Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why I'm Hopelessly Conflicted

I just finished reading Dennis Ross' The Missing Peace, which is a ridiculously detailed account of the peace process going all the way back to the Reagan administration. It's over 800 pages and recounts pretty much every meeting he had with Israeli or Arab negotiators. It took months to read and it's about 300 pages too long, but it's an important read.

The amazing thing is that throughout the book I found myself agreeing with him. A lot. Maybe if Bibi was just a little more forthcoming, or if Shamir took Madrid seriously we'd have peace. But at the same time I know that Arafat had no intention of making peace and the only way to stop the Intifada was to destroy the terrorist organizations as much as possible.

The problem is these two ideas are mutually exclusive, and I'm going to explain why in my next post. Despite that I'm sympathetic to Ross' ideology as well as Bibi's. In this post, I'd like to explain why.

As surprising as it might sound, I did not follow politics in high school. I knew the President and Vice President but I couldn't tell you much about Madeline Albright or William Cohen. I barely knew anything about the Monica Lewinsky fiasco and there's no way I could have named a single Supreme Court justice.

That all changed when I decided to spend a year in Israel (it ended up being extended to two years). I went to Hakotel from 98-00, which were the two years before the Intifada started raging. As one might guess Hesder Yeshivas are typically right-wing, and I was no different than anyone else. Like th rest of the place I "knew" that the Palestinians had no interest in making peace with Israel and only wanted to carve up the land so they could take it all. I "knew" that Barak was an idiot for even talking to them (forget about promising to transfer Abu Dis) and that Bibi's electoral loss was a tragedy. In all honesty I probably would have voted for National Union if I was a citizen.

After my two years I came back to the U.S. and started YU. The Camp David Summit happened over the summer, and I didn't really follow what was going on. I was astounded that Barak was crazy enough to offer the Palestinians a state, but I doubted that anything would actually happen.

Then the Intifada started. Given my argumentative nature I started perusing message boards on the Internet, especially the Israeli Politics board on AOL. At that point the message board had some intelligent people on both sides of the issue, and I was shocked to hear legitimate arguments coming from a pro-Palestinian poster. As I decided to do some research I realized that not all Palestinians are bad and that Israel has not always been historically right.

And one day I realized that my views were irretrievably flawed. I had no solution. I had spent months arguing that Israel did not start the Six Day War, did not expel the Palestinians in 1948 en masse, and had a right to exist. I was sure (as I still am) that the Palestinians were to blame for the Intifada and that Israel was getting a bad rap. But while all of that might be true, I had no answer to the central question underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: what's the endgame?

Despite flirting with Kahane's theories (I actually wrote a paper defending his views for an English class), I knew that solution was too fraught with moral and practical mines to even take seriously. On the other hand, annexing the territories is a bad idea because of the Palestinian demographic advantage. Nevertheless something had to be done. The status quo was not an endgame. We couldn't keep the territories forever.

The only answer was to create a Palestinian State and withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza. I still believe that's the only solution. But I knew that solution could not be implemented under the Arafat regime because he had no interest in peace. So Israel should remain in control of the territories until the Palestinians get their act together and focus more on nation building than destroying Israel.

But it doesn't take a genius to realize that the IDF imposing curfews, checkpoints, and engaging in military action will make the average Palestinian want peace with Israel less. At the same time, relaxing these conditions is a grave threat to Israel and strengthens the terrorist groups. So what do we do?

That is the essential paradox. On one hand we need to make life for the Palestinians better because only then will they feel they have something to lose by killing Israelis. On the other hand making their life better requires making Israel's life worse.

In my next post I intend to show why this paradox cannot be solved and why we have to make a difficult choice.

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