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Palestinian Peace? Not Really

 

15 June 2008

By Yisrael Ne'eman

One year after the Hamas military overthrow in the Gaza Strip, it is time to take account of Palestinian – Israeli relations, not necessarily in Gaza as virtually every analyst is attempting, but rather in the overall sphere. More specifically, is there is any chance of conflict resolution? Gaza is fully under the Hamas boot, weapons and arms smuggling continue as do the Islamist organization’s rocket attacks against Israel. The IDF responds with ground and air attacks in an attempt to halt the Hamas actions. There may be a “tahadiyah” or calm beginning Thursday morning, supposedly for half a year on the Gaza front but its chances of success are virtually nil, hence its impact on changing the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is just about zero.

The bigger issue is the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and whether there is any solution to the “never ending” conflict. From the Israeli perspective, looking for a solution is an exercise in despair.

Three major scenarios exist:

• The hard line Right/Religious suggest holding on to the West Bank indefinitely with some advocating annexation while others do not. With annexation all the Palestinians would be entitled to citizenship thereby immediately transforming Israel into a bi-national state. Without outright annexation it will take somewhat longer as more Israeli development will take place in the West Bank, the Jewish population will grow and it will become impossible to initiate any sort of Israeli withdrawal bringing about a two-state solution. Even should Palestinians not be given citizenship, in practice a bi-national state will exist and with ensuing international pressures Israeli citizenship will be extended to all.

• The Left advocates a full withdrawal, even from areas in the West Bank that are in the Israeli political consensus such as the Etzion Bloc or Givat Ze’ev. This means evacuating over 250,000 Israelis from Judea and Samaria. True there might be a few land swaps but such an arrangement would still leave over 200,000 Israelis in areas to be held by the future Palestinian State. Another quarter of a million Israelis living on the eastern side of Jerusalem would continue living in Israel but their neighborhoods will be calculated in the land exchange. Israel obviously will no longer hold the Jordan River as a defensive line thereby leaving itself open to attack from the east through the West Bank. But no one will even get that far as it appears virtually impossible to remove hundreds of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria and financially beyond the realm to compensate them. Furthermore the social dislocation will be devastating for Israeli society.

• Those in the middle speak of some form of territorial compromise, which may sound quite logical but will not have Palestinian approval. When Olmert took power he advocated a policy known as the “reconsolidation” or “realignment” of Israel’s borders by unilaterally leaving the heavily populated regions of the West Bank and taking with it certain isolated Jewish settlements. This would be another “Disengagement” but this time from the entire center of the West Bank. Previously the Gaza and Northern Samaria Disengagement led to a shift in US policy where in particular Washington made clear its policy against any Palestinian refugee return (Bush – Sharon letter exchange 14/4/04). Much internal clash in Israel would ensue over returning settlements while Israel would be perceived as relinquishing land without receiving anything in return. On the other hand Israel would begin to disentangle from the Palestinians while holding areas necessary for security. Such a unilateral move could possibly leave hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the new demarcation (esp. in the western West Bank). Holding the eastern side along the Jordan River and throughout the Judean Desert (for security purposes) would entail absorbing few Palestinians since the whole region is sparsely populated.

Even here the Arab population in Israel would approach 30% and bring into question whether Israel is becoming a bi-national state.

In all three scenarios there is the question of the Palestinian response. In the first (Right /Religious) Israel is completely responsible for all security while in the second and third the attempt to “disentangle” leaves territories in Palestinian hands. The second (Left) allows for an agreed upon Palestinian State which will be established by Fatah as led by Pres. Mahmoud Abbas but certainly does not guarantee that Hamas and the Islamists will not take power through elections or a coup. Look at Gaza today. The middle road (Reconsolidation) leaves the Palestinian Authority responsible for the center of the West Bank and its heavily populated regions, but not by their own agreement, even if in Oslo II (Sept. 1995) they were given control of the major Palestinian cities in addition to civilian control of the village regions from which now there would be an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from most. The question as to a Hamas election victory or overthrow exists and one can reasonably expect them to replace Abbas and Fatah at some time in the future.

At the moment Israel is unable to swallow or regurgitate the West Bank. Unilateral measures are also complicated and dangerous. In negotiations the PA led by Abbas is demanding a complete withdrawal similar to that of the Israeli Left. One can ascertain that most in the international community more of less support this direction of thinking as “the solution.” This would lead to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and a permanent status agreement not supported by most Israelis due to security and territorial considerations. Worse yet Abbas and the PA have little authority and most Palestinians reject the Israeli Left approach on the principle of opposition to a two-state solution as evidenced by the Hamas rise to power. The Islamists demand Israel’s elimination.

With each passing day the situation is becoming more complex. A partially paralyzed government with little public support heading into early elections cannot be expected to take any bold moves whether towards peace or in taking on Hamas unless pressured and/or provoked beyond all reason. Unfortunately Israel is caught in a debilitating holding pattern with far too many variables freezing decision making.