By Barry Rubin
Israel’s historic position toward the territories captured in the 1967 war has been: Israel will control this land until it can achieve peace or at least a better situation for itself by leaving them. Jordan made peace. And it agreed to pull out of most of the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank when the PLO promised (that’s a key word and a promise not kept) to make peace.
In contrast, Israel later withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all of the settlements there for two reasons. First, as a gesture that it hoped would show its desire for peace and would promote that goal. Second, because it seemed better to have its forces on a defensible line.
Believe it or not, there are some military advantages to the withdrawal and Israel’s casualties might have been higher if it hadn’t been carried out. Nevertheless, this policy did not work out so well and Israel ended up in a worse strategic situation without making any serious gains (arguably the reverse was true) in international support.
Regarding the West Bank, the lesson of the Gaza Strip withdrawal and also the southern Lebanon withdrawal have been learned. There, Israel turned over all of the populated sections (except for a small portion of Hebron) to the Palestinian Authority. Since 1993, no new settlements have been established (there have been small new outposts against government policy though the government has not always removed them) or expanded in their size. The status quo isn’t wonderful but itis quite tolerable.
Recently, a number of people–many of them with a wide public audience–in the West have started clanging the bell that Israel must clear out of the West Bank as soon as possible or else face a terrible situation. Their arguments have no merit but since the other side is not given equal time (and often no time at all) their audiences are deprived of seeing how ridiculous are the claims being made.
What are these arguments? That more Palestinians are being born. So what? That Israel won’t be a democratic state if it continues to control part of the West Bank? If Israel survived as a democratic and decent society for decades when it ran everything in the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and all of the West Bank, it can certainly do so when it controls just part of the West Bank where virtually no Arabs live.
Another argument is that the regional situation is worsening. Well, when you are facing greater security threats on your borders is not the best time to shrink your borders further and turn total control of land over to those who either don’t want to make peace or who soon would be bullied, persuaded, or overthrown by those who want to tear up the commitments and renew the conflict. And that would be renewing the conflict on terms much less favorable to Israel.
There is the argument that once a piece of paper was signed that there would be perfect and lasting peace with no more problems. But both the politics of the PA and events in Egypt show that’s ridiculous.
So finally there is the fall-back argument: We must do something! We must try! Do what? Make things worse? Of course, trying means more busy work for the highly paid official and non-government peace processors. Free air fares! Banquets! Papers and articles to write! Meetings to go to! Pretending to be important and doing great things!
And just because they can imagine a wonderful peace in their heads–rather than understand what’s going on in the heads of people in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Gaza, and the West Bank–they deem that sufficient to inflict their glorious visions on others.
I am tired of the professional peace processors. In most cases, what they are doing is akin to someone who wants to press buttons at random on a complex piece of machinery with no understanding of how it works, having barely read the manual, and being totally indifferent to the consequences for others who live in the building, while the peace processors go home to their nice mansions purchased with peace-processing income.
As long as the status quo is preferable to the alternative, the status quo looks pretty good. You don’t compare the status quo to your fantasies but to realistic alternatives, weighing the material price for each risk or concession.
And if conditions ever change so that real and lasting peace based on compromise is actually possible–and it won’t be soon–that situation can be met with a changed Israeli policy.
Until then, or at least until they start acting responsibly instead of playing dice with our lives, the peace processors can, to quote an Egyptian proverb, “Go drink the Nile.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com