Monday, April 05, 2010

Dr. Emmanuel Navon: Liberal Conventional Wisdom

Ne Cherchez pas la Femme

The latest Middle-East conventional wisdom in liberal newspapers and Western chancelleries is that, in order for peace to prevail between Israel and the Palestinians, Benjamin Netanyahu must trade the conservative parties of his current coalition for Kadima. Were Tzipi Livni to return to her previous job as Foreign Minister, the argument goes, the Israeli Government would finally be able to agree to what everyone knows [sic] is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One wonders were the proponents of this theory have been for the past four years. When Tzipi Livni was Foreign Minister, her Government did agree to the "solution known by everyone." Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas the entire West Bank (with land swaps), a shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, and an agreed-upon mechanism for the compensation of Palestinian refugees (as well as the "return" of a symbolical number to Israel). Abbas turned down the offer and declared a few months later to The Washington Post that the gap is huge" between what Olmert offered and what the Palestinians are willing to accept.

So why would re-enacting the Olmert proposal now (under a hypothetical Netanyahu-Livni government) make a difference? Claiming that Abbas turned down Olmert’s offer because the latter was a lame-duck at the time is a dishonest or ignorant way (or both) of refusing to face the bitter truth: for the Palestinians, the conflict is not about 1967 but about 1948 (hence their uncompromising stance on the so-called "right of return"). And yet, the current US Administration is pressuring Israel to "accept" a deal which the Palestinians have rejected in the recent past and still adamantly refuse today.

Advocates of the "keep trying" method are generally skeptical about the prospects of having the Palestinians agree to the two-state solution. And yet, because maintaining the status-quo would eventually render this solution moot, they choose compulsiveness out of despair. This is because, their punching line and ultimate argument goes, the status-quo is untenable. But untenable for whom? Only for Israel. For the Palestinians, the status quo is actually quite tenable. They reasonably see it as the only way to use what they’ve always considered their best weapon against Israel: demography. Their dream is Israel’s nightmare. And so it is naïve and absurd to expect them to save us from their trap. Yet when Israelis beg the Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution, they do just that: they ask the Palestinians to care more about the Israeli nightmare than about the Palestinian dream.

Most Israeli experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict agree that this conflict is both unsolvable and unsustainable under the present circumstances. Benny Morris, for example, sees no alternative to the two-state solution but also sees no reasonable prospect of implementing it (he utterly blames the Palestinians for that). He suggests the revival of the "Jordanian Option," but this doesn’t wash: with whom, exactly, is Israel supposed to close such a deal? As for Ehud Yaari’s recent article in Foreign Affairs, it just repeats the delusional mistake that because Israel simply cannot afford to see the two-state solution progressively wither, the Palestinians must be either sweet-talked or coerced into accepting it.

The only way out of that imbroglio is for Israel to unilaterally and physically make the one-state solution impossible by completing the construction of the separation fence, by withdrawing from about 90% of the West Bank and by annexing the settlement blocs. The West Bank would undoubtedly turn into another Gaza, but Israel is better off fighting the enemy form without than from within. On balance, bombarding Gaza and the West Bank on a regular basis is still preferable to letting Israel turn into anther Lebanon. Implementing unilateralism without Ahamdinejad and Goldstone in the background would obviously be preferable, but we are talking here about the least bad option in purely Realpolitik terms.

I abhor this scenario emotionally but swallow it intellectually. Dan Schueftan has been advocating it for years, to his credit. When I told him at the end of his panel debate at the last Herzliya Conference that he is the only one who doesn’t talk nonsense, he said he agrees with me. I agree with myself too.