I’ve been asked to comment on a peace proposal put forward by a grassroots group of Israelis and Palestinians. Some of the members are my neighbors, and the one who brought the proposal to my attention introduced it by saying that “…the belief of Gazans in their right of return… cannot be made to disappear and will not just disappear.”
Since the group claims no specific expertise in geopolitics, history, political science or philosophy I won’t bother excusing my temerity in addressing these issues, especially given that I’m mostly asking questions.
So first, and perhaps most fundamentally, we have to question the statement that Gazan belief in their “right of return” — meaning their right to reclaim the places where their grandparents, or perhaps great-grandparents, lived in what would become the State of Israel — is a constant that must therefore be factored out of the equation.
When I say “most fundamentally” I don’t intend that the right-of-return issue is the most fundamental issue. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but that’s not my point. My point is that the determination of each side’s non-negotiable demands is fundamental, and that for a proposal to be taken seriously there needs to be agreement on those parameters of the negotiation. Hence my question: How do we know that the right of return is non-negotiable and, left unsatisfied, will never disappear?
We can ask the same thing about basing the territorial negotiation on the ’67 lines. Why? Since those lines are not in Israel’s interest I have to assume that the insistence on using them is a Palestinian insistence. Is this, then, another non-negotiable? Again, why? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my guess is that a) the Arabs can’t bear the thought of having lost the war (all the wars, not to put too fine a point on it) and insist on going back to the previous borders as a way of making believe that they didn’t. I remember Hafez Assad warning Israel, in anticipation of negotiations over the Golan, not to think that it won.
And b) it fits in with the idea that the Arabs are the “indigenous” inhabitants of the land and thus any shift of the border eastward is “taking over Arab land”. This is an arguable position — though I don’t think they’d win the argument. The problem with it in this context is that it’s the same argument they put forward against Israel itself, which makes it not a great basis for reconciliation and peace.
Which bring us back to the problem with identifying non-negotiables: There’s plenty of evidence from a detailed analysis of Palestinian polls, not to mention public statements of Palestinian officials, that they don’t accept the notion of a Jewish state here in any borders. So why exactly do we assume we can get them to give that up but are sure they won’t give up the ’67 lines or the right of return? I’m willing to believe that there are people with sufficient wisdom, education and experience to assess these things better than your average observer, and it would be nice if some of them were involved in Mid-East peacemaking, but one still gets the strong impression that the people proposing one plan after another are just making these things up.
Let’s look at some of the plan’s other components:
The two states would be democratic; their regime would be founded on the principle of the rule of law, on the recognition of the universality of human rights as recognized in international law, on equality, and on the inviolability of life and liberty;
The problem here is that the Palestinians have not, in all this time, given any indication that their state would have these properties. Their self-governing entities do not, nor do any of the Arab states.
The Israeli permanent residents in Palestine will implement their right to vote for parliament in Israel and the Palestinian permanent residents in Israel will implement their right to vote for parliament in Palestine;
This I find most fascinating, and it’s the main reason I chose to write an essay which, with all due respect, the rest of the points hardly deserve.
In a correspondence I had a while back with a Rabbi for Human Rights I raised the possibility of Israel annexing the territories if the Arabs there were given the right to vote in Jordanian (or Lebanese or Syrian) elections. In that case they would be foreign residents of Israel, with the same legal protections, and realize their political rights in vis-à-vis their countries of citizenship. He said No, it’s necessary that they have a say in the government with effective control of where they live. Anything less would be denying them their political rights.
Yet here we have people with a very similar outlook making this a plank of their platform, with no hint of it diminishing anyone’s rights.
There is, of course, nothing that says my RfHR has to agree with any part of this proposal, but I somehow think that he would. One could argue that since everyone agrees to the arrangement there’s no problem, but that won’t wash: If voting for the government that controls where you live is a fundamental right, one can’t forgo it any more than one can sell oneself into slavery.
The rest of the proposal runs aground on the obliviousness to the Arab penchant for violence, and especially violence against civilians, and to their historical lack of good faith in negotiations. This is typical of Middle-East proposals and may help to explain their steady lack of success.