Thursday, April 15, 2004

Bush supported Israel too much, if that is possible 

I have been tossing and turning, figuratively speaking, over Bush's endorsement of Sharon's withdrawal plan, and have concluded that part of it troubles me enormously.

To be clear, I have no problem with endorsing the withdrawal from Gaza, and for making it clear that there will be no Palestinian right of return inside metropolitan Israel. However, Bush also endorsed the annexation by Israel of the Jewish settlements of Maale Adumim, Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Gush Etzion, Ariel and Givat Zeev in the West Bank. Implicit in that endorsement is support for Israel to continue to provide security to those settlers. In order for Israel to protect those settlements, deep within PA territory, it will need to provide heavily patrolled corridors or exclusion zones that connect the settlements to Israel proper. These annexed settlements, and the exclusion zones necessary to protect them, will carve huge wedges out of PA territory and drive a stake in any plausible hope for a successful Palestinian state. I therefore do not believe that it is in America's interests to accept or endorse the premise that the government of Israel may annex any territory on the West Bank that is not precisely contiguous with Israel, or that it should provide protection to any of the Jewish settlers who have chosen to live in PA territory.

This is difficult for me to say. I consider myself to be a very strong supporter of Israel, both because I believe that America's and Israel's respective interests are often -- though by no means always -- aligned, and because Israel is the most righteous country in a very tough part of the world. Also, I quite consciously consider the Palestinian Arabs to be enemies, or friends of the enemies, of America, as they were during World War I, World War II, the Cold War, our awakened struggle against Islamist jihad since September 11, and the Iraq War. So I really do not care what they think.

Unfortunately, though, America needs effective government of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. This should be an important objective of the Bush Administration, which has repeatedly stressed that failed states -- or otherwise ungoverned or ungovernable parts of the world -- become petrie dishes in which terrorist organizations grow to fighting strength. The Sharon withdrawal plan will leave behind just such an ungoverned and unpoliced region on the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, even if principled, moderate, effective Palestinian leaders were to emerge, the territory left to the Palestinians will be so fractured and dysfunctional as a result of the annexations that no viable state could realistically develop. Left with no government, no possibility of economic or social success, and no real ability to attack Israel through its wall, these territories will become what Afghanistan and the Sudan were in the last decade: recruitment centers and training facilities for Islamist jihadists.

Think of it another way: Israel, Gaza and the West Bank constitute a box. Very few countries in the world would take in either Jews or Palestinian Arabs even if they wanted to leave, so the people living in that box cannot escape their intramural enemies by migrating again. There is a small set of possible outcomes.

First, the people in the box can sustain low grade war against each other until the end of time. This would be a horrible thing for everybody, because it would offer no hope for the Palestinians and it would destroy, eventually, Israel's considerable moral authority.

Second, the people in the box could form one nation. This nation would have an effective government for a while, but this result would be unacceptable to the Jews because demographic trends inside the box favor the Arabs, who in their poverty are reproducing more quickly, as poor people do the world over.

Third, the people in the box could form two nations, and divide the territory in a way that ensures the security of a Jewish Israel and which gives some chance of economic and social cohesion to the Palestinian Arabs.

Fourth, Israel can withdraw behind its twisting wall, hunker down, and leave behind a failed state, or no state at all, in the formerly occupied territories. What better place to train the next generation of jihadists?

I know of no fifth alternative.

Of the four, the first and fourth options feed the war on terrorism (although the fourth is vastly worse than the first from America's standpoint), and Israel will not accept the second option. The third option is therefore the only alternative that both serves Israel's security requirements and the American war on Islamