Israel/Palestine: Eleven degrees of separation
A voice of sanity from a noted Israeli author, who presents 11 thesis for a just separation between Israel and Palestine
"Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over."
- Psalms 104:9
In every discussion involving questions about the Arab-Israeli conflict, we should, I believe, take note of three a priori assumptions:
1. The Jews' return to their land is a unique act, unexampled in human history. At the end of the 19th century, spurred to action by burgeoning national awareness in the world and by mounting hostility in its immediate surroundings, a people that was dispersed and exiled from its land (voluntarily exiled, in most cases) for two millennia, maintaining only a platonic relationship of longing and memory for its historical homeland, bestirs itself and turns its yearning into reality. Gathering itself from all corners of the world, it returns to its ancient homeland, revives its language, and with great resourcefulness and creativity, succeeds in forging sovereignty and independence.
The singularity of the Zionist phenomenon generated, and continues to generate, a trauma in the local residents of a kind not experienced by any other people in human history. I am not suggesting that the Palestinian trauma is the most severe in the annals of mankind. We are aware of more severe national trauma in both general and Jewish history. Still, so utterly unique is the trauma undergone by the Palestinians that it has both caused the conflict to persist for a very lengthy period (more than 120 years), and fomented the extreme swings that have characterized it, sometimes in the form of irrational outbursts, such as the Palestinians' reaction after the peace conference at Camp David. The deep feeling that it is so wrenchingly difficult to terminate this conflict in practice, even though in theory, it is amenable to a geographical-political solution by means of partition, stems from the fact that because of the singularity of the Jews' return to the Land of Israel, the parties involved have no historical parallel to which they can turn as a basis for comparison.
The Jews' return to Zion was a powerful and complex shock to the Palestinians. Indeed, even a cool-tempered people such as the Norwegians or hot-blooded Brazilians would surely have gone out of their minds if strangers from 70 different countries, who were not exactly a nation and not exactly a religion, and perhaps neither, had descended on them and declared: "Your country is actually our country from which we were exiled, or which we abandoned, 2,000 years ago. However, life in the Diaspora has become so dangerous for us that we have no other choice but to return and reappropriate this country as a sovereign state so that we can continue to exist. As for you, either move elsewhere or live here, but don't get in our way. We have not come, heaven forbid, to enslave, exploit or annihilate you, nor to force our identity on you. We have come only to change the identity of your homeland."
Any nation would defend itself in the face of such an "invasion." No nation would voluntarily say: "Welcome, come in, take territory, make the deserts bloom so that in time, you will be able to establish a sovereign state to which millions more of your people will come, with the result that the national character of our homeland will be radically transformed and we will become, in the optimal case, a minority with equal rights in our homeland." Therefore, any attempt to understand the wellsprings of the Palestinian psyche must take into account that this is a nation or a human group that underwent a unique historical experience.
2. In contrast to many other conflicts, the two nations will always have to live side by side, and inside Israel, also among each other. There is no possibility that one nation will totally shatter the existence of the rival nation and expel it from the territory forever. Therefore, in the brutal war that is now being waged, every effort must be made to restrain the violence, out of consideration for the future. Because the residue of blood and suffering will remain alive and active in the national memory of both peoples when the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victims on both sides will meet as neighbors in the years ahead. The more protracted and bitter the conflict becomes, the more difficult the reconciliation will be.
3. I am apprehensive about committing the third assumption to paper, but I feel an obligation to put it to the readers. History shows that the scale and cruelty of aggression against Jews was greater and more intensive than that perpetrated against others in national and ethnic conflicts. The Jews are unique in that the hatred and assaults against them persisted for thousands of years and was common to peoples, religions and civilizations that were very different from one another, until the horrific nadir in the middle of the 20th century in the heart of the civilized world.
