The Over-Dramatization of Israel’s “Dilemma”
SUMMARY: Israel is not facing a dilemma about how much, if any, land to give up
from the West Bank, because the Palestinians will not agree to take land and
cannot be forced to do so. The Palestinian community sees peace with Israel as
defeat in their 100-year struggle. Continued Israeli occupation is one of the
Palestinians’ best weapons against Israel, and they will not give it up while
their war to eliminate Israel continues. Israelis should recognize that since
the Palestinians are forcing Israel to continue the temporary but long-term
occupation, Israelis need to a) cooperate in reducing the moral and other costs
of that occupation; and b) stop telling the world that Israel could choose to
end the occupation. The occupation, like the need for military strength and to
absorb casualties, is part of the price Israel has to pay to live here. Maturity
means being able to go forward with no solution in sight.
recently had a long review in Haaretz of Micah Goodman’s important new book, Catch
67, to which Goodman responded the following week. Goodman argues that Israel’s 1967 victory created a
“catch” or trap reflected in Israel’s current dilemma, in which both sides
(the Israeli political left and right) are correct. Barak disagrees. In his
view, the choice is clear: the left is correct.
own view and his telling of Goodman’s ignore the reality of Israel’s actual
choices today. We are not facing a dilemma about giving up territory. We are
facing a distasteful task, and a need for patience over a period of decades.
not now have a choice about giving the Palestinians land or creating a
Palestinian state; Israel is therefore not facing a dilemma.
are undoubtedly peace-seeking Palestinians, as a community, the Palestinians
have not even begun to discuss the possibility of making a peace that accepts
Israel and ends the Palestinian effort to gain all the land “from the river to
the sea.” Nor have they begun public discussion of the possibility of most of
the “refugees” settling outside Israel. Without debate among Palestinians,
there is no way they can give up their determination to destroy Israel and make
a genuine peace.
There is zero
chance that there could be a real peace agreement now regardless of how much
land Israel would be willing to give up.. A true two-state solution would
finally defeat Palestinian and Arab efforts of a century, and they are not yet
ready to accept defeat. Whatever disagreement there is among Israelis about how
much land, if any, Israel should give up to get peace, that disagreement
is not what is standing in the way of peace.
there are two other possibilities that might create a dilemma for Israel about
giving up land. The first would be an agreement with the Palestinians to take
over some of Judea and Samaria without making a full peace with Israel.
The second would be a unilateral action by Israel to separate the peoples and
end the occupation without Palestinian agreement.
reasons discussed below, neither of these is a realistic possibility regardless
of how much of Judea and Samaria Israel is willing to give up. Again, no
Palestinians have a voice in what happens. The choice they have made is to force
Israel to “occupy” them, because they want to keep up the struggle to
destroy Israel. Being a victim, an “occupied people,” improves their
diplomatic position, causes Israel pain, and provokes internal conflict within
Israel. These effects are bad for Israel and good for the Palestinians. Indeed,
the more harmful they are for Israel, the more desirable they are for the
have to be a lot more disadvantages to the status quo for the Palestinians
before they would give up such a weapon against Israel to improve their living
conditions. This is especially true for the Palestinian leadership, which
suffers less from the status quo than most Palestinians and benefits more from
the continuation of the conflict.
But if the
Palestinians will not make an agreement that would sacrifice the advantage of
forcing Israel to be an “occupier”, is there any way that Israel can force
them to do so by taking unilateral action to separate the peoples? This idea
appealed to Sharon, and so he organized Israel’s “disengagement” from
Gaza. Some Israelis say the withdrawal was a good idea that only worked out
badly because it was done unilaterally. But why should we think the Palestinians
would have agreed to arrangements that would have been better for Israel? They
consider themselves to be at war with us. They want to cause us pain and put us
at a disadvantage, and are willing to accept casualties and suffering to do so.
simple, but the West Bank is complicated. There is no way Israel can separate
itself from the Palestinian population in the West Bank without Palestinian
agreement. This is because of Israel’s military need for access to the Jordan
Valley, which would be true even if there were no settlement blocs.
Even if all
the ideological settlements and hilltop outposts were gone, no unilateral
Israeli withdrawal could produce a stable new status quo that we could impose on
the Palestinians. Also, Israel is still regarded internationally as occupying
Gaza even though it has withdrawn completely. The same would be true for Judea
and Samaria after an Israeli unilateral withdrawal. The Palestinians would
insist that they are still occupied and would take steps to force Israel to act
in the evacuated areas.
Palestinians have us trapped. Although we have committed ourselves to the
principle that the occupation in Judea and Samaria is temporary, we will be
stuck with it for a long time. We also have to continue taking casualties and
sending our children to become soldiers and to kill people. We were not given
our home on a silver platter.
means that the question of what land we should give up is a question for the
fairly distant future. When there is a real possibility for improving things by
giving up land, conditions in our region and perhaps the world will be
unpredictably different than they are today. Our disagreements over how much
land, if any, to give up make no difference right now. We are not facing a
practical dilemma. There is no reason we should continue to beat up each
other about what land, if any, we should be willing to give up for what
majority of Israelis and our government have decided that Israel should be
willing to give up most of Judea and Samaria in order to have peace, and perhaps
even to separate ourselves from the Palestinians without peace. An even bigger
majority is opposed to any withdrawals while the Palestinian community is in its
current state. Therefore it is not true that our conflict with the Palestinians
is the result of a stubborn or selfish insistence on holding onto all of the
land of Israel. But there is nothing we can do at present to implement our
willingness to give up most of the West Bank.
What can we do
to make things better while we are living with the status quo? First, if
we recognize that the Palestinians will not give us any way of getting out of
being “occupiers,” we can work together, left and right, to reduce the moral
and other harm of the “occupation.” And we can stop the internal
name-calling and harsh charges against each other for not trying hard enough to
end the occupation. We shouldn’t be fighting over something we have no power
to change. The energy used for such fights should be directed towards making the
occupation less harmful.
position would also improve if there were fewer Israelis blaming one another for
the continued occupation when Israel has no choice in the matter.
For the longer
term, we should do whatever we can to make the Palestinians and the Arab
world more willing to give up their determination to destroy us. Being
nicer to them might help, although that is not usually a very effective strategy
in the Middle East. It may be more useful to let them see that we are not riven
by internal division or unable to bear the moral burden of being occupiers, so
we are as willing as they are to continue living with the status quo
indefinitely. The US could help by replacing false “even-handedness” with a
truth-telling strategy that shows the Arab world that the US will not help them
argue that we have to find a solution for our conflict with the Palestinians,
and some insist that the problem is urgent (“Peace Now.”) But the experience
of Israel’s first sixty years should teach us that patience is an advantage
and perhaps even a necessity. What entitles us to have a solution available?
This is not to
argue that the status quo does not have dangers. Israel is not safe. We are
strong but also vulnerable, and quite capable of making decisive mistakes. But
eagerness to settle our conflict with the Palestinians will not make us safe.
Neither will anything else. Keeping our home here requires that we accept
dangers and human costs of all kinds.