To the Editor:
It has long been my belief that Israel can choose to have either peace or the settlements but not both; Hillel Halkin suggests that Ariel Sharon, at long last, has reached the same conclusion [“Does Sharon Have a Plan?,” June].
What, then, should Israel do? It is certainly understandable if the unremitting Palestinian violence of the past four years has led Israelis to conclude that no peaceful resolution is available because many Palestinians and their intractable supporters in the Arab world will not accept Israel on any terms, and that the violence would continue even if Israel returned to its pre-1967 borders and recognized an independent Palestinian state. As Mr. Halkin puts it, Israel “cannot swallow the Palestinians. It cannot drive them out. It cannot arrive at a peaceful settlement with them. All it can do is disengage itself from them” behind the security fence.
But there is one alternative: calling the Arabs’ bluff by accepting the peace plan advanced by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. If Israel is going to withdraw from Gaza and most of the West Bank anyway, as Mr. Halkin believes, why not try to do so as part of an agreement with the greater Arab states? The premise of Abdullah’s plan is to end external Arab support for Palestinian irredentism. The Arab League has endorsed it. Why not find out if they really mean it?
Thomas W. Lippman
Middle East Institute
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin writes: “After four years of being the target of unremitting Palestinian terror, Israel does not owe the Palestinians anything except the obligation to let them live their own lives, free of Israeli domination and control.”
In fact, Israeli “domination and control” of the Palestinian Arabs ended years ago, long before the second intifada was launched in the fall of 2000. Following the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, Israel withdrew from the city of Jericho and almost all of the Gaza Strip (1994), from all of the large Arab-populated cities in Judea and Samaria (1995), and then from 85 percent of Hebron (1997). More than 98 percent of Palestinian Arabs today live under the Palestinian Authority.
That the Palestinians continue to wage war against Israel, despite being given control over so much territory and receiving billions of dollars in international aid (over $1 billion from the U.S. alone), demonstrates that their goal is not to establish a state alongside Israel—something Ehud Barak offered them in 2000—but rather to destroy the Jewish state.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin provides a lengthy history of the Left-Right debate in Israel over how to deal with the land and the Arabs in it. The only problem is that the Arabs were never part of the discussion. Their refusal to accept Israel’s existence and to abide by the numerous carefully crafted agreements has made the internal Israeli debate beside the point.
The concept of “separation” is, of course, a total mirage, not the product of a right-wing epiphany. It is the creation of essentially one man—a misguided Ariel Sharon—and it has no possibility of long-term success, any more than all the other false treaties and land giveaways that have back-fired in Israel’s face. These self-induced illusions have succeeded only in placing Israel in today’s awful position.
Israel’s job, like that of any country in the world, is to defend its people and its land. No one else will assume that responsibility, or should.
Jerome S. Kaufman
New York City
To The Editor:
Hillel Halkin provides ideological support for Ariel Sharon’s plan, but his assumption that disengagement represents the most advantageous solution for Israel at this time fails to account for many facts on the ground that bode ill for it.
Israel will still have to deal with a Palestinian terrorist infrastructure that could grow stronger in Israel’s absence from the local scene. The separated Palestinian territories could find it easier to import advanced weaponry with the potential to inflict severe damage on the large population centers around Jerusalem and along the coast. While the security fence will certainly decrease the number of suicide bombings in Israel, as it already has done, no wall is impermeable.
A “disengaged” Israel will be hampered in its ability to conduct crucial security operations in the territories. And when Israel conducts these operations, as inevitably it will have to do, the international outcry over the “aggression” against Palestinian “sovereignty” will dwarf today’s fierce anti-Israel rhetoric, even if the Palestinians do not have a state.
Also to be considered is the Palestinians’ view of disengagement. Mr. Halkin has himself argued that Israel’s ill-conceived withdrawal from southern Lebanon in the face of Hizbullah guerrillas emboldened the Palestinians to launch the current intifada. They may well see disengagement as their own victory in this effort. Should Israel be willing to grant them such a victory?
In the end, disengagement does not address the fundamental problem—the Palestinian ambition to destroy the Jewish state. Following President Bush’s initiative, Israel must instead work to ensure that the institutions of Palestinian society develop upon civilized foundations. The real debate should be over how to accomplish this.
David A. Cohen
New York City
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin’s “Does Sharon Have a Plan?” presents a thoughtful analysis of past partition plans. But the latest such plan, Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” policy, is more problematic than he allows.
