The following originally appeared as three consecutive posts by Jeremiah Haber on his blog The Magnes Zionist.
Last Saturday night there was a protest in Tel-Aviv, ostensibly in favor of Palestinian "statehood". For most Israelis, a two state solution means one real Jewish state, and a second, quasi, Palestinian state. Heck, that's true not just for most Israelis for successive American administrations. But even those administrations would not go so far as support the idea that in a future peace settlement that gives birth to a quasi state (which, I pray to God, will never come about – and so far He has answered my prayers), the large settlement blocs would be annexed to Israel and what's left of the West Bank (and Gaza?) would be part of a Palestinian bantustan, oops, I mean "state" with "land swaps".
Yet J Street has not only embraced the ridiculous notion that the large settlement blocs – and that has to include Ariel in the North – will be annexed to Israel, it has dishonestly interpreted this to be consonant with Pres. Obama's policy.
How so? I received an email from J Street praising a poster of the Nationalist Left movement (above and available through J Street in English here) in Israel that says, "We get the settlement blocs; they get a state." Now, no United States administration has said that in a future peace accord with the Palestinians, the settlement blocs would stay in Israel's possession, EVEN ASSUMING LAND SWAPS. By all accounts, the City of Ariel in the North is a large settlement bloc. Gush Etzion is certainly a large settlement bloc, and the Geneva Iniative's map of borders, left Efrat – part of Gush Etzion – outside of Israel. It's true that the Nationalist Left movement claims to support the Obama formulation of 67 borders with land swaps against Bibi's naysaying. It is also true that the National Left's idea of settlement blocs no doubt differs from that of Bibi. But let's make this perfectly clear – one either can annex the major settlement blocs OR have a viable Palestinian state; one cannot do both. And not surprisingly, the Nationalist Left's formulation is claimed to be valid whether there is a peace agreement or not. In other words, that movement holds that Israel can withdraw from the West Bank and annex the settlment blocs, even without a deal. Where J Street should be pushing the idea that the settlement blocs are the major obstancle to peace, precisely because they are illegal blocs of settlements, they have allied themselves with the Nationalist Left, which is not in the camp of the Obama administration, and which wants to purify the loathsome settlements as if it is not big deal – just "demographic realities", to use the Nationalist Left's term.
In explaining the Nationalist Left's slogan, J Street's Carinne Luck writes:
By settlement blocs, the poster means that the large Jewish population centers just over the 1967 lines that would be swapped for territory currently on the Israeli side of the lines. "Them" means the Palestinians. An Israeli political movement called the National Left (Smol Leumi) developed the poster.
This formulation mirrors the one that President Obama laid out in his speech and has been the policy of the U.S. Government for decades. Experts agree it is the most viable model for a two-state solution, as well as the only way to secure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic homeland
Well, Efrat is a large population center over the 1967 line. Is J Street supporting making the annexation of Efrat a deal breaker? What "experts" is Luck referring to? Where has President Obama ever said that the "settlement blocs" will be annexed to Israel? I will be happy to make a contribution ot J Street if Carinne or anybody else finds that language there in an administration statement.
Heck, I haven't even seen J Street use the language of "settlement blocs," which is the Israeli phrase that maximizes territory (since you can be a small settlement within a bloc.) What J Street says on its website is as follows:
The borders should allow for many existing settlements, (which could account for as many as three-quarters of all settlers) to be part of Israel's future recognized sovereign territory.
That's hardly the language of "settlement blocs."
So what is J Street doing? Are they just clueless? Trying to put something over an uninformed American Jewish electorate? Hoping that a poster with Obama will make them look kosher?
Or…perhaps, like the Nationalist Left, they are proposing a ridiculous, non-starter of a solution, one that even the most pro-Israeli, pro-peace Palestinian government imaginable would rightly reject.
Has J Street abandoned a credible Two-State Solution? Or did they just make one of the gaffes for which they have become well-known?
