Sunday, February 12, 2006

On the land with two people and two people with a land

It is often stated that a two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel, a Jewish state, living next to a Muslim majority Arab republic called Palestine, with the border running approximately along the line of the 1949 cease-fire line — that is, what was Israel’s border before the Six Day War of 1967 — with shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, and some solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that doesn’t dilute Israel’s Jewishness: this is the essential idea.

Whether such a solution will lead to a lasting peace crucially depends on whether most Israelis and Palestinians accept the solution to be capable of delivering peace. It is often stated that most Israelis and Palestinians do actually think so. However, it is not at all obvious that either belligerent party should rationally believe that the two-state solution would lead to a lasting peace.

Start with Israel. The Jewish state’s 1967 border was extremely difficult to defend militarily — at some places, the Mediterranean was within the reach of Arab artillery. This by itself need not be a problem — the Bay of Bengal is within the reach of Indian artillery around Belonia, but even the most rabid anti-Indian politician in Bangladesh would not suggest occupying Tripura. Two factors mitigate against such a call: India’s overwhelming military superiority; and the fact that no Indian politician vows to destroy Bangladesh, even though partition created no less tragic a population displacement than did the establishment of Israel.

The problem with the 1967 boundary for Israel is that a potentially Islamic Republic in the West Bank that will almost certainly be armed by a nuclear Iran could literally drive the Jews to the sea. Can Israel risk something like that? For Israel, the only Palestinian state that can be safely conceded is one with no more than municipal control over a few Bantustans. This is what Barak and Clinton offered Arafat in 2000.

And Arafat rejected it, primarily because he thought that he could do better. There will soon be, if it is not the case already, more Arabs than Jews in the land between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. The logic of numbers means that Israel will have to choose either its Jewishness or its democracy. Why settle for these enclaves when a Palestinian state, whether alongside Israel or replacing it, will have to be granted sooner or later, Arafat must have reasoned.

Arafat may have reasoned thus, but what about Hamas? Maybe Hamas means it when it says that it will accept Israel’s right to exist behind the 1967 border. But does it have to accept Israel in action (as opposed to with words)? Suppose a genuine Palestinian state were created tomorrow, with a non-aggression treaty with Israel, and Hamas formed the government. What incentives will Hamas have to abide by its commitment to not attack Israel, when by breaking it they can potentially win whole of the historical Palestine, not just the 22 per cent that the 1967 border will have given them? International opprobrium and threats of sanctions and travel bans and so on would hurt secular Fatah much, much more than Hamas.

So the Palestinians have no good reason to accept a circumcised state, and Israelis have no good reason to offer anything more. This leaves the status quo as a solution. Another solution is one final apocalyptic war that ends with the destruction of Zionism. In either scenario, Israel is not the safest place for Jews to live among other Jews.

A place where Jews can live safely among other Jews — this is what the protagonist in Munich is supposed to fight for, so tells him his mother, whose entire family died during the Holocaust. The protagonist is a Mossad agent tasked with assassinating the Black September leadership. It’s a tat for the Black September tit of the 1972 Munich Olympics incidence. At the end of the movie, with the World Trade Centre visible in the background (it’s the 1970s in the movie), the protagonist tells his boss that there is no peace at the end of this road. At the end of the movie, the protagonist chooses to leave Israel and make Brooklyn his home.

I believe in America — thus begins The Godfather. Spielberg ends on a similar note. For him, the Promised Land is not on the banks of the River Jordan but on the Hudson River, Zion is not in Jerusalem but in New York. For many people, the Danish cartoons are the most offensive piece of art around (see the A-A-A view). Opinion, review and letters pages of the newspapers and magazines around me suggest otherwise, they are full of vitriol against Spielberg — though it must be noted, no one is talking about banning the movie or killing the director.

United States is the first country in history to be founded on a set of ideas, not on the basis of tribalism. Sure America is not the land of liberty in practice as it is in theory. Sure many actions taken by the American Republic betray its founding values. And many of the rights enshrined in the American constitution are now incorporated into founding documents of many other countries. But when all is said and done, Spielberg believes in America as the land where black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics can live in freedom.

I’d like to believe that the universal values of rights and liberties always triumph over tribalism. But I am not sure this is the case. I believe in these values, but as a brother from Fiji of Desi origin once told me: Easy for you to say these nice things, you have a home to go back to if the going gets tough. This is exactly what the PLO guerrilla tells the protagonist in the movie: You don’t know what it is like not to have a patch of land to call your own.

Spielberg might believe in America, but many of his co-religionists believe in the existence of Israel as a place where Jews can return to if the going gets tough. If Israel is to exist as a safe place for Jews to live among other Jews, and if a Palestine cannot be conceded, then what is the solution? If Hamas can think of driving the Jews to the sea, there are those among the Jews for whom the logical solution is to drive the Arabs to the desert.

There is definitely peace at the end of this road, the peace of the graveyard. The question is, whose graves will it have?