Center Field: The two state solution as the only unhappy alternative

By Gil Troy, JPost, 10-2-08

Some readers objected to the end of my last column on the lessons of Oslo. Most of the column argued that Arab and particularly Palestinian rejectionism destroyed Oslo yet most Westerners could not fathom Palestinian political culture’s destructive and self-destructive addiction to violence. Nevertheless, I concluded, the only solution remains a two-state solution. Critics deemed this claim contradictory.

The two-state solution remains the most logical solution for Israelis and Palestinians because, like the infirmities of old age, it beats the alternative, or in this case, the alternatives. Extremist Palestinians advocate the one-state solution, trusting that masses of Palestinian voters in a secular democratic state would overwhelm Israelis. Across the spectrum, since 1967, many right-wing Israelis have endorsed the status quo, ignoring the psychic, moral, diplomatic, military, political, and economic costs to Israel of controlling millions of hostile non-citizens. A two-state solution can take many forms, including federations with Egypt and Jordan that would mean a three-state or a one and two half-state solution. Somehow, Israel must stop governing millions of Palestinians.

A post-Oslo acceptance of the two-state solution requires launching a new Palestinian entity with low expectations and no illusions, informed by the violence the Oslo process unleashed. In fact, a sophisticated, realistic approach to a Palestinian state should build on two additional failures beyond the Oslo debacle: Ehud Barak’s hasty withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Ariel Sharon’s undemocratic disengagement from Gaza. 

Ironically, of these three recent failures that promised peace but resulted in some form of prolonged war, only the Oslo peace process increased the Israeli death rate in the area under discussion. Israel suffered casualties steadily during its presence in Lebanon, sometimes as many as 20 to 25 soldiers annually. Since then, even including the Second Lebanon war, many fewer have died. Similarly from the start of Yasir Arafat’s renewed war against the Jewish people in 2000, more Israeli soldiers and civilians died in Gaza than the handful who died since the disengagement.

So, yes, the withdrawal from Lebanon emboldened Hizbullah and probably encouraged the Palestinians to believe they could accomplish more with terrorism than with diplomacy. And, yes, the disengagement from Gaza destroyed beautiful communities, disheartened thousands of individual patriots, launched Hamas to power, and subjected Sderot along with other communities in the Western Negev to traumatic, reprehensible bombardments. But the comparative death toll suggests that the alternative to leaving – staying – would have been more costly. The challenge, then, is to do what needs to be done more intelligently, more effectively, and less naively.

Now, many will argue that the West Bank is different, that Judea and Samaria are more integrally connected to the Jewish people than either Southern Lebanon or Gaza, and that, at this point, the rate of anti-Israeli violence is minimal. Moreover, whereas a Hamas-run Gaza can rain Kassams on a small, peripheral community like Sderot, a Hamas-run West Bank could rain more destructive missiles on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion Airport.

Ultimately, a sober, security-minded approach responds to these valid arguments and others by starting with the assumption that clear borders shrewdly and patiently negotiated offer more security than the current mess. Those who dream of Israel’s Biblical boundaries have to acknowledge that millions more Palestinians than Jews streamed to those areas in the twentieth century and that Israel’s security barrier has formalized the demographic realities as of 2000. Given the separation, it is better for Palestinians to control their own destiny than to have Israelis trying to control them. And, especially in today’s climate, the rules of engagement between hostile neighbors are much clearer than the protocols for one nation dominating another.

Had the Gaza disengagement been handled more intelligently, Israel would have had a good example of how to proceed. Ariel Sharon claimed there would be zero-tolerance for violence, that any attacks by air, sea, or land from Gaza would be dealt with severely. After the first post-engagement Kassam flew, Israel needed to respond militarily, close the border, cut off electricity in Gaza, and retake one evacuated settlement. Had Israel responded so aggressively once, maximum twice, the situation probably would not have deteriorated.

Unlike during the Oslo years, Israel should not rush into anything. Israel should approach the two-state solution gradually, with benchmarks of progress toward peace Palestinians could follow. If that sounds uneven, condescending, and high-handed, it also acknowledges the tragic fact that following the events of 2000 to 2004, Israel is the victim and the victor. The Palestinians unleashed the violence – and lost. In the equivalent of suing for peace, they have to demonstrate their readiness to make peace – with Israel free to retreat whenever security threats or violations occur.

A two-state solution could provide moral, diplomatic, and military clarity. Borders are easier to defend when they are clear, not ambiguous. Actions are easier to justify when the moral onus is on one aggressor not a people who play the victim card as an occupied people.

Ronald Reagan, the arch enemy of Communism, negotiated with the Soviets when he saw it was in his country’s best interests to do so. His mantra throughout the negotiations, “Trust but verify” reflected the need to progress with no illusions. Oslo buried many Israelis’ illusions about the short-term prospects of a true peace with the Palestinians, or most of the Arab world. But the Olso-triggered terrorism could not kill the need for progress or the chance, eventually, for some stability. The Oslo peace process assumed good will would develop quickly among the two peoples. A new approach should assume lingering bad faith among Palestinians unless hard evidence suggests otherwise. But bad faith does not preclude enduring stability or serious progress toward a more workable solution. Israel should not withdraw for the sake of the Palestinians, but for the sake of Israel.

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