10 March '14..
While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.
Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute outposts within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes.
Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.
After all, Netanyahu is astute enough to know whom he is dealing with when negotiating about the contours of a future Palestinian state. That is why the Israeli government is insisting that Israel maintain defensible borders by holding onto the Jordan Valley. They make this demand precisely because they know that a future Palestinian state would be neither Belgium nor Holland. Indeed, the Dutch-Belgium border has been pretty quiet for several centuries now; the Dutch have not been embroiled in a generations-long conflict to extinguish the Kingdom of Belgium; one doesn’t generally hear statements from Brussels about how they will never recognize the Netherlands as a Dutch state.
That said, even in these two countries, supposedly at the heart of the project for a post-national European federation, neither exactly known for being rocked by fierce inter-ethnic strife, there is constantly talk of Belgium being partitioned between the Flemish and the Walloons. Brussels might well become the divided capital of two states while Jerusalem remains the united capital of just one. Even for Europeans it turns out national identity cannot be made to vanish so easily.
Yet, where as in sleepy Baarle-Nassau the international border between Holland and Belgium passes between sidewalk cafes, with residents strolling casually between the two states without noticing, can anyone in their right mind imagine that the same jovial atmosphere would be repeated along an Israeli-Palestinian border? It was not so long ago that Palestinians were venturing to Israeli pavement cafes simply for the purpose of blowing them up. Experience should have taught Israel by now that it can vacate the West bank if it so chooses, but that the only prudent thing to do would be to prepare for that territory to become yet another terror state too.
Even if a Palestinian state in the West Bank managed to somehow resist becoming a second Gaza, it is still quite plausible that relations between the two states might often be strained. What then would become of the Jewish communities clinging on in these many isolated and perhaps stranded communities? Think blockaded West Berlin during the Cold War, only rather instead of half a city, just a small Jewish village perched precariously on a hilltop, surrounded on all sides. Those who could massacre the Fogel family in their sleep, who could jubilantly hold up their blood stained hands to a cheering mob after murdering two IDF reservists in the Ramallah police station they stormed, might find such vulnerable outposts all too tempting.
And under such an arrangement, would there be Palestinian enclaves in Israeli territory? Through land swap deals, might Arab border towns go to the Palestinian side? After the Netanyahu government has insisted it must hold the Jordan Valley, it makes a mockery to talk of the need for defensible borders in one place while proposing such impossible borders elsewhere. The only comfort here is the thought that the Palestinian’s compulsive tendency for fleeing peace agreements means this kind of derangement will likely never come to fruition.
(I did have a chance to run this by another highly astute observer who offered somewhat of a different take:
I thought that it was funny – as the obvious message to go with this suggestion is that Netanyahu only expect us to reach a deal when the day comes that the relations between Israel and the Palestinians is like the relations between the Belgians and the Dutch...
I am more personally inclined in this direction as well, but appreciate Tom getting this out on the table for the rest of us to think about. Yosef)