I am not one to think the two-state solution is practical. The reason is simple, but is ignored or belittled by politicians outside Israel: the long-term risk of a Palestinian state is unforeseeable.
But that topic is not the purpose of this note, at least not the main one. Israel’s peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and its other neighbors fall under a larger umbrella topic: What Next?
What purpose would peace serve the Israelis? It obviously brings certain benefits, but what kind? Would peace guarantee Israeli security in the region: not just the state’s, but all its citizens’? What are Israel’s long term goals for itself and its citizens in the Middle East?
Right now, Israel is what many analysts call a “fortress state.” It lives surrounded – though not like it was before the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. It does face several border enemies – Gazan Hamas, Lebanese Hizbullah and Syria. It is forced to fight proxy armies, directly supported by Iran and Syria or not. Israel does not control the situation beyond its borders aside from the West Bank and arguably Gaza. There is anxious stalemate in these areas, and it takes a tremendously psychological toll on the Israeli population.
Thus, the goal would be to alleviate that situation to the point it is improbable, if not impossible, that militias and armies like the ones mentioned above are unable to apply pressure to Israel, and Israel can control more of its own destiny.
Peace ought to be pursued in a pragmatic way by the Israeli government, for many of the same reasons the left advocates – a loss of definiteness, perpetuating social anxiety, and the breakdown of societal bridges, and security. The right also can add reasons – reducing the amount of war fronts the IDF watches and refocusing on other major fronts like Syria.
But the absolute reason it needs to be pursued is it distracts Israelis from focusing on domestic needs. Those needs are both practical and idealistic, pragmatic and lofty. But the issues might be intertwined. And if the two state solution is impractical, where does that leave regional options?
Firstly, a two state solution would dramatically hinder the security of Israel’s 400,000 citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Governments have been less and less inclined to force so many settlers out of the West Bank (200,000 if Ehud Barak had had his way in 2000; 80,000 if Ehud Olmert’s plan for the West Bank had become reality; 60,000 if Kadima’s secret deal had been implemented).
But the biggest detriment to a mass eviction has been the reaction to the Gaza pull-out and several smaller evictions Israeli police have conducted in the West Bank. Many Israelis are disgusted by the idea, and opine it would only invite more attrition from groups like Hamas to extort ore evictions out of the Israeli government.
Basically, it’s not going to happen. Israel might want to consider annexing more than just Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Opposite of what Yisrael Beitenu might advocate, perhaps small Arab villages could be absorbed into Israel as well.
But ultimately, Israel wants to improve its permanence in the Middle East, not just its tolerance. Israel ultimately wants peace on its borders with a position of respect. Israel needs to aim to solve its current conflicts not for the benefit of escaping war, but for going from a state ensnared by conflict to one that acts as a mediator in other wars. Israel should be in a position to help less fortunate countries and offering financial or political support. Essentially, it ought to aim at being a regional leader.
At such a point, Israel will not merely attend peace conferences, but actually arrange them to mediate other global conflicts. It would be a major partner with France in running the French plan for a Mediterranean Economic Union. It would join the movement for economic aid to African, South American and Asian countries. The country would be able to finally sit on bodies like the United Nations Security Council.
With less concern about immediate flare-ups on its borders, Israel could focus on rejuvenating its domestic culture. The country needs to reverse the brain drain emigration has created. Internal poverty, along with majority-minority relations, need to be tackled, considering how intertwined these issues really are. Finally, it needs to accommodate a growing population by developing the Negev, the Galilee, and working on renovating the Israeli environment and major development projects like water desalinization. The education system needs to be enhanced tremendously to halt the trends of socioeconomic stratification of Orthodox Jews and Arabs.
I’d hope that some new government might have these issues on its docket, but it is improbable. It might be advisable to treat the Palestinian Authority live a provincial authority instead of a foreign entity, making it easier to implement wide-ranging economic changes in the West Bank.
These thoughts have been running through my head. What should Israel’s long term goals be? How will Israel go beyond flimsy treaties in guaranteeing its own security in the future, when new reasons develop to go to war besides land and mutual recognition?