original 1948 and 1967 War refugees. They include 450,000 in Lebanon, 275,000 in Syria and uncounted hundreds of thousands in Jordan. There is No possibility of Palestinian refugees moving into Israel since that negates the two state idea. And yet no significant Palestinian leader has had the courage to publicly state that. That problem can only be solved with some moving to the State of Palestine, some being incorporated into the neighboring Arab states and some monetary compensation.

 

The Economy:

The motto of Bill Clinton in his election for presidency in 1992 was ‘it’s the economy, stupid’; this applies not only to America but most of the world including Gaza and the West Bank. No one seems to have a solution to that problem. Young people are the pool of suicide bombers – young people have not seen life and therefore do not understand death. The economic situation is intricately with the security situation.  

 

Prior to the disengagement the number one priority for the Palestinian people was the end of occupation. Today according to Khalil Shikaki, Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research their top priority now is for an improvement in the economic life in the Palestinian areas, with an end to political corruption, and an end to the occupation falling [in polls] far behind. “For the first time, after the Gaza disengagement, we have economics coming on top… And the second one is in fact a virtual tie between fighting corruption and fighting occupation.”

 

How are the approximately 1.4 million people of Gaza Strip (49% under 14 years of age) and the West Bank approximate population of 2 million (44%  under 14 years of age) going to survive? How will this young generation (too young even to vote) react to economic collapse and a humanitarian disaster? Is economic collapse likely to increase or decrease the level of terrorist attacks and Israeli counter measures?

 

A decision to continue resistance will force Hamas to abandon its domestic agenda. The two are incompatible. Hamas's domestic agenda necessitates a period of calm. To improve the quality of life and develop the social, economic, and political institutions, the Palestinians need calm and freedom of passage inside and between the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis need to reduce the roadblocks on arteries and at key junctions. There is no way a Hamas Palestinian government can implement its plans without Israeli cooperation.

 

The West Bank cities and the Gaza are characterized by different problems. As journalist Nicholas Jubber writes, ‘the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are divided by their unequal economies, distinct dialects, and cultural animosities forged by their pre-1967 experiences under separate regimes - Nasser's Egypt and King Hussein's Jordan.’  Socially, West Bankers see themselves as the upper echelon of Palestinian society; they are educated and had financial independence. However as a result of the second intifada both groups now live in poverty. With Hamas winning several of the municipal governments of the West Bank major cities (aside from the Palestinian Legislative Council) political reform may be created. They ran on correcting the infrastructure and economy and improving education and health care and ending corruption. 

 

Given the Hamas victory and Israeli’s rightful distrust it may be that Gaza and the West Bank need to continue to develop separately. They have been developing separately for more than a decade. Perhaps Gaza can grow towards El Arish, that is Sinai’s Egypt. That will have to be resolved between the Palestinians and Egypt, a not likely event. 

 

The idea of connecting Gaza and the West Bank by some kind of a corridor: a surface or sunken highway or an underground tunnel is no longer feasible given the Hamas victory. (The Prime Minister designate Ismail Hamiyah resides in Gaza cannot go to the West Bank, his deputy Nassar al-Sha’er lives in the West Bank cannot go to Gaza.) Since a single viable Palestinian state is no longer in the foreseeable future the separate development may be best for Israel’s security. One hopes that this can work particularly for the Gaza population.

 

 

Conclusion:

Does anyone believe the final status issues are ripe for resolution? The Labor Party appears to believe negotiations for peace are a viable option. The Likud’s position is to do nothing and react. Kadima platform is to act unilaterally. For the first time more Israeli’s believe the domestic problems are more important than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That may be the key to the election results.

 

If Kadima as likely becomes the largest party in the Knesset its government will not seek a ‘peace partner’ but an ‘interim coordination partner’ for the indefinite future. It is intriguing that is exactly what Hamas wants as well. Hamas is more realistic about the short and midterm future than Abbas. Both Kadima and Hamas recognize that peace negotiations are simply not in the foreseeable future.

 

The Kadima convergence plan is for further disengagements in land with little settler population, all east of the fence but importantly and different than the Gaza disengagement there will be continued military occupation. This will not make for ‘final borders’ as claimed by Ehud Olmert. They will be recognized by no one. But they will allow Israel more security and allow the logical growth of the main settler blocs.  It is a towards ending the occupation. 

 

The interim solution will not eliminate Palestinian terrorism, but with the security fence and elimination of outlying settlements they will be significantly reduced. 80% of the settlers reside in large settlements near the Green line and are effectively being annexed to Israel. Israel given the likely election results has (in what Netanyahu himself called a ‘referendum’) chosen.

 

No one knows how the $190 million per month necessary to fund the Palestinian budget will be met. Two thirds of the Palestinian economy is dependant on foreign aid. It is obvious that a significant cut in this funding will result in a humanitarian disaster. The U.S. and E.U. provide more than half of budget. The Arab League who have so far refused to increase their $50 million contribution; they will be meeting March 27-29. 

 

Shaul Mofaz, Israeli Minister of Defense has called the Prime Minister designate Haniyeh and Foreign Minister designate Mahmoud Azhar as terrorists with Jewish bloods on their hands; will he have them assassinated? How Israel will coordinate with Hamas and Abbas (whose administrative powers seem to be growing almost daily) and the new government and how they will respond to the international community is unknown. What is clear is that the realities of governing contradict violence and terrorism. One can only hope that the cease fire will continue and then dialogue in small measures will begin to take place.