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Heretical Thoughts Not Ready for Publication

The following trip report departs somewhat from our ‘standard’ format of reports as personalized reactions to meetings and experiences. This piece below by Ron Stockton provides more overarching analytical analysis of the current situation seen through the prism of Ron’s past teaching and work on the conflict. We think this affords an interesting and worthwhile perspective and are happy to make it available for all of you. As with all delegation reports, please note that the opinions and analysis are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent positions of either Interfaith Peace-Builders or the American Friends Service Committee.

November 3, 2007

When I teach my course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I tell students that, based upon comparative examples, there are four long-term outcomes, all of which are unlikely. The first is the status quo, which means the continued Jewish occupation of pre-1967 Palestinian land and the continued Israeli control of Palestinian lives. This is unlikely because it would require permanent warfare, permanent Israeli mobilization, and permanent US support. Societies are not known for handling protracted stress gracefully, so we could anticipate some extremist action at some point. What is happening now cannot continue.

The second option is the one-state solution, a unified state of Israel and Palestine with shared structured and a shared political system. Such an outcome would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state structure with a dominant Jewish population and a Jewish character. It would be bi-national in the sense of Martin Buber or other pre-state supporters of such an outcome. It would also mean the negation of the Zionist dream of “a second segregation of the Jewish people upon a national basis.” This was the position of the PLO until 1994’s Oslo Agreement. Given the greater Palestinian birth rate, sooner or later there would be a Palestinian majority. Most Jews would rather fight forever than accept this.

The third option is the two state solution. This would involve a restoration of the 1967 line with mutually agreeable adjustments and land exchanges (“equal land of equal quality” as the phrase is used). Jerusalem would be shared on an east/west basis, perhaps with some adjustments, mutually agreed. This is commonly called “land for peace.” It was incorporated into resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO adopted this position in the Algiers Conference of 1988 and it is the basis of the Oslo Agreement of 1994. The impediment to this solution is the settlement structure. Settlers are very violent by nature, as we Americans know from our own history. Consider the number of times the US government signed a treaty with the native peoples but it was disrupted by settlers who intruded on native land and insisted that the government then defend them from attacks. Also consider what happened in Algeria, Zimbabwe, and other places when the government agreed to some policy that would compromise settler rights. There were violent uprisings that killed myriads and left massive devastation. Closing down settlements would require that some Israeli prime minister give the order to shoot violent resisters. With the Holocaust fresh in the minds of living persons, this is inconceivable.

Finally, there is the terrifying option of expelling one population or the other. One option is what the Israelis call “transfer” or “population exchange.” This would involve the expulsion of Palestinians, at least those on the West Bank, mostly into Jordan. Such an action would destabilize that country, which already has perhaps a 2/3 Palestinian population. Such an option, filled with inherent violence, is often presented in verbally benign terms. Netanyahu says that Jordan is the Palestinian homeland. Sharon said there is already a Palestinian state. All that is needed is a headline. There are parties in the Knesset that openly advocate such things, often couched in “voluntary” removal. In the past, this was inconceivable because Iraq would have mobilized to protect Jordan, its immediate neighbor. Now that the Iraqi state no longer exists in any meaningful way, the situation is perhaps different, although one cannot say how. Certainly, Iran has emerged as the champion of the Palestinians in a strategic sense, although it is not clear what they could do from such a distance.

Removing the Palestinians would also require the ‘ingathering” of Jews from overseas to replace the departing Palestinians. Now that the Russian Jews have arrived (over a million in the 1990s, now perhaps 20% of all Israeli Jews), the only concentrations left are in France and the US. Just before his stroke, Sharon met with American Jews and told them that the French Jews (about 600,000) should escape when there is still time. There had been some attacks on Jews, few deadly but all traumatic, and Sharon saw this as very significant, perhaps a continuation of the Holocaust. The French Jewish leaders objected to this vigorously, especially since it was advice given to American Jews and they read about it in the paper. (Note: there is a major division within French Jewry, the older Ashkenazi population being more centrist or even some leftist, the Sephardic population being from Morocco or refugees from Algeria and more inclined to the political right, even the anti-Arab right. They split their vote in the recent election, the Arab world Jews inclining to Sarkozy, the others tending socialist). Sharon also met with American Jews and told then that Israeli needed a million Jews as soon as possible. Since American Jews have never shown any inclination to move to Israel in more than nominal number, this would require a traumatic reversal of their American identity. It would also end the Jewish community in American in any meaningful sense. Since few people over 35 or 40 ever leave, moving a million Jews out of a population of 5.5 million would decimate the reproducible population and led to a virtual demographic collapse of the community. It would be the meaningful end of American Jewry.

I have always told my students that I supported a two-state solution and believed such a solution was possible (not easy, but possible) based upon the Taba positions (2000) and other proposals, including the Clinton Plan of 2000. I still support it but no longer believe it is possible. After studying the maps, reading the data on populations, seeing the burgeoning settler population in East Jerusalem, the growth of Maale Adumim, Ras Al Amud, and the settlement of the E1 bloc, and the way the wall splits the Palestinians into small non-viable fragments, not only in Jerusalem but Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and other places, I think the two-state solution is impossible. If this pessimistic assessment is correct, this means that Menachem Begin was the most significant Zionist of all times, perhaps even more significant than David Ben Gurion, the founding father of the state. Begin believed that it was necessary to create Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, not just in the security zones of the Jordan Valley and high points as the Labor Party had done, but even in the midst of the Palestinian population. He believed that once they were in place, even if some government decided at some point to dismantle them, it would not be possible. He wanted to create a reality that was irreversible. At this point, the reality appears to be irreversible.
Some Israelis may still be thinking in terms of the Allon Plan of 1968, that Israel would annex the areas around Jerusalem and on the border of the state, and would keep most of the Jordan Valley, but create a phony mini-state that would ultimate collapse and leave the highly populated zones of the central Palestinian highlands with Jordan. This would create what is often called the state of Jordanstine. It would technically remove the Palestine population (“transfer in place” it is sometimes called), would put the Palestinians safely under Jordanian control (so the logic goes) and let Israel keep the areas it wants. Gaza would ultimately be annexed by Egypt. Given that Olmert, Bush, and many on the Israel right are now speaking of a “Palestinian state” of an undefined nature, there is reason to be skeptical that the Annapolis Conference even hopes to create a viable, contiguous, secure Palestinian state that would meet the needs of the people and reduce violence.

