Monday, November 19, 2007

Von Berlin bis Annapolis

I am currently in Berlin at a conference commemorating the centenary of the death of the greatest Jewish scholar of the nineteenth century, Moritz Steinschneider. Steinschneider is known as the father of Jewish bibliography; a better appellation would be the father, with Leopold Zunz, of Jewish literary history, and of the history of cultural transmission from the Greeks to the Arabs to the Jews and the Christians. I will have occasion to speak about Steinschneider in a separate post; he was a Jewish liberal who detested nationalism, and certainly, Zionism, while possessing a deep love of Jewish history and the Jewish people. He was especially interested in the impact of secular philosophy, science, and medicine on Jewish savants in the middle ages. This was part of a broader interest in the transmission of culture from one group to another -- and that is what my conference here in Berlin is about.

But Annapolis, which is around a half hour from where I work,may be hosting a peace conference. So here are my two cents about that, from Berlin.

My hosts last shabbat asked me what I thought Israel needed from the US. My answer, which, I am embarrassed to say, I literally shouted several times, was, "Tough love." The next day the LA Times published an op-ed by Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour, which said the same thing, only more reasonably and coherently. So please read the following article by these two very intelligent and decent human beings. I have not always been a fan of Avishai's work in the past; I felt that as a liberal Zionist he sometimes cuts the state too much slack (Who am I kidding? I do the same) But at times he is right on the money, and this is one of those times.

The whole piece can be read at Sam's great blog, epalestine or at the LA Times here

I like agreeing with people -- it's my nature -- and I especially like to agree with people with whom I usually don't agree. So, rightwing readers of this blog, rest assured that we agree on this one. Annapolis won't be good for Israel.

OK, end of agreement.

It won't be good for Israel because nothing will come out of Annapolis, certainly nothing that answers the minimium requirements for a just peace. If the Palestinian negotiators capitulate, that will be a disaster, because even moderate Palestinians will not accept anything less than a two-states. There will then be violence, and Israel will suffer. The Palestinians will suffer more.

No way out.


Jonathan Mark said...

The Palestinian side should drop its demands for settling the descendants of Palestinian refugees inside of Israel's pre-1967 borders.

I am in favor of tough love to persuade the Palestinian side to give up this demand.

Jerry Haber said...

I see no reason why the Palestinians should drop their demand -- which is backed by international resolutions, and resolution 194 -- for the refugees to return to their homes. However, Israel can ask the Palestinians, in return for concessions by Israel, to limit its demands to a reasonable number of naturalization of refugees, say between 300 and 400,000. Needless to say, Israel must compensate all the refugees. The naturalization (with immigrant rights) will mark a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relationships. It will show the Palestinians that Israel recognizes and fulfill its responsibilities, and is not racist or anti-Arab. By the way, I think that the Palestinians should also offer Jews the ability to become naturalized Palestinians.

Jonathan Mark said...

What if the Israelis refuse to agree to the settlement of 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinians in Israel? What if the United States refuse to practice the "tough love" of which you speak to force Israel to agree?

Would you be in favor of having the Palestinians fight on until the US and Israel agree to this demand?

Jerry Haber said...


Neither side should stop fighting until there is a just peace in which Israel/Palestine is divided equitably into two states of fairly equal viability and strength. But I am afraid that the Palestinians, because of their weakness and internal divisions, will agree to something less.

Jonathan Mark said...

Are you saying that the Palestinians cannot have a state unless 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinians settle inside of Israel's pre-1967 border? I think otherwise.

A viable and even relatively prosperous Palestinian state could exist even if zero descendants of Palestinian refugees settle inside of Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Assume for a moment that a viable Palestinian state could indeed exist without settling any Palestinians in Israel. My question then becomes: should the Palestinians reject such a state and keep fighting if Israel refuses to allow 300,000 Palestinians to settle inside of Israel?

Peter H said...

It's a myth that the refugees - that that the Palestinian insistence on the return of 4 million refugees - has derailed previous Israeli-Palestinians negotations. This is what Moshe Amirav has written:

The image created by the Israelis after the collapse of the talks at Taba was that the Palestinians wanted to have three to four million refugees enter Israel. In fact, what the Palestinians sought on this issue was exactly the same as Ben-Ami asked them for in connection with Jerusalem: a face-saving formula, referring mainly to acceptance of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (which, by the way, does not exactly dictate the return of the refugees, but spells out various possibilities for resolving the problem).

Like the other members of the Israeli delegation, Ben-Ami knows that the Palestinians wanted to set up a mechanism of seven options for a solution, only one of which involved a return to Israel, and even that option was to be have a pre-set limit on the number of returnees. Their numbers ranged from 150,000 to 300,000, while Israel agreed to about 10 percent of that total.

