If world opinion can be determined from recent newspaper accounts, it seems that there is strong sentiment for Israel to return to the 1967 borders or what has been called the Green Line, notwithstanding the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian election.
While this desire has certainly gained momentum in the last few years and may indeed be the inexorable direction of policy, it is simply illogical. At this stage of Israel’s history these borders are indefensible jeopardizing the very existence of the state. If Israel were to withdraw to its old borders, every airplane entering and leaving Ben Gurion airport would be subject to attack from a shoulder-held missile launcher. Recognizing precisely this security risk George Schulz in 1988 said, “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”
Why, then, has this illogical position gained so much ground?
International opinion suggests that the Palestinian cause must be recognized as a prelude to regional peace. In fact, most people – even Israelis – refer to the West Bank as “occupied territory.”
Yet the West Bank, obtained in the ’67 war, is to occupied territory what California is to the United States – land secured from war. Moreover, in the period from 1948 to 967 when Gaza was in Egyptian control and the West Bank was part of Jordan, there wasn’t a Palestinian issue and certainly no call for a separate state.
As a result of very effective propaganda, the Palestinian cause has moved from non-issue to the front burner with even Tony Blair declaring that this matter is among the most important on the globe and must be addressed before other issues are considered.
From the standpoint of the G-8 the financial and emotional cost of the issue is too great. It is the symbol of unattended Muslim interests is said (or rationalized) to be a factor promoting terrorism. Of course, no serious analyst would maintain that the existence of a Palestinian state would pari passu reduce terrorist ambitions.
Perhaps the overarching reason for the pressure is the consequence of 9/11. The Bush doctrine, predicated on the spread of democracy instead of stability, cannot make inroads in the dysfunctional Arab world as long as the Israeli Palestinian conflict is seen as an excuse to oppose liberalization. Why, note Arab leaders, should we reform our nations when you cannot embrace a reform in behalf of Palestinians?
It is instructive that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution, but the devil is in the details. The Barak plan, endorsed by President Clinton, was the most far reaching since it gave the Palestinians almost everything they asked for. Still it was rejected by Arafat.
Now it seems this plan is being trotted out again, notwithstanding the appropriate skepticism on the Israeli side.
In order to gild the lily, Palestinian leaders contend that their ability to reach some accommodation with Hamas is dependent on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. How else can the Palestinian government demonstrate its influence and legitimacy? With Hamas terrorists part of the government, progress on an independent state must be made in order to extract concessions for peace, at least this is the Abu Mazen line.
For most Israelis making concessions before there is a visible reduction in violence is foolhardy. The G-8 see it differently, but then the G-8 do not reside on Middle East terrain.
Demography also complicates any state creation. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. There are 10.8 million people who live between the Jordan River and the sea. Assuming a modest birthrate slightly below replacement level (2.1 children per family) this area will have more than 30 million people by 2050 and be one of the most densely populated regions on the globe. Space, clean air, and water will become stretched to the limit. Yet here, too, it should be noted that the G-8 leaders don’t spend their vacations in Gaza.
The problem is that this illogical proposition is regarded as indispensable, thereby making the irrational logical. Can Israel resist? Can it engage in “a carom shot” that allows the G-8 powers to find solace in reform without resorting to statehood?
I think not, but then again, in this part of the world miracles happen. Maybe one awaits the Palestinians and the Israelis.