What’s Wrong With Israel’s Keeping Settlement Blocs?
Some readers (and J Street folks) were puzzled by the tone and content of my previous post. After all, what's the difference, I was asked, between settlements and settlement blocs? And if there will be land swaps between the Palestinian and Israeli states, what difference does it make precisely where the land is swapped? At the end of the day, Israel and Palestine will have the same proportion of historic Palestine (without the Hashemite kingdom of Trans-Jordan) as guaranteed by the 1967 lines. Can't I cut J Street a little slack here – in order to get a Palestinian state off the ground? Both the Palestinians and the Americans want to focus first on borders. Doesn't that mean that an agreement is closer on the border issue than on other core issues?
So let me briefly set matters straight.
Settlement blocs vs. settlements. The moral argument for keeping Jewish settlers where they are, even though their settlement beyond the green line is recognized as illegal, is simply – it is too hard too move them. That, of course, refers to the settlements themselves. But if they are going to stay where they are, the argument goes, their security and growth require that not only do they stay put, but they be situated in "blocs". I am not sure who first came up with the idea of bloc, but historically it may have been related to the Ezion bloc of settlements, which fell to the Arab fighters in the 47-8 war. The Ezion bloc was one of the first areas to be settled after the 1967 war. The fate of the that bloc is instructive; in the name of returning to settlements that had been captured, the Ezion bloc over the years has tripled in territory. The land on which the city of Efrat, for example, was built, has nothing to do with the original bloc of settlements – and yet it is now automatically included in the settlement bloc (except in the Geneva Initiative map.)
If the settlements are illegal, then settlement blocs are worse – because they are a naked attempt to maximize not only the settlements but the areas between the settlements and – this is important – break up the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians state. Defenders of Israel always like to say that, in terms of percentages, the settlement blocs constitute a relatively small part of the West Bank. Even if that were true, the issue is not how much territory but where it is located.
This is particularly true of the blocs around Jerusalem and the Ariel bloc in the north. No Palestinian mini-state could ever arise were the Ariel bloc annexed, or were the Maaleh Adumim bloc annexed – much less if there is contiguous Jewish settlement in the E1 project linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem
For a standard defense of annexing the five major settlement blocs, check out Mitchell Bard's explanation and map here. Bard writes
Would the incorporation of settlement blocs prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? A look at a map shows that it would not. The total area of these communities is only about 1.5% of the West Bank. A kidney-shaped state linked to the Gaza Strip by a secure passage would be contiguous. Some argue that the E1 project linking Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem would cutoff east Jerusalem, but even that is not necessarily true as Israel has proposed constructing a four-lane underpass to guarantee free passage between the West Bank and the Arab sections of Jerusalem.
Please look at the Bard's map, which is taken from the (pro-Israel Washington Institute of Near Eastern Policy). Look, for example, at Jerusalem prior to 1967, divided between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Jerusalem proposed now, which would leave East Jerusalem an enclave surrounded by massive Jewish settlement. But, more importantly, consider what constitutes "contiguity" according to Bard – a four-lane underpass!
Now consider why Israel ambassador Michael Oren recently considered the 49 armistice lines to be "indefensible" – despite the fact that not only were they successfully defended, they were expanded upon in 1967
Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.
How long would it take Israel to take control of a 4 lane highway, thereby cutting the Palestinian mini-state in two? Would Ben Gurion have accepted a state that had the contiguity afforded by a four-lane underpass?
The Palestinian state must be contiguous, which means that it must have contiguous and defensible territory between its various parts. Palestinian security needs are no less important than Israel's security needs; only a racist or tribalist would think otherwise.