It is precisely Ben-Ami's testimony, that the Palestinians were ready to talk about a permanent and final number of a few hundred thousand only, which shows that they had, from their perspective, made a painful concession on the most sensitive issue of all.

Based on personal knowledge, I can say that if Israel were to agree to the return of 200,000 refugees, Arafat would have said yes (central figures such as Nabil Sha'ath and Faisal Husseini, with whom I was in contact at the time, confirmed this). The reader can, of course, judge for himself whether Israel, which has 1.2 million Palestinian Arab citizens, could not absorb another 300,000 of their brethren."

Jonathan Mark said...

Telling me that the Palestinians will agree to settle a few hundred thousand Palestinian refugees in Israel--instead of a few million--doesn't answer the question.

What if Israel continues to stick to Defense Minister Barak's 2001 policy, which is that he never agreed to settle Palestinian refugees in Israel as a requirement of a peace plan?

What if the United States sticks to the outlines of the 2001 Clinton Peace Plan, which stated that settling Palestinian refugees in Israel was not a requirement or part of the peace plan?

Will the Palestinians then refuse the opportunity to have their own state because they cannot also settle in Israel? Wouldn't that be foolish?

GBacharach said...

"First, that the gaps at Camp David were minute, symbolic and in no case substantive"

Then whyd Arafat leave with no counter-offer and then launched a 2nd intifada? Isnt that overreacting a bit? And Israel should not have to accept any refugees considering they(palestinians) started the 1948 war and more Jews were kicked out of arab countries. These should not be looked opon as sepreate issues considering that the palestinians didnt gain their identity until after the 67 war when arafat relized that they would gain more sympathy.

Jonathan Mark said...

Barak's position was that Israel would not permit any Palestinian refugees to return to Israel as part of a peace agreement.

Yossi Beilin's position was that Israel would take 40,000.

The Palestinian Authority would probably have settled for 200,000.

The Palestinian Authority was demanding 500,000.

These were not minute differences. If you demand I pay you $500,000 and I refuse to pay you anything, but my advisor wants me to pay $40,000 I would say that the matter was far from resolved.

Jerry Haber said...

Jonathan is right that the numbers are not minute differences. The Zionist left, represented by people like Beilin and Ben-Ami, etc. would not agree to the naturalization of several hundreds of thousands of returning refugees (well, maybe personally they would, but not publically.) The Geneva Initiative did not contemplate that many returning refugees. This is a pity.
What most Israelis don't understand (and even some Palestinians, like Sari Nusseibeh), is that the refugee issue is at the heart of the Palestinian side's narrative, even more than the question of statehood. While it is true that the West Bank Palestinians are more willing to be flexible than diaspora Palestinians on this score, the fact remains that the optimal course would be for Israel to accept as full-blown citizens, with immigrant rights, Palestinian refugees.
Israelis can't understand this. They ask, "why do the Palestinians insist on 1 1/2 states." But the Palestinians are not insisting on changing the character of the Jewish state. They are saying that the Palestinian refugees should be no different from other refugees, say, for example, in Kosovo, who are allowed to return to their homes. And, gbachrach, if you read my posts, you will know that I say the same thing about Jewish refugees from Arab lands; they should be compensated for their loss and allowed to return to their homes -- despite the fact that according to Zionism, they were returning TO their homeland.
On this point Benny Morris was correct. For there to be a viable and strong Jewish state, the Jews had to perform ethnic cleansing -- which they did, by not allowing Palestinians to return to their homes. (Of course, Morris regrets that the ethnic cleansing was only partial, but that's another story.) As he shows in the introduction to the revised edition of his book on the birth of the refugee problem, the Zionist leadership knew full well that there would have to be a transfer of populations, but for tactical reasons (mostly because of their concern for Israel's legitimacy), they could not themselves take the lead.
At any event, the naturalization of three hundred thousand Palestinians, over a period, say, of ten years, would not threaten Jewish hegemony, but would work towards the healing of old wounds.

Jonathan Mark said...

Life would be better for everybody if the Palestinians gave up their claims to territory or settlement rights inside of Israel's pre-1967 borders.

How about some "tough love" to get Palestinians to give up this demand to settle Palestinians inside of Israel?

In 2000/2001 the differences between Palestinians and Israelis on all other issues were not significant. But on this issue the gap was enormous.

Hence, if the Palestinians had given up this demand to settle Palestinians inside of Israel then an agreement in 2001 would have been possible.