Problems in Peacemaking
Feb 12, 2010 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
February 12, 2010
Number 02/10 #4
This Update features some of the latest writing on the realities concerning the various barriers that impede the achievement of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.
First up is former Israeli general turned political envoy and defence advisor Michael Herzog on the current state of play with regard to hope that Hamas could eventually be “co-opted” into the peace process. Following up on a piece he wrote in 2006 on the conditions for such co-option to occur, he points out that, as he predicted, there is no sign of it occurring, and whenever forced to make hard choices, Hamas has allowed dogma to rule its decision-making. He also debunks claims that measures such as Hamas’ participaton in the 2006 elections, or Hamas offers of a ceasefire in exchange for a Palestinian state on all the territories, plus a “right of return”, provide any evidence that the organisation has at all moderated its core beliefs. For this important survey of the unfortunate barrier Hamas continues to provide to a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace, CLICK HERE.
Next, academic Professor Barry Rubin looks at the other side of the Palestinian equation and argues that, in any case, the Palestinian Authority cannot agree to a realistic peace, Hamas or no Hamas. He looks at the recent speech at Israel’s Herzliya conference by Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad, where he offered a laundry list of Palestinian demands and absolutely no answers to Israeli concerns or ideas of what a peace should contain. Rubin argues that Fayyad is indeed the most moderate Palestinian leader out there, but what this speech shows is that he cannot gather Palestinian political backing for the kind of peace deal he might favour, and which Israel might be able to accept. For all of Rubin’s detailed analysis of Fayyad’s position, CLICK HERE. Making a similar argument that the Fatah leadership looks incapable of delivering on peace even if talks resume is prominent Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Meanwhile, Rubin had another good recent article on what Westerners tend not to understand about asymmetric warfare in the Arab-Israel conflict.
Finally, noted Israeli author and essayist Hillel Halkin takes on the thorny subject of the settlements in a final peace agreement. Halkin strongly argues that the current assumption that a two-state solution will entail an evacuation of all settlers from the area to constitute a Palestinian state is a dangerous mistake, and that the focus should be on arrangements that allow most of them to remain, if they wish, just as many Palestinians can and will live in Israel. He offers a number of interesting arguments for his views, including that evacuating 80,000 or more settlers against their will is more than Israeli society can bear, and it is bizarre to say that Jews can live anyway in the world except in the heart of their traditional historical homeland, which is in the West Bank. Halkin makes many other arguments and an interesting case, and to read it all, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Israeli journalist Avi Trengo questions whether Salam’s Fayyad’s stewardship of the Palestinian economy has been as successful as it is being portrayed, in a two part piece, here and here.
- An argument that forcing Jordan to become more involved in Palestinian Affairs is the way out of the current impasse comes from Israeli academic analyst Guy Bechor.
- An interesting interview with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about his preconditions for Israeli-Palestinian talks and other matters.
- An interview with noted historian turned Israeli Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren dealing with various issues, in two parts, here and here.
- A new Pew Centre poll, among other interesting findings, shows that the Palestinians are the Middle East group with the most favourable feelings toward Osama bin Laden, with 51% saying they identify with him. Meanwhile, the same poll shows 90% of Middle Easterners view Jews unfavourably.
- Academic Stephen Walt, co-author of the “Israel Lobby” gets caught out for absurdly sloppy research and jumping to conclusions that fit his preconceptions by top Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. More on Walt’s error is here.
- Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson offers the Jewish people as an example for his own people to emulate in struggling to keep their history and fight discrimination.
The Hamas Conundrum
The Untamed Shrew. Four Years on.
Foreign Affairs, February 8, 2010
In the four years since it swept Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas has neither moderated its policies nor adopted democratic principles. Constantly torn between its ideology as an Islamist jihadi movement and its responsibilities as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has proven unwilling to transform itself. The result has been an ongoing ideological and political crisis for Hamas and, more generally, the Palestinian Authority. Last October, Hamas was faced with the challenge of new elections mandated by Palestinian law and set for January by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction is Hamas’ chief rival. Hamas’ reaction was to ban any voting from taking place in Gaza. Consequently, Abbas postponed the elections indefinitely, sparking heated debate with Hamas over the legitimacy of his continued tenure as president.