To the argument that is immoral to move settlers, I reply that it is immoral to keep Palestinians in refugee camps. Let Israel absorb the settlement blocs, and let the Palestinians absorb Jewish owned territory in such a way that there is roughly parity in the resultant states. Any two-state solution has to take into consideration not only the demographic and security needs of the Israelis, but the demographic and the security needs of the Palestinians, including the refugees. We can start by settling half a million Palestinian refugees in choice Jewish state owned lands that have not been acquired from Palestinians Israelis – and then let's redraw the map of Israel to reflect the demographic realities of the Palestinian Arabs (including those of the diaspora), and the Israelis (including those of the Jewish diaspora.)
This would not be the ideal solution but a lot fairer than the one proposed by the Israeli "left" and the American administration. If their proposal is accepted by the PA leadership, then Jews and Palestinians should join hands to oppose the concessions of the PA.
Some of What’s Wrong With the Liberal Zionist Vision of the Two State Solution
Liberal Zionists in Israel and the diaspora have, for many years, put forth a vision of two states in historic Palestine, i.e., a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. The borders between the states would be the 49 armistice line (the "green line"), with land swaps to recognize "demographic realities," i.e., the half a million Jewish settlers who have settled over the green line since 1967. In exchange for the settlement blocs, the Palestinians would be given land within pre-67 Israel "of equal quality," a concept that is left vague. They would be asked to recognize the state of Israel as a Jewish state, to forego the right to return given them by Resolution 194 and international law, and to keep their state nonmilitarized.
This view is not only accepted by liberal Zionists (Jews and non-Jews are included within that description, as well as any one who believes in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state – I can't think of any better description for that view than Zionist) It has also been accepted by some Palestinians and their allies who see it as preferable to the status quo. It is not half a loaf; it is more like half a slice. But, the argument goes, it is better than nothing.
What I would like to argue briefly is that the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution is not morally justifiable, and a peace agreement along its lines constitutes what Avishai Margalit calls, although not with reference to the liberal Zionist vision, a rotten compromise. Margalit distinguishes between bad compromises, which are justifiable or excusable for the sake of peace even when the principles of justice are violated, and rotten compromises, which either result in, or preserve, an inhuman system. The cases of inhuman systems he gives (slavery, racist tyranny) are worse, I believe, than the current system of Israeli occupation – but what that system shares in common with the more extreme versions is the dehumanization of those under occupation. I wish to argue that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians that produces a Palestinian state that is only marginally better than occupation, and in which there is still a significant degree of Israeli control, hence, of dehumanization, would be, if not a rotten compromise, than something perilously close to it.
I grant that, at first glance, the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution tries to end the dehumanization of the Palestinians. After all, it is claimed, the withdrawal of the IDF would give the Palestinians control over their own lives. They would not be bound by all the restrictions, e.g., immigration, decisions taken without their representation, that are placed upon them now. They could stand on their own two feet.
But this is a liberal Zionist illusion, based on the underlying liberal Zionist myth that the Palestinians have nothing to fear from the Israelis provided that the former behave themselves. In fact – as the disengagement from Gaza has abundantly shown – the issue is not whether there is an IDF military presence, or even a settlers' presence on the West Bank. The issue is whether Israel has effective control over the Palestinian state by virtue of its military and economic power. By "effective control" I don't mean "total control". Israel has never had total control over the Palestinians – nor is that fact remarkable. American slaveholders never had total control over their slaves, as the slave rebellions and other acts of resistance amply show. But it is abundantly clear, and has been pointed out by many, that the liberal-Zionist vision doesn't take into account Palestinian security needs – beyond having them outsourced to countries friendly to Israel. And a truncated non-militarized Palestine with security guarantees for Israel would not guarantee a sufficient level of dignity, security, and independence that a peace agreement must provide in order for it not to represent a rotten compromise. If the Palestinian leadership accepts such a compromise, out of weakness, so much the worse for them.
The liberal Zionist vision is indeed motivated by moral concerns. The vision recognizes that it is morally wrong, not just inexpedient, for Israel to have day to day control over the lives of Palestinians. It is less concerned with the measure of effective control Israel will have over the future Palestinian state, and indirectly, on the lives of the Palestinians living within it. I don't think it is concerned with that at all.
