Friday, July 3, 2009

Indonesia in Palestine

After a marathon day of touring the settlements on our own, it was certainly refreshing to have someone, an Israeli, provide an objective context to the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In the early morning, we met up with an Israeli activist (mentioned above) whose aim is to end settlement building in the West Bank. One of the first things he said to the group was that a two-state solution, and consequently a lasting peace with the Palestinians, must involve the evacuation of all Israeli settlers from the West Bank. According to him, this was a must. And, as unimaginably difficult as such a pull-out will surely be, I have come to believe the same thing.

Several weeks ago I came across an article in the New York Times that included a map drawn by a French artist. The title was something to the effect of "The West Bank Archipelago" and the fictional map displayed groupings of islands, similar to Japan or Indonesia. Each island represented a different portion of land in the West Bank separated by channels of water, which represented Israeli checkpoints, roads, and settlement structures throughout this part of the Palestinian territories. These islands were all cut off from each other and carved up into smaller pieces of the whole. This was a perfect analogy because it demonstrated the daunting barrier that water imposes between the islands, in similar fashion to the manner in which Israeli presence in the West Bank has obstructed overall Palestinian freedom. It was a very effective visual display of the degree to which Israel has penetrated the West Bank, and in so doing, has cut off internal movement and connection between Palestinian cities and villages. The map told more to the viewer than the entire accompanying article.

Forget the analogy, the West Bank is an archipelago, just without the water. Although this archipelago is invisible from the maps we see of the world today, it's there. Just substitute the Israeli settlement project with the water and you have a territory carved up to the point that even if a two-state solution were to come to fruition, the West Bank economy would take years to recover as the newly created state would need to rehabilitate itself post-Israeli occupation. The many Palestinian islands would need ample time to float back into reunification with the whole. A two-state solution then means, especially in the beginning, that Israel would remain the strongest state in the region alongside a fledgling, weak country that would be forced to refocus its efforts on internal development and capactiy-building in the wake of decades of control from above. This is what came to mind during this round of settlement visits as our guide explained to us the underlying implications behind Israeli settlement-building. If enough time passes, and as enough outposts turn into settlements turn into cities, it's entirely possible that a two-state solution will no longer be viable. Israeli policy will have precluded such an option as Israel expands itself so deep into West Bank territory that any call for a reversal will be simply undoable.

This is the point of no return, but where the red line resides no one really knows. Going further into this scenario, the one-state solution becomes the only reasonable way to achieve peace. However, in maybe a decade, the Palestinian population in the region is expected to excced that of the Israeli population. In such a situation, a one-state solution that would bring both Palestinians and Israels under the same rule of government would give the majority Palestinian population the upper hand in a democracy. This would be unacceptable for Israel, whose establishment was predicated on the notion of a Jewish, democratic state. Under a single state with a Palestinian majority, at least one of those principles would have to be sacrificed. On one end, the state would shred its democratic principles and the minority of Jews would control the majority of Palestinian majority by force. On the other end, Israel would be forced to relinquish its Jewish idenity, and accept the fact, as painful as it would surely be, that a democracy ultimately means rule by the people. A Palestinian majority would almost mean rule by Palestinians in a country whose meaning for existence was built upon this notion of a Jewish state. Such a drastic change would be cataclysmic for Israelis.

One of the two above outcomes seems possible if settlement construction continues unabated in the West Bank. It is in this way that settlement growth is actually inimical to long-term Israeli interests. One day Israel will wake up and, under intense calls from the international community for peace after seven decades of confict, be faced with no other option but the one-state solution. For Israel's sake, I hope it is able to see the writing on the wall now before a decade passes and there are over 1 million Israelis living in the West Bank.

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