Why even if the current round of peace talks are successful, the situation won’t get much better. Ready, set, go!
By Rechavia “Rick” Berman
The Holy Mideast Peace Process merry-go-round (the second longest running act on earth, the only one older being the occupation it pretends to be solving) is off for another spin. While the U.S. president gets to largely keep his personal distance from the mess, he’s still invested to some degree. Since Kerry’s prestige, or what’s left of it, is definitely laid on the line here, some of the White House’s is too. And while the U.S. doesn’t have the ability to shape events that it once did, it still has enough clout that most media that wants to be recognized as “serious” has to take the charade seriously. So, let me break down why not only will these talks go nowhere, but even if they did it would not lead to any good.
I’m betting you’ve heard all about how the most Netanyahu will be willing to give is still far from the minimum Abbas will be able to accept. Yet the counter for this argument is that the greatness of the opportunity will be forced upon our Bibi, and he will switch the recalcitrant Jewish Home (Settler-religious) party for Labor in his ruling coalition, pass a deal that will actually result in something the majority of the world would be willing to call a “Palestinian state” and declare the whole bothersome business dealt with, moving on to other crap that needs attending to around the globe.
Further, intimate some reporters, Netanyahu realizes that his only way to keep the prime minister position (without the entire world letting Israel know it’s closed for business till a change in management happens) is to make some kind of deal happen this time, and he is even willing to do what Sharon did and leave the more right-wing wing of his own Likud party behind and start a new party.
All this, we’re being told, will combine to align the stars as they were in 1977 and 1991-93, and force a real change in the ground rules. A new reality markedly better than the one preceding it.
Fine. Let’s grant that scenario and not even try to explain why it won’t happen. Not even go into whether residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (get to that in a sec) were really better off before Oslo. Flags, trumpets, ceremony galore and even a nice lil’ wave of Palestinian ex-pats flooding Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, saying, “It’ll never be my grandfather’s ancestral home in Yaffa, but let’s build some kind of Free Filastin. Yalla.”
First, as promised, there’s the pesky lil’ problem of Gaza. Sure, Israel would love to cement the land-locked “free” West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip being totally and permanently separate, but it ain’t gonna hold: b) there’s too much connection between people in both places, and; b) even assuming the “Dafawis” (Palestinians from the WB) give up on their sea-side brethren, anyone thinking one of the most densely populated places on earth (the Gaza Strip, of course) can be kept forever under a boot like that without exploding is ignorant of the basic dynamics of the world.
So as promised, not two but three different political entities: Israel, “Free Palestine” and blockaded Hamas-stan. I think that makes three. So the “Palestinian Problem” (remember when it was the Jewish Problem?) isn’t solved, it’s merely sliced a bit thinner and painted different. And in the spirit of “not gonna even,” I’ll forgo a long explanation about why land-locked, mineral-poor “Palestine” in the West Bank will not really be a “state” but always a glorified autonomy, unless and until it merges with Jordan in a post-Hashemite reality. So only one actual sovereign and viable state.
So far, this was easy. The “Solution” part of the promised trifecta takes more words to explain.
Israel’s other Arab problem
You know who gets screwed the most here? Israel’s citizen-Arabs. The “’48 Arabs.”
As we speak of improving relations between Israelis and Palestinians occupied since 1967, Israel is implementing a policy regarding some of its own Palestinian “equal citizens” that is unmatched in its aggression since the rough and tumble martial-law years of Israeli history’s early third of its history. I’m referring to the Prawer Plan, which calls for the removal of 30-40,000 Bedouins in Israel’s south, from one part of the Negev to the other — to be packed from dozens of small utterly rural types of dwellings into the seven shantytowns Israel created for the Bedouin population in the 1970s, where about half of all Bedouin citizens have since chosen to move. The other half prefer a more country style of living, and since they were already herded into a much denser area than their grandparents used to occupy before the establishment of Israel, they figure said state can and should just leave them be and recognize the few dozen little villages they’ve sorted themselves into since said herding by State.
But the state says no. Although the Bedouins are 25-30 percent of the Negev’s population, and although the number of of villages (places smaller and less urban than a “town”) for Jews in the Negev is well over 50, the government will only tolerate 11 such for the Bedouin population – the 11 recently-recognized villages in the Abu Basme regional council. How recognized are these 11? Most still don’t have electricity or running water, and in some attempts to build even makeshift schools are met with SWAT teams and tear gas. The other several tens of thousands of Bedouin folk live in places slated for destruction and forced removal.
Now, Israel’s advocates will tell you that there’s compensation involved for those made to relocate, and some cash (about $100 million) even slated for enlarging the seven Bedouin towns to which they are to be relocated. True, but without even getting into whether the compensation (and the harsh terms for those who don’t take it within a certain timeframe) are fair, there are still two major problems:
1) As stated above, Bedouins (a term roughly used here as equivalent to any non-Jewish, Arabic-speaking citizen living south of the Hebron-Gaza line) make up about a third of the Negev’s population. Despite this, they are already only allowed to live in a small corner of it, and have less than one half their proportionate municipal area. True, in the category “local municipalities” (places smaller than a city but densely populated and urban-to-suburban in nature) half are Bedouin. But there’s only one Bedouin city to more than 10 Jewish ones in that area and only 11 places, smaller and more thinly-populated than a town, for Bedouins compared to 70-80 for Jews.
