A peace no one wins

By Jack Miles
August 6, 2005

ON THURSDAY, A Jewish extremist opened fire in a bus in northern Israel, killing four Arab Israelis and wounding a dozen others before being overpowered and beaten to death by an angry crowd. The killer, Eden Natan Zada, had deserted from the Israeli army rather than take part in the eviction of Jews from settlements in the Gaza Strip, but the leader of the main group opposing the evictions immediately denounced his crime, saying: "Murder is murder is murder."

Zada's crime, despite this repudiation, comes as a reminder that tensions in Israel can have grave consequences for Israel's Arabs. Few Jews are likely to express hostility toward Arab Israelis as Zada did, but there are other ways, and they are being aired now with a stunning bluntness. FLAME (Facts and Logic About the Middle East) is an organization that for years has placed aggressively pro-Israeli ads in American magazines. Some weeks ago, one of these advertisements included the following proposal:

"Here's a better idea [than the proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip]: Yes, move all Jews from Gaza and even from those parts of the 'West Bank' that might eventually be ceded to form an autonomous Arab entity and repatriate them to 'Israel proper.' But at the same time, evacuate all Arabs from Israel and resettle them in Gaza, the 'West Bank,' or wherever they might want to go. Such exchange of populations would be drastic, but certainly not unprecedented. The vast exchange of Muslims and non-Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, though accompanied by much bloodshed, is perhaps the best and ultimately most successful example of such population exchange."

As an organization that must literally buy its way into print, FLAME might seem a fair example of over-the-top Jewish extremism. But the center is always defined by the extremes; and regarding Israel's treatment of its Arabs, the Jewish mainstream seems to be moving noticeably to the right.

Martin Peretz, editor in chief of the New Republic (admittedly not a centrist on these issues), took a further rightward step in the Aug. 8 edition with a proposal that seems designed to strip Arab Israelis of Israeli citizenship:

"Nearly everybody, even on the Israeli far right, now grasps that Israel cannot sit on the Arabs of the West Bank forever. So Israel will decide where the lines will be drawn, and it will cut as little as possible into densely populated Arab regions of a territorially cartography.

"Concentrated Arab population centers in Israel that abut the new Palestinian state may be easily transferred from one national jurisdiction to another, with compensation from the Israeli social system following their present recipients for decades and beyond. This is not 'population transfer,' it is pragmatism: the ceding of what are actually Palestinian towns cleaving to Palestine."

If the Jewish state must at all costs be a Jewish-majority state, then the Peretz and FLAME proposals have a certain logic: Clearly, Israel's goal must be to control as much territory as possible while governing as few Arabs as possible. Unloading Gaza — a small, resource-poor territory with a Jewish population of only 8,000, an Arab population of fully 1.2 million and a convenient land border with Egypt — is, demographically speaking, a dream of a deal for Jewish Israel. But there are no more such deals to be had. From here on, preserving a Jewish majority in the Jewish state may well require measures such as those that Peretz and FLAME envision.

FLAME concedes that the price in blood could be high. In fact, the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947, which included, in FLAME's phrase, "the most successful example of such population exchange," cost 1 million lives. But note well: The Indo-Pakistani exchange was supported and facilitated by both sides to the conflict. Not so in the FLAME and Peretz proposals.

To enforce them, Israel would still be required, in Peretz's apt phrase, to "sit on the Arabs of the West Bank forever." It would merely have rearranged their civil status. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the same three groups would continue to live as they now do under de facto Israeli governance: as first-class citizens, Jewish Israelis; as second-class citizens, (a reduced number of) Arab Israelis; and as third-class, stateless noncitizens under Israeli containment, Palestinians.

Israel has administered just such a system for nearly 40 years. It can quite probably maintain a version of the same system for decades to come, and these days, who thinks in a longer time frame than that?

The era of the peace process and the hope for a two-state solution may be coming to an end before our eyes. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will leave office before long, and his likely successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, will almost certainly refuse to evict Jews from the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will have no more success than the Israeli army has had in stopping all Palestinian terrorism, and he too may leave office. The world will soon stop talking about a "solution" in the Middle East and start recognizing an outcome. By the terms of this outcome, the Palestinians will clearly have lost; but can any Zionist honestly claim that as Israel devolves inexorably into a Jewish-minority state facing a future of endless low-intensity conflict, the Israelis will have won?

JACK MILES is senior fellow with the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times