A New Middle East Approach | The Nation


A New Middle East Approach

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The March 18 issue features a collection of readers' comments on this article, "New Mideast Approach": Flawed?

Why This Approach Can Work

About the Author

Jerome M. Segal
Jerome M. Segal, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security...

As noted above, from an Israeli point of view one of the problems with unilateral separation is that it turns land over to the Palestinians but gets nothing in return. In particular, it leads to a Palestinian state that has made no commitments with respect to security issues. By contrast, this proposal, which I call externally directed separation/end of territorial conflict (EDS/ETC), extracts from the PLO in advance major concessions on a variety of issues: Israel as a Jewish state, the finality of borders, demilitarization, alliances and international inspectors. Other security considerations could be pursued through bilateral negotiations, using economic cooperation as an incentive.

Like the proposals for unilateral separation, EDS/ETC results in Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state, and leaves for the future negotiations on other issues. Because both approaches result in a Palestinian state, they share the important benefit of moving Palestinian nationalism toward normalization. If Israel's long-term security vis-à-vis the Palestinians is to be attained, it will come about not through crushing popular movements and terrorists with popular support but through the evolution of Palestinian nationalism into the familiar pattern of a nation-state with national interests to protect, and thus with a susceptibility to the familiar logic of deterrence between states.

Externally directed separation, however, has a particular value for Israel with respect to the internal problems it faces over settlement evacuation. Whether through bilateral agreement, unilateral separation or externally directed separation, extricating the settlers from the West Bank and Gaza will be a traumatic experience for Israeli society. Potentially it will pit the Israeli army against armed settlers. Probably there will be experiences so scarring that Israel will not recover for a generation. Of the three alternative approaches to separation, externally directed separation will result in the lowest level of national trauma. An evacuation from the settlements that is forced upon an Israeli government by the pressure of the entire outside world is one that is not optional. As such it will engender the least amount of resistance and have the widest level of popular support. Moreover, once it is accomplished, as externally imposed, it will be relatively free from never-ending charges of internal betrayal. In this way, it is even preferable to a bilateral negotiated agreement.

In the plan presented above, the five permanent members of the Security Council, led by the United States, would require a withdrawal not to some interim territorial line but to a permanent border between Israel and Palestine, recognizing Israeli sovereignty within that border. Thus the plan seeks territorial stability. Under the current political configuration in Israel, no proposal for unilateral separation will be sufficient in territory to achieve a stable border. Externally directed separation, just because it is imposed, has the ability to go beyond the constraints of domestic politics. In this case, imposition from the outside represents an advantage for Israel, even though it will mean that more territory is transferred to the Palestinians. By imposing final borders, the Security Council will solidify an international consensus on the territorial issue. As such, there will be virtually no international support or sympathy for any further Palestinian territorial ambitions. In international law, it will end the territorial dimension of the conflict.

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