Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Borders: Right Down the Muddle

Two state solution. One state solution. Green Line. Purple Line. Autonomy. Sovereignty.

These and other terms are thrown around quite glibly as solutions to the Palestinian/Israeli struggle. Hardly anyone mentions the most widespread situation in such an inter-ethnic fight: it might not ever finish – or at least it won’t for a very long time. In a word, instead of dividing the territorial border right down the middle, the “solution” is usually to continue the struggle right down the muddle.

Muddling through is not pretty. It brings with it simmering emotions, festering wounds, and occasional low-level violence. Nevertheless, there are situations where any alternative is far worse for either side – or both sides. That can be a function of the conflict being existential (one side wants to destroy the other), or its being a serious zero-sum game (one side loses far too much in compromise), or that internal opposition to compromise within one or both peoples cannot be overcome without civil war or very serious internal turmoil.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict over the West Bank/Judea & Samaria/Palestine (choose your nomenclature) has elements of all three. At least Hamas (if not Fatah) wants to eliminate Israel altogether; the Palestinians have little territory over which they can compromise, given how small is “their” area; both the Right-Wing in Israel (“Greater Israel” proponents) and Hamas for the Palestinians are probably willing to use serious violence to stop their own government from conceding anything regarding the “Territories.”

However, it hardly needs mentioning that this is not the only territorial “muddle” in the world. Here are only a few of the long-running territorial conflicts around the globe: Kashmir (Pakistan/India); Kosovo (vs. Serbia); Kurdistan (fighting Turkey and politically pressuring Iraq for their independence); the Basques as well as the Catalonians demanding independence from Spain; China vs. India on a sliver of their mutual border; Japan vs. Russia regarding the South Sakhalin and Kuril Islands; arriving soon — Scotland re-attempting to leave Great Britain. And it’s hard to forget today’s mother-of-them-all conflict: Eastern (or all of?) Ukraine claimed by Russia.

Most of these territorial/sovereignty conflicts have been going on as long as the Israel/Palestinian “Territories” issue (that started in 1967) – and some far longer, going back to World War II or even before then. Many stay quiescent until something awakes them into short-term skirmishes and fighting – usually to recede back into hibernation after a while. That’s somewhat similar to what’s going on in the “Territories,” although here it tends to “simmer and boil” on a pretty constant basis.

It bears noting – although this is in no way any “proof” that the conflict must muddle through for a very long time into the future – that the Jewish People have been there before. Just read the Bible – especially the Book of Judges and Book of Kings. This very long period had only one “constant”: perpetual border shifts, enlarging and contracting like an accordion on steroids. The Children of Israel were in constant battles with the “neighbors” – whether those living right next door, or somewhat farther away over whatever fluid “border” passed for the dividing line between “us” and “them.”

Moreover, for most of the period after the destruction of the First Temple and rebuilding of the Second, the Jews could hardly have been said to have “sovereignty” over their land; “large scale autonomy” was more the name of the game under the watchful eye of the Hellenes and Romans. The Maccabees were the exception – not the rule.

Again, modern Israel’s state of muddled situation regarding its borders and neighbors is not very pretty, politically or socially. But it’s far from unusual in world affairs – or even in light of the Jewish People’ own history. Of course, it would be far preferable to live in a place like Denmark. Ooops! Even they have a territorial headache with “their” Greenland living under “Home Rule.” And so goes the world…

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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