Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Note On "Viability"

Why do I insist on Israel's resettlement of, say, around three hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, if the Palestinians can have a "viable" state on the West Bank and Gaza of their own? Shouldn't the Palestinians just drop the demand of resettlement of refugees -- any refugees -- within the 1948 armistice lines?

I don't have the time now to answer these questions, but I do want to say a few words about the curious notion of "viability."

For several years now, the US and/or the Quarter have called for a "viable and democratic Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel." I have never heard of the call for a viable Israel; Israel's viability is taken for granted. Why, then, a "viable" Palestine? Well, there is the fear that considering what Israel plans to keep-- close to 80% of mandatory Palestine for most of the mandate's period -- and the control that it wishes to continue to have over the West Bank and its resources, a mini-Palestine will not be "viable". So the term "viability" seems to reflect the minimum conditions of a state's continued existence that keep it from degenerating into anarchy. Once we have taken the patient off life support, the patient should be able to stay alive.

Now, let's think of other terms besides "viable". How about "strong", "secure", "independent", "economically prosperous, with room for natural growth and expansion"; a state "that neither dominates nor is dominated by its neighbor state" (you know, the one established by Eastern Europeans), and "that has the same opportunities possessed by the other state"?

Wouldn't it make more sense to use those terms rather than the anemic "viable"?

Frankly, talk of a "safe and secure Israel besides a democratic and viable Palestine" reveals the zionist, and, arguably, racist assumptions of the speaker. It implies that Israel has needs of security guarantees from the Palestinians, where the history of the conflict shows precisely the opposite. Both sides have killed thousands of each other (the Jewish side admittedly killing more of the other side, but let's reserve that point, for the sake of argument), but only one side has successfully thwarted the national aspirations of the other side, and kept millions under the longest occupation in modern history, if one includes those areas that it seized outside the 1947 partition plan. The phrase also implies that Israel is a liberal democracy (a questionable assertion, as students of liberal democracies will tell you) and that the Palestinians are somehow uniquely challenged in this regard.

The original thinking behind the two-state solution for Palestine was that because there were two communities with strong feelings of nationalism, the partition of the country was the way to satisfy the central claims of both communities. When the Arab Palestinians thought they had the upper hand, they rejected partition; when the Zionists thought they had the upper hand, they rejected partition. If the two-state solution has any hope for success, it must be recognized by the majority of peoples of the region as at least partially just, even if the governments, beholden to special interest groups, are unable to conclude an agreement.

A lot of people think that the concern with justice is naive; that the world is in an unjust place, and that power rules. That may be. But I can tell you that if one side feels that it has been unjustly shafted in a peace agreement, that the "state" and the territory it has received is not just less than what belongs to it by right, but considerably less than what the other side got -- then this is a recipe for disaster, instability, terrorism, and war.

A solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, if it has any chance of succeeding, must at least give the strong impression to both communities that it is leveling the imbalance between the two states. A more equitable division of Palestine will help in this regrad; federation between the two states will also help. Recognition of historical injustice, even if it implied, will help. And attempts to get the maximum number of groups on board will also help.

Since none of the above will be considered at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, that is why this whole affair is -- I hope -- doomed to fail. I would not like there to be a third or a fourth intifada, But if waging an intifada is a necessary condition for achieving justice for the Palestinians, then I can no more deny the Palestinians the right of armed resistance than I can any other group under occupation.

As the good book says, "Justice, justice, you shall pursue."


Anonymous said...

good post j, but i would change the word "anarchy" to "chaos" ;)

Anonymous said...

But why hope for Annapolis to fail? Why hope for another round of violence, from which, most likely, the Palestinians will come off on the bottom hand? Because only after ANOTHER intifada will the Israelis finally realize they must give more than (some of them) are willing to give now?
I think striving for some sort of solution now (which will only be "moderately" just) is better than any

Anonymous said...

other option. Just because you think the current state of affairs doesn't allow having a fully "just" and "equal" solution doesn't mean that such a solution will ever be achievable from both sides; that is, if there is such a thing, "just" solution. Why not go for a reachable, acceptable solution, rather than an ideal, non-feasible one? And is such a hope worth another round of violence?

Jerry Haber said...

Where we disagree is over the "moderate" justice of the solutions proposed. The Palestinians cannot hold out for total justice -- that is an unattainable idea. But they should hold out for a sustainable peace that provides the minimum requirements of such a peace -- including the requirement of justice, or better, not gross injustice.

By the way, you will never hear an Israeli government talking about even "moderate" justice for the Palestinians.

The idea that some sort of solution is preferable to the current state of affairs is a classic negotiating tactic of the more powerful side. Sometimes no settlement is better than a humiliating settlement that will carve fundamental inequities and injustices in stone.

I am sorry. The answer is not another Oslo. We saw what that got us. I am beginning to think that Oslo's and Annapolises are salves for the consciences of well-meaning Jewish liberals (there, I said it.) They genuinely are upset by the suffering of the Palestinians; I will grant them that. But that suffering can only be alleviated by strengthening the Palestinian side at Israel's expense, and the Jewish liberals draw their line at that.

I will let you into a little secret, in case you don't know. Nobody in Israel, except the ultra rightwing, gives a damn about the West Bank or the Palestinians. They would love to be rid of both. So they make all sort of offers that are non-starters; the only reason why such offers make it to the table is because of the weakness and the desparation of the Palestinian side

I say to the Palestinians "Hang tough. Don't give in. Stand up for the minimum." Fortunately, they don't need me to tell that to them. I know it is a chutzpah for me to write this from the comfort of my office. I cannot blame them for wanting to have a slightly better life than the miserable one they have now.

Peace is an important value. But without justice and human dignity, it isn't worth a damn.

So we are back to square one. Let me say one or two words about the minimum and the maximum, as I see them.

1) The Maximum: a withdrawal to the lines of the Partition Plan, the return of several million refugees (as defined by the UN) to their homes and surrounding areas, with full compensation for all losses. In other words, go back to 1947, based on firm international principles of return of refugees to their homes and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory through force. Each state will have control over its natural resources without any consideration for the other.

2) The Minimal: withdrawal to the 67 borders and full compensation for the refugees, who will be offered the option to return to their homes as Israeli citizens, with the rights and responsibilities thereof. A general amnesty for every Palestinian held in Israel for security related crimes, including terrorism. The Palestinians will have the same rights as the Israelis with respect to security, the right to bear arms, control over borders etc. Policy on matters of concern to both, such as the allocation and development of natural resources, will be decided by a joint committee of Israeli and Palestinians.

There is no need for the minimum agreement to be implemented immediately. The implementation can be in stages over 5 or 10 years. There can even be interim agreements. But any interim agreement signed by the Palestinians should not close the door on the minimum principles.

We want peace? We want a good life for the Jews and the Palestinians? For that we have to pay big. It's time to clean up after the party and get down to living.

Or as Tony Judy wrote, it is time for Israel to grow up.