'New Mideast Approach': Flawed?
There are many grave problems with Jerome M. Segal's "A New Middle East Approach" [Jan. 28]. I will discuss two. The first is Segal's repeated insistence that the United Nations and any government of a state of Palestine recognize Israel's right to exist "as a Jewish state." Has the UN, out respect for everyone's civil "rights," not tended to call upon states to respect the various religious preferences of all their citizens, to avoid setting themselves up as theocracies, whether they be "Jewish states" or "Islamic republics"?
Segal's desire represents an unspoken effort by Jewish Israelis to avoid responding constructively to demands that they address the misery of the vast numbers of Arab refugees who were driven from the area that is now Israel, refugees who have languished for more than a half-century in wretched encampments in Lebanon and Jordan. This avoidance may be understandable, but it is a deal-breaker. Peace cannot come to Palestine until Israeli Jews transform their nation into a secular state and make amends to those who lost their homes.
A second problem is Segal's absurd and demeaning insistence that a state of Palestine not be allowed to import weapons. Palestinians must be permitted to ward off Israel's relentless attacks on them. The expressions of outrage by Israel and the United States at the discovery of an arms shipment bound for Palestine were deliriously hypocritical. Until the Palestinians cease to be victimized by overwhelming (mostly US-supplied) Israeli firepower, there will be no peace in the area.
Now, I suppose that the Palestinians would agree to forgo importation of weapons if the Israelis would do likewise, but I suspect that even the "dovish" Segal would not agree to that. These two points alone undercut Segal's apparent desire for peace. Taken together, all his proposals constitute nothing more than the latest effort by Jewish immigrants to Palestine and their descendants to maintain their position of extreme privilege. Their privilege has played the largest part in sustaining the hostilities that have scarred Palestine for fifty-four years. Until Israeli Jews agree to live equally and respectfully with their Arab neighbors, they will not experience peace.
LAWRENCE A. BECK
Jerome Segal's approach is inherently flawed. The major flaw lies in his suggestion that Israel withdraw from only 95 percent of the occupied West Bank (percentage according to what? the 1967 Green Line? including East Jerusalem?). First, Israel controls the entire water and electrical supplies for the occupied West Bank from Israel proper. The remaining 5 percent of the West Bank that Israel wants to retain is made up of its settlement blocks, strategically positioned over underground aquifers along the 1967 Green Line. If a land swap were to occur for this remaining 5 percent, it would (1) legitimate the Israeli colonization/settlement effort in the West Bank, already deemed illegal by UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, and (2) maintain Israeli control over the West Bank's underground water supply, thereby insuring a Palestinian state dependent on Israel.
Second, there is an issue of the quality of the land swapped. One proposed land swap would have resulted in Israel obtaining land that can support agriculture and, more important, that is above underground water aquifers. In exchange, the Palestinians would have received a sliver of land located next to the Gaza Strip that has no resources and cannot support agriculture. The only solution must be grounded in a 100 percent withdrawal to the 1967 Green Line and include evacuation of all settlements.
For Jerome Segal, Israel's and Israelis' security prevails over everything and anything, including the Palestinians (who have nothing of Israel's might, ordinarily directed at Palestinian civilians--their roads, their trees, their homes, their liberty and their lives), but is immune from the charge of terror. Segal is able to notice none of the Palestinians' suffering, nor their recognized rights under international law.
Segal is advocating a supposedly popular Israeli trend called "separation" from the Palestinians. The term reveals a burden that Israel and Israelis are so keen to dispose of, namely the Palestinians, and thus pursue living in a pure Jewish state. One may ask, therefore, what about the 1 million Palestinians living inside Israel, who have official citizenship but actual third-class status? How exactly are Israel and Israelis going to separate from them? The answer is easy: by continuing to negate the binational reality of the country, together with its history and memory.
