The Palestinian problem can be solved, but the only way to do it is to work within the situation on the ground today.
I won’t hide my bias: the primary objective is a secure Jewish state of Israel. And while I believe that we must treat the Palestinian Arabs decently, that doesn’t include accepting their false historical narrative of Jewish guilt and Arab ownership of the land of Israel.
Ideology-based approaches ranging from annexing all of Judea and Samaria to handing all of it over to the PLO with or without a ‘right of return’ will not achieve this goal.
The much-reviled Meir Kahane said that the survival of a Jewish state was inconsistent with its having non-Jewish citizens. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think that a) if the percentage of non-Jewish citizens goes beyond a certain point — and Israel is close to that point today — it will be destabilizing, and b) Israel’s political system cannot tolerate anti-Zionist parties or politicians.
It is also becoming clear that the US is not and — unless there are significant changes here — will not be an honest broker between Israel and the PLO. The American bottom line, since the 1970’s, has been that Israel must withdraw from all territories captured in 1967. This is inconsistent with Israel’s security, which requires defensible borders. It is also becoming more and more clear that US commitments cannot be relied upon.
Other nations and international institutions that could replace the US as a broker are even more anti-Israel. To some extent this is because Israel is perceived as an agent of the US, but it is unlikely that this can be turned around in the near future.
Therefore, Israel has two options: maintain the status quo, or act unilaterally.
What would such unilateral action look like?
• Israel declares that since the PLO has abrogated the Oslo accords by continued violations such as terrorism, incitement and non-recognition of Israel, as well as by declaring a state of ‘Palestine’ and obtaining UN recognition of it, Israel will no longer be obligated by them. Israel will end financial and security cooperation with the PLO.
• Israel annexes (perhaps with some adjustments) “Area C,” those parts of Judea and Samaria which it deems essential for security purposes, or which have large Jewish populations. This area contains most of the Jews in the territories and very few Arabs.
• Israel commits to providing full security and services to Jews living in areas that were outside the Green Line.
• Israel declares that its actions are legally grounded on its right to all of Judea and Samaria as expressed in the Palestine Mandate, and its right to defensible borders as expressed by UNSC resolution 242.
• Israel adopts the policy that it will not supply water or electricity nor will it allow land transport of goods to Gaza when there is hostile activity emanating from there. This includes rockets, attempts at infiltration, tunneling under the border fence, etc.
• Israel reaffirms the annexation of Jerusalem, although it might abandon outlying Arab neighborhoods. Arab residents of Jerusalem who have not accepted Israeli citizenship are required to accept it and affirm loyalty to the state, or they will be required to leave, with compensation of course.
• Present Arab citizens of Israel will not be required to affirm loyalty to the Jewish state, but anti-Zionist candidates will not be allowed to hold elective office. Arab citizens of Israel will be eligible to receive compensation if they declare that their conscience does not permit them to live under Jewish sovereignty.
This is not simple, but neither is keeping the status quo. Here are some of the problems that would have to be worked out:
• There are some important Jewish sites in Arab-populated areas, such as Joseph’s tomb, which is near the Arab city of Shechem. Hevron, where the cave of Machpela is located, is also home to a significant Jewish community. Under the Oslo accords, the PA is supposed to allow Jews to visit these sites; but in fact it is very difficult and dangerous — IDF protection is required, and there have been numerous instances of Arab violence, including murders, at these places.
• Without IDF protection, the PLO in Judea and Samaria could fall to Hamas. I am not sure that this would necessarily be a disaster, since the PLO is no less committed to Israel’s destruction than Hamas. A true liberal Palestinian regime desirous of peace is highly unlikely to come about regardless of Israel’s actions.
• The Arab entity that would be created by an Israeli withdrawal would be in a state of war with Israel. The boundaries would have to be designed to ensure that it could not be a strategic threat.
• Israel would have to be prepared to take preemptive action against terrorism, both in the new Palestinian entity and Gaza. It could not be allowed to develop military capabilities under the cover of ‘cease-fires’ as happened in Gaza.
Some additional comments:
• In the long term, Israel needs to reduce its dependence on the US, which is both becoming less friendly to Israel and less able to project power in the Middle East. Israel should do its best to obtain good relations with China, and as much as possible with non-Islamist Muslim regimes.
• I am not opposed to democracy. But it is not an all-or-nothing concept. A country can still be democratic while maintaining boundaries beyond which political expression may not go. In the case of Israel, these limits should exclude the position that Israel is not the state of the Jewish people. All democracies in fact have such limits, so why not make them explicit?
• The Arab ‘refugees’ are not Israel’s problem. Both Arabs and (a greater number of) Jews were displaced in 1948. While some of the original Arab refugees could have been allowed to return after 1948 if the Arab nations had wished to make peace, their actions and the subsequent actions of the international community made it impossible. Today the descendents of these refugees are their responsibility, and should be resettled.
• Today, the top priority must be the Iranian threat. The status quo in the territories will have to be maintained until Iran is dealt with. I believe that Israel will act alone, and a successful strike will also greatly strengthen its position on other issues.
Update [2008 PDT]: Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon also wants to end Oslo, but sees a different solution. And he also used the phrase “three state solution!” No, I didn’t read his piece before I wrote this (and he probably didn’t read mine).