The strange thing about the compromise offered by liberal Zionist groups like J Street is that it is not really a compromise at all. In a compromise, both groups give up things that are dear to them in order reach agreement. Yet in the liberal Zionist vision of the Two State solution, the Israeli side gives up things that the liberal Zionist wants to give up in the first place – the West Bank and Gaza. The liberal Zionist does not mind sharing Jerusalem, nor does it mind withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza – on the contrary, it argues such a withdrawal to be in Israel's long-term interests. The liberal Zionists, in order to sell the plan to not-so-liberal Zionists, argue that in the worse case scenario, Israel's security would not be seriously threatened after such a withdrawal. So in fact, the liberal Zionist vision combines moral concern with the Palestinians under occupation with concern for the future of the Jewish state if the occupation continues. It offers to the Palestinians things that it is not interested in to begin with – and presents these as painful compromises.
This comment has been made often by the West Bank settlers. When the Oslo Accord spoke of "Gaza first" a popular rightwing bumper sticker was, "Tel Aviv first." The framers of Oslo were criticized for offering things that the rightwing was interested in keeping, but that they weren't.
If the Palestinians are asked to make painful compromises, then so should the Israelis. That should take some of the sting off of what the Palestinians are forced, through their weakness, to offer.
Let me take this back to the issue of land swaps. The liberal vision of land swaps is to give Palestinians land as compensation for the land of the settlement blocs. Let's take one "uncontroversial" settlement bloc for liberal Zionists – the settlements over the Green Line near Jerusalem. Now I ask you seriously – what lands in Israel could possibly compensate for these strategically settled areas, areas that were settled not only to provide more housing for Jews but to keep Jerusalem within effective Jewish control for perpetuity? Before 1967, Jerusalem was a circle split in two (unequal) parts, Jewish and Arab. With the settlement blocs, Jerusalem is now a Jewish bagel with a bite out of it; a tiny part of the hole is Arab. Given Jerusalem's national, religious and strategic importance, what does Israel plan to give in exchange? Land contiguous to Gaza? Land from the Lachish district.?
The integration of the settlement blocs around Jerusalem into Israel radically alters Jerusalem – and even were the Palestinian state offered all of the Negev from Beer Sheva to Eilat, that would not be begin to compensate.
That is why I suggested that in exchange for the Palestinians losing most of Jerusalem and its environs – a painful compromise – it should demand that Israel receive a significant number of Palestinian refugees. Now nobody in Israel wants this – which is precisely why it would be viewed by the Palestinians as a sacrifice worthy of their sacrifice. Or if not the refugees, then prime territory around Tel Aviv, or in the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The response to this will be that I am making peace impossible. But my response to that is that the peace is not the end game – dignity and self-determination are. It is about time that liberal Zionists stop arguing that "peace is so close, if only we could find out the way to it" and start looking not so much at principles of absolute justice – the weaker party will never get that – but the minimum requirements of an agreement for dignity, humanity, and self-determination.
And to my one-state friends, I want to make clear that I am not endorsing a two-state solution. I am calling for liberal Zionists to examine the adequacy of the two-state solution that they are endorsing, and not just from the frame of reference of the liberal Zionist.
I didn't always feel this way. On the eve of Camp David II, I went to a demonstration in support of Prime Minister Barak at the Prime Minister residence. I heard him talk about settlement blocs, and I said to myself – Heck, if the Palestinians accept it, who am I, an Israeli, to be more Palestinian than they are? Isn't it more important to end the occupation, get an agreement, and start working together again? Isn't any deal better than no deal?
Not when that deal represents a rotten, or near rotten compromise. As a liberal Zionist, ask yourself how you feel if you were asked to give up most of Jerusalem, settle a million Palestinian refugees, and accept external controls on your security.
What would you be willing to give up for peace?