Thursday, January 10, 2013

Solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The At-Least-One-State Solution

(Note: for background on this post, I recommend this article on the West Bank.)

In this post, I propose a unilateral resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is intended as an alternative to a negotiated solution, in which countless rounds of failed negotiations have made me lose faith. These are the assumptions that I use as starting points:

1.   Israel should remain both a democracy and a homeland for the Jewish people. It should keep a solid Jewish majority.
2.   There should be relative security in every part of Palestine.
3.   Palestinians in the West Bank should no longer be subjected to Israeli rule—no matter how benign—if they cannot vote.
4.   Questions of past fault (“Israel was defending itself in the Six-Day War!”) or legality (“the occupation is against international law!”) are irrelevant.

In my proposal, I am not paying attention to what I think the current Israeli government is likely to do; nor am I recommending that the current government execute the plan if it wants to stay in power. But I do think that it would be good for Israel’s long-term health. I also think that it would solve the issue quickly, fairly and without painful negotiation.

1.   Next Sunday, Binyamin Netanyahu and his cabinet sit down and draw up a map of the settlements that they want Israel to keep. Take a look here or here for an idea of what this involves. Basically, Israel would keep its major settlement blocs and relinquish settlements that are sparsely populated by Jews or inaccessibly far over the Green Line. The goal is to draw a relatively straight line that incorporates a solid majority of the West Bank’s Jewish population into Israel. So does Israel keep Gush Etzion? Yes. Ariel and Ma’ale Adummim? Maybe. Furthermore, if the cabinet wants, it can decide to give up some uninhabited territory on the Israeli side of the Green Line. This isn’t necessary to my plan, but it is a sign of good faith and in keeping with almost all two-state solutions up to this point. 
2.   On Monday, the Knesset passes a bill unilaterally annexing all the land that the cabinet decided to keep. Then it passes a second bill ceding Israel’s claim to all the rest (effective, of course, after full evacuation). 
3.   Over the next three years, Israel withdraws from all the surrendered land, evacuating its settlements and ending the occupation.
4.   Since Israel has already annexed East Jerusalem, it does not need to touch it now. It may either cede part of it or preserve the status quo until a later date.

My plan contains no provision for the structure of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. That’s because all questions of Palestinian government would be left to the Palestinians themselves. Could the PA declare sovereignty? Perhaps. Could Jordan renew its claim to the territory which King Hussein renounced in 1988? Perhaps, and that might even be the best outcome. Could Hamas take over and install a violent, authoritarian theocracy? God forbid, but perhaps. Regardless, it would not be Israel’s responsibility to decide that question for the Palestinians. (Naturally, Israel could encourage some outcomes over others without imposing a solution directly.)

That’s a sketch of my proposal. Let’s consider its advantages and then some objections.

My proposal’s greatest advantage is its simplicity. There is no need for international mediation or UN supervision. There are no negotiations involved. It relies on the good faith of only one actor. It demands no political capital from Mahmoud Abbas. In short, the likelihood that it would work is logically higher than plans that rely on the confluence of many improbable circumstances. 

I also think that my solution reflects a broad consensus across Israeli society, among Palestinian moderates, and in the West. Since at least the early ’90s, there’s been tacit agreement that Israel will end up keeping a small portion of the West Bank in exchange for land-swaps and that at least 90% of the West Bank will go to the Palestinians. (East Jerusalem is the exception: I’ve talked to entrenched Israelis on both sides of the issue.) By removing the necessity of messy and controversial negotiations, we can take advantage of substantial agreement on what the final status will look like. 

Finally, I think that this is a fundamentally fair way of resolving the issue, and in keeping with the moral convictions of most judges of the conflict. The Israelis get security and an overwhelming Jewish majority, and the Palestinians get independence—whatever that ends up meaning. The Constitution, I should point out, was not a provision of the Treaty of Paris.

Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.
Now it’s time for some objections.

1.   The West Bank would become a Gaza-like autocracy that would be ruinous to its citizens and dangerous to Israel. This is possible, but there are good reasons to doubt it. First of all, the PA already controls most of the West Bank with no symptoms (to my knowledge) of serious instability. It could likely declare sovereignty pretty easily after the Israelis withdrew. Moreover, there is no reason that the United States and Israel could not give significant military support to the PA even after it became a sovereign government. Even if democracy faded, something like what happened in Gaza might happen, but it is likely that something like Egypt would emerge instead: an Islamist autocracy that would be largely benign despite its anti-Zionist rhetoric. In any case, even in the case that Hamas or another Iranian puppet took over the West Bank, Israel would almost definitely be able to protect itself, just as it has managed to protect itself in the southwest. Israelis do suffer from rocket fire, but Iron Dome did wonders in the last war to prevent civilian deaths. Hamas would certainly pose no existential military threat to Israel.
2.   The plan unfairly denies Palestinians the opportunity to negotiate an acceptable settlement. Perhaps the ideal would be for Palestinian negotiators to have a role in a final-status agreement. But we’ve tried the strategy of negotiation for decades now with no satisfactory result. Israel is the party that has the power to end the geographical conflict, so it should solve it unilaterally. 
3.   There is no incentive for Israel to withdraw to a new border by itself. To the contrary. To Israel, the alternative to a unilateral withdrawal is not annexation of the entire West Bank. International pressure is too great for that—to say nothing of the interests of justice. The alternative is instead a negotiated settlement that would involve at least as many concessions as an unforced disengagement. Israel can protect its interests best by unilaterally preempting that settlement. 
4.   The converse: Israel would run roughshod over the Palestinian's territorial claims. Israel would also have an incentive to be generous in its cessions, for its annexation would be recognized by other governments only insofar as it practiced restraint in its annexations.
5.   The plan is unrealistic given the current Israeli government. I agree. But if you’ve been convinced, it just became less unrealistic.

I am not sure of my proposal, and I will abandon it the moment that I am persuaded that there is a better alternative. If you have the time and interest, I would appreciate hearing what you have to say. (In particular, I am unsure as to what to do with East Jerusalem.) 

P.S. I did not address Gaza in this post. In brief, I think that Israel should maintain the status quo there.

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