Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Two State Delusion

With French and British support for the Mahmoud Abbas' move to gain non-member observer status at the United Nations, Fatah's move to create a functional "two state solution" by establishing a state in the territories acquired by Jordan and Egypt after Israel's 1948 War of Independence keeps moving. While the decision to grant non-member observer status is by no means equal to Mahmoud Abbas 2011 attempt to gain full UN recognition for "Palestine," it is an interim step toward international recognition toward more global endorsement of the establishment of a new Arab state.

Abbas' most recent move is interesting because it is a microcosm of the evolution of "Palestinian" nationalism, which moved from an uncompromising and vocal anti-Israel stance to a deceptively organized campaign seeking to undermine Jewish sovereignty step by step by making incremental gains. Abbas' campaigns at the UN are the latest in the evolution of Arab strategy to destroy Israel and end Jewish sovereignty. In the early days, the Arabs almost exclusively used organized violence. In the 1920s and 1930s, great revolts featuring massacres of Jewish populations were common place, and more often than not, the British overseers of the region were passive witnesses. In fact, in the times from the 1920 Balfour Declaration until the 1948 War, the Arabs rejected numerous attempts at peaceful resolution of the conflict, rejecting both the 1937 Peel Commission Partition Plan and the 1947 UN Partition Plan.

When the 1948 War ended, Israel's position looked untenable. Squeezed between Egypt, Jordan and the sea, the State seemed unlikely to survive. Egypt's firebrand president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, looked to solidify his position as the leader of the pan-Arabist movement by blockading the Straits of Tiran, evicting UN forces from the Sinai, and moving troops toward Egypt's border with Israel. The Six Day War, during which Israel took control of Gaza, Judea, Samaria and the Sinai, radically changed the dynamic between Israel and the Arabs. It became abundantly clear that Israel could not be defeated conventionally, and even as Arab (especially Egyptian) success in the Yom Kippur War restored Arab pride, it became clear to the Arabs that tactics had to change in order to defeat the Jewish State.

Although the PLO had been created in 1964 (at which time both Egypt and Jordan denied it any sovereignty over the lands they controlled, but were comfortable with its control of land held by Israel), the PLO did not truly emerge as a force until after the Six Day War, when it staged raids into Israel from Jordanian territory. However, when the PLO got too ambitious and started thinking it control all of the land of the former British Mandate (including Jordan), the Jordanian army evicted the PLO in a campaign to be known as Black September.

Over the next few decades, the PLO would be evicted from Lebanon and Tunisia, it was eventually allowed to return to Judea, Samaria and Gaza. One of the major developments of this period was Yasser Arafat's decision to pursue a diplomatic path to achieve the PLO's goals. One of the hallmarks of this plan was laid out in the PLO's Ten Point Program from 1974, combining tacit acceptance of interim territorial acquisitions (primarily Judea, Samaria and Gaza) with the understanding that these would be precursors to a later action to destroy Israel. The idea behind this plan (which in itself was controversial in many Palestinian circles because it was deemed insufficiently militant) was that the Palestinians should make as many interim gains and acquire as much land as possible under diplomatic arrangements with the understanding that any such gains will make further attacks and the ultimate destruction of Israel easier.

It is in this context that proposals for the "two state solution" should be understood. It is certainly how the PLO understands them. In 2009, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon called for acceptance of the two state solution precisely because he believed it would lead to Israel's demise. This understanding is consistent with the perceived benefit of the two state solution to the Arabs. This is best evidenced by the fact that no proposal for a two state solution, not even recent statements by Mahmoud Abbas asserting that he understands he can only be a "tourist" in Tzvat or that he laments the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 UN Partition state his or anyone else's willingness to reject the right of return as a component of creating a new Arab state. In fact, Maen Areikat, PLO Ambassador to the United States, stated last year that any future Palestinian state must be Judenrein, i.e. free of Jews. His comment did not state that Arabs should leave Israel, only that Jews cannot be allowed to live in Palestine. Nor did his comment reject the dogmatic belief in the "right of return." 