Under the Sharon plan, Israel will not fully “disengage.” Already, during Sharon’s term in office, the number of work permits issued to Palestinians from Gaza alone has doubled, from 40,000 to 80,000. More importantly, disengagement will do nothing to end Palestinian incitement to terrorism. This fundamental problem cannot be solved by piecemeal, local maneuvers, but it also cannot be ignored. A society that tolerates murder is a threat to our entire civilization.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin argues persuasively that the ultimate intention of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan is for Israel to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria, thus finally bringing about the “partition” of Palestine into Jewish and Arab territories. But he fails to take into account the one factor that makes any such partition impossible.
Even a total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza will leave Israel with a large and growing Arab population among its citizens that is increasingly hostile to the Jewish state. Israeli Arabs by and large do not accept their minority status in Israel but aim, whether through peaceful or other means, to see the country transformed, first into a “state of all its citizens” and then into “a state integrated into the area”—meaning an Arab-dominated state both culturally and politically.
In this light, partition becomes for the Jews a senseless sacrifice, not simply of parts of their historic homeland but of the efforts of over 200,000 Jews to build their homes in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
No one, Arab or Jew, should be forced to leave his home. If there is to be a real political solution to the conflict, it must come, as Mr. Halkin suggests, through the recognition of one Arab state whose political center is Jordan. That state must include among its citizens the Arabs of Israel.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin writes that the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war ended with “77 percent of Palestine in Jewish hands.” He then writes, apropos of today, that “since [unilateral Israeli withdrawal] would involve Israeli retention of parts of the West Bank, it would leave the Jewish state with upward of 80 percent of Palestine.” This is a strange error-by-omission for one so knowledgeable as Mr. Halkin.
The 1920 San Remo conference recognized Great Britain’s mandate in Palestine to encompass what are now Jordan, Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and the Gaza Strip. The conference also affirmed Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration, favoring a “national home” in Palestine for the Jewish people.
A year after San Remo, Britain closed the area east of the Jordan River to Jewish settlement (but not the area west of it to accelerating Arab migration). In 1922, Britain—its mandate now confirmed by the League of Nations—unilaterally created Transjordan on 77.5 percent of the original mandate land. The following year, it transferred the Golan Heights to the French mandate for Syria.
This being the case, Israel in 1949 ended up with 17.5 percent of mandate Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are the remaining unallocated, disputed 5 percent.
Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of Ariel Sharon’s plan, and whether or not it is time (as Mr. Halkin sees it) “to reexamine the commonplace that the Palestinians need to have their own state, which has become such a shibboleth of contemporary . . . discourse,” it must be stressed that mandate Palestine has already been partitioned into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Whatever the apportionment of the final 5 percent, Israel does not and will not have a majority of the land.
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin attributes the Likud party’s rejection of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan in part to “a disciplined and well-financed settler movement,” which “campaigned massively on behalf of a ‘No’ vote.” But the opposition was by no means limited to settlers.
Indeed, the identification of the “No” campaign with the settlers burdened it with the powerful adverse image of settlers as the “others” of Israeli society, the tail that wags the dog. That burden was dramatically increased by Sharon’s assurance to President Bush that he would deliver an exit from Gaza. Supporters of the pull-out were thus able to blame the settlers, with their “No” vote, for allegedly endangering the paramount U.S.-Israel relationship.
As for Mr. Halkin’s broader question, whether Sharon “has a plan,” there was no previous indication that, for instance, the prime minister intended to give Egypt the role it now seems to have in insuring the peace. Evidently the “plan” was to improvise without consultation.
Independent Media Review & Analysis (IMRA)
To the Editor:
In an article in an international “peace journal” several years ago, I offered a set of radical proposals for settling the Palestinian/Israeli dispute. In doing so I drew upon a principle of symmetry and reciprocity strikingly similar to that outlined by Hillel Halkin in his thoughtful article. The plan I outlined, however, would go one huge step beyond Halkin to allow both Palestinians and Israelis to realize simultaneously much of their respective national dreams.
At the heart of the plan was the idea that Israel/ Palestine would consist of two ethnically defined political entities, each with its own territorial base, but these territorial entities would together constitute a single unified settlement community. Jews, even those in West Bank and Gaza settlements, would be citizens of Israel. Arabs, regardless of their residence, would be citizens of the West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state, with those who are currently citizens of Israel required to transfer their citizenship, national identity, and national voting rights, but not their residence.
Under this plan, Jews could not only keep their settlements in the territories of the Palestinian state but could expand their size and number. Palestinian Arabs would have the right (within certain stipulated numerical limits and ground rules) to settle in Israel.
