The outlines of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine are well-known. Political obstacles notwithstanding, the sketch of the final status agreement, whenever it might happen, will include some measure of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (WB) and sovereignty for the Palestinian in the WB and Gaza – the occupied territories (OT).
This deal is necessary for Israel in the long run, because there are nearly four million Palestinians in Gaza (1.1 M) , the WB (1.6 M) , and Israel proper (1.1 M) to Israel’s six million Jews. They are angry, unreconciled, and outbirthing Jews. If Israel is to remain Jewish-majority and democratic, the Palestinians in the territories will have to be cut loose at some point Originally (in the 70s), the Israeli leadership hoped that the OT Palestinians would emigrate or simply demographically disappear, permitting an slow integration of the OT into Israel through settlement (as happened in the new territory taken in 1948). This simply has not happened. Instead, Palestinian numbers are increasing, nationalism and Islamism are strong, and the dominant political concern of Palestinians everywhere is statehood. 40+ years of occupation has not integrated the OT; if anything the Palestinians are angrier than ever and increasingly given to radical measures. Israel cannot simultaneously remain liberal-democratic, Jewish-majority, and pursue ‘greater Israel’ by annexing the OT. Only two choices of this trilemma are achievable.
The semi-fascistic outcome would be annexation and Jewish-majoritarianism by harsh means – permanent reduction of the Palestinians to something akin to blacks in apartheid South Africa or the Jim Crow South, forced ‘israelization’ (whatever that would mean), demographic constraints on the Palestinians akin to China’s one-child policy, coerced emigration, etc. This is the reality of a maximalist Zionist interpretation and would likely perpetuate conflict with neighbors, drive Israel deeper into pariah status by forfeiture of Israel’s liberal democratic moral superiority to its despotic neighbors, and severe it from the modern democratic capitalist world so many Israelis desperately want to join.
The second alternative would forfeit Israel’s Jewish identity in the so-called (post-apartheid) ‘South Africa solution’ – liberal democracy in greater Israel. The OT would be annexed into a ‘multicultural’ greater Israel, and its demographics would simply unfold naturally. The current Jewish-Palestinian ratio in this greater Israel would be 5:3, with fertility rates favoring the Palestinians. The likely outcome would be a dissolution of Israel’s particular Jewish character.
Neither the maximalist nor the multicultural outcomes are appealing to most Jews. Indeed, most Jewish opinion in the US and Israel wants some fair deal for the Palestinians and dislikes the current regime of occupation and unceasing Palestinian/Arab resentment. So here are the elements of a deal the left, center, and some on the right – in Israel, the US, and the OT – could live with:
1. Jerusalem would be an open city under some manner of international governance (on the model of Kosovo or East Timor). The issue is simply too emotional, and both sides insist on a zero-sum outcome – a unified Jerusalem as the capital of its state. Clearly impossible, an easier answer would be Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, and Ramallah as the Palestinians’. Separate east and west Jerusalems as mutual capitals would encourage revanchism, emotional rhetoric, and terrorism. Better that both be denied the prize.
2. Most of the settlements, particularly the wild-cat outposts, in the WB would be withdrawn. The largest settlements (around the ‘three fingers’) could be retained in exchange for land-swaps elsewhere. But these swaps must not simply be empty Negev desert near Gaza or the south WB.
3. The Palestinians would surrender the right of return to Israel proper and would not be permitted to maintain a national army in the WB for at least 20 years. Israel’s primary military fear of Palestinian independence is an Arab army west of the Jordan river. NATO membership for Israel would also help to ease Israel’s security fears.
4. With these borders in place, a large, nearly impenetrable fence would be constructed monitored by professional peacekeepers with no stakes in the game (South Korea or Australia, e.g.). Given so many years of enmity, the best mid-term solution is ‘good fences make good neighbors.’ Both sides need a break from each other, and physical separation will give each time and space to find its own way. Afterwards, discussion of economic integration may begin, but to start, strict separation will allow temperatures to cool.
Other issues remain – a Gaza-WB access corridor, the rules for exploiting the WB aquifer, the inevitable economic aid to the poor Palestinian microstate. But these are far more practicable – a heavily guarded, enclosed bridge and a dedicated air corridor between Gaza and the WB, plus water rights for Israel in exchange for economic aid to the Palestinians. And the entire package could be slathered over with US aid to buy just about off everyone.
This basic deal solves the conflict through mutual denial, ironically the best possible way to appease hardliners on both sides. No one gets Jerusalem. The Israelis lose the settlements and the dream of greater Israel; the Palestinians lose the dream of return and their military, a central element of sovereignty.
To be sure, no one will like this arrangement. Particularly, conservatives on all sides will bewail the loss of religious claims, but these serve more to fire the conflict than resolve it. In the place of ‘victory,’ this division allows a cold peace – but better than none at all.