There are some among my readers who will view my modest proposal as the same kind of ungodly satire as an earlier effort by that name.
Almost 400 years ago Jonathan Swift published his Modest Proposal to deal with the problem of overcrowding and starvation among the Irish according to the advice said to be provided by
"a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled."
My proposal is more modest by far, but may be seen as equally beyond the realm of what is politically correct.
It is that Israel not consider any change to its settlement activities, or withdrawal of Jewish settlements from land claimed by the Palestinians, without appropriate concessions from Palestinians.
As may be apparent from these occasional notes, my guide is politics. I view the processes of persuasion and bargaining as the essence of civilization, and the only way to deal with problems that reflect different interests, and/or different ways of looking at history. For the cluster of disputes at hand, there is no certainty about justice, only different ways of defining justice, or different narratives about what happened, when, and what is important in the continuing unfolding of history.
I hear the Palestinian claims of occupation in the same way as I hear Jewish claims about returning to an ancient homeland and the more extreme narrative that God gave it to us. I view all of them as equally unhelpful. The only route I see as useful is to start where we are, and bargain our way to mutual accommodation.
Both the claim of ancient homeland and the claim of occupation overlook the greater realities of how we got to where we are. History tells its stories of human movement. No national claims of prior settlement, or settlement even earlier, have greater merit than more recent migrations. Jews moved from elsewhere to Palestine, then Israel, and to various places in the West Bank (which in some defitions is everything west of the Jordan).
Arabs moved from throughout the Middle East to Palestine, from within what had been the British Mandate to what became Israel, and from the West Bank (i.e., over what became the 1967 lines) to what became Israel..
Jewish settlement throughout the West Bank since 1967 is part of those movements. If you insist on justification, as opposed to what you may say is an effort to legitimize a simple land-grab, remember Arab aggression against Jewish migrants from the early 20th century onward. After the watershed war of 1967, the official Arab posture was a refusal to bargain. Now that the Palestinians say that they want to bargain, they must take account of what the Israelis did while the Palestinians rejected bargaining.
Current reality has considerable weight in whatever happens from here on, despite endless arguments about one or another view of morality.
One isn't sure about the Palestinian desire to bargain, even at this point. Their claims of being flexible are that any acceptance of Israel's existence is their compromise of Palestinians' historic rights. That is better than the Khartoum resolution of 1967 which set the policy at no recognition, no negotion, and no peace. However, the process has been stuck with the Palestinian insistence on elevating 1967 to the beginning of time, their refusal to consider anything more than minor land swaps to accommodate a portion of post-1967 movements, and substantial doubts as to whether they can accept even minor land swaps..
Some 722,000 Jews live over the 1967 lines, which were created by cease fire in the 1948 war. They are in neighborhoods of Jerusalem built after 1967, other areas of the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. They comprise more than 12 percent of Israel's Jewish population.
Currently there is a tiny settlement spot on the agenda of the Israeli Supreme Court. Migron has about 300 residents. . The case involves a claim that Jews settled on land owned by Palestinian individuals, and the Israeli government's commitment to moving the settlement, but not as soon as a previous Supreme Court decision ordered.
Whatever the Court decides will reflect a greater degree of flexibility than shown by recent Palestinian efforts to get all their demands recognized by the United Nations, or having the United National Human Rights Council establish a fact finding mission to investigate the issue of Jewish settlements. We can expect a pre-loaded set of findings like the Goldstone Mission's report on fighting in Gaza. Again Israeli officials are likely to refuse cooperation. One can expect the outcome to be like the Goldstone report, i.e., yet another mark in the Palestinian copybook about Israeli occupation, and in the Israeli copybook about Palestinians avoiding negotiations.
Israel began building a security barrier in response to the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. It wends its way around most Jewish settlements, in one case as much as 20 kilometers east of the 1967 line to encompass the town of Ariel. Israelis describe the barrier as a major element in reducing the infiltration of terrorists, and see it as likely to be the new boundary. It is a grand understatement to describe the barrier as controversial. Not only do Palestinians and their supporters view it with disdain, but Jews living to the east of the barrier view themselves as abandoned. Those Jews appear to have greater influence in Israeli politics than opponents of the barrier in Israel or elsewhere.
My guide of politics is complicating any possible deal. It is hard to imagine any Israeli government agreeing to move a substantial number of Jews. And it is equally hard to imagine a Palestine overlooking Hamas and other "rejectionists" who refuse to surrender "Palestinian land."
What should Israel demand from Palestinians in exchange for a settlement freeze or withdrawal, or some other concession with respect to their disputes?
The details are complex, and it is the task of professionals concerned with security, land use, water, and other specialties, along with politicians in the government to discuss the options, and ultimately make proposals to Palestinians. The modesty of my proposal appears in the minimal principle that the process should be one of give and take, with both sides giving as well as taking.
My proposal is close to what is Israeli government policy, as shown by its actions if not by explicit proclamations. That also allows me to justify the label of modest. I may be doing no more than clarifying what is happening. Or more accurately, clarifying and explaining what is not happening.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at March 24, 2012 09:42 PM