Bishop Tutu and others have pointed out the similarity of this plan to the South African strategy of turning Transkei, Zululand, and other places into “independent” states with their own governments but no right to live in South Africa unless as guest workers with no rights. The ANC consistently insisted that they would not accept such an arrangement and wanted a united, non-racial republic with full rights for all citizens. In 1974 the PLO abandoned a similar position and agreed to a “historic compromise” that would create two states based upon the situation at the end of the 1948 war, 78% to Israel, 22% to Palestine, with Jerusalem split east and west with both countries having their capitals in that city. There has been talk of an ‘open city’ with free movement, but the first step would be the acceptance of partition. Refugee Palestinians would have the right to return to the Palestinian state, although there were talks of having Israel accept a symbolic number of perhaps 30,000 into Israel itself as a way of acknowledging the injustices of what happened in 1948. (Note: The number was floated in the media, but never confirmed by either side).

If a two-state solution is not viable, then which of the other unlikely outcomes is the least unlikely? Many Palestinians (and a few marginal Israelis) speak of a one state solution with “equal rights for all its people.” This would be a de-zionized state with some federal relationship for the two peoples and some shared rights. It would end the concept of Israel as a Jewish state for all Jews in the world, i.e., the end of the unqualified right of any Jew to go to Israel. As I noted, most Israelis would rather fight forever than accept this. But fighting forever, the status quo option, is also unlikely.

At this point, the settlement structure has changed the conflict from a territorial dispute over a border into a religious war. Israelis often say they are surrounded by a sea of hostile Arabs. Politically this is not true. They have treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and relations with other Arab states (such as Morocco). Other states have under the table relationships with Israel, and even Saudi Arabia has promised to normalize their relations as soon as the conflict is ended (the Fahd Plan of 1978, the Beirut Declaration of 2002, and other such statements).

There was a poll done earlier this year noting the 60th anniversary of resolution 181 of 1947. Israelis were asked if they thought Israel would exist 60 years from now. Half had doubts. A well known Palestinian intellectual says this week that probably a similar percentage of Palestinians would say the same thing. He says the Palestinians are hurting but have remarkable confidence in the future. They believe history is on their side and Palestine will not cease to exist.

How would this come about, this being Option 4B, the removal of the Jews. What is the Israeli scenario of fear? Most Israelis probably most fear a nuclear strike from Iran. Other scenarios would involve shelling of poison gas from Hezbollah in Lebanon or the explosion in downtown Tel Aviv of a dirty bomb in a backpack. This would not necessarily involve the extermination of the Jews. The position of Iran and Hamas and other Islamic groups is that the Jewish state structure should be removed but that the Jews could stay as Jews, not as a Jewish state. Theoretically, this would not involve expulsions, but it hard to see how a dezionization could be achieved without millions of Jews fleeing or being driven out in the wake of violence. Two other settler regimes that ended had drastically different paths. In Algeria in 1962, perhaps 90% of the French left within a month. In South Africa, the regime negotiated with the opposition and created a peaceful transition to a “New South Africa” with most whites in place. (The novel July’s People by Nadine Gordimer outlined a refugee alternative). If Jews did begin to leave, probably it would be mostly the Ashkenazis, many of whom have dual passports or ties in the west, especially the US. The remaining Jewish population (if 25% left) would be overwhelmingly Mizrachi.

Israel is now at peak mobilization, and their allies in the US are very strong. In a historic sense, the Muslim side is still mobilizing. Many Muslim states do not think Islamicly in the political realm. Most have weak political systems that lack the characteristics of a strong state. Some are still in a post-colonial age. If the Islamic consciousness should become activated in the future, this would create a major threat to Israel’s long-term survival. . As I said, I consider this outcome (and all others) to be unlikely.

I have always hoped for a peaceful, negotiated end to this conflict. I thought it was possible in 2001. I thought it was possible in 2002 and even 2004. I no longer think it is possible. Certainly, I will not live long enough to see the final chapter of this drama. I am not sure I would want to see it. Saint Paul said that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Like Bishop Tutu in his recent statement, I continue to hope, but I see no reason for optimism. This has ceased to be a matter of bad leaders (Arafat, Barak, Bush, Sharon, Olmert) but is a matter of structures that have taken on a life of their own. At this point, it is unlikely that even the wisest of leaders could reverse the direction of history.

The elders in Kenya have a saying, that the road cannot advise the traveler. When you start down a road, you will get to where that road leads, even if it is a place you did not want to go. The road in this conflict is leading somewhere, but it may be to a place that no one wants to see. At this point, they probably do not have a choice.

I apologize for the muddled nature of this essay. I was asked to put my analysis onto paper as we rushed from meeting to meeting. I reserve the right to change my assessment tomorrow, but I doubt I will.

--Ron Stockton



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