The Palestinian in Nablus who turns himself into a walking bomb in order to blow up in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem may say to himself: "Am I the first to despise the Jews so much that I am ready to lay down my life in order to kill them? After all, from the dawn of history, many diverse peoples have abhorred and attacked the Jews. Even the Germans, a civilized people in the center of Europe, loathed them with an intensity so overpowering that they were willing to destroy themselves in a war of annihilation against them. Yet there in Europe, or in the Arab countries, the Jews did no harm to those who hate them. They did not expropriate land there, did not establish settlements, did not expel people and turn them into refugees. They lived as a quiet, disciplined minority, yet their very existence generated such immense hatred. So is it surprising that we Palestinians, who have in fact suffered at their hands, should also want to annihilate them?"
After the Holocaust, we all vowed: Never again. But we don't give enough thought to the opposite side of the matter: namely, that the very fact that the mass murder of the Jews was possible in the heart of Europe has the paradoxical effect of making it appear reasonable to part of the Arab world that perhaps it is not so unimaginable to perpetrate a second holocaust against the Jews. The historical fact of the Holocaust that succeeded may not only pique the imagination, but also make it seem legitimate to repeat the act.
In the 1920s no one imagined that within just a few years, concentration camps and gas chambers would be built in the heart of Europe to perpetrate mass murder. Today, we have learned not to be naive any longer, and the possibility of fanatics carrying an atomic, biological or chemical payload on their bodies is no longer beyond the realm of possibility. If this conflict continues to burn, the zealous suicide bombers will no longer make do with conventional explosives - they will find a way to obtain something with far greater destructive power. We are already hearing voices and ideas along those lines.
Borders and sovereignty
If I had to define Zionism in just one word, I would choose the word "borders." And if I were given a second word, I would add "sovereignty." That is the meaning of Zionism: the realization of sovereignty within clear and continuous territorial borders. What was self-evident and natural for all nations was an innovation and a revolution in Jewish existence, which was overwhelmingly a history of people without borders or who crossed borders, a history of non-sovereignty. Jews could change homelands and languages without losing their Jewish identity, which is a mixture of nationality and religion. It is an identity that rests largely on individual texts and rituals (religious, traditional and secular), and is therefore easy to carry. A Jew can maintain his identity in isolation, in his mind alone, and he is free to do with it as he wishes and understands, as there is no coercive framework that binds him to any other Jew in the Diaspora.
No one likes to have his homeland turned into a hotel for guests. It is only natural that the fundamental, near anarchical, absence of borders that exists within a Jewish identity that nestles within another identity, should arouse constant resistance, which, during national confusion or crisis, is liable to generate a reaction of fierce hatred. That hatred prompted some Jews to engage in Zionist activity, which rested mainly on the principle that instead of trying to get the world to adjust to the Jewish identity, it was more correct and more practical to adapt the Jewish identity to the world. To normalize it, to create a territorial reality of its own, in which the Jew would be sovereign and responsible for his fate and life, and subject to a binding framework of other Jews. In short, to create the reality of a homeland.
It is not the territory of the homeland that is the central theme of Zionism, but the borders within which it can maintain its sovereignty. When the War of Independence ended within the borders of 1949, that definitive Zionist David Ben-Gurion understood the meaning of sovereignty and borders, and imposed the full extent of the new Israeli sovereignty over what he considered to be the territory of the state. At the same time, formal right of citizenship was granted to all the Arabs who were trapped in the Jewish state, based on loyalty to the sovereign principle: "There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger that dwells among you."
The Six-Day War of 1967 was forced on Israel by a criminal adventure of the ruler of Egypt. Jordan's hesitant entry into the war led to Israel's conquest of the West Bank. But we then failed to say to ourselves with Zionist clarity, "Because we are unable to impose sovereignty on the territory that was taken, to annex it and grant full civil rights to the millions of Palestinians there, as we did after the War of Independence, we must be very careful not to extend our border to an area in which we will not be able to actualize full Israeli sovereignty. We will be able to hold the territory by means of military force until our demands for security - and perhaps also peace - are met; but we must not create the illusion of sovereignty in a place where we can never enjoy sovereignty."
