ISRAEL: The price of silence
Akiva Eldar «View Bio

The failure of all the peace initiatives that tried to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the two- states-for-two-nations model – from the 1993 Oslo Agreement to the 2003 road map – has once again put the one-state-for-two-nations idea on the agenda.

An increasing number of prominent Palestinians, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), are saying that the Palestinian Authority should be dismantled, and the keys – i.e. the responsibility for the safety and welfare of the West Bank and Gaza Strip residents – should be returned to Israeli hands. Officials suggest laying down arms and letting time accomplish that which the Palestinian people failed to obtain through violence. Many avow that demography will succeed where diplomacy has failed.

Those who uphold this view believe that, just as in South Africa, the international community will not allow a Jewish minority to rule over an Arab majority, and will force Israel to adopt the ‘one person, one vote’ principle. According to this view, the Palestinian majority will turn Greater Israel, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, into Greater Palestine.

From the Palestinian viewpoint, this could be quite an attractive scenario. As far as they are concerned, if indeed there is a chance that it could come true, it would be worthwhile to wait patiently and endure occupation for another few years.

If one can eat the whole cake, why settle for a few slices? Who needs diplomatic initiatives involving tiresome negotiations and the necessary, significant territorial concessions, if there is a chance of reaping the booty soon, with no bargaining and no concessions at all? Why be content with the Geneva Accord, granting the Palestinians 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine, with no right of return for refugees, if control of 100 percent of the territory can be had, with open gates for each and every refugee?

Only the near-sighted and hard of hearing could believe that the Israeli right-wing ignores this scenario. Anyone examining Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s separation plan will understand that the Israeli right will not let the Palestinian national movement use the demographic-democratic weapon to defeat the Zionist movement.

In a few months, 3.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank will find themselves locked up in enclaves comprising half of that territory. The separation barrier will cut them off from the rest of the land, which, for all practical purposes, will be annexed to Israel. East Jerusalem, for instance, will be physically separated from Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jericho.

Israel will not oppose the UN recognition of these West Bank enclaves and the Gaza Strip as a Palestinian state, and might even encourage such a move. The international community will not be able to vote against Palestinian independence, with Israel declaring that the new state’s borders are merely ‘temporary.’ Israel might even promise that within 15 or 20 years it will agree to start negotiating permanent borders – provided there are no terror attacks, after Hamas and other militant organizations are banned, and if Palestine should become a model democracy.

What would Israel discuss with the Palestinians once it is persuaded that they are indeed worthy partners for negotiation? In his annual Herzliya speech, Sharon made his intentions quite clear: while relatively small settlements within the Palestinian enclave will be evacuated, he will move to increase the population of the larger settlements which, according to him, will remain in Israeli hands within the framework of any permanent status agreement.

Within Sharon’s permanent status map, the areas considered vital to Israel include a stretch of land along the Green Line; a thick ‘finger’ connecting to the Ariel area and greater Jerusalem (including the entire area between Ma’ale Edumim and Pisgat Ze’ev); and a strip of land in the Jordan valley, covering about a quarter of the West Bank. Even if the Israeli government were to renounce all the territory beyond these “vital areas,” the Palestinian state’s territory would not exceed 60 percent of the West Bank. As a result, the ‘Palestinian state,’ which will resemble the South African ‘homelands,’ will have no land reserves; hundreds of thousands of refugees will be compelled to raise another generation devoid of all hope; Palestine will remain a protectorate state, with its international relations, economy, and welfare all depending on Israel’s goodwill.

The American response to the Herzliya speech, in which Sharon presented his idea of separation, indicates that the US will not oppose his plan. Once the UN accepts the Palestinian state, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will stop being of interest to the international community and will turn into one of the myriad border conflicts of which most people around the world never hear. The struggle between both movements will become permanent, and the suffering experienced on both sides will increase.

The only way to stop the deterioration and move ahead is the course outlined by the Geneva Accord or the People’s Voice formula – two states for two nations. One side renounces the implementation of the Jewish right of return to Hebron, the other side renounces the Palestinian right of return to Jaffa.

Akiva Eldar is senior political columnist and editorial writer for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Courtesy of Common Ground News Service