Rubin | Geography and demography
the essential considerations of any workable Mideast settlement.
- The best advice I've heard after four weeks
in the Middle East came from a wise Jordanian: You can't
solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem unless you deal with
demography and geography.
Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Jordan's King Abdullah
visit the White House this week, and the administration
debates how deep to plunge into Mideast madness, President
Bush should ponder this pair.
major concern of Israel is demography," says Adnan Abu Odeh,
long a key adviser to the late King Hussein. He refers to
Israel's constant concern that its Jewish majority - which
guarantees that Jews will always have refuge from persecution
- will be overtaken by a majority of Palestinian Arabs.
doves have always argued that Israel must give up the occupied
territories because otherwise it would gain a permanent
population of 3 million Palestinian Arabs, with high birth
rates. But the doves were undermined when Yasir Arafat demanded
that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to Israel
proper. That raised the specter that Israel's Jews would
become a minority in their own state.
major concern of Palestinians," Abu Odeh continued, "is
geography." Most Palestinians lost faith in the Oslo peace
process because the building of Israeli settlements convinced
them Israel would never leave the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat
blew a stellar chance to test this thesis when he stonewalled
Ehud Barak's offer to give back 96 percent of the West Bank
and switched to a strategy of fighting and talking. Arafat's
mistakes got Sharon elected.
Sharon's incursions won't stop terrorism if Palestinians
are now convinced they won't get back West Bank land.
are many formulas being tossed around by Americans and moderate
Arabs for starting a new political process to replace the
defunct Oslo peace talks. But none of them confront the
crucial issues of demography and geography.
has talked in the past of possibly returning around 40 percent
of the West Bank. Today, he speaks of keeping buffer zones
- and every settlement. According to Zalman Shoval, a former
Israeli ambassador to Washington and Sharon adviser, the
Israeli leader will talk in Washington about a Marshall
Plan to rebuild the very Palestinian institutions destroyed
by the Israeli incursion. Presumably the West and Japan
will be asked to foot the bill.
issue of geography, however, Sharon will be vague. He will
focus on a long-term interim period, not on return of territory.
At best he holds out a distant possibility that Palestinians
may someday control pieces of contiguous West Bank land
- and get to call it a state.
admits that if Israel keeps control of West Bank Palestinians,
it faces a demographic problem. Israel would lose its democratic
character if Palestinians are kept under permanent occupation;
if they are incorporated into Israel, the country ceases
to be a Jewish state.
anyone in his right mind understands there will have to
be some kind of separation [of Palestinians from Israelis],"
example, he referred to a debate between dovish Knesset
member Yossi Sarid and minister of tourism Rehamim Zeevi
(who was assassinated by Palestinians in October 2001).
both want to get rid of the Arabs," Shoval noted. Sarid
wanted a Palestinian state, however; Zeevi wanted to expel
- the euphemism was transfer - Arabs out of the West
strategy has the clarity of neither, leaving Israel in control
of 3 million Palestinians. On the other hand, Arafat hasn't
confronted the need to deal with demography, nor has he
clarified his geographical goals.
Palestinian emotions on the "right of return," he convinced
many Israelis that his real goal was to take over Israel
Arafat wants two Palestinian states, one in the territories,
one in Israel," says Shoval. The rash of recent suicide
bomb attacks inside pre-1967 Israel only fueled such fears.
that he's out from under the Israeli siege, Arafat is waiting
for the United States or Europe to come to his rescue. But
no international conference, such as the United States is
proposing, can succeed unless it goes right to core issues.
no hope of persuading Israelis that Sharon is wrong unless
Arafat is willing to compromise on the right of return (or
Arab states make him do so.) There's no hope of convincing
Palestinians to stop violence unless they believe they will
get roughly back to 1967 lines - and that in the meantime
there will be a settlement freeze.
Washington comes up with a formula that addresses Israeli
demography and Palestinian geography, any new political
process won't get far.