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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, March 06, 2004 ::

Unilateral withdrawal and the November election
Josh Marshall is wondering about an article in Ma'ariv, referenced in an AP story, claiming that the administration told Sharon advisor Dov Weisglass yesterday that Israel should hold off on any unilateral withdrawal until after the November elections. Josh didn't know that Ma'ariv is now online in English, which I just e-mailed him about, but I was unable to find any articles making that claim on their website. He also linked to this Ha'aretz article that reports essentially the same thing.

I think the key angle here is that the administration never wanted to get involved in the conflict in any active way at any point since they took office. Since a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would almost certainly complicate things in the short term, probably requiring some pretty heavy international involvement to slow down any ensuing chaos left behind, they don't want to have to deal with it while the election campaign will require much of their attention (not that they would want to deal with it under any circumstances). Yossi Alpher summed things up quite well earlier this week:
Bush knows he must get to election day in November with Iraq solidly on the way to a new era of democracy. But until now he apparently assumed that the best case he need make on election day for Israel-Palestine would be that American crisis management had succeeded in keeping that conflict from getting too far out of hand--pending a better, post-Arafat day. The American public right now is very interested in Baghdad, where its sons and daughters are serving, but not in what goes on in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The president was even able to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict completely in his January state-of-the-union address.

Will this administration, with its sorry record of missed opportunities and non-action in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and its huge gamble in Iraq, take an election year chance on Sharon and his disengagement plan? Can it safely assume that the transfer of power will work out smoothly; that Sharon will not exploit Bush's preoccupation with elections to build more settlements and fences in the West Bank that hinder a solution; that the entire project will not collapse into an Israeli governmental crisis?

The payoff could be the first real progress in three and a half years; this would be good politically for both Bush and Sharon. Or it could be a major fiasco, laid by Sharon and Arafat at Bush's doorstep.

The odds are that the hands-off approach will again win out. Sharon will be asked to postpone any withdrawal until after US elections, to keep his preparations low key until then, and meanwhile to keep the conflict from getting out of hand.

Knowing Sharon, such a "back burner" situation may well be what he really wants.
That's more or less what I thought in this post from a few weeks ago. It seems unlikely that any new difficulties arising from the situation would become a strike against the administration in the election, but it would pretty clearly be a distraction from their point of view.
11:34 AM
:: Wednesday, March 03, 2004 ::
A Cyprus model?
Aluf Benn of Ha'aretz is calling for an internationalization of the conflict with the Palestinians:
Living together has not softened suspicions and hatred between the communities. The Palestinians believe Zionism is a plot to take away their land and many Israelis believe that terror and murder are built into the very nature of their neighbors...

Internationalizing the solution would free the sides from conflict with their respective national ethos. In their name, the superpowers would give up "the right of return" and "Judea and Samaria" and would also have to give up their own contribution to fanning the flames of the conflict. The Europeans regard the Palestinians as the heirs to the Resistance, and the Americans compare the Israelis to the pioneers who won their Wild West. That romance of the war has to stop and make way for the encouragement of normalcy.

The idea of internationalization prompts nearly automatic rejection in Israel on the grounds that foreign intervention would get in the way of the war on terror. But that is very short-sighted. It is true there is no point in positioning an international force in the territories just for decoration, like UNIFIL in Lebanon. First a solution has to be set, dictated with sticks and carrots to both sides, which depend on aid and legitimacy from the international community. The arrangement in Cyprus is an example of international determination that overcame the hatred between the communities.