2) These people aren’t being moved because the state needs the land for mining or office parks or nature reserves or anything of the sort. The state intends for people to live there – just not Arabic-speaking ones. Hebrew-speaking ones. Jews. Some will say: Israel uprooted Jews too! From the Gaza Strip when it disengaged from there! Yes, true. However, that was a place Israel decided to cease to control, at least on land. It is one thing to relinquish a territory, and another to say: “No, this is still totally part of my sovereign territory, and I totally intend for people to live here, but only a certain ethnicity. In fact it’s so important to me to that they live here and not them, that I’m willing to go through a massive, divisive, potentially explosive process of shipping them out and shipping them in. Instead of just recognizing them where they already are. Even though they and them are all equal citizens, see.”
So we see that Israel is refusing to create or recognize places for this population (non-Jewish in the Negev) that are either seriously upwardly-mobile OR seriously back-country (i.e. less influential but living on more land per person). The places it does recognize for this population, it underserves and treats as a problem child at best.
And guess what? Negev Bedouins have it better than most Arabs in Israel. For the Bedouins, Israel has created seven and recognized a further 11 new places to live since its founding. For the other 75-80 percent of its Arab population (about 15 percent of the total citizenry of Israel) it hasn’t even done that. Not a single new city, town or village for Arabs has been created by the State of Israel north of the Negev since its founding. There are no current plans to my knowledge to do so.
Therein lies the rub
Okay, I hear you saying. That’s f-ed up and all, but where are you going with this and how did we get here from the other Israeli-Arab thing? Glad you asked:
You know how Israel in the past 15 years or so has added a condition to its terms for peace – recognizing it as a “Jewish State”? Israel managed to make peace with two of its four Arab neighbors without that particular language. It was simply recognized. But with the Palestinians, it has to be “recognize us as a Jewish state.” Now, please note that nowhere does Israel officially refer to itself internationally as a “Jewish State.” Egypt, for instance, is officially The Arab Republic of Egypt. By recognizing Egypt and agreeing to formal contact and non-hostile relations with it, you’re recognizing it as it presents itself – an Arab country. Israel did not choose to call itself The Jewish Republic of Israel. Nor has the government officially announced plans to do so, despite legislative initiatives on its right flank to define Israel as “the state of the Jewish people.” So what gives?
Answer: “Recognize us as a Jewish State” is code for, “in return for us giving up on direct, on-the-ground-control of the land in both the West Bank (with land swaps yada yada yada) and the Gaza Strip (staying under the boot from air and sea – but not land! – for the foreseeable future, ’cause them guys won’t play nice), you agree to leave us the f— alone about anything we do regarding the remaining Ay-rabs under our control.”
After the “immense sacrifice” of giving up the West Bank (lots of territory, few actual people need to move, because, settlement blocs and land swaps and so on), the absolute last thing the Israeli electorate (the 75-80 percent of it that’s non-Arab) will be willing to hear is that it needs to be considerate of any more non-Jews.
If Israel is willing to show this kind of aggression towards the part of the Arabic-speaking, non-Druze/Circassian citizenry that’s most willing to coexist within the state, even while dealing with pressure about the occupation and all, just imagine what it will be willing to do to Palestinians in the center and north of the country, who mostly don’t serve in the IDF (unlike most of the Bedouins, including the ones from “unrecognized villages,” who do), with a huge “get off my back, I just made historic, heart-wrenching concessions for these @#$%! people already!” card.
Backlash, not a solution
The development needs of ’48 Arabs, already flagrantly underserved, will worsen severely. The discrimination in everything from employment to government funding per capita to municipal territories will get worse for this minority. To retain even the level of inequality that exists today will require an enthusiastic embrace of the state and all it stands for and forswearing any outstanding grievances or identity issues. And the reflexive response of most in Israel (and many around the world) will be, “let them move to the (“free” and “equal”) State of Palestine if they don’t like it.”
Why do I say this? Again: This is happening even now, as Israel is already dealing with pressure over its treatment of millions of Palestinians who aren’t even enfranchised. About a third of the Jewish electorate (at least) already supports some kind of legislation to make it clear that Jewish citizens are more central to the state. That’s before being forced to make any kind of concessions in the sacred West Bank. How does this trend not intensify tenfold after that? Even if only, say, a few dozen thousand (out of 600,000 Jews living beyond the Green Line) need to be resettled, how does that not trump any and all needs of 10 times that many Arabs? Defiantly so?
So we see that even if all of John Kerry’s dreams come true within the next year or two, we will only be switching a cessation of the discrimination and usurpation of roughly 40 percent of the total Palestinian population between the river and the sea, on roughly 20 percent of the land, for the increased oppression of the other 40 percent, over 78 percent of the land (the remaining being the “third state” in the Gaza Strip. some 20 percent on 2 percent of the land, staying screwed as per the status quo before this magical impending “deal”).
In any event, the wound of 1948 finds no actual solution. The locus of the inflammation merely shifts. And this time, 25 years of progressively preparing the public opinion of the Jewish majority to accept the need for some sort of compromise will only serve as a backlash – equal force, opposite direction. But that’s okay. That’ll take a few more years to blow up. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Kerry will have to deal with that.
Rick’s book, “Jewcy Story”, a popular history of the 2nd Temple Era, can be bought for Amazon Kindle, for cell phone or for PC here.