Friday, April 11, 2008

Op-ed in Ha'aretz - From a Card to a Vital Interest

Today Ha'aretz published an op-ed I wrote based on some of the work we have been doing at Reut. I just hope the talkbackers don't go into overdrive!

Following the meeting earlier this week between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and reports of another summit being planned to coincide with U.S. President George W. Bush's visit in May, negotiations seem to have returned to the frequency and seriousness of the pre-Intifada period. A decade, though, is a long time in politics, especially in the Middle East. Yet despite this truism, Israel seems to be approaching negotiations with exactly the same mindset as in the past - a position that may undermine its ability to achieve its interests.

Since the Oslo Accords, Israeli policy has been guided by the assumption that the goal of the Palestinian national movement was the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Israel viewed its decision to "grant" its adversaries such a state as a negotiating "card" that could be "traded" for Palestinian concessions in other areas, specifically Israeli security demands. If the Palestinians wanted a state so much, the logic went, they would agree to certain restrictions on their sovereignty - such as demilitarization, Israeli use of Palestinian air space and early-warning stations in the West Bank. However, recent regional trends have eroded these assumptions to the point of irrelevancy, and are turning the establishment of a Palestinian state from an Israeli "card" into a pressing Israeli interest.

For one, the changing demographics and international balance of power are threatening Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. Predictions that Arabs will reach demographic parity with Jews in the Land of Israel within the next decade, coupled with Palestinian and international impatience with developments on the ground, are bringing the threat of a binational state closer. For this reason, many Israelis now consider the creation of a Palestinian state not as a threat to Zionism, but, rather, as its lifeline.

Second, while Israelis increasingly see the desirability of the "two-state solution," more and more Palestinians increasingly doubt its viability. In addition to greater support for Hamas, which promotes a state in place of, rather than alongside, Israel, the lack of progress in negotiations has also taken its toll on more "moderate" Palestinians. Many view the Palestinian Authority as simply granting Israel a "license for occupation," and now suggest dissolving it and returning the full economic and political burden of that occupation to Israel.

Third, those Palestinians who still support the establishment of an independent state alongside Israel are raising the bar regarding what type of state will be acceptable to them. If in the past the Palestinians were willing to consider a state with provisional borders, Abbas now sees this as a trap. If during the Camp David negotiations Palestinians agreed to certain Israeli security demands that infringed on their sovereignty, they now oppose anything less than a full-fledged Palestinian state.

This new situation poses several dilemmas for Israel, most notably in its need to balance between security and political interests. Israel's security interests in relation to the Palestinians dictate, among other things, that it be able to prevent rocket fire on its population centers, the emergence of an eastern front, and the presence of enemy troops in the West Bank. In other words, military logic generally requires that Israel maintain control on the ground, or that it agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state only after its demands are guaranteed.

Israel's political logic, meanwhile, is to avoid having to retake responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as stopping the continuing erosion of the two-state option and of the Jewish state's legitimacy in the international community. In contrast to its military logic, Israel's political logic requires further withdrawals from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Whereas Israel traditionally believed that a peace agreement with the Palestinians could ensure both these logics, the changing reality may force Israel to choose - between creating a Palestinian state without seeing its security interests guaranteed, on the one hand, and continued security control without a political solution, on the other. In other words, the choice could well be between an agreement without security interests or no agreement at all.

There are ways Israel could alleviate this situation. It could reframe the negotiation agenda so as to leverage its security demands by discussing them alongside Palestinian demands to "intrude" into Israel's sovereign territory. Such a negotiation agenda could see Israeli demands for Palestinian demilitarization and use of air space "exchanged" for Palestinian demands for safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and access to Israel's labor market. At the same time, Israel could begin to formulate a national security doctrine based on deterrence within its own territory rather than on security arrangements around the external perimeter of Palestine. But regardless of these options, without a comprehensive reevaluation of the new reality, Israel may find it difficult to attain any of its political and security interests vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Nonetheless, to date, such a reevaluation does not seem to have taken place.


Anonymous said...

Well done on being published in Haaretz. Can't say that I like or agree with what you wrote which explains why Haaretz published it! But well done again. Chag Sameach.

Anonymous said...


Paul Gross said...

Great piece Calev, and kol hakavod on getting it published! I pretty much agree with the content.
One thing Israel could do (in theory at least) would be to - belatedly - act to evacuate the settlements to the east of the route of the security fence. This would help persuade Palestinians that Israel was serious in desiring a two-state solution, and be a concrete step towards setting permanent borders and geographically separating Israelis from Palestinians, which was Sharon and Olmert's central aim in establishing Kadima.
In return Abbas would have to adopt a more realistic position viz-a-viz Israeli security. So, when Israel acts militarily in Gaza against terrorists he should tell his people that this is an inevitable consequence of the policies of Hamas, rather than suspending negotiations "in protest" and making stupid comparisons to the Holocaust.

Paul Gross said...

I'm not sure why my name didn't come up there mate! It's Paul (Gross)
Shabbat shalom

Anonymous said...

Woohooo!! You _have_ to read Nusseibeh (same goes for PG) because (a) he says some very very interesting stuff about the shifting Palestinian position on this and (b) I really want to discuss it. Sorry to have missed your call - was watching an angry film about unrecognised villages...
PS Moccs is living in a dream world ;-)

Calev said...

Thanks Moccs, Paul and Rach

Paul - i think that idea is a good one, especially as most people realize there is no real future for settlements to the east of the fence

Such a policy would stop the threat of the 1 State Solution, and turns the conflict in the eyes of the world from one between 'occupier' and 'occupied' into one more like a border conflict.

However, how Olmert will have the political capital to do such a thing, and how security could be ensured within the West Bank areas that would be evacuated is difficult to know.