Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Not Just Reprint "Mending Wall"?

At the conclusion of a lengthy spinning of their wheels, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley state the obvious:
It is hard today to imagine a resolution that does not entail two states. But two states may not be a true resolution if the roots of this clash are ignored.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised to hear Robert Malley imply that you have to go through the type of failed effort we've seen in the past - a never-ending series of steps that are supposed to build confidence but do absolutely nothing to resolve the difficult issues - as it's what he knows. But you know what? There's no magic wand you can wave to make the two sides to a confict acknowledge each other's grievances, take responsibility for their respective roles in a dismal past, and join hands to sing Kumbaya. Even if the dispute doesn't involve a multi-generational armed conflict.

Sure, a good fence may not make good neighbors. But bad fences (or giant concrete walls) do make bad neighbors, more so when you build them on your neighbor's land without permission. You can look at any international border dispute of your choice, but you can also look at the countless trespass and adverse possession lawsuits that are filed between individual neighbors. A lot of the scenarios boil down to, "I didn't know I didn't have the full use of my lot, but now that I do I want it all back" - for example, "I lived in my house for thirty years, and when I got a survey so I could replace my fence I found out it was six inches on my side of the property line, and my neighbor's been using that six inches like it's his and he says I can't move my fence to the actual property line." And yes, some people will take a dispute over a few inches of land to court, paying ten, twenty, thirty times the value of the land in dispute (perhaps more) to recover what that they previously were content to regard as the property of their neighbor.

The Palestinians feel misled by the promise of Oslo, which could (and should) have led to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza but instead precipitated a massive expansion of Israel's settlements - while Clinton, with the help of people like Malley, helped orchestrate negotiations over how to rearrange the deck furniture. But, we're told, nobody could see that disaster coming.... And no, I'm not diminishing Oslo violations by the Palestinians - but it's not realistic to expect that the Palestinians won't learn from that history, and will be willing to enter into another Oslo-type accord that does not specify the boundaries of their future state.

When you have a property line dispute, sometimes you simply have to put down your foot and draw a line and tell the neighbors, "Get used to life on your side of this line." At best you'll make one neighbor happy; more likely both will remain angry. But they'll no longer be building structures, fences, driveways or dumping garbage on their neighbor's land - and if they do, there's no longer any ambiguity about who's in the wrong. Sure, it's better if you and your neighbor like each other, and are in clear agreement that his pine forest begins where your apple orchard ends. And no, there's no guarantee that stones, rockets or warplanes won't fly over a defined boundary line. But sometimes bad neighbors need a defined boundary line before they can even begin to contemplate a cordial relationship or plan their own future.

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