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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 15, 2003

The Options

Thomas Friedman has a pretty decent op-ed today in the Times (full disclosure: I don't like Thomas Friedman), regarding Israel, the Palestinians, and settlements (if Friedman wrote about the Outer Mongolian's problems with desalinization plants, he'd still find a way to mention his dislike of Israeli settlements). Friedman makes some valid points, but he fails to reach the appropriate conclusion based on those points.

The second is the failure of Israel's Labor party to develop an alternative to the Sharon policy. The problem for the Labor candidate, Amram Mitzna, an enormously decent former West Bank commander, is not that he is advocating what 70 percent of Israelis want — separation from the Palestinians and giving up most of the settlements. Rather it is that he has not persuaded Israelis, on a gut level, that he and his party are tough enough to bring this about in a safe way.

As a Haaretz essayist, Ari Shavit, explained: "I compare it to open-heart surgery. Israelis know that if we don't do it, if we don't separate, we will die. But if we do it in a rushed or messy way, we will also die. So when Mitzna calls for separation, 70 percent of Israel agrees. But when he says he is ready to do it unilaterally, if necessary, or to negotiate with Arafat, or even to negotiate under fire while the Intifada goes on, most people refuse to go along. It feels wrong to them in their guts. So they want a left-wing surgery to be carried out by a right-wing doctor. The problem is, Sharon won't carry out that surgery. He is so committed to the settlements that he built, he appears to be paralyzed."

Indeed, Mr. Sharon benefits from the people's desire to see him implement the Mitzna separation. But instead of really trying to do that, Mr. Sharon manipulates the public's fears to stay in power and maintain the settlements — while winking to the Americans that one day he will really make a deal.
Basically what Friedman is saying is that Israel must make peace with the Palestinians by removing the settlements and establishing clear seperation between the two sides. He claims that this the only way to settle the conflict, but he emphasizes that Israel cannot do this alone, unilaterally, because it would show weakness and the Palestinians would exploit that. So the Israelis must approach the Palestinians from a position of strength, but, nevertheless, should be willing to offer them an offer for peace that would include plans for the establishment of a viable, Jew-free Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. But then Friedman goes on to end his column with this paragraph:

But if there is no separation, by 2010 there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel and the occupied territories. Then Israel will have three options: The Israelis will control this whole area by apartheid, or they will control it by expelling Palestinians, or they will grant Palestinians the right to vote and it will no longer be a Jewish state. Whichever way it goes, it will mean the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy.
Basically, what Friedman says here is that if the Israelis don't reach a settlement for separation with the Palestinians by 2010, Israel will no longer be a Jewish democracy, i.e., the Palestinians will have one. So how can Friedman have earlier advocated Israel reaching a viable agreement with the Palestinians. What incentive do the Palestinians have to reach an agreement with Israel, if all they have to do is wait 7 years, and they'll have won by default?

So Israel is left with two options. One, Mitzna's, which Friedman mentioned earlier, and pronounced impractical. That is unilateral separation from the Palestinians, no matter how much terror they engage in, and no matter if they show absolutely no intention of living in peace side by side with a Jewish state. For the second option, I refer you to Derb. At least then I can claim that I never said it.

Cross posted at BIUblog