Each side would thus get what it most wants: an ethnically secure Jewish state for Jews, an ethnically secure Palestinian state for Palestinian Arabs, a right of return to their ancestral homeland for Palestinians, and a right of settlement in the West Bank and Gaza for Jews. Once the political situation was secured, social and economic cooperation between the populations would follow.
This would be a much better deal for both peoples than any other proposal I have seen, and much more likely to lead to lasting peace. An arrangement at least something like that suggested by Mr. Halkin and myself needs to be discussed at length.
Princeton, New Jersey
To the Editor:
As Hillel Halkin pithily puts it, the best Israel can do vis-à-vis the Palestinians is to “disengage” from them. I want to offer two observations, the first regarding the spirit and therefore the form of the disengagement, and the second about the failure of the “land-for-peace” formula.
To many both in Israel and the Arab world, Shar-on’s plan to withdraw from a number of settlements amounts to a “signal” of Israeli defeat and a victory for Arab violence. They are right that signals are important. But being overly preoccupied with signals sends its own pernicious signal—namely, that one is more concerned with sending messages than in imposing one’s will on the conflict.
Ultimately, the nature of the message received by the Arabs will turn on the spirit behind the action being taken. In my own view, much if not everything depends on the degree to which Israelis become inwardly reconciled to the continuing existential struggle with the Palestinian Arabs and abandon any hope of a conclusion to it in the foreseeable future. Armed with that knowledge, they will be able to see their way past two post-1967 policies and forward to a successful disengagement.
For some Israelis, the original motive behind establishing the most isolated and vulnerable Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was the hope that one day communities of Jews could live safely in an Arab Palestine; for others, the settlements were useful tokens, to be surrendered as part of a final settlement that was itself not far in the offing. Neither prospect is any longer worth pursuing. At the same time, other, less isolated settlements should be more securely incorporated into Israel proper, specifically three in northern Gaza adjacent to the 1967 border.
Next, there is no sense in further attempts at generosity, cooperation, and normalcy, or in continuing the natural economic integration between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In particular, the existing arrangements for supplying electricity, water, and fuel, and for granting access to the Israeli labor market, should be terminated. These have probably been the most morally damaging of Israel’s policies, telling the Palestinians in effect that they are permitted to wage war against Israel while watching television reports of the conflict with electricity provided by Israeli power plants.
Near the end of his article, Mr. Halkin makes the normative point that Palestinians have a far weaker claim to a state than numerous other peoples to whose case the world turns a deaf ear. The point can be illustrated with positive evidence from the history of land-for-peace.
Some supporters of Israel have come to the sad conclusion that the land-for-peace formula failed because the Arabs do not want peace. That is true enough. But they misunderstand the formula, which made sense only if based on the proposition that what the Arabs really wanted was land; the idea, in fact, was that they would get land and the Israelis would get peace.
That being so, the rather shocking fact revealed by the failure of the land-forpeace formula is that the Palestinian Arabs do not want land, either. For if they did want land of sufficient size to establish a homeland that could rapidly evolve into a sovereign state, and if they wanted it with anything approaching the passion with which the Jews longed for a Jewish state, they would have shown themselves willing to make substantial sacrifices and compromises to achieve it.
One used to hear the argument that there was no Palestinian nationality per se—and that, to the extent that a pale imitation of one could be said to exist, it already had a state, namely, Jordan. This was not merely a self-serving Jewish invention. In 1948, Folke Bernadotte, the UN negotiator in the Arab-Israeli dispute, wrote in his diary that “The ‘Palestinian’ Arabs have at present no will of their own. Neither have they ever developed any specifically ‘Palestinian’ nationalism. The demand for a separate Arab state in Israel is consequently relatively weak. It would seem as though in existing circumstances most of the ‘Palestinian’ Arabs would be quite content to be incorporated into Transjordan.”
Understandably enough, latter-day Palestinian apologists have striven to present a decidedly different image, one of a unique and long-suffering nation entitled to a state of its own. Where, then, are we to go from here? In the fullness of time, no doubt, this dispute will resolve itself, either peaceably or not. But one lesson we should draw for the here and now is that it is naive to think that seeking peace aggressively will make peace more likely.
George Mason University School of Law
Hillel Halkin writes:
Several readers have stated why they believe that a unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank to a defensible security fence is not a good idea. I shall try to answer them briefly.