Soon after Hamas’ 2006 electoral victory, I identified some conditions necessary for co-opting ideologically extreme and violent political movements (“Can Hamas Be Tamed?” March/April 2006). I argued that Hamas was unlikely to become more moderate in the foreseeable future, primarily because there was neither a strong Palestinian government nor a viable political center capable of containing and co-opting the group. Unfortunately, this has proven to be true — and it remains so today.
After winning the 2006 election, Hamas immediately began grappling with various conflicting pressures. The Israeli government, which evacuated its citizens and military from Gaza in 2005, reacted strongly — militarily, economically, and diplomatically — to the continued firing of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, first by factions other than Hamas and later by Hamas itself. Meanwhile, immediately after Hamas’ electoral victory, the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia) demanded that Hamas, in order to gain international legitimacy, commit to nonviolence, recognize Israel, and accept previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. All the while, Hamas felt a domestic imperative to secure Palestinian national unity. In the face of these pressures, it consistently tried to govern without moderating its ideology. It remained dedicated to “resistance” and to Israel’s destruction — and therefore opposed to any concept of a real peace process.
When forced to make hard choices, Hamas has been repeatedly pulled down by the weight of its dogma. In early 2007, in an attempt to halt escalating intra-Palestinian bloodshed and secure international aid, Hamas agreed to share power with Fatah in a national unity government. But Hamas adamantly refused to include in the government’s platform any acceptance of the Quartet’s conditions or of the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which proposed that Arab states normalize relations with Israel following a comprehensive settlement of Arab-Israeli issues. By June 2007, the national unity government had collapsed. Under the initiative of its more radical military wing, Hamas forcibly overran Gaza and brutally established its rule, in many cases throwing Fatah members from rooftops or shooting them in the knees. Thus, despite the expectations of some who encouraged Hamas’ participation in politics, political inclusion did not contain or domesticate the group. Rather, Hamas resisted domestication until finally bursting out and forming an independent political entity.
The violent end of the unity government split the Palestinian territories into two entities — one in the West Bank, one in the Gaza Strip — with vastly different governments and political climates. In the West Bank, Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, embarked on an overdue and unprecedented reform process, which included clamping down on Hamas grassroots groups through widespread arrests, the discharging of radical preachers from mosques, and the seizure of Hamas funds. The reform effort has brought improved security and impressive economic growth to the West Bank. In Gaza, by contrast, Hamas focused on being the flag-bearer for Islamists in the Middle East. This attitude led the group to cast aside practical realities in favor of pursuing ideological goals. In addition to forcing itself on local clans and usurping traditional power bases, Hamas initiated a gradual yet determined process of Islamization in all spheres of life. These included legislation and the courts; the education system; the media; and social life, as the group, in accordance with its Islamic code of conduct, demanded “modest” dress for women, banned mixed-gender social events, closed or monitored Internet cafés, and even condemned chewing gum because it “arouses the passion of the youth.” Hamas’ Islamization has also meant the systematic persecution of Gaza’s Christians. As Abbas recently put it, Hamas’ policies turned Gaza into “an emirate of darkness.”
Despite this record, debate still persisted among Western commentators over whether Hamas was becoming moderate. This was because Hamas performed some window dressing to maintain its domestic legitimacy and garner international approval. Over the last two years, it has been conducting intermittent national unity talks with Fatah (to no avail). It also reached out to the West, suggesting a dialogue with Western governments. And some Hamas leaders occasionally expressed willingness to accept a long-term cease-fire with Israel if a Palestinian state were established along the 1967 borders. Hamas assumed these seemingly moderate postures as a way to address political pressures without reforming its ideology: there has been no evidence that Hamas leaders are reconsidering their core beliefs — only that they are, at most, debating which tactics best serve those beliefs.
After Israel’s pullout from Gaza, one of Hamas’ main tactics was to allow, and later orchestrate, the regular firing of rockets from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns. Eventually, in December 2008, this rocket fire provoked Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead, a massive military operation in Gaza. It dealt a crippling blow to Hamas and deterred further rocket fire: whereas 7,000 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel in the three years before the operation, only about 300 were fired in the 12 months following January 2009, as Hamas has enforced a near-total cease-fire since Operation Cast Lead ended that month.