The American historian Howard Sachar wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times that small countries are captive to the concept of "territorial security" and are unable to compromise. The superpowers dictated the borders in Europe and the Far East after the world wars, and that should be their function now, instead of hiding under the cover of "honest broker."
Shlomo Avineri, in particular, made the Cyprus analogy more than two years ago regarding the possibility of unilateral withdrawal and a fence in the West Bank:
"My ideals are so low now that I look at Cyprus as a shining city on the hill," Avineri admitted, claiming that this 30-year "non-solution" has eliminated violence from the area and prevented it from spilling over into Greek-Turkish relations. "Just as in Kosovo and Bosnia, you sometimes have to admit you do not have solutions to ethnic conflicts that go back into history and to religion," Avineri stated.
One of the problems, of course, with hoping for a Cyprus-type breakthrough is that it took a hell of a long time, about three decades, with a wall between the two sides there before the breakthroughs of the past year or so.
10:17 PM
:: Monday, March 01, 2004 ::
Happy after the Oscars
Being the fanatical Lord of the Rings supporter that I am, I was pleased that Return of the King swept the Oscars last night, making history by winning all 11 of the categories it was nominated in. Some people are surprised that it won for the best adapted screenplay and best editing, which disappointed me only in that the magnificent City Of God lost out in those categories. As always, the ceremony was overly long and insufferably self-indulgent, but I can handle that once a year and have a good time watching it.
4:49 PM
:: Sunday, February 29, 2004 ::
A long look at the two-state solution
Yossi Alpher, the Israeli security analyst who co-runs the Bitter Lemons Middle East political dialog site, had a big article up in last week's Ha'aretz about the prospects for the two-state solution. The first two parts of the article mainly cover the historical and political situation as it is today, focusing largely on Sharon's approach to the issue. Some bleak warnings about the future are in the third part:
Israel's slippery slope toward the demise of the two-state solution is not a one-way street. Nothing seems to be irreversible in the Israel-Arab conflict.

We recall that after the Oslo DOP was signed in September 1993, many key actors and observers pronounced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a two-state solution "irreversible." The past three years have demonstrated just how mistaken they were. Hence we must be cautious in defining that virtual red line of geography, demography, hostility, politics and lack of leadership, beyond which a two-state solution appears to be irretrievable. Certainly the mainstream on both sides has not given up on the idea.

Yet unless Israelis can convincingly demonstrate a state-level capacity to roll back the settlement movement, and Palestinians can prove a capability of stopping violence and respecting the Jewish nature of Israel, and unless the two peoples get better leadership, the two-state solution is liable to be seen in historic perspective as a very brief episode in the tragic annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - despite the support of a broad majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Once it is off the agenda, the two sides' options will be bleak indeed.

The slippery slope is liable to, and in some ways already does, look something like this:

As chances for a two-state solution fade, Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, now a growing majority, will call for the emergence of a single democratic state ("one man, one vote"). At some point the PLO will officially renounce its 1988 decision accepting UNGA Resolution 181, dissolve the Palestinian Authority, and revert to an open demand for a one-state solution.

An overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews will reject this option, insofar as it would constitute the end of the Zionist dream that unites them. Even most of the relatively few non-Zionist Israeli Jews (mainly from the ultra-orthodox sector) will in any case have no faith in the capacity of a Palestinian Arab majority to maintain their minority rights.

Here it must be noted that it is not easy for the PLO to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, due to vested interests - salaries for over 100,000 government and security officials, and positions of power and influence. Such a step means renewed full occupation by Israel and the launching of a decades-long new struggle that will not necessarily succeed. It will not be taken lightly.

The Israeli mainstream majority has already begun to respond to this threat, by advocating unilateral measures: withdrawal from the densely populated mountain heartland of the West Bank and from the Gaza Strip, dismantlement of the settlements there and creation of de-facto security borders. The settlers and the hard right oppose this option and threaten civil strife.

Based on their political record thus far and their overall dynamism and militancy, the settlers may succeed in deterring the majority. By the time the Israeli mainstream becomes frightened enough to seriously contemplate enforcing unilateral withdrawal - rather than merely "voting" for it in opinion polls - the settler opposition will be even stronger.

In the best case, the settlers and the hard right will agree to compromise with the mainstream and endorse a unilateral partition scheme that may involve the removal of some settlements, but will in fact seek to compel the Palestinians to acquiesce in a system of semi-autonomous enclaves surrounded by "security" fences and by the remaining settlements.

This corresponds with the ideas for limited unilateral redeployment currently being discussed by PM Sharon and others on the right: move a few settlements, fence in the Palestinian areas if possible, and declare them to be a state. Conceivably, unilateral acts in this direction will precede the first phase noted above, i.e., Palestinian renunciation of a two-state solution. Either way, Israel will remain "Jewish," but hardly democratic, while Palestinians will press their opposition to an unfair and imposed settlement that in no way approximates a viable two-state solution.

