For the second time in recent days, I find myself doing something I never thought I would do. President Obama’s speech on the Middle-East, or rather, the part on Israel, was misunderstood by commentators, including conservative commentators I esteem. Or else, they suspended judgment for the time being. First, let me protect myself from the pending accusation of being anti-Israel.
1 I would never vote for a US presidential candidate who did not declare loudly and clearly his support for the continued existence of Israel. I mean Israel as a Jewish state. I am not playing games. This commitment is more than most Jewish Americans can brag about. More than 7o% of them voted for Obama. It was hard not to know then that his “progressive” friends loathe Israel, that many are openly anti-Semitic. Support does not mean unconditional love. Ask my adult daughter.
2 Last week was one of the worst times I can remember to make any statement about Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Arab world is in turmoil. It’s not clear who the interlocutors are going to be one month from now. Who was he talking to? Obama made this speech either because his speeches are increasingly separated from reality or for devious electoral reasons that don’t make much sense.
3 The reconciliation between the PLO, that governs the West Bank, and Hamas, the de-facto and regularly elected power in the Gaza strip, makes any talks with Israel currently absurd. I wouldn’t negotiate a parking place with Hamas. The reason is not that the organization does not keep its word. The reason is that it often does. The Hamas Charter affirms clearly that the elimination of Israel, the state, is its goal. There is a link to the Hamas Charter on this blog. (Don’t try reading the whole thing; it’s horrible reading. The part about Israel – and Christians – is in the last three pages.) If and when Hamas renounces publicly this part of its charter, a giant step will have been taken and any Israeli government in place then will be embarrassed if it does not make a positive move.
4 In any discussion with the PLO, I would give it very little benefit of doubt. The reason is that it continues teaching children that murdering Jews is glorious. If you remember, only a couple of months ago, a brave, PLO-affiliated Palestinian fighter cut the throat of a six-month old Jewish “settler” in his sleep. The PLO government disavowed the crime. You can’t do that. You may not instruct your people ceaselessly that they have to kill their neighbors and not expect that some of them will go beyond the vaguely defined mission. Failing to treat Palestinian government agencies as fully responsible adults is bad for Israelis and it’s bad for Palestinians: You want your won state? You have to know that capital cities have been bombed for less than this.
Now Obama’s speech. He said that:
“ The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agrees swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” (Emphasis mine)
The Israelis, by and large, want to keep most of their settlements on the West Bank. Of special importance though are the largest, most densely populated settlements contiguous to Israel proper, around Jerusalem and north of the city. They consider those settlements not for negotiations. The scattered Jewish settlements deeper into he West Bank seem negotiable. Thus, they want to retain a narrow westernmost strip of the West Bank for economic, sentimental (“historical”), and military reasons. (Doubling the thin waist of the country designed in the 1947 UN plan.) Israelis are faced starkly with three possibilities: Keep the status quo forever and never enjoy any real peace of mind; rule over a hostile Palestinian population forever, turning the West Bank into a Bantustan (thus becoming the evil being of current Arab propaganda); negotiate a peace with the Palestinians that gives them most of what they want. There are several scenarios that correspond to the last possibility. The most credible is a final, irreversible land-swap. (A land swap could be accompanied by an agreement on a very light, trigger-wire-type, strictly military Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley.) Here is how a land-swap scenario might go:
There is going to be a Palestinian state, one way or another, unless there is massive change in Jordan and the country absorbs the West Bank in a definitive manner. The Palestinians may or may not have been a nation in 1948. They are one now, pretty much the same way Jews were a nation in 1900. Having a common history, especially a painful one, and articulated aspirations to one’s own state, is enough to qualify anyone has a nation. The main reason they don’t have their own state now is their own collective political incompetence and corruption. Basically, the Palestinians don’t need Israel’s permission to proclaim a state. If they conduct clean elections, extend a big olive branch across the border, tell their Arab friends to butt out, and just affirm they have a state, what’s Israel going to do? I don’t even see that any UN permission is essential.
The Palestinians will want their state to be contiguous as President Obama so self-evidently stated. A people who has been subjected to the gross inconvenience and humiliation of numerous and frequent foreign police controls is not going to settle for a West Pakistan- East Pakistan solution. Just as self-evidently, they will want access to seaports (in Gaza) thus by-passing Israeli interference, a constant source of political pressure.
The solution, from a Palestinian standpoint, is obvious. It’s a land corridor between the two major Palestinian territories.
Now, consider the shortest distance between the southern part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian-owned and controlled corridor about six mile wide between these two areas would have the following features:
1 With a slightly larger area than Gaza, the corridor would have plenty of room for one or two Silicone Valleys or, more realistically, for thousands of truck farms. That’s in addition to a transportation corridor with a road and possibly, a rail line.
2 It would pose no real military threat to Israel under any conceivable conditions. A corridor ten miles wide would also not threaten Israel because of its vulnerability on both of its sides.
3 It would decrease Israel’s land area by a negligible amount (about 1.5% of its total land area).
The Golan Heights are another story altogether. Captured from Syria in 1967, they were annexed to Israel about thirty years ago. Besides many Israeli settlers, the area is thinly inhabited by Druse. The Druse have shown no sign of sharing in Palestinian nationalism. The only thing we know about them is that you don’ hear of them often and they seldom speak up. Many Druse from the Mandate area live in Israel and have Israeli citizenship. Some make a career in the Israeli Defence Force, where, I hear, they are much appreciated. It’s likely that the formerly Syrian Druse living in the Golan under Israeli administration are as well off as their cousins in Syria. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were better off, or even much better off.
If I were a government of Israel, I would never give up the Golan Heights to any Syrian government displaying any hostility to Israel. First reason: It’s the headwaters for much of the water the Israeli economy needs. It’s a designated spot for blackmail. Second, it’s a good place from which to hold downtown Damas under threat of shelling. It’s the key to the long de-facto state of peace between Israel and ever vituperative Syria. And, by the way, the Israeli annexation of the Heights after their military conquest is as legitimate as the US holding on to California, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.