Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I Can Almost Imagine The Conversation


Thomas Friedman talking to his taxi driver in Jenin:
Tom: What do you think of my ideas on how to achieve a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Driver: I think you're an idiot. Are you going to quote me in your column?

Tom: Not this time.
And yet somehow it's hard to avoid the simple wisdom of a taxi driver.

Friedman is one of those who has, in essence, argued for decades that "everybody knows" how the Israel-Palestine conflict will end up. The Israelis will return most of the occupied territories to the Palestinians, making some land swaps along the border in the interest of security and to annex its larger settlements, and the Palestinians will give up their claims of a "right of return" to villages within Israel. This remains the basic premise of his seven percent five (er, six) state solution. The only problem is that while Friedman has been content to yammer on about what "everybody knows", and assume that his take on conventional wisdom will somehow magically turn into reality, he's pretty much ignored everything in the real world.

So now he finds himself in a café in Jenin, sipping coffee served by a waiter whose opinion is also not likely to end up in his column, and writing stuff like this:
The West Bank is so chopped up and divided now by roads, checkpoints and fences to separate Israel’s crazy settlements from Palestinian villages that a Palestinian could fly from Jerusalem to Paris quicker than he or she could drive from Jenin, here in the northern West Bank, to Hebron in the south.
Admit it - if you were the waiter, wouldn't you be tempted to slap him upside the head and remind him that you have to fly out of Jordan, because you're not even allowed into Jerusalem? To point out to him that if forty years of "suck on this" policy directed at the Palestinians didn't work, you would have to be close to senile to think it was an approach to take with the larger Arab world? Because somebody who is an "expert" on the Middle East, as Friedman is supposed to be, should be aware of the forty-year effort to create "facts on the ground" that prevent the return of the occupied territories and resources to Palestinian control - a conscious and deliberate policy to prevent the "conventional wisdom" from ever becoming reality. Friedman acts as if this all occurred beneath his notice ("How did this conflict get so fragmented?"), but I think we know better than that.

Friedman presents an exceptionally silly statement,
Another reason [this conflict got so fragmented] is that every idea has been tried and has failed.
Really? So if I call up Uri Avnery and ask, "When you were a member of the Knesset right after the 1967 war, and you called for immediate withdrawal from Palestinian lands and forecast great misery for Israel if it tried to annex those territories, did Israel try that?" Or did they follow the model preferred by Ariel Sharon:
Standing with the cabinet ministers on a high hill, I pointed out exactly what I thought was needed. If in the future we wanted in any way to control this area, I told them, we would need to establish a Jewish presence now. Otherwise we would have no motivation to be there during difficult times later on.
A model Sharon continued to advance as Prime Minister, only a few years ago.

So... maybe Friedman means that we've tried every possible solution to end the conflict and occupation other than ending the occupation. Or even proposing to end the occupation. Even Friedman's new preferred "solution" promises no end to occupation - he simply wants to change the occupying power and stick Saudi Arabia with the tab. You know what? People don't like to be occupied by foreign military powers. The "best" outcomes seem to come when the occupying power does its best to make clear that it doesn't want to be there, and gets out of town at the earliest possible date. As Israel can attest through its experience with Hezbollah, although the Shia of Lebanon initially greeted its forces as liberators when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, the consequences can be grave if you overstay your welcome. There's also the Chinese model - claim the entire territory for your nation, bring in tens of thousands of your nationals and settle them in the occupied land. This works best, of course, if you're not a democracy and are willing to tolerate a generation or two of unrest, violence, and occasional terrorism as growing pains.

Except there's another solution we haven't tried. Arbitration under international law. (Are you laughing yet?) Each side picks its own arbitrator, and the two arbitrators pick a neutral from a list acceptable to both sides. They then apply the principles of international law to the conflict, and decide each issue by majority vote. Both sides have to abide by the outcome. If you held a plebiscite in the Palestinian territories, you would likely get 90+% approval for such a proposal. But, you know, ain't gonna happen.

If we're going to be serious for a minute, we can stick with Friedman's "conventional wisdom" and the idea of a plebiscite. Have both Israel and the Palestinians hold a vote, asking their populations to instruct their leaders to negotiate a resolution consistent with Friedman's conventional wisdom.

This would not be something instantly implemented - it would be the destination for a new road map, fully implemented only when Israel could be reasonably certain that its border with the Palestinian territories would be acceptably policed, monitored and peaceful. But it would bring an end to any claim of legitimacy to either side's claim to be held hostage to its extremists. It should give Palestinian leadership the backbone it's been sorely lacking on the "right of return" issue, and open the door to the resolution of the refugee camps in which some Palestinian families have been living for sixty years - not so bad, perhaps, for those refugees living in Jordan, but pretty awful in Lebanon or Gaza. Under a road map with a destination, the Palestinians would have nobody to blame but their leaders and themselves for any delay in their getting a state.

If Tzipi Livni becomes Israel's next Prime Minister, perhaps such a vote could be held. If it's Netanyahu... ain't gonna happen. It will be interesting to see if Netanyahu the retread is smaller, more corrupt and less competent than he was the first time around; it wouldn't surprise me, given the recent pattern. Friedman alludes to the sort of chest-thumping bravado that passes for "courage" among Israel's political "leaders":
The other day, Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, was quoted in the newspaper Haaretz as criticizing Lieberman as a lamb in hawk’s clothing, asking: “When has he ever shot anyone?”
As the last Prime Minister to actually show moral courage on these issues could attest, Israel needs leaders who have the courage to risk taking a bullet. Barak revealed himself in an unguarded moment, when he admitted that if born Palestinian "I would join a terror organization." That's the courage of Yassin, not the courage of Rabin.

1 comment:

  1. The funny thing is that people will tell you that this conflict somehow "proves" that the Palestinians and the Israelis are "different", when in fact their conduct is at a basic level pretty much the same.

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