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"Solutions" for the Israeli / Palestinian Conflict
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A Quick Overview of the Various Bad Options
In the hundreds of blog posts / essays that I have written over the last few years, I have never directly addressed the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. This is partly because I am ambivalent about the whole thing, having listened to strong (and weak) arguments from people on both sides. I also am short on any realistic solutions or profound insights. Ultimately, I see this as a struggle over a tiny, highly valued piece of real estate, and given that you would be hard-pressed to find a plot of earth that is not conquered soil, arguments over who "owns" the land seem rather pointless. States and empires last until they crumble from within or someone else conquers them, and claiming that you were here first has not always carried much weight throughout human history.
But as anyone who remotely follows international events knows, military conflict has flared up once again between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and having browsed through some of the online arguing, I could not help chiming in here and there. I am not particularly interested, however, in getting involved in the typical debate over who is the bigger good (or bad) guy. Instead, I prefer discussing what could be done to alleviate the situation. So I am going to lay out briefly the only options that I can see for resolving this seemingly never ending conflict. The problem, however, is that every option I will list here has some fundamental problems. Some will lead to widespread suffering on one or the other (or both) side(s). Others will never happen because of too much opposition from Israel, the Palestinians, and/or other nations. And even if the Israelis or Palestinians were able to come to some sort of an agreement, there are likely to be various actors who oppose the deal and will take actions to disrupt it.
Having said all of this, here are the various (bad) options. And while I see them all as deeply flawed, I think that the two-state solution is most likely to succeed. Most likely, however, the status quo will continue indefinitely:
1) Neighboring countries incorporate the predominantly Palestinian territories, with Jordan taking over the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip. Palestinians do not get their own state, but they can become citizens of predominantly Muslim nations and no longer have to deal with Israeli military occupation. Israel would have to give up its settlements in the West Bank, but it could theoretically face fewer attacks from angry Palestinians and from others offended by Israeli military occupation. Egypt and Jordan, however, may not be thrilled with taking over responsibility for these areas and their people.
2) Israel formally annexes the West Bank and Gaza, which leaves several possibilities for what happens to the Palestinians currently living there:
a) They become full-fledged citizens with full legal and political rights. This, of course, would threaten the status of Israel as a Jewish state, making it a non-starter for many Israelis. Many Israelis will also not be comfortable with Palestinians freely moving throughout this enlarged Israeli state, and there will undoubtedly be some Palestinians who use this freedom of movement to wreak havoc. (The same could be said for "b" . . .)
b) They become some sort of second-class citizens who can live and work in Israel but are not allowed to vote. If Jewish Israelis retain political control, then, in theory, they can maintain their nation's status as a Jewish state. The problem, of course, is that Palestinians may not be pleased with this second-class status.
c) In order to maintain the integrity of Israel as a Jewish state, a sufficient number of Palestinians are periodically moved to neighboring nations or to whatever places might take them in. This could be done by brute force, or financial incentives can be given to either Palestinians who leave or to the nations that take them in (or both).
d) They could be rounded up onto reservations, Gaza Strip style.
e) See #3
3) If Israel seeks to formally annex the West Bank and Gaza, war is likely to follow. So in the conflict that ensues, a conflict Israel is likely to win, Palestinians in large numbers will be killed outright or will become refugees. With Palestinians fully displaced, Israel no longer has to worry about maintaining the integrity of Israel as a Jewish state. It will also fulfill the desire of many Jewish Israelis to expand their territory without constant resistance and threat of attack, and Jerusalem will finally be completely theirs.
Now there is also the (remote) possibility that Israel could be wiped out should full-scale war break out between Israel, Palestinians, and likely state and non-state actors from throughout the world. But if a full-scale bloodbath were to break out, this could ultimately resolve this conflict one way or the other. A simple solution, therefore, is that all sides stop this decades-long cycle of small-scale conflict followed by temporary truce followed by small-scale conflict, and just get the business over with.
4) Have some sort of a two-state solution, although this will raise all of the same old sticking points - settlements, "right of return," borders, Jerusalem, the distance between the West Bank and Gaza - that have always come up when this is on the table.
5) Israelis give up on the whole Zionist experiment and find places around the world willing to take them in, with many likely moving to the United States. The Holy Land will then revert to Palestinians, and the various factions remaining can fight one another over the same issues that are causing chaos throughout the Middle East. I don't think that it is necessary to point out the basic problem with this option.
6) Maintain the status quo, which is a messy hybrid of some of the options listed above. It is important to keep in mind, after all, that making no significant changes is a choice, an assertion that the status quo is superior to the other available options. And while all of the available options have flaws, few people, I assume, would argue that things are just fantastic as they currently stand.
So there you have it. The question, in the end, is which of the options is the least bad. In general, the options are for nothing to change, for the two sides to fight until one achieves victory, or for some sort of a compromise to be made. But given the decades of conflict and mistrust between the various parties involved, I am not feeling too optimistic about the prospects for compromise. Either one side will ultimately win, or we will reach a point where both sides have suffered so much that they have no choice but to compromise. Militarily, Israel clearly has the upper hand. In the battle over international public opinion, however, the Palestinians seem to be winning. So how far will Israel go in using its military advantage to maintain its security? To what degree will Israel be held back by international public pressure? For decades, these opposing forces of Israeli military power versus international public opinion have created the current status quo. For how much longer can it last? And does anyone really want it to continue?