To the Editor:
While I agree with its conclusions vis-à-vis American foreign policy, Daniel Pipes’s excellent article [“Is the West Bank a Vital American Interest?,” November 1989] is in large measure an analysis of internal Israeli politics, and as such is—I believe—somewhat misleading.
Mr. Pipes describes the Israeli electoral spectrum as composed of two central “blocs” of roughly equal size, each offering radically different strategic approaches to the West Bank and Gaza and to the ultimate issue of conflict-resolution. Together with the small Right and Left fringes, the role of the two central blocs is to create mutual paralysis and to prevent any national consensus on negotiations and conflict settlement. The media, both in Israel and abroad, generally abide by a similar reading of events.
I find such a view highly misleading for a number of reasons, but in particular because it understates the breadth of national consensus in Israel and overstates the substantial differences among Israeli parties on issues of ultimate conflict-resolution. This is perhaps natural given the overheated rhetoric and Byzantine style of political vendettas that characterize Israeli interparty relations, extending to the strident denunciation of one another’s peace proposals and positions.
Any examination of the positions of the two major Israeli bodies should be attempted only after taking ten steps back and a deep breath. The broad similarity in fundamental positions of Labor, Likud, and some other groups is remarkable, all the more so given the acrimonious (one might say the Mediterranean) tone and style of partisan debate in Israel.
The “bottom line” of all these proposals is for the creation of a functional separation between Israel’s defense/security boundaries and its civilian/administrative boundaries. Israel would retain military control and supervision over the territories while Arabs would govern themselves in most civilian affairs in one way or another. Slogans of “let’s keep” vs. “let’s give up” the territories notwithstanding, the above formula is a fair summary of the basic substance of the Allon plan, the Begin autonomy plan, the Jordanian option, and even some versions of proposals for an aptly constrained Palestinian state.
Endorsement of some version of this fundamental strategy characterizes nearly all parts of the Israeli electoral spectrum, even parts of the Right and Left fringes, to each of whom Mr. Pipes rather generously attributes 10 percent of the public.
There are, of course, differences among the various proposals and plans on specific questions: whose flag is to fly, the fate of Jewish settlements, the role of Jordan, water and ecological issues, etc. Yet the political importance of all these differences pales when placed against the background of near-consensus on the basic concept of functional separation. The media also tend to be overly obsessed with these differences.
The near consensus in Israel on basics runs up against the stone wall of Arab intransigence; the Arab world exhibits near-consensus in endorsing the alternative approach of Israel’s dismemberment in stages. The very reason for the Arab rejection of functional separation as the basis for a solution is that such a solution is intended to resolve the conflict and result in accommodation with Israel, rather than in its destruction.
The lack of appreciation of the depth of Israeli consensus is perhaps a consequence of media distortion. The strength of the far Left in Israeli politics, the Left that rejects functional separation, that is composed primarily of Arabs but also of some Jewish “intellectuals,” naïfs, and Marxists, is even more exaggerated and over-reported than that of left wings in other societies. This, together with the hyperbole that typifies political discourse in Israel, creates the false impression that there exists a real Israeli constituency behind alternatives to functional separation.
Steven E. Plaut
University of Haifa
To the Editor:
When Daniel Pipes describes a Jordanian solution as unrealistic because the State Department worries that such a solution might “further destabilize that country by increasing the size of the Palestinian majority,” he touches on, but does not explore, an immense submerged issue in the whole dilemma.
The Palestinians of the West Bank and the Palestinian majority in Jordan are not simply political relatives, they are blood kindred, culturally identical and identifiably separate from the Hashemites who rule. Even though the State Department shudders and columnists denounce the thesis that Jordan is Palestine, it is a demographic and ethnic fact. What that fact would seem to mean is that any line-drawing which separates Palestinian from Palestinian will, in the end, be a source of bitterness and trouble. . . .
Isn’t the underlying problem the artificial nature of Jordan’s political structure? If Jordan were seen to be Palestine, with power shared between ruler and ruled, the rationale for a tiny, angry Palestinian state on the West Bank would be diminished, possibly removed. And although such a state would have sharp boundary quarrels with Israel, those quarrels would be subject to settlement by diplomacy or conflict as between normal states. The poison of the cry for a “homeland” would have been drawn.