At this point, only a radical dismantling of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank mountain heartland and an open willingness to negotiate transfer to Palestinian sovereignty (within the framework of an eventual two-state solution agreed with a realistic Palestinian leadership) of the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem might still save the two-state solution. But this is still not likely to be doable politically, in view of the settlers' political influence on the dominant Israeli right. And at some point it will no longer interest the majority of Palestinians.

Under these circumstances, violence between Arabs and Jews will escalate. Because with Palestinian advocacy of a single-state solution the Green Line loses its significance for Palestinians, the violence will spread to the Arab community inside Israel. Increasingly extreme measures will be advocated and invoked by both sides.

Some Israelis, confronted with a concerted Palestinian demand for Israel to cease to be a Jewish state in order ostensibly to be a democratic one, might possibly opt for far uglier modes of struggle than those employed thus far, including forced concentration of Palestinians - perhaps including Israeli Arabs - in autonomous enclaves and/or "transfer."

The surrounding Arab countries, which succeeded in sitting out two Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, in recent decades, will find it difficult to avoid active intervention - as will the international community. The Arabs, the US and the European Union may confront a far bloodier and more disruptive ethnic conflict on the shores of the Mediterranean than any witnessed in the past 50 years.

And there will be further damage to the cohesiveness of the Jewish people, as a large portion of the Jewish Diaspora may now seek to reduce its Jewish identity in order to disassociate itself from what gradually will be seen internationally - justifiably or not in objective terms, it will no longer matter - as an apartheid state, struggling against a legitimate liberation movement.
Not a very attractive outlook. I saw at least one critical blog response to the article here, which insists that the article is wrong because the Palestinians are to blame for everything, and that "what Alpher won't - perhaps can't - admit is that the PLO never really wanted peace."

Yes, the Palestinians are to blame for a lot of it, but that doesn't solve the problem, as Alpher says in the article:
Palestinians and their supporters have been trying for decades to make Israel fit the South African scenario in ways that are markedly inaccurate and inappropriate. There are significant differences - historical, racial, political - between the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict thus far and that of apartheid South Africa.

It is, after all, the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who between 1936 and 2000 repeatedly rejected reasonable two-state partition proposals. It is Palestinian terrorism more than any other factor that has obliged Israel to pave bypass roads, build fences, set up roadblocks and require Palestinians to obtain passes in order to move from one Palestinian city to another. Besides, few South Africans ever envisaged or advocated a two-state solution for their conflict.

Yet the South African apartheid model is liable to become the closest approximation in international parlance to the reality that awaits us at the bottom of the slippery slope, if we do not very soon find a solution.
Objective reality's a bitch, isn't it? All the blame in the world won't make the conflict go away, or get any better. One can argue about what is or isn't the best thing to do, but not that there isn't a potential set of problems that would make things even more difficult.

As for the question of whether the PLO ever wanted peace, Alpher doesn't appear to have any illusions about where Arafat has been coming from, at least not in the last few years. This is what he had to say in January of 2002:
[Here is a reminiscence of] a meeting with Arafat in his office in Gaza; it is typical of the three or four such meetings I have participated in over the years since 1994. Arafat explains that Israel is really two-thirds an Arab country: the Israeli Arabs and the "Jewish Arabs" (i.e., Sephardic and Yemenite Jews) already make up 70 percent of the population. He goes on to blame the Mossad for Palestinian suicide bombings. When his leadership is questioned, he goes on an egomaniacal rant: "I am Mandela, I am de Gaulle." He is asked about a CNN clip in which he is seen praising children who recite slogans of incitement; he says he will discipline their teachers! In short, he comes across as a liar who is totally out of touch with Israeli (and Jewish) reality. From this performance it is but a short distance to his insistence in 2000 on the right of return and his rejection of any Jewish link to the Temple Mount, and to his denial of the Iranian arms ship in 2002...

Arafat is apparently not a candidate for a serious and conclusive peace process. No amount of pressure will affect his nature. But he should not be removed: the consequences are liable to be more dangerous than the present reality. Toward this end, we and the US should remain in contact with him. We may be able to coerce him into stabilizing the situation and entering into tactical and temporary, interim-type agreements. With or without him, no comprehensive agreement is in sight.

2:03 PM

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