The Academic View: Will the carnage end?
By ALON BEN-MEIR
NEW YORK, 12 Aug 2002 (UPI) -- During the past two decades, I have always maintained that, regardless of their agonizing history, Israelis and Palestinians were destined to live harmoniously with one another. It is not that I now despair, but I do feel at a loss, baffled by the sheer madness that has engulfed both peoples.
There seems to be nothing new left to say on how to end this all-consuming, bloody and ultimately self-destructive conflict that defies logic, circumstances and time. For how much longer can the Israelis and Palestinians continue to slaughter each other with such blind hatred, venom and cruelty before they completely deface one another and slide into the abyss of a hell from which there is no return?
What kind of a resolution to the conflict can we suggest that has not already been rehashed ad nauseam since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967? There has been, and there remains, only one viable solution that will satisfy the basic national requirements of both peoples: a two-state solution -- Israelis and Palestinians, living side-by-side in dignity and in peace.
But the killing continues, not because a majority on either side believes it can alter by some miracle this eventuality, but because of delusional and fanatic minorities in both camps and the failed leadership that plays into their hands.
The conflict has deteriorated to such a level that it makes the mere mention, even of such an obvious solution, however inevitable, seem naive and farfetched. Its detractors will be right to point out that while Israeli and Palestinian funerals are a daily occurrence, the talk about peaceful coexistence has become a cynical joke with sinister intentions. It is not only that the distrust and animosity run so deep, but to make matters worse, factionalism within the Israeli and Palestinian body politic often work at cross-purposes, making it impossible for either side to reach any internal consensus even on an interim agreement, not to mention a final one.
For the Israelis, the current crisis is tantamount to a war for survival, and hence, there is everything to lose. For the Palestinians, there is not much else left to lose; hence, the war will go on until the occupation is brought to an end. Meanwhile, as the carnage continues, the search for a way out has become fused with fear of an even more unsettling future, which in turn further hardens the positions of both sides, in what is a hopeless effort to shield their vulnerabilities.
What complicates the conflict are two critical factors. First, there is the existence of extremist groups in both camps that enjoy increasing political power -- the right-wing settlers and the Islamists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, united only in their fanatical opposition to the two-state solution.
Second, neither Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nor Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have made any effort to prepare their public for the painful concessions that are necessary to reach an agreement, involving territorial concessions in the West Bank, the fate of East Jerusalem and the resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
As a result of their profound differences on these issues, each side is seeking an interim solution consistent with its ultimate objective. In any event, any such solution will be temporary because it will either collapse like previous security arrangements, or if it holds, the Palestinians will naturally and rightfully push for greater Israeli concessions leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Still, regardless of the outcome, Israel must proceed with its own initiative and not allow itself and the majority of Palestinians and Israelis who want to live in peace to be subject to the whims of extremists on both sides or the shortcomings of the Palestinian Authority. For these reasons, notwithstanding the objections of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli settlers, building the proposed fence that will separate the West Bank from Israel proper can, I believe, lay the foundation for a longer-term solution.
Born out of desperation to end the suicide bombings and the shattered trust that precludes any quick reconciliation, and considering the Israeli national psyche in this regard, the fence remains, unfortunately, a viable option as long as it (1) runs as closely as possible along the June 1967 lines so that Israel can defend it on both political and moral grounds, (2) incorporates into Israel proper only those three blocks of settlements adjacent to Jerusalem (built on 3 percent of the West Bank, but encompassing nearly 80 percent of the settlers) to satisfy the needs of the majority of the settlers.
Obviously such a fence will leave more than 100 political settlements (constructed under the watchful eye of Sharon as minister in the Likud government between 1977-87) scattered throughout the West Bank.
If the Israeli government is serious about the fence, as recently suggested by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eleazar, the fate of the settlers living behind it must be determined. Their objections to the fence are motivated not only by fears that they will be trapped behind it, but that it signals the beginning of the end of Israeli control over the territory, and indeed their fears are justified. Israel simply cannot have it both ways. It cannot have settlements and security; it cannot maintain an occupation and claim the high moral ground, and it cannot satisfy the demands of all Israelis.
Sooner or later the decision to evacuate these settlements must be made.
If Sharon refuses to make it, then Ben-Eleazar, who is the head of the Labor Party and has championed the building of the fence, must make it the basis of his political platform as the new general election approaches.
Everybody seems to know the score; there is no need for new innovative ideas. However objectionable the fence may appear at this juncture, it offers a way out of the morass. It is consistent with U.N. Resolution 242, with the position of the Bush administration, with Israel's urgent national security needs, and in the end it will also help to meet the Palestinians' national aspirations for statehood.
But Israel must get on with it to put an end to the carnage on both sides. As sanity, stability, and peace begin to prevail, let us hope that the wall will then become a relic of past tragic follies that both sides will remember never to repeat.
(Alon Ben-Meir is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute in New York and a professor of International Relations at New York University.)
Copyright 2002 by United Press International.
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