At the same time, however, Hamas has been rearming, especially with long-range rockets, despite enhanced Egyptian efforts to curb the smuggling of weapons through tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. Hamas is helped in this smuggling effort by Iran. In October 2009, Hamas test-fired an Iranian-manufactured rocket capable of hitting Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv.
This history and the fact that the group seems to be ignoring strong pressures to reform — including rising domestic unpopularity and an unprecedented crisis in relations with Egypt — suggest that Hamas cannot be part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process based on recognizing Israel and making historic compromises, nor part of a Palestinian body politic based on democracy and free elections.
Reaching a temporary cease-fire with Israel and claiming willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders is no true sign of moderation when Hamas is simultaneously building its arsenal and treating terrorism as a tactical tool. “Hamas will never give up the option of resistance,” the Hamas political chief Khaled Mashal stated at a rally last month, “no matter how long it takes.” Hamas’ seemingly moderate political statements are always accompanied by forbidding conditions — for example, that in exchange for only a cease-fire on Hamas’ part (not the recognition of Israel), Israel would have to withdraw to the 1967 lines and accept all Palestinian refugees.
Likewise, participating in the 2006 elections and flirting with national unity arrangements is not proof that Hamas has accepted the rules of democracy. The real test of a ruling party is if it agrees to a second round of elections, even if it might lose. Hamas failed that test recently when it undermined the scheduled Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections.
The sad conclusion is that Hamas presents one of those policy problems that are only manageable, not solvable. No force in Palestinian politics today has the power to break Hamas’ ideological basis or grip on power in Gaza. For internal pressure to be effective — that is, for it to move Hamas to become more moderate, relinquish violence, endorse the peace process, and embrace democratic practices — it would have to be coupled with solid, sustained external pressure. If international powers, led by the United States and the other members of the Quartet, grant Hamas a free pass, the group will continue to play the spoiler, threaten Abbas and other moderates in the West Bank, and serve Iranian interests.
No matter what, changing Hamas will be a long-term journey, like any process of co-optation. The challenge is to manage it in a way that mitigates the impact on innocent Palestinians, minimizes the risk of all-out escalation, and leaves room for a viable peace process. These imperatives, in turn, underscore the urgency of relaunching the peace process under a supportive Arab umbrella that, based on shared concerns over Iran’s bellicosity, would foster moderation and stability in the face of extremism. But the policy conundrum remains: Will the peace process progress with Hamas, or in spite of it? Unless Hamas unexpectedly changes course, the group will exclude itself from the process. That would be for the better. The challenge for policymakers in Washington, Europe, Jerusalem, and Ramallah then becomes how to deny Hamas the capacity to play the spoiler.
MICHAEL HERZOG, a Brigadier General in the Israel Defense Forces, is a special emissary to the Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of Defense for the Middle East peace process. He served as Chief of Staff to the Israeli Minister of Defense from 2006 to 2009 and was a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy from 2004 to 2006.
The Region: Salam Fayyad cannot deliver
BY BARRY RUBIN
The Jerusalem Post, 07/02/2010 21:16
Imagine this. You’re a prime minister praised in the Western media as a moderate man of peace. You represent a people who the US president says is in an intolerable situation. You’re dependent on contributions from Western democratic countries that want you to make a deal. Your rivals have seized almost half the land you want to rule and work tirelessly to overthrow your regime and very possibly to kill you personally.
But here comes a big opportunity.
You are invited by your negotiating partner to its most important meeting of the year. All the other side’s top leaders and opinion makers are listening to you.
And that country’s second most powerful leader has just made a very conciliatory speech praising you personally, urging peace, offering concessions and telling his own people they must be ready to give you a lot.
What do you do?
Make a warm conciliatory, confidence-building speech, showing by substantial offers that you, too, are willing to compromise, stretching out your hand to build friendship and ensure you get a country?
But here is what Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the audience at the Herzliya Conference last week, held at the Interdisciplinary Center, following Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s conciliatory speech:
• Israel must unilaterally pull out of the rest of the West Bank, getting nothing in return.
• It must immediately stop all construction on settlements, including apartments now being completed.