Of course, this only speaks to the PLO side of matters, where statements are often hazy, inconsistent or downright false. In the case of Hamas and the vast majority of other Palestinian groups, the two state solution and even tacit and temporary recognition of any Jewish state is anathema. Even Hamas's surprising support for Abbas campaign at the UN comes with the understanding that any upgrade in Palestinian "status" at the UN cannot prejudice "Palestinian rights," which based on historical understanding refers to rights to sovereignty over the entire territory of the former British Mandate west of the Jordan River and that "resistance" remains the foremost path to liberating "Palestinian" territory.  Ironically, despite having support from Hamas, the PLO is now playing both sides, asserting that its failure at the UN will also embolden them.  The reality remains that the dominant narrative in Arab circles remains that violent resistance is the path to success against Israel, and only the PLO, which has been in the fight for a very long time, has decided to shift tactics. But we see it even with Hamas, which ten years ago would never agree to any cease fire with Israel, but which now agrees to them. 

The shift in tactics has been used to create the impression that the end goal has changed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it was inciting mobs to riot against Jews in Jaffa in 1920, taking advantage of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza to launch rockets at Israeli cities, or negotiating a "two state solution," the end game is to use any means necessary and more recently, any means that can gain support from the international community, to consolidate power in any available territory in order to further the goal of liberating Palestine "From the river to sea." 

When Mahmoud Abbas said the Arabs were wrong to reject the 1947 Partition, he did not say it was a mistake because it would have allowed for peace between a Jewish and Arab state. Based on the history of the PLO, the mistake in their understanding would be that the vast territory granted to such a state would have made it very easy to snuff out a Jewish state in its infancy with the indefensible 1947 borders. Yet, if the mistake was truly that peace could have been achieved had the Arabs agreed to the 1947 Partition Plan, then why do Abbas and his party continue to refuse to acknowledge that any peace settlement with Israel requires the extinguishment of any putative "right of return" by the Arabs. Absent that, how could it be anything but delusional to believe that a "two state solution" along borders which led to near constant skirmishes starting in 1948 and culminating in a major war in 1967 be the recipe for peace in the region? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Deceptive Map of Israel

Apparently, this image has been making the rounds and has been prominently featured in numerous recent anti-Israel media campaigns, and in my view, a map this factually inaccurate and problematic, but one that simultaneously conveys a powerful message about the conflict, needs to be addressed and responded to.

What is this map trying to say? It attempts to simplify the narrative of the Arab/Israeli conflict and boil it down into a one directional progression of Jewish land taking of Arab land. Let's go map by map:

Map #1: This map could represent many things. It either represents the land that had been purchased by Jews prior to the 1947 Partition Plan or it could represent land roughly equivalent to the first (lesser known) Partition Plan, proposed by the British Peel Commission in 1937. The Peel Commission spent a year in Mandatory Palestine to attempt to resolve the animosity between the Arabs and the Jews, and for the first, suggested partitioning the land between then under the premise that the two could not live together in a binational state. The Commission noted many things in its year in the region, one being the inability of Arab leaders to keep local Arabs from selling their land to Jews. The lasting impact of the Peel Commission was the first attempt at Partition, and the map looked like this:

This map would have given the Arabs over 75% of the territory of the Mandate, which was meant to correspond roughly to the demographic makeup of the region at the time. In a moment that would be a prelude of things to come, the Arabs rejected this plan, while the Jews accepted it. Years later, David Ben-Gurion lamented the failure of this partition, which would have created a haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Moreover, while contemporaneous statements by Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann indicated that they did not see the Peel Commission partition as a permanent resolution, it would at least give Israel control of certain key areas, like Haifa, Tel Aviv and the Galilee. Even assuming that the Jews intended to expand their borders beyond these borders, a not unreasonable assumption, the baseline state that the Arabs would have started out from would have given them vastly superior positioning in any future conflict. While it would have required a population exchange of Arabs and Jews, at the time, such an action was hardly unprecedented and the Peel Commission referred to the 1923 Greco-Turkish population exchange as precedent.