Thomas W. Lippman wants to know why, if Israel is going to withdraw from most of the occupied territories anyway, it does not first test whether the Arab League countries “really mean” their endorsement of the Saudi peace plan. I do not think Israel should do this for the simple reason that I do not think the Saudi plan is good for Israel. That plan calls for a more or less total withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines, which I am against; for the dismantlement of all or nearly all of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, which I am also against; and for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories that are withdrawn from—which, too, is something that, given the current nature of Palestinian society and politics, would not be in Israel’s interest.
I would be interested in hearing Mr. Lippman explain just why he believes that “the premise of [Saudi Crown Prince] Abdullah’s plan is to end external Arab support for Palestinian irredentism.” Suppose that, as is probable, a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders raised irredentist claims. What makes Mr. Lippman so sure that the Arab League, or any of its members, would then support Israel against the Palestinians? Is it not far more likely that they would support the Palestinians against Israel, as they have always done in the past?
Morton A. Klein, Jerome S. Kaufman, David A. Cohen, and Moshe Dann all argue that unilateral disengagement will not work because the Palestinians will not accept it and will continue to attack Israel from their side of the unilaterally determined border. This may indeed turn out to be the case. But even if it does, Israel’s situation would be far better than it is now.
That is so, in the first place, because Israel can more easily defend itself against long-range Palestinian rocket or artillery attacks than against suicide bombs and terrorists in its midst; in the second place, because any separation is desirable that eliminates everyday friction between the Israeli army and West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, and that puts an end to a situation in which Israel is forced to impose innumerable decisions and restrictions on Palestinians who are not its citizens; in the third place, because if Israel fails to take such steps, its international position will continue to deteriorate; and finally and most importantly, because Israel’s ultimate survival is threatened as much by demographic dangers as it is by military ones, if not more so.
Already now, close to 50 percent of the combined population of pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip is Palestinian, and the Palestinian birth rate, which is one of the highest in the world, will continue steadily to tip the scale in the Palestinians’ favor. If unilateral disengagement is out, and no bilateral agreement is possible with a Palestinian leadership that seeks Israel’s destruction, what exactly do Messrs. Klein, Kaufman, Cohen, and Dann propose doing to prevent Jews from becoming a rapidly shrinking minority west of the Jordan?
This bring us to Shalom Freedman’s proposition that disengagement will solve no demographic problems since, even after it, Israel will still have to deal with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. Although frequently voiced by territorial maximalists in Israel, this argument is just plain silly; it is a little like saying that since even a few poison mushrooms can kill you, you might as well gorge yourself on huge amounts of them. Mr. Freedman is correct in observing that a severe problem could one day be presented by the over one million Palestinian Arabs living within the territory of pre-1967 Israel plus the West Bank areas that will be annexed by the security fence. He is being absurd when he concludes that, this being so, Israel might as well cleave to borders that contain close to 5 million Palestinians.
I am getting a little tired of hearing the old charge of the Zionist Right, put forth again here by Eric Rozenman, that the state of Israel occupies only a small part of “Palestine,” most of which was torn away from the Jews in 1922 by the British creation of Transjordan. You cannot tear something away from someone who has never possessed it. In 1922, there was not a single Jew permanently domiciled in Transjordan; nor had there been a single Jewish community there since ancient times. Indeed, even in antiquity the Jewish presence east of the Jordan was sparse and of no particular historical or religious importance to the Jewish people. I can assure Mr. Rozenman that, even if Transjordan had remained part of the British Mandate and open to Zionist settlement, such settlement would have been so scanty that it would have been quickly overrun by the Arabs in the 1948-49 war, just as were parts of Palestine west of the Jordan in which no or few Jews lived.
Since I never said that opposition within the Likud to Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan was “limited to settlers,” I am not sure what Joseph Lerner’s point is; surely he does not dispute that the settler movement mobilized massively—as was its democratic right—to campaign for a “No” vote in the Likud referendum. Nor do I agree with Mr. Lerner about Sharon’s assessment of Egypt’s role in policing Gaza and its borders after an Israeli withdrawal. My own sense is that, from the very beginning, Sharon envisioned unilateral disengagement as pulling both Jordan and Egypt back into the occupied territories evacuated by Israel, thus putting an end to the specter of an irredentist Palestinian state.
Russ Nieli and I have exchanged views in Commentary in the past (see “Letters from Readers,” October 2002), and I will say again that his vision of an Israeli-Palestinian federation, in which citizens of each state would be free to live in the other and to move freely between the two, is one that I find congenial and have written in favor of. Alas, it is a vision that four years of concerted Palestinian terror have reduced to shreds, and that strikes me at the moment as purely utopian.
I thank Lloyd Cohen for his letter. There is nothing in it with which I disagree.