• The IDF should never enter PA-ruled areas. Even if the PA doesn’t arrest terrorists who have murdered Israelis or are planning attacks, it must do nothing. Fayyad said this is unnecessary because the PA is taking care of these matters. But this makes no sense: When Israel sees that to be true, it never orders incursions in the first place.
• Israel should end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, even though the Hamas rulers there refuse to make a deal with the PA, openly announce their goal of destroying Israel and smuggle in as many weapons as possible. Moreover, as soon as it feels secure again, Hamas will launch new attacks. Fayyad claimed, however, that if Israel did so, the PA could then build government institutions in the Gaza Strip, though it has no control there whatsoever.
• He stated his goal was to mobilize international support and create such a strong state apparatus that the world would pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state on the PA’s terms.
• While Barak said regional instability made it harder to give the Palestinians everything they wanted (the PA could be overthrown by Hamas, subverted by Iran and Syria, unwilling or unable to stop cross-border attacks), Fayyad responded that once Israel left, the region would become more stable and peaceful. That’s a rather questionable assertion.
IT IS true that he ends by saying: “We have one key aspiration, and that is once again to be able to live alongside you in peace, harmony and security.” Yet he addressed none of the points in Israel’s peace plan: an official end to the conflict in any agreement. resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine, an end to incitement by PA institutions to kill Israelis, limits on militarization of a Palestinian state or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Fayyad is the most moderate guy in the PA leadership. He was doing about the best he could. But that’s the point. He has no base of support, isn’t a Fatah member, and doesn’t really represent Palestinian thinking. He is in office only to keep Western donors happy. Thus, Fayyad couldn’t go any further because he knows his Fatah bosses, Palestinian constituents and Hamas enemies would throw him out if he offered the slightest concession and demanded any less than everything they want.
In his speech, Barak argued that Israel must get rid of the West Bank for its own good. Fayyad says: progress must be made in negotiations, in the context of a speech in which he asked for a long list of concessions and offered nothing in exchange. These statements are not parallel. A parallel statement would be if Fayyad had said something like: The Palestinians risk becoming permanently mired in violence and backwardness unless they negotiate terms that make Israel feel secure enough to give up the territory.
Since 1993 not a single Palestinian leader has ever made a speech to his own people like Barak’s, never said that they should have to give up something to get a state other than their claim to all of Israel (which they don’t quite seem to give up), never urged the media and public debate to become more moderate.
Four days before Fayyad’s speech, the imam Fayyad appointed in Nablus gave a sermon over the television Fayyad controls. As translated by MEMRI, he said: “The Jews are the enemies of Allah and [Muhammad], the enemies of humanity in general, and of the Palestinians in particular… Jews will not cease to be hostile to the Muslims.” Only jihad, not negotiations, can liberate the land.
How can this be reconciled with Fayyad’s claim of Palestinians just wanting “to live alongside you in peace, harmony and security”?
Answer: The sermon is meant to shape Palestinian politics and public opinion; what Fayyad says is meant to shape Israeli and Western politics and public opinion. Fayyad believes what he said but, as a figurehead, also knows that he isn’t going to change the dominant Palestinian view or even try to do so. The audience applauded Fayyad because it does want peace and prefers him to all the worse alternatives, especially Hamas but also those in Fatah. Yet few have any illusions that peace is at hand or that Fayyad is going to deliver it.
What to Do With the Settlements
By HILLEL HALKIN
Wall Street Journal, FEBRUARY 4, 2010
There is one obvious solution for Israel’s West Bank settlements that has been all but completely overlooked: Let the settlers continue living where they are, but in the state of Palestine.
As a conception, it’s stunningly simple. Its very obviousness has rendered it invisible, like something in one’s field of vision that goes unnoticed because it has been there all the time. If over one million Palestinian Arabs can live as they do in towns and villages all over Israel, why cannot a few hundred thousand Israeli Jews live, symmetrically, in a West Bank Palestinian state?
The West Bank settlers have not only been a major obstacle to the success of peace negotiations in the past, they have now turned into an obstacle to negotiations taking place at all. Although Israel, under heavy American pressure, has agreed to a 10-month freeze on new settlement construction, it has refused to suspend construction already under way or in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority, initially encouraged by American intimations of a more comprehensive Israeli gesture, has declared that it will not return to the negotiating table in its absence. Yet if the settlers could live under Palestinian sovereignty, what need would there be for a freeze at all? And why wrangle endlessly over where a tortuous border between Israel and Palestine should run so that a maximum of settlers ends up on the Israeli side and a minimum gets evicted from the Palestinian side if there is no inherent necessity for any to be on the Israeli side or for any to be evicted?
