2004 May 01 Saturday
Bret Stephens On Need For Israeli-Palestinian Separation

Writing in the Jerusalem Post Bret Stephens provides an excellent history of the thinking of elements of the Israeli Right and Left on whether to separate from the Palestinians. (requires free registration)

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of Sharon's disengagement plan is that it has alienated three constituencies that do not ordinarily find themselves on the same side.

There is the Israeli Left. In a Jerusalem Report profile this week, Oslo architect and new Yahad party leader Yossi Beilin argues that "the worst-case scenario for an agreement [that is, one the Palestinians violate] is better than the best-case scenario for unilateral withdrawal." According to Beilin, an agreed settlement would give Israel an internationally recognized border and resolve the outstanding issues of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Unilateral withdrawal, however, "will leave the Palestinians with an excuse for continuing the intifada and Israel with far less overseas backing for self-defense."

There is the Israeli Right. To them, disengagement will embolden the Palestinians to seek further territorial gains by carrying on with the terrorist campaign. In this respect they are in agreement with Beilin. Then too, the Right holds that disengagement constitutes a profound betrayal of everything the state had promised the settlers, everything the settlers had sacrificed so much for. At whose behest except Ariel Sharon's did they take to the hilltops in the first place? Why were they made to suffer three-plus years of unremitting terror if, at day's end, they would be made to evacuate? What purpose does the state serve if it severs its links to the very land that matters most to observant Jews? And why yield an inch to those Palestinians whose every word is a lie and whose every deed is an atrocity?

There are the Palestinians. Given that Israeli opponents of disengagement have cast the plan as a great victory for the Palestinians - a huge concession by Israel with nothing in return - it is remarkable how glum they are about it. For them, disengagement doesn't so much mean Israeli withdrawal from places like Gaza, but rather Israeli consolidation over vast swaths of the West Bank. It means going back to where they were in 1988: Frozen out of any relevant diplomacy.

Stephens splits the Israeli Right up into the security hawks, the nationalist Zionists, and the religious Zionists and explains their different motives and interpretations of events. He also explains how events have led to shifts in positions on both the Right and Left in Israel and how be came to be a supporter of construction of physical barriers and complete physical separation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

George W. Bush's failed attempt to empower a Palestinian Prime Minister to replace Arafat as the center of Palestinian power helped bring Stephens and others to the conclusion that there is not a major moderate center on the Palestinian side that can be negotiated with to make a deal that would stick. Reading his article is another reminder that people quite often have to learn the hard way. Many Leftists and Rightists had to watch the unfolding of the costly and painful results of failed attempts at other approaches before they would be willing to see that the only choice feasible was far from what they hoped to achieve.

Events in Iraq are driving an analogous and costly process of disabuse of fallacious beliefs about human nature. Panglossian neoconservatives and even many Left-Liberals are learning the hard way that their idealistic belief in the universal appeal of secular liberal democracy are quite wrong. But just Stephens describes Rightists and Leftists in Israel who are still holding on to their own beliefs so at least some neoconservatives are still hanging on to optimistic views about the prospects of democracy in Iraq.

I see events in Israel and Iraq both helping to discredit multiculturalism in the West. Terrorist attacks in the West such as the train station attack in Spain are having a similar effect. The claim that the Spain attack wouldn't have happened absent Spanish participation in the occupation of Iraq is besides the point. The more lasting lesson from the attack is that there are cultures and religious beliefs that do not mix well. This is sinking in with Europeans even more than it is with Americans. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's commitment to review immigration policy, UK Home Office Secretary David Blunkett's decision to revoke the British citizenship of radical cleric Abu Hamaz, and actions France has taken to kick out dozens of radical Muslim imam preachers since 2001 demonstrate an enormous shift in the Western intellectual terrain. Just where the discrediting of multiculturalism and "diversity" will drive Left-leaning and neoconservative intellectuals remains to be seen. But these intellectual fads of the 20th century look set to join communism in the intellectual trashcan of history.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 01 03:35 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Fly said at May 2, 2004 5:46 PM:

“But just Stephens describes Rightists and Leftists in Israel who are still holding on to their own beliefs so at least some neoconservatives are still hanging on to optimistic views about the prospects of democracy in Iraq.”

I may be projecting my own beliefs but the neoconservatives may not be all that optimistic. They just don't see an alternative. In a world of terrorism and WMD's, civilization can't accept failed states or totalitarian governments. Either we change them or we will be forced to annihilate them.

Luke Lea said at May 3, 2004 8:47 AM:

I don't think there is an answer for Israel in the short-run. So separation makes sense purely as a temporary matter of convenience. As for Iraq, we should start giving serious consideration to the possibilityh breaking the country up into a lot of little pieces: not three ethnically unified regions, but maybe 15 or 20 mini-states, parcelling out the oil fields to various clans and tribes that are traditionally established in the local areas where the fields are located. Each of these new "emirates" would be too small to protect itself, and therefore could be expected to call on outside (ie, Western) assistance to supply that protection. If Iran and Saudi Arabia insist on fomenting terrorism and instability in these new sheikdoms, then give them the same treatment. Our new motto would become, not "divide and conquer," but rather "divide and control." It might not be pretty but, compared to the alternatives, it might be the most practical. Just a thought I've been having of late.

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