Thursday, November 3, 2011

All we are saying is, "Give mutual unilateral disengagement a chance!"

I am really not kidding.

I noticed that I seemed to be in a minority this week. I've begun work at "Write on for Israel: The Next Generation", teaching Israel advocacy to adults. At one point another speaker was discussing the Palestinian statehood bid in the UN. In discussing it as a unilateral move, he asked the group to compare it with the success or failure of other unilateral declaration. The talked about American independence, the Confederacy and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The consensus seemed to be that the first worked because it was backed up in war, and that the other two were failures.

Man, I don't know. I still agree with Ariel Sharon, and believe that unilateral Gaza withdrawal was the right move. I'm not referring to how the residents of Gush Katiff were treated, that is a different issue. Let me begin to defend my thesis, by starting with a few of my assumptions. Next I'll lay out the case, and then I will defend it against possible objections.

A: Assumptions
1) Sometimes Israel has no good moves to make. It can only choose from bad ones. This is an important point. Sometimes when we criticize Israel for creating damage "A", we don't notice that they are solving problem "B" in the only way possible. Lazar Berman makes this argument well. So we may not be able to solve all the problems, but we should look for ways to at least manage the bad ones. By way of analogy, think of how doctors deal with chronic illnesses. There may be no cure, but you must manage what you can.

2) As I mentioned in two previous posts, I think that the space between what the Israeli left can concede and what Palestinian leadership can accept can't be bridged at this time. More importantly, so does Aaron David Miller. That means that peace is not a meaningful thing to pursue at this time. I think that in any case, the second Intifada eroded any fragile trust between Israelis and Palestinians that is the necessary foundation of a peace deal. So let's not even use the word for the foreseeable future. It raises an impossible goal that frustrates progress.

3) For moral and pragmatic reasons, the status quo of Israel being entangled in the military oversight of daily life in the West Bank is a disaster.

B: The Plan
What options does that leave? Once you take peace off the table, how can you move to a different future in the region? I think that Gadi Taub's approach makes the most sense. Mutual unilateral disengagement is what seems most plausible to me. (I know, the acronym is M.U.D., but I really am not kidding here. There is nothing modest in this proposal, so seek no irony)

There will have to be negotiation to set terms for this to work, but there will still be outstanding disagreements. (like the right of return) These will need international support to succeed. At best, they will lead to a cold peace/war between two separated people. Perhaps in a generation or two, this could lead to peoples that could begin to build cooperation and trust. But I don't think this status quo should go that long, and we may not be able to build the trust till we get there.

C: Objections
1) Thousands of rockets come to mind. Don't those rockets prove that unilateral disengagement from Gaza was a failure? Well here's the thing. That failure was due to Israel's lack of a deterrence policy. Post "Cast Lead", Israel has implemented such a policy to great effect in the north with Hizbullah and the South with Hamas. (although it may be even more about Islamic Jihad in the south according to Khaled Abu Toameh)

Are there still rockets? Some, of course. And while even one is not acceptable, I refer back to assumption #1 and point out that terrorism may only be manageable. We have stopped terrorists themselves from crossing that border into Jewish areas, though, and that is a great security success. Are they arming? Yup, but back to assumption #1.

2) Isn't "negotiated mutual unilateral disengagement" the same as a peace process? Yes and no. The similarities are obvious. But NMUD can be pursued with clarity and honesty in a way that the peace process can't. Setting a more realistic goal could possibly generate a healthier dialogue. Israel has reached armistice agreements with many hostile neighbors over the years, and this could be one. I wouldn't call an armistice with Syria "peace talks". But the did lead to reasonably quiet borders, stable coexistence and a maintainable status quo. We need that with the Palestinians. Take peace out of the equation, and there more be work to do and goals to accomplish.

However you evaluate Bibi's performance, he certainly makes a big deal about peace based on true facts. Well, the truth may just be that we can't bridge the gap to become good neighbors. Good fences may be the best we can do for now.

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