It is not by chance that the Six-Day War is called a Jewish war, because it was then, like a ghost, that the old Jew emerged from within us. The border-crosser returned to his old historical habit, as in the days when he settled all over the world within an alien reality. Thus began the saliently anti-Zionist act of settlement without sovereignty and without the hope of full sovereignty within the fabric of a different national existence. And because it was impossible to annex the territories and also meet the obligations of sovereignty, Moshe Dayan, a member of the Labor Movement but the archetypal breacher of borders, invented the notion of "functional sovereignty." Its essence lay in ruling over territories in which millions of non-Jews would hold the citizenship of a country that lay beyond the borders of their homeland, or hold meaningless "autonomous" citizenship, while islands of Jewish settlement were established in the territories in order to obviate any possibility of foreign sovereignty in them.
It is not surprising that the majority of the settlers in the territories were religious, as opposed to members of the secular right, who made do with "rhetorical settlement" rather than the real thing. Since the Babylonian exile, the religious Jew has been taught to actualize his identity through the elements of his faith, rather than through territory and a total Jewish reality around him. The religious Jew, who throughout history was capable of settling anywhere on earth, in relative disregard of his non-Jewish surroundings, could also settle in the midst of a foreign population and believe that a Jewish "invention" of this kind could endure and not lead again to a bloodbath of the kind that was generated by the historical Jewish "invention" of the Diaspora.
The results are plain to see. Anyone who tries to undermine the sovereignty of others in their homeland and create a sovereignty-less vacuum, ultimately shatters his own sovereignty, the most precious asset of the state: borders, consciousness of borders and reality of borders. And, most important of all: the ability to defend oneself by means of borders.
I am talking about the deepest betrayal of the basic principle of Zionism; I am no longer talking about the terrible moral wrong and the tremendous provocation of the Palestinians, who perceived even the United Nations' partition resolution as an injustice, and even more so, the borders of 1949. If it were possible, by means of immense efforts, to get them to accept the results of the War of Independence and to settle the war's refugees within the borders of a Palestinian state, or a Palestinian-Jordanian state, it would be absolutely impossible to accept a situation in which the Jews would leave their homes in an area of 78 percent of Palestine - the State of Israel - in order to undermine any possible sovereignty in the meager area that is remaining to the Palestinians: 22 percent of their homeland.
It is not difficult to understand how painful was the wound of the settlements in the flesh of the Palestinians. After all, it is inconceivable that a Palestinian should not have the same elementary right that accrues to a hungry Indian who is prostrate on a sidewalk in Calcutta - namely, the right of citizenship in his homeland. And let us not hear the word "terrorism" in rebuttal. To begin with, the settlements do not prevent terrorism, they generate it; and second, the broadest base of the settlements was created by Israeli governments precisely in the 20 years of relative quiet in the territories, between 1967 and the eruption of the first intifada in 1987.
The late Yitzhak Rabin once related that when the first intifada broke out, soldiers asked him where all the stone-throwing demonstrators were coming from. Indeed, the majority of Israelis did not see them when they went on outings in the territories in complete security during the years when all the large settlement blocs were established. Least of all were they visible to those who left their original homes in Israel in order to settle next to camps of homeless refugees.
The necessity of separation
Even though our belief in the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians has not collapsed totally in the wake of the new intifada, it is clear to everyone that, both from the point of view of the hawkish shift in public opinion and of the chaotic position of the Palestinian Authority, there is no prospect of an agreement with the Palestinians any time soon. The cycle of blood and the brutality on both sides will continue to intensify. Therefore, the only way to bring about relative calm in the situation in order to create an infrastructure for an agreement in the future, is by means of a unilateral separation plan to be implemented by Israel - whether with the tacit agreement of the Palestinians, the agreement or the blessing of the international community, or, if there is no other choice, with only the agreement of the civil majority in Israel.
For some seven years, we debated among ourselves about the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in Lebanon. Everyone - right, center and left - shared the opinion that our presence in Lebanon was pointless and was exacting a tragic and unnecessary price in blood, but officers and politicians on both the right and the left drew a terrifying scenario of what would happen after a unilateral pullout. As a result, Israel waited for Sheikh Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, to give it a signed paper promising that quiet would prevail on the northern border after Israel left.
