Thursday, April 05, 2012

What a Brilliant Idea, Tom

Once again, Thomas Friedman has advice for the Palestinians on how to achieve peace with Israel. Surprisingly it does not involve finding a Palestinian Gandhi (although perhaps he thinks of Marwan Barghouti as a Palestinian Mandela).1
I can certainly see the efficacy of nonviolent resistance by Palestinians to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank — on one condition: They accompany any boycotts, sit-ins or hunger strikes with a detailed map of the final two-state settlement they are seeking. Just calling for “an end to occupation” won’t cut it.
Actually, were he an honest man, Friedman would admit that he cannot see the efficacy in boycotts, sit-ins or hunger strikes. The media neither cares about nor covers them, freeing people like Friedman to ignore the long history of Palestinian peaceful protest and its failure to bring about results. I believe it was Moshe Dayan, many years ago, who commented on the phenomenon that, as of about twenty years ago, Israel's history was of refusing to make concessions during periods of calm then making concessions during periods of uprising, and expressing that it was no surprise that the Palestinian take-away was that only uprising would bring about concessions. The Israeli government under the likes of Ariel Sharon and Netanayahu internalized that message, and responded by refusing to make concessions under any circumstances. So here we are.

Friedman is talking about more than peaceful protest. He describes, "Unabated, disruptive Palestinian civil disobedience in the West Bank". What he fails to explain is how "unabated, disruptive Palestinian civil disobedience in the West Bank" would do anything but make the lives of ordinary Palestinians more difficult, let alone how it would inspire any action by Israel or the rest of the world. Guess what? It would not.

But that map thing, an interesting idea. Which isn't to say that Friedman is strong on the details:
Palestinians need to accompany every boycott, hunger strike or rock they throw at Israel with a map delineating how, for peace, they would accept getting back 95 percent of the West Bank and all Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and would swap the other 5 percent for land inside pre-1967 Israel.
The five percent figure is not arbitrary. It's about the minimum amount of Land that Israel would have to cede back to the Palestinians in order to minimize the disruption to the massive population of Israeli "settlers" it has moved onto Palestinian lands. The five percent issue is more complicated than Friedman lets on, given that settlements were placed for strategic purposes and quickly transform a proposed map from having a neat, sensible border to an absurdity, with fingers of land crisscrossing the proposed Palestinian state in order to keep settlements deep within the occupied territories and a network of access roads.

If a Palestinian map simply showed a long line (for a road) with a big circle around Tel Aviv, Friedman would no doubt take strong issue with the notion that the Palestinians were offering a fair trade. But although quick to suggest that the Palestinians should give up the 5% of their own land most desirable to settlers "in exchange for" land inside Israel's present borders, there will be difficulty establishing the terms of a land swap that is equivalent. Also, even offering such a map legitimizes the presence of Israel's illegal settlements on Palestinian land, the notion that Israel should not have to do anything to remove or reduce those settlements, and that whatever concessions the Palestinians make should be a starting point for the amount of land expropriated from the occupied territories for the continued enjoyment of settlers.

Friedman links to a proposal from the Washington Institute that includes a proposed map. The map highlights both how, even in a conservative land swap plan, settlements will carve up the proposed Palestinian state. Is Friedman claiming that all of the historic claims about Israel's need for defensible borders is propagandistic hogwash? Because how in the world would you protect those borders from, say, rocket attack? And yes, every time peace comes close to breaking out, anti-peace groups on both sides engage in provocations to try to scuttle the peace process, so something like that will happen. Does Friedman imagine that the final map will include huge "no go" areas for Palestinians in their own state, with similarly huge areas that will be under continued Israeli military occupation? The "Geneva Initiative" maps present similar issues.

The map proposals highlight the lack of bargaining power by Palestinians. The Palestinian side is asked to make enormous concessions as part of the settlement because it has no choice. The difficulty in presenting a map capitulating to the perpetual presence of settlements is that it destroys at the outset the credibility of the Palestinian negotiating team with the Palestinian people. They're giving up 5% of the occupied territories before negotiations even begin, while as Friedman knows the Palestinian people view themselves as having already surrendered 78% of their land in exchange for what they believed would be their own state on the remaining 22%. Even if the Palestinian people understand how negotiations will end they have to start with the Green Line.

But let's say the Palestinians come up with a map that they believe they can sell to the Palestinian people, and approach the Israeli government with the proposal that they agree on final borders for both a Palestinian and Israeli state. The first thing they might do is say, "Let's compare our map to yours." Surely, after all, if it's reasonable to expect the Palestinians to produce a map "to reassure" the Israelis, turnabout is fair play. Why are there no official Israeli maps proposing the settlement of land issues with the Palestinians? Why isn't Friedman calling on the Israeli government to produce a map? As Friedman knows, while Netanyahu has indicated that he will negotiate over borders if and when negotiations ever resume, he has long taken the position that discussion of borders be pushed to the end of negotiations. There are no official Israeli "starting point" maps, and those that have been offered by Israel in association with past negotiations have not been made public.

There's something else to consider here, which is that the problem of the settlements - the issue that Friedman sees as so central to the present conflict that it must be addressed up front with an extraordinary concession by the Palestinians - is entirely of Israel's creation. Why does Friedman overlook that history, four decades of explicit warnings about how the settlements were complicating the peace process, and the fact that the strongest proponents of settlement understood that and forged ahead with the intent of complicating or preventing the eventual creation of a Palestinian state?

This is not by any stretch of the imagination a one-sided conflict, but it is and always has been an asymmetric conflict. Fairness is something of a sideshow. It's reasonable to propose that the Palestinians will have to make disproportionate concessions in order to achieve a final resolution of the conflict, as they have next to no bargaining power and nobody to champion their cause. The eventual settlement will include a ridiculous border that keeps the bulk of the settlements inside of Israel. But I find it hard to believe that anybody, save perhaps Friedman himself, would view Friedman's proposal as serious: "Concede, up front 95% of what the other side demands, then give up the rest (or more) in negotiations."

Here's an idea - Israel and the Palestinians could agree to enter into a binding arbitration under which each side would submit a proposed map of the final borders of an Israeli and Palestinian state. A panel of arbitrators would then accept one or the other as a binding, final resolution of the border issue. We could even include the two maps Friedman mentions in his column as possible alternative choices, to try to diminish any chance of the panel's having to pick the lesser of two evils. Does Friedman believe that Netanyahu would agree to participate?
1. Friedman quotes a Ha'aretz article,
Barghouti, as Haaretz noted, “is the most authentic leader Fatah has produced, and he can lead his people to an agreement. ... If Israel had wanted an agreement with the Palestinians it would have released him from prison by now.”
If Friedman disagrees, why did he present that quote? But if he agrees, what's the purpose of arguing that the Palestinians should capitulate in order to try to get a peace deal from a government that does not want peace?

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