Because, you may say, the settlers have no right to be on Palestinian land to begin with. Or because they would not tolerate living under Palestinian rule. Or because the Palestinians would not tolerate them. Or because they and the Palestinians could never get along even with the best of intentions.
“They,” though, are hardly a monolithic group. They are a highly heterogeneous population, having in common only one thing: the fact that all live across the Israeli-Jordanian cease-fire line with which Israel’s 1948-49 war of independence ended, on land wrested by Israel when it conquered Jordan’s holdings west of the Jordan River in 1967. All are in “Area C,” the part of the West Bank that has remained, according to the terms of the 1993 Oslo agreement, under temporary Israeli jurisdiction.
Beyond that, however, the differences are great. Some settlements were built on former Jordanian government-owned land that passed to Israeli jurisdiction, some on land purchased from Palestinians, some on land that was expropriated. Some are 40 years old and some were established recently. Some are isolated outposts, some small villages, some medium-sized towns with six- and eight-story apartment buildings. Some settlers are living where they are, often in the more isolated areas of the West Bank, for religious or ideological reasons; others, generally closer to the old 1967 border, because they have found well-located and pleasant surroundings at affordable prices. There are those who would willingly accept compensation in return for being evacuated as part of a peace agreement and those who would resist evacuation with all their might.
And there are settlers, roughly 225,000, who live on the “Israeli” side of the anti-terror West Bank security fence and settlers, about 75,000, who live on its “Palestinian” side. (Another 200,000 Israelis living in parts of former Jordanian Jerusalem that were annexed by Israel in 1967 are not listed by Israeli statistics as settlers at all.) Approximately 1/20th of Israel’s Jewish population, the settlers’ numbers have grown by over 5% a year, some three times the national average—a figure due to in-migration, mostly of young couples, and a high birth rate.
Indeed, given the political uncertainty and physical risk of living in the West Bank, where Palestinian terror has stalked the settlers repeatedly, their increase has been phenomenal. In 1977, the year in which the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin, which had reined in settlement activity, was replaced by the pro-settlement Likud government of Menachem Begin, the West Bank’s Jewish population was barely 7,000. By 1988, it had grown to 63,000; by 1993, to 100,000; by 2006, to 230,000. And even with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current freeze on new West Bank building starts, enough pre-freeze units are under construction to ensure that this rate of growth continues through 2010.
By contrast, the Palestinian population of the West Bank, though also increasingly rapidly, has done so less spectacularly: it is currently guesstimated (agreed-on figures are impossible to come by) at about two million. Aren’t the Palestinians, then, justified in their alarm over settlement growth and their insistence that it be stopped? How can they establish a state of their own with a swelling Jewish minority with whom they live in relations of hostility?
This is a fair question that deserves an honest answer—the first part of which is that, even if the settlements were indeed an insurmountable obstacle to peace, Jews would still have a right to live in the West Bank, the hill country south and north of Jerusalem that has always been called by them Judea and Samaria. It was there that the Jewish people was born; that the Hebrew language originated; that the Bible was written and most of the events described in it took place; that the kings of Israel reigned and the Prophets of Israel spoke out. By what principle should Jews be able to live anywhere in the world except for the most traditionally cherished part of their ancestral homeland?
Nor is it true, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, that the settlements are “illegal.” The case for this belief rests almost entirely on the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, article 49(6) of which states that an occupying military power “shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Yet not only has Israel “deported” or “transferred” no one to the settlements, whose inhabitants are there of their own free will, it did not come into possession of the West Bank as an occupying power.
This is because, after its 1967 victory, Israel had as good a legal claim on the West Bank as anyone. The Jordanian annexation of the area, while consented to by the same Palestinian leadership that rejected the 1947 United Nations partition resolution which would have created a Palestinian state then, was unrecognized by the rest of the world, and Jordan itself refused to make peace with Israel or accept the 1949 border as permanent. As the sole sovereign state to have emerged from British-Mandate Palestine, Israel, it can be maintained, was the West Bank’s legitimate ruler pending final determination of the area’s status.
