07 March '16..
How dead is the Middle East peace process? It’s so dead that not even the Obama administration is looking to pick fights with Israel’s government right now. As Vice President, Joe Biden heads to Israel for his first trip there since the announcement of a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem in 2010, which was labeled by the White House as an insult to the veep because he was passing through town. But this time, not only are the Israelis looking to keep things calm, even the administration understands it will accomplish nothing with another ginned up argument aimed at creating daylight between the two allies that will do nothing to entice the Palestinians to make peace. No matter how much the president may dislike Israel’s government, he understands that the Palestinians aren’t interested in a deal under virtually any circumstances. So the expectation is that Biden’s visit will pass without much controversy.
Thus, while the Jewish state’s foreign critics, as well as many of those that claim to be its friends, are still promoting the two-state solution, a political consensus has developed in Israel that has put the idea on permanent hold. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the country is content to merely manage the conflict without succumbing to the delusion that it can be solved in some ways. As the New York Times reports today, the latest attempt to create some progress toward a livable solution has been forward by a group of some left of center Israelis involves an attempt to revive interest in a unilateral solution to the conflict. This theory, initially championed by the late Ariel Sharon during his time as prime minister, is that if the Palestinians won’t agree to a border between a Jewish state and a state of their own, then it is up to Israelis to draw one. Sharon’s attempt to go unilateral resulted in the disastrous withdrawal from Gaza that led to the creation of what is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state in all but name there which is run by the Hamas terrorist group.
The new plan is not quite so ambitious as Sharon’s scheme, which also encompassed a withdrawal from most of the West Bank that never occurred. But by seeking to divide Jerusalem along Jewish and Arab terms, it hopes to set lines that could eventually serve to make part of the city become a Palestinian capital. But, as an opinion piece published in YNet.com from one of its sponsors, former Cabinet minister Haim Ramon, makes clear, the purpose is also to make it harder for Arabs to attack Jews.
Ramon, who started in the Labor Party but then became a part of Sharon’s short-lived Kadima Party that governed for a few years in the last decades, makes explicit that he isn’t just interested in preserving a Jewish majority in Jerusalem by transferring Arab areas to the West Bank. Building on the fear that has spread since the start of the so-called “stabbing intifada,” he also spoke about “sexual assaults of Jewish girls, mostly by Palestinians” in the last decade in addition to the terrorist offensive of the last past several months.
Even if we leave aside the idea that a drawing a border or building barricades between Arab areas and those where Jews dwell will end the violence, there is a certain logic to the idea of unilateralism.
If you believe that preserving a Jewish majority in Jerusalem or Israel as a whole is key to the future of the state, then any attempt to separate the two populations makes sense. Ramon writes that it was a mistake for the Israeli government to annex some of the city’s suburbs in 1967 when it formally unified the country’s capital after its division that began in 1949. The thought then was to enlarge the city limits in such a way as to ensure its security in the event of a peace deal that would, in the naïve thinking of the time, inevitably lead to the transfer of the West Bank back to Arab hands in one form or another. Israel built new Jewish neighborhoods to the north and the south of the previous lines while giving Arabs, both in the older parts of the city as well as the new ones, the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship was not offered to West Bank residents.
Few Palestinians took up this offer leading to a de facto if not de jure division of the city, which has also led to a situation where Arab neighborhoods have less clout in the municipality and get poorer services. But all Jerusalem residents have the right of free access to the rest of the city and Israel. Ramon and his colleagues backing this new plan would end that completely and turn these areas over to the administration of the West Bank. That is why Palestinians, as well as Jews that oppose any re-division of the city, oppose the plan. But if it were adopted it would make the already existing large Jewish majority in Jerusalem even greater and, in theory, make it harder to split what was left.
The security argument for creating more division in the city may have its appeal to Israelis that are coping with the current surge in violence. But if they think drawing a different line between Jerusalem and the West Bank will lessen foreign pressure on Israel or make peace more likely in the long run, they’re dead wrong.
As the 2010 spat with Obama proved, the assumption that Israel will be able to keep all the parts of Jerusalem with Jewish majorities is unfounded. As far as the current administration is concerned, all or parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1949 and 1967 are “occupied.” And every Jew that lives in these areas, even if they are more than 200,000 in number, are considered to be living in a “settlement” that is every bit as illegal as the most remote West Bank hilltop.
That’s the problem with every variant of unilateralism whether it concerns the West Bank or just Jerusalem. Neither the U.S. nor the international community will recognize new lines any more than the old ones. Nor will separation make Palestinians any more amenable to making peace even if such measures remove more Arabs from areas administered by Jews. They are not interested in separation any more than they are ready to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.
The lesson of Sharon’s Gaza disaster is that any area placed under Palestinian administration without Israeli security control will become a terrorist base, not an incubator for coexistence. Giving up territorial bargaining chips in order to draw lines that make sense to Israelis makes no sense to Palestinians or to Westerners who regard the dangerous 1967 lines as the starting point for all negotiations. Israel got neither credit for the Gaza withdrawal or the peace and quiet it craved. Anyone who thinks that drawing new borders inside the current Jerusalem city limits who believes it will work better this time isn’t thinking seriously. Such lines will never be recognized by anyone but Israelis so what is the point of doing so when it just undermines the nation’s negotiating position in the event talks are revived by a future U.S. administration that is hubristic enough to be deluded into thinking it can cut the Gordian Knot of Middle East peace? This won’t save Jewish Jerusalem any more than leaving Gaza convinced Israel’s enemies that it was ready for peace.
There is much that can and should be done to increase services and security for all of Jerusalem. But drawing new lines isn’t likely to make it safer or strengthen Israel’s bargaining position. If the current or future U.S. government seizes on this idea, it will do Israel little good and much possible harm.
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