A problem with Jerome Segal's Middle East approach is that most Israelis do not trust the UN Security Council to implement (not impose--relatively easy--but follow through on) an equitable peace settlement. Will the Council be as diligent in intercepting illegal arms shipments to the Palestinian state as the IDF? Can it prevent a Palestinian state from meddling in Jordanian politics or from, say, concluding a defensive alliance with Iraq against Jordan, with its obvious strategic implications for Israel's security? There is much talk these days about building trust. It seems to me that the Security Council, working from a deficit, has some preliminary work to do here (if it hasn't already squandered its opportunity).
College Park, Md.
I will respond to the issues raised by the letter writers in turn:
(1) The plan asks the PLO to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but is such a state morally legitimate?
Obviously a big question, one under considerable debate in Israel. A good part of the issue depends on what one means by a Jewish state. There are all sorts of possible meanings under which such a state would not be legitimate. The issue is whether there are any in which it would be. Contrary to the suggestion in the first letter, the idea of a Jewish state does not necessarily imply a theocracy, that is rule by religious authorities or by religious law. Neither of these characterizes Israel. Nor does it necessarily imply discrimination among its citizens. I favor a rather minimal definition of a Jewish state, aside from one that might proclaim itself as such; this implies one that structures its immigration policy specifically with the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority. This does not require that no Palestinians will be able to return, but it does involve limitations. Given both a belief in the right of a people to self-determination, as well as the history of the conflict, I believe this can be justified. It is worth remembering that in response to the continued struggle over who would dominate in historic Palestine, in 1947 the UN Partition Resolution provided for two states, one Arab and one Jewish. This resolution, and this specific phrase, was for the first time endorsed by the Palestinians, in their Declaration of Independence adopted in 1988.
(2) How can one justify limiting the state of Palestine's ability to arm itself?
The harsh reality is that the asymmetry of military strength is part of what makes it possible to resolve the conflict. Given that Palestinians believe that the creation of Israel was a vast injustice, if they were equal to Israel militarily, the prospect of a land-for-peace deal would evaporate. This is true on the Israeli side as well. It is their military superiority that serves as a basis for a willingness to give up land and run the risk of a new, possibly hostile state next to them without any natural boundaries. The Palestinians, at Taba, have already agreed that theirs would be a nonmilitarized state.
(3) Would allowing Israel to retain even 5 percent of the West Bank prevent Palestinian development and legitimize the settlements?
At Taba, the Palestinians offered an Israeli retention of about 3 percent plus a 1-for-1 territorial swap. My proposal sets 5 percent as a maximum and also requires a 1-for-1 swap, which is not vastly different. The Security Council would serve as arbitrator. It need not accept the Israeli proposal. It will review it, hold hearings and possibly amend it.
(4) What happens to the 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel?
My proposal raises no new problems with respect to the situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel not raised by any other way of getting to the two-state solution. The greatest danger faced by the Palestinian minority in Israel is the continuation of the conflict and its possible escalation. If things escalate into genuine war, they will be in peril. With a stable peace, something Israel has never had, there will be increased likelihood of moving toward fuller equality.
(5) How can Israel trust the UN Security Council?
To be sure, many Israelis will be quite wary about having the Security Council serve as arbitrator. Unlike in the General Assembly, however, the United States exercises a veto in the Council, and Israel retains plenty of influence over American policy. Vis-à-vis the Council, Israel is certainly more fully protected than the Palestinians. But there are risks for both sides. Every other proposal has risks as well. As to the interception of arms shipments, the provision for international monitoring does not imply that Israel would abandon its own monitoring efforts, merely that insofar as these were done on Palestinian territory it would be through Israeli participation in an international force.
In the end, it must be realized that if we are truly seeking policies that can end the conflict and provide some measure of justice, then the issue is not whether a specific proposal is free from legitimate concerns. Even the best policy may be less than perfect. The real question is whether there are better approaches. I see very few alternatives that are worth considering. If there is a better idea, what is it?