More relevantly, the first map is likely intended to show the locations of Jewish population at that time, in which case the Peel Commission Partition Plan would have most substantially incorporated those areas without any significant Jewish population into the Arab state. Of course, it became a moot point when the Arabs rejected the plan and renewed their violence. In many ways, this incident marked the best hope for partition, as it largely reflected the demographics and gave the Jews a small state. However, the categorical unwillingness to accept Jewish sovereignty led to significant negative consequences for the Arabs.

Map #2: The UN Partition Plan

By 1947, internecine violence in the British Mandate and the British failure to please either the Jews or the Arabs led the British to hand the issue over to the newly formed United Nations. At issue was the continued failure of the British to establish a solution to the Jewish/Arab tension in the Mandate and how to prepare the territory for independence, achieved by the eastern portion of the Mandate a year earlier in the newly formed Kingdom of Transjordan. The Partition Plan reflected a change in demographics over the past 10 years, with Jews entering the region and fleeing the Holocaust and its aftermath and changing the balance in the region. As the Jewish Agency continued to buy land from the Arabs, the demography changed, and along with it, the productivity and level of cultivation in the region.

The UN, realizing that under the circumstances a binational state was not a solution, again decided to partition the Mandate, and again the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected the mandate. At this stage, the key development was that with the partition rejected, the borders of a presumptive Jewish and Arab state in the Mandate were effectively undecided. And so on the day before the Mandate ended, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of a new state, Israel, which was immediately invaded by Syria, Transjordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. But as the Arabs failed to defeat the new Jewish state, Israel took control of additional areas. Which leads us to...

Map #3: 1948-1967

This map has a notable and gross inaccuracy: it portrays the territory in dark green as "Palestine." In fact, "Palestine" never came into existence because its territory was occupied by Israel, Egypt and primarily, Transjordan. In late 1948, Egypt formed the "All Palestine Government," a government in exile headed by Hajj Amin al Husseini and based in Gaza.  However, at the Jericho Conference, Transjordan marginalized the All Palestine Government by holding a meeting with "Palestinian" delegates in which the desired unification of Judea and Samaria was expressed with King Abdullah sovereign over Transjordan and the newly formed "West Bank" territory. This situation met with extreme hostility from other Arab states, who felt that unification with Jordan would harm the self determination movement of the failed "Palestinian" state.

When the Armistice Agreements came into effect in 1949, Transjordan was occupying both Judea and Samaria, Egypt occupied Gaza, and Israel controlled the balance of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. In 1950, Transjordan formally annexed Judea and Samaria and gave the province the name it is mostly known by today: the West Bank. Not a single nation save for Pakistan recognized this annexation. The All Palestine government, powerless in Gaza, moved its base from Gaza to Cairo in the midst of the Suez Crisis of 1956 and was eventually dismantled by Nasser.

Indeed, the primary obstacle to the All Palestine Government was not Israel, but Jordan, whose King wanted to exercise sovereignty over the West Bank and did not recognize the All Palestine Government. As such, over the next 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, with an economically weak and militarily untested Israel in existence, none of the Arab powers felt it necessary to promote the Palestinian cause as a means of defeating Israel. It was not until after their catastrophic defeat during the Six Day War that the Arab states realized that their best hope for defeating Israel was to use the Palestinians.

Map #4:

The choice of date here is particularly significant. The year 2000 marked the Camp David 2000 Accords, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat, mediated by President Bill Clinton. Barak's government took as compromising a stance as any Israeli leader ever had, embracing a two state solution in all of Gaza and, eventually, approximately 93% of Judea and Samaria. The deal fell apart on the one issue that Palestinian leaders can never seem to give up on: the right of return. I have blogged extensively about why the right of return is fundamentally inconsistent with the two state solution and why its continued mention in conjunction therewith precludes the possibility of an effective two state solution. Yasser Arafat would not take the offer, made no counteroffer, and left Camp David. And with that, the best chance for a Palestinian state left with him.