So great was Israel's belief in a signed piece of paper that every year, another 25 soldiers were killed out of sheer waiting for the coveted piece of paper. However, the leaders of Hezbollah refused to provide any such document, and rightly so, from their point of view. Israel did not enter Lebanon with their consent, and therefore they were not obliged to sign a reassuring document when it left. This went on until a courageous Israeli prime minister waived the paper from Hezbollah and pulled out Israel's forces unilaterally, accompanied by an explicit declaration that if the violence went on, Israel's behavior toward Lebanon would take the form of total war. The act that everyone was afraid of was implemented almost instantly and has proved its effectiveness ever since. Relative quiet returned to the northern border, and after stones were thrown and curses hurled, the Lebanese farmers went back to working their fields. Since the withdrawal, nearly two years ago, four soldiers have been killed there, not 40 or 50.
Today, after the Palestinians' violent outburst, there is no alternative but to adopt the model that succeeded in Lebanon along our border with the Palestinians. True, there are a great many differences between the security zone in Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and consequently, the withdrawal cannot be whole and absolute, nor will it bring about the total quiet that has descended on the border with Lebanon. Nevertheless, the principle can be applied here, too, with a reasonable degree of effectiveness, which will lighten the suffering and reduce the high price in blood that both sides are paying for a borderless existence.
If the Palestinians consider the withdrawal their victory, as Hezbollah viewed the unilateral withdrawal as its victory - all the better. If these feelings of "victory" ultimately bring about agreements and the quiet we had in the past, which is psychologically very understandable, they are very worthwhile. For 120 years of conflict, we have inflicted defeats and humiliations that only generated a passion for revenge and induced more fighting.
There are many models for unilateral separation, and what follows is the model I favor. I propose that the Center Party, the Labor Party and the left posit it as an alternative to the policy of the current government, which holds out no prospect of either peace or security but only blood and fire.
1. Separation can be effected by Israel alone. It is not dependent on the will of the Palestinians, but if they voluntarily climb down from their high tree by means of tacit agreement, that will be fine. If not, they will know that the price of the war that will continue at their initiative will be far greater. Let us not forget that after the withdrawal, too, the Palestinians will be dependent on Israel for electric power and fuel.
2. There is a reasonable prospect of obtaining international support for this plan, but its implementation does not depend on that support. In any event, the unilateral separation will be officially recognized as a temporary act, which is not intended as a substitute for the permanent solution. That solution will be attainable when the Palestinians are ready to forgo the right of return and to resume negotiations.
3. Within the framework of the separation, Israel will evacuate at least 40 percent of the area it conquered in the Six-Day War, leaving the Palestinians in control of about 85 percent of the territories. The result will be the removal and lifting of the majority of the closures and encirclements and roadblocks, which are now splitting the territories and causing the Palestinians dire suffering.
4. All of the settlers in the territories who will be evacuated - about 50,000 people - will move to Israeli territory or to the settlement blocs, and will receive full compensation for their homes and property and for the ordeals of the move, as was done in the case of the Yamit evacuees following the withdrawal from Sinai.
5. Greater Jerusalem will, in the meantime, remain in Israel's hands, but without additional Israeli construction in the Palestinian section of the city. The interreligious sovereignty that was worked out as a practical format in the Camp David peace talks can already be implemented at the holy places in the Old City.
6. A fence and border mechanisms, including all accompanying state-of-the-art devices and protective means, will be erected around Jerusalem and around the three settlement blocs (which Israel proposed at Taba). Thousands of kilometers of fence like this have been erected all over the world in terrain that is far more problematic, and the method has proved to be highly effective.
7. Official, controlled border passages will be established along the fence, which will enable Palestinians to enter Israel in the way that a person enters a foreign country. The same will apply to Israelis entering the Palestinian state. The anarchy of a borderless situation will come to an end. It is vital that Palestinian workers be able to find employment in Israel again, with permits and with their social benefits tended to rigorously. We have a moral responsibility toward the Palestinians, not to Thais or Romanians. In the absence of a border, there are only sieges and closures and the infiltration of workers who are employed in conditions of slavery.