Of course, it can be retorted that, however true, all this is irrelevant. In practice, Israel has behaved in the West Bank like an occupying power by systematically favoring the settlers over the Palestinian population, with whose interests and welfare it has rarely been concerned. This is a major reason why the Palestinians need a state of their own. And if they do, and if the settlers are in the way of it, must not the settlers go, no matter how great their theoretical right to live in the West Bank may be? When theory clashes with reality, must not reality come first?
It certainly must. But there is another reality as well. Even if all the settlers living on the “Israeli” side of the security fence end up in Israel in the land swap that has come to be an assumed part of any peace deal, the 75,000 who would find themselves in a Palestinian state happen to be the very element of the settler population—the ideological and religious militants living deep in Palestinian territory—who are most committed to being where they are. What does one do with them?
The standard answer is: one evacuates them by force, just as was done with the 8,000 settlers forcibly evicted in the summer of 2005 when Israel left the Gaza Strip. Whoever doesn’t want to leave the Palestinian state on his own two feet can be carried by his arms and legs.
But this cannot be done—and it cannot be done because of what happened in Gaza. To carry out the Gaza operation, Israel had to undergo months of agonizing debate that fractured its political party system; to divert a large part of its army and police force to the task in expectation of settler violence; to experience the national trauma of witnessing men, women and children literally dragged from their homes as Jews were in the past only by their persecutors in their countries of exile; to find itself saddled with a bill of billions of dollars for the evictees’ relocation and rehabilitation; and today, nearly five years later, to face the reality that many of them have had their lives severely disrupted and still lack permanent homes. If this is what happened with 8,000 settlers who did not resort to violence in the end, what will happen with 10 times that many who almost certainly will?
This is something the Israeli public is not prepared to find out. It is not going to let itself undergo a trauma 10 times greater than that of 2005 and it will not be pushed to, or over, the brink of civil war. It lacks the political will to oust the more militant settlers from their homes and it will not do so, no matter what the world expects of it or some of its own politicians say.
Clearly, these settlers do not want to be under Palestinian rule and would threaten violent resistance to it, too. But they would quickly find out that a Palestinian police force would not coddle them as Israeli governments have done, and paradoxically, because they attach a greater value to the Land of Israel than to the State of Israel, many of them might ultimately be willing, if they could have their civil and property rights safeguarded and continue to be Israeli citizens, to live in the land but outside the state. So might many of the more politically moderate ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews in the settlements, whose approach would be more pragmatic. Were they offered a status analogous, say, to that of French Canadians living in Vermont a short drive from the Quebec border, they might well prefer it to giving up their homes.
Needless to say, the Palestinians are not Vermonters and have no love for the settlers. Yet they, too, might agree to such an arrangement if there were substantial benefits in it for them. And there could be: a return to the 1967 frontier, the dismantling of the security fence, open borders with Israel, and the reciprocal right of Palestinians to live and work there as Palestinian citizens. Nor would the continued presence of the settlements on Palestinian territory choke Palestinian development as it does now, for while Area C occupies close to three-fifths of the West Bank, once it were under Palestinian jurisdiction, the settlements themselves would remain with only a tiny fraction of the West Bank’s land.
Granted, the settlers living in a Palestinian state would constitute a potential tinderbox that, given the built-in tensions between them and the Palestinian population, could flare up at any time. Preventing this from happening would depend on both them and on the Palestinian government, both of which would have to curb extremist elements. Yet the fact that the settlers would not have Palestinian citizenship would isolate them from the Palestinian political process and remove some points of friction, and if their Palestinian neighbors felt that they, too, were the recipients of a fair deal, the moderates among them might well prevail. And there would be an advantage in each country playing host to a large number of the other’s citizens, for each would in effect be holding a body of hostages that it would have to treat well.
It would be difficult. It would be complicated. It would be risky for both sides. But isn’t it at least worth thinking about? Not a conventional two-state solution, and not a disastrous one-state solution, but a Palestinian-Israeli federation with Palestinians in Israel and Israelis in Palestine. It may be the only real solution now left.
Hillel Halkin is an American-born author and translator who has lived in Israel for the past 40 years.