Monday, August 22, 2005

Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, my broadband was down during most of the disengagement so pretty much all that there is to be said has already been said. However, two important articles on disengagement which I highly recommend, and which should really be read together, both address the question of 'where do we go from here':

  • Ehud Ya'ari in the Jerusalem Report: Ya'ari, an insider's insider if ever there was one, argues that the Palestinians are not really entirely sure they want a state -- under any terms. With all the problems in their society, getting to a functioning state would simply be too difficult, both practically and psychologically, and quite simply, it's easier to focus on war against Israel than on building a new Palestinian society:
The bottom line is that there are more Israelis eager to see a Palestinian state than Palestinians who want to part from the Israelis. There are many Israelis, and I am among them, who believe that a two-state solution is much better than the Oslo system of two governments in one country, but the Palestinians prefer the latter system, which gives them a regime and armed forces, but without an agreed-upon permanent border. This is why in the Gaza Strip - whatever the circumstances of the withdrawal - the Palestinians will strive to preserve a close link to Israel. Instead of trying to turn their backs on the erstwhile occupiers, they will do their best to tie themselves to them.
The de facto independence that they will achieve without paying any price will not be used to construct a model of successful sovereignty, but rather a base for the struggle for the West Bank and Jerusalem. They will refuse to see the withdrawal as an end either to the occupation of the Strip or to the terrorist activity emanating
from it. Listen to Abu Mazen himself: Israel, he says, is "getting out" of Gaza, definitely not "withdrawing." Israel's aim is to make the Gaza Strip a foreign country, to cut itself off from it, and to have little to do with it. The Palestinians will resist this, insisting that it is not a separate entity, but merely a mutation of the system of two governments within the same country.
  • Hillel Halkin in the Jerusalem Post: Halkin says, and I tend to agree, that although the disengagement went relatively smoothly and quickly, the past few months have shown that evacuating tens of thousands of Jewish settlers from the much larger West Bank will be virtually impossible:
The settlers can wipe the tears from their eyes and start smiling. The Palestinians giddily celebrating our departure from Gaza might as well make it as big a bash as they can, because they won't have an opportunity for another one soon...
A second disengagement from the West Bank is a dead duck, at least for the foreseeable future - and by the time the foreseeable future is gone, the only politician in Israel capable of carrying out such a step, Ariel Sharon, will be gone too. That leaves, as I say, a big question: Exactly where do we go from here?

Halkin doesn't provide another answer. However, if you accept his thesis, put these two articles together and we have a serious question. The Palestinians, despite their protestations to the contrary, will actually make it hard for Israel to ever disengage from them completely, and will continue to sabotage any negotiations. The Israelis, on the other hand, are going to find it extremely difficult to disengage any further unilaterally. The status quo is not an option -- which is why successive Israeli governments since the early 1990s have tried to get out of it. So, to repeat Halkin's point, how on earth are we ever going to solve this conflict? Are we destined to forever manage this conflict from within fuzzy borders -- a continuing drain and moral problem?
Of-course, there is always the possibility that conditions will change. For the Palestinians, this will mean coming to terms with the problems in their society and developing the courage to confront them. Not gonna happen any time soon, and isn't something we can really control. On our side, however, this means reaching a point where we will be able to evacuate the majority (let me emphasise -- not all) of the West Bank settlements, something we will only be able to do with the support, active or passive, of the settler leaders and the rabbis. This internal conversation has been going on for years without resolution and I can only hope that the Gaza disengagement has somehow changed its terms, so that new insights and new breakthroughs can be made. I also hope that Sharon holds elections very soon. Much of the (official) right-wing opposition to the disengagement was on the basis that Sharon was "subverting democracy" and should have held a referendum; in an upcoming vote, I hope the nation as a whole will show in a democratic way, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they are behind the concept, making further evacuations (unilateral or not) more difficult for the settlers to oppose on the scale of the past few weeks.
Otherwise, we will just have to wait for the point until economics, human resources, demography and time reduce life in many of the settlements, particularly the more isolated ones, to the point where even the right wing feels they are no longer viable; that's essentially what happened in Gush Katif. We might be waiting a long time.

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