A final, and more general comment is needed on all four maps. The reference to "Palestine" is inaccurate most egregiously in Map #3, but really in all of them. The original state that is shown in Map #1 was to be a separate state from Transjordan (the other Arab state in the British Mandate and which was, back in 1920, meant to be the only Arab state in the British Mandate) was due to the raging political dispute between the Hashemite King in Amman and Hajj Amin al Husseini in Jerusalem. The proposed "Palestine" was not proposed due to the Arabs west of the Jordan River having some ethnic, religious or cultural difference from their bretheren east of the Jordan River, but due to the political differences between the proposed governments and the unwillingness to agree to live under Jewish sovereignty anywhere.

The fact, quite simply, is that Palestine never came into existence because the Arabs opposed it every time it could have. And when Israel took control of Judea and Samaria and Gaza in 1967, it was not occupying "Palestinian" territory, it was occupying Jordanian and Egyptian territory. While retrospective wishful thinking makes many Palestinian nationalists (including Mahmoud Abbas himself) wish that things had played out differently in 1937, 1947 and 1967, the fact is that the Arabs dug themselves into a hole with their intransigence and failed to seize numerous opportunities to establish a state, if that was what they really wanted to begin with.

What's Next in Gaza?

As rockets fire into Southern and Central Israel and Israeli forces respond with strikes across Gaza, many people and the Western media, wonder what is next. The battle in Gaza once again highlights the seemingly intractable conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis and, to Israelis, highlights the failure of Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

The question on everyone's mind is how do we solve this problem? While media coverage of the conflict once again highlights the fact that conflicts in which Israel is involved are treated in a hypocritically and uniquely overblown coverage (I wonder how many more people died in Syria over the past week but with far less coverage). However, the conflict is not unique and there are a variety of other conflicts arising from competing nationalist movements, specifically those that have been ongoing for years.

The best case scenario is probably Ireland, where decades of strife finally ended when IRA and Sein Finn forces actually agreed to a peace treaty that more or less resolved the conflict. While there are still occasional flare ups, the conflict is largely resolved. Of course, Israel and Palestine face a substantially different conflict, in that Ireland never wanted to destroy and take over England, just to have self determination over Ireland itself. In fact, that is the one thing that truly differentiates Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. Despite occasional hollow words from Abu Mazen supporting a two state solution, the vast majority of the Palestinian national movements sees an Arab state replacing Israel, not living side by side. In reality, this is a fairly unusual circumstance, as even some of the more violent nationalist movements of the last fifty years, such as the Tamil Tigers, the IRA, the KLA and even the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in an attempt to "liberate" the island's Turkish population because of the Greek junta's push for enosis (unification) with Cyprus.

The current situation begs several questions. Numerous statements from the Israeli government have made it clear that barring a substantial change in the circumstances of the conflict, the plan is not to overthrow Hamas. This indicates that the goal of this operation, much like Operation Cast Lead before it, is to reestablish deterrence and reduce the military strength of Hamas to bring peace for a lengthy period of time. Of course, Hamas, needing to retain military credibility amongst growing and increasingly difficult to control militant groups that operate under Hamas' aegis though frequently not under its control, needs to regularly attack Israel even if doing so is not to its immediate benefit.

So if such attacks remain largely inevitable under the status quo, in what ways could the status quo change to alter this posture? History shows a couple of paths. The first is the "Sri Lanka Option," in which a large scale military operation wipes out Hamas' leadership completely and largely destroys the heads of the Palestinian national movement. In 2009, the Sri Lankan army achieved a military solution to its conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by defeating its forces in the field and killing or imprisoning all of its leaders. While such an option is certainly viable from a military standpoint and is advocated by many both in Israel and abroad, it presents a practical problem. With Hamas and other militant groups destroyed, Israel would again be responsible for Gaza. With that would come the inevitable problem of determining the status of 1.4 million Arabs who have been taught to hate Jews and Israel for decades. Obviously, the compromise might be to turn the Gaza into Judea and Samaria in terms of its relationship vis-a-vis Israel, but doing that creates many of the same status problems that Israel deals with in Judea and Samaria, though it is true that that region is much, much quieter. However, the annexation of Gaza would create immediate concerns in Israel about demographics and would place many Israeli soldiers at risk in order to keep and maintain peace.

