In the wake of President Obama's trip to the Holy Land, thoughts of resuscitating the comatose "peace process" are again in vogue. Experts and commentators — often with a straight face — describe a procedure wherein the "essential nation" (us) brokers a "comprehensive two-state solution"; that is, we negotiate a Middle East where the nation of Israel and the nation of Palestine live harmoniously side-by-side.
For decades now, the concept has been easy to articulate: A Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine occupy contiguous space around Jerusalem, which serves as the capital for both. A so-called "green line" separates the nations. The "green line," after land swaps and other adjustments, is more or less the border before the 1967 war.
In spite of the easy conceptualization, reality has been incessant war for 65 years. At times, its nature has been full-bore military engagement. Usually though, its nature is low-intensity cycles of attack and retaliation. "Low-intensity," of course, is comparative. In the 21st century, nearly 8,000 people died in this "low-intensity" conflict. More than 1,600 were children.
Many observers think the time is not right for a negotiated solution.
— Israel's current government is inflexible and weak. Despite the casualty numbers cited above, no Israeli died because of Palestinian intifada in 2012. Consequently, urgency among Israelis for a permanent solution has ebbed. (Ironic to think belligerents stymie an active peace process by blowing up people and things.)
— No one voice speaks for Palestine, and the Palestinians think America is too far in the tank for Israel to be an honest broker.
— "Arab Spring" challenges the legitimacy of Arab governance throughout the region. Threats to established order undermine long-standing regimes and transform traditional strong leaders into skittish shadows of themselves. Most are now too insecure to risk an Israeli association. The few who do reach out (notably Kind Abdullah II of Jordan) see their imminent demise in the absence of a solution.
— The American government is at war with itself. Mired in perpetual political campaigning, utterances other than safe and failed orthodoxy initiate gonzo playtime in the juvenile facility that once seated humanity's finest experiment in self-government.
Even if the times were better, some question the wisdom of seeking two states or a comprehensive solution.
Right-wing Israelis and a growing number of Palestinians think the goal should be one state. Many promoting a single state do not think it is truly a good solution. They have simply given up on two states. They cite a litany of reasons — some of which are touched on below — why two states are no longer possible.
While an Israel encompassing all contested areas may appeal to defeatist and ideologues, it is hard to imagine Israeli democracy surviving. Consider the numbers: There are about six million Jews in Israel. The Arab population in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is about 5.9 million. On average, Palestinians are more than 10 years younger than the Jews are, and their birthrate is 50 percent greater.
Jews are destined to be the minority in an Israel that encompasses Palestine. To maintain its Jewish identity, a greater Israel would have to either cleanse itself ethnically or adopt some approximation of an apartheid society. Her staunchest supporters might find difficulty supporting ethnic cleansing or national behaviors resembling South Africa before Mandela and de Klerk.
Those supporting a less than comprehensive solution have not given up on a single state. They think there has to be intermittent steps. While one can appreciate their frustration with the failed all-or-nothing approach, it is not clear a fractional approach will be any easier to negotiate or suitable to build upon.
Promoters of a partial solution have (in essence) sorted peace goals into three tiers:
(1) Impossible issues in the current environment: Unfortunately, these are the core issues of conflict. They include final borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem's holy sites.
(2) A provisional goa: The negotiators would strive to create a temporary Palestine in most of the West Bank, about 80 percent of it. Even as an interim step, however, this goal requires significant concessions from the belligerents. Israel would have to give up occupied land and remove about 40,000 settlers without a tangible guarantee of peace. Palestinians would have to accept numerous settlements and Israeli control of the most densely populated areas. Moreover, they would have to have faith acceptance of a makeshift, incomplete nation will not undermine their claim to complete permanence.
(3) Minor Adjustments: These might include simple transfers of control of specific areas within Israel's purview to the Palestinian Authority or modifying tax and/or tariff policies to improve the Palestinian economy. The hope is genuine good will gestures will improve the climate for negotiation. For what it is worth, any intervention that includes hope as strategy is more prayer than plan.
Given the frailties of the protagonists, the enormity of the issues and the weakness of ideas to obstruct the drift to catastrophe, disaster seems inevitable.
The British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." Wonder what he was thinking about?