Support for Hussein, “a guy you can talk to,” is essentially sentimental. . . . It is doubtful, however, that Palestinians share this attitude. They remember very well how Hussein solved his own intifada, which was put down with a brutal severity that would make Meir Kahane’s prescriptions a cooing of doves by comparison. Memories are very long in that part of the world and it may be folly to try to construct a policy which does not take those memories and ambitions into consideration.
I wish Daniel Pipes had explored that aspect of the tangle. Perhaps if the nature of Jordan were altered to accommodate Palestinian national ambitions, a Jordanian solution might make sense after all.
Van Nuys, California
To the Editor:
In his article, Daniel Pipes outlines the negative consequences of each of the four major Israeli approaches to the immediate problems of Judea and Samaria in the context of the continuing Arab war against Israel. However, he is too quick to dismiss what he calls the far Right solution, i.e., the only action that has any chance of ultimately forcing an end to the Arab war against Israel. I mean the expulsion of the Arabs from the land of Israel.
First, can anyone believe that any government of Israel will ever allow a hostile Arab military force west of the Jordan river? This means effective Israeli military control of Judea and Samaria forever, regardless of political arrangements.
Second, whatever the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian Arabs are—and those rights do not include the killing of Jews or the destruction of Israel either quickly or in stages—can anyone believe that those rights can be realized in a land under someone else’s effective military control forever? Arabs are entitled to be ruled by an Arab government no less than are Jews by a Jewish government. This second point means that all autonomy schemes are manifest nonsense. They can satisfy no one, except perhaps the foolish diplomats who invent them. We have no need for more demilitarized Rhinelands, Polish corridors, or free cities of Danzig.
Third, can anyone believe that any Israeli government can agree to making even the smallest part of . . . Israel judenrein forever? Nonetheless, such policies, which can only be called Nazi, have been and remain central to the Arab position. No Jew should ever agree to such ideas: not anywhere in the world, and especially not in Israel.
The negative consequences of such an expulsion are clearly stated by Mr. Pipes. They include increased communal strife within Israel, a break in relations with Egypt, the alienation of the Left-liberal part of American Jewry, and loss of significant American support. That is the price of the survival of Israel. Besides, most of those losses are inevitable anyway. . . .
Daniel Pipes writes:
Steven E. Plaut is right to remind us of the basic consensus in Israel, as he is right in speaking of that country’s overheated political climate. But his point—that most Israelis agree to separate their country’s defense boundaries from its administrative ones—wrongly reduces the very different political visions of Labor and Likud to their lowest common denominator. True, the parties do agree on a fair amount (which explains how they have worked together in a unity government for six years), but this does not justify ignoring their many differences.
Saul David promotes the Jordanis-Palestine idea, recently renamed the “Jordanian solution” (to distinguish it from the “Jordanian option” long promoted by Israel’s Labor party). Adam Garfinkle and I have already published in COMMENTARY (“Is Jordan Palestine?,” October 1988) a lengthy response to this line of reasoning and I will do no more here than recapitulate its main arguments:
(1) Through much if not most of history, the region known as Palestine did not include the lands now in Jordan. (2) While the British Mandate for Palestine originally did include today’s Jordan, it did so for reasons of imperial convenience that have no bearing on today’s politics. (3) Despite its small size, the Jordan River has long constituted a significant geographical and human dividing line. (4) While Palestinian and Jordanian leaders alike have proclaimed that Jordan is Palestine, they have done so not as disinterested observers but as politicians seeking to protect themselves or dominate each other. (5) Even though Jordan may have a predominantly Palestinian population, this no more makes it Palestine than the many Cubans in Miami make that city part of Cuba. Finally, (6) there is no reason for Israelis to help destroy what has historically been the most cooperative Arab regime in favor of their most persistent enemies.
Alexander Firestone argues for “the expulsion of the Arabs from the land of Israel” on the grounds that most of the dire consequences of this act—civil strife in Israel, plummeting relations with the outside world, the alienation of world Jewry—“are inevitable anyway.” But there is no reason to accept his assumption that Israel’s domestic life and foreign relations will so drastically decline. Despite current travails, Israel’s place in the world is more solid today than ever in the past, an accomplishment that Mr. Firestone’s policy would needlessly jeopardize.