While there is an obvious desire to kill off those who fire rockets into Israel, the long term answer is not so simple. The fact is that being a moderate or dovish Palestinian political is incredibly risk to one's health.  While some may say that Abu Mazen has become more moderate, even recently saying that he is resigned never to return to Tzvat as a resident (implying that he acknowledges that the Arabs will not rule over Israel), he continues to be relevant only because he is propped up by Western money and Israeli power. The problem is that Israel cannot decapitate Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza and simultaneously avoid becoming embroiled in the same scenario it currently finds itself in Judea and Samaria, ruling over Arabs but keeping them in a status of reduced political rights and governing them as a "territory," which would resolve the demographic problem while also resolving the Hamas problem. However, such an action, in the long term, would likely reinvigorate the nationalism movement due to fundamental opposition and disgust at the idea of being ruled over by Israel.

At the most very basic level, anyone seen as cooperating with Israel will invariably be marginalized (and possibly killed) in the Palestinian political arena so long as the dominant narrative of the Palestinian national movement requires the replacement of Israel with an Arab governed state.

The other option is primarily the status quo, with periods of detente interspersed with violent flare ups and military action every few years. While this outcome is certainly suboptimal in that it does not resolve the conflict, in the way that detente did not solve the conflict between the USA and USSR, it is remains the likely best short term option. For all the scare tactics, Gaza is not starving and its people are not being wiped out (in fact, the population is rapidly growing) and there is frankly little internal push for a final status resolution in Gaza, which would run against the dominant narrative of Palestinian resistance.

If that's the case, what does the future hold? Unfortunately, barring some unusual circumstances (for example, a Palestinian exodus to Jordan after the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy and its replacement with a Palestinian governed state representing Jordan's Palestinian majority or Israel retaking the Sinai and resettling all Palestinians there in an independent state), it is unlikely that there will be much change in Gaza. Hamas will continue to walk the fine line between self preservation and maintaining its militant credentials. Israel will continue to need to reinforce its deterrence value in response to Hamas flare ups and to ensure that the the risk calculus in Gaza weighs against launching rockets into Israel.

The Iron Dome is a game changer here, in that it has significantly reduced the effectiveness of rocket fire into major Israeli population centers. However, the Iron Dome's success creates the risk of Hamas shifting strategy back to its original calling card: suicide bombings.

In reality, the only way that circumstances will change in Gaza and Judea and Samaria will be upon the arrival of someone with sufficient political will and power to change the dominant narrative, and someone who will face down the risks associated with making peace with Israel. As Anwar Sadat did in Egypt, it will require a person who has sufficient credentials to both speak for the Palestinians as a whole and who can marginalize the extremist elements within the Palestinian nationalist movements. It will not require a dovish government in Jerusalem, as it was Likud's Menachem Begin who made peace with Egypt. Peace with Egypt followed the bluster of Nasser, the Six Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. It took Nasser's departure and the credibility Sadat gained in the Yom Kippur War to make peace. Yet, even Sadat's success was short lived. He was assassinated by an anti-Israel extremist and Egypt's post-revolutionary government has many within its ranks who want to shutter the peace with Israel.

In the end, we are searching for a resolution that circumstances will not allow to occur. The search for "peace" in Israel is intriguing because we are not searching for "peace" with nearly the same urgency in Cyprus, Turkey (with the Kurds), Western Sahara (with Morocco) or even, frankly, with Syria and its rebel forces. The fact is that neighboring Arab states view Palestinian nationalism as a useful tool as a thorn in Israel's side and have every incentive to oppose any final status settlement that is not extremely detrimental to Israel. So if so much is invested in keeping the conflict going, why would we believe that a few more rockets or another invasion would change anything?