8. The "envelope" of the Palestinian state in the Jordan Rift Valley (without settlements) and along the Egyptian border will remain in Israel's hands, in order to ensure the demilitarization of the Palestinian state with respect to offensive weapons. If the international community approves the plan and the Palestinians give their agreement, it will be possible in the future to replace Israeli troops with international supervisory forces, as has been the case for more than 20 years in Sinai.
9. A "border loan" will be imposed on Israel's residents in order to finance the fence. Every shekel that will be invested in it will, of course, be worth not only the terrible price in blood being paid today, but also the high cost in damage caused by every terrorist attack.
10. Civil guards from the nearby locales and from the cities, too, will be called on to help guard the fence. Those with draft exemptions, such as the ultra-Orthodox, will also be obliged to do guard duty. The silent majority of Israel's Arab citizens, who favor the existence of the border, will also be able to volunteer for the guard units.
11. All the Palestinians who find themselves trapped on the Israeli side of the fence will, for the time being, like the residents of East Jerusalem, receive all the rights of the National Insurance Institute (social security), including medical insurance and unemployment insurance. This, to ensure that they are not discriminated against until the final settlement, which will determine their citizenship, is achieved.
The separation plan has opponents on both the right and the left. Even though it is popular among the public at large, no political body is as yet willing to adopt it. The resistance from the right is obvious. Ariel Sharon and his colleagues planted all the settlements in order to completely perforate the Palestinian entity and turn it into helpless enclaves within the pincers of the settlement movement. From their point of view, the 42 percent of the area that the Palestinians have already been given is more than enough.
On the left, some are afraid that the plan annexes de facto the rest of the territory that will remain in Israel's hands, including Jerusalem, and will thereby eliminate the possibility of a possible peace agreement in the future. And there are also still some romantics in the peace camp who believe that we have to live without borders and without fences, "like they do in Europe." They only forget that in Europe, tens of millions of people were killed in the 20th century until, very slowly, a ramified system of economic and military agreements were worked out, which gradually and cautiously removed some of the barriers and borders - and this between nations that basically have a great deal in common.
A "hard" border is essential in peacetime, too, and it will make it possible for the post-Arafat Palestinian leadership to do battle against terrorism more effectively. No longer will they be able to say that they have no control over the despairing members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The concrete border will give the Palestinian security forces the possibility to take preventive and preemptive measures.
It's true that this plan does not provide for separation in Jerusalem, and even after peace is attained, separation in the city will not be physical but administrative, through precise agreements. However, the fact that terrorism is liable to continue in Jerusalem (although many more troops will be available to ensure quiet there) need not prevent the vast relief that will be felt in the rest of the country. Even now, the temporary and unsophisticated fence in the Gaza Strip is preventing hundreds of terrorist attacks in Israel.
The paralysis and fog being displayed by the political system in regard to unilateral separation derive from a tragic adherence to the old beliefs - on the right, on the left and among the Palestinians. Hovering above everything is the fear of evacuating some of the settlements without a binding final agreement with the Palestinians. But is it conscionable that nine million people should be blood hostages in the hands of 50,000 settlers - some of whom would be happy to leave if they were given the right opportunity?
In short, common sense says separation. The international community will welcome the reduction in violence. The populations on both sides of the border will breathe deep sighs of relief. Terrorist attacks will become far scarcer, the liquidations will stop and settlers will no longer be killed on the roads. And if the Palestinians view the fence as a crafty means to annex 15 percent of the territories, perhaps they will snap out of their "dream of return," hold their fire, and force the government of Israel to return to the peace talks.
But if the Israeli political system, right and left, and the tangled web of the Palestinian system are incapable themselves of reaching the point of temporary separation, and if each side continues to be entrenched in its idee fix and persists in the bloodletting, there will be no choice but to appeal to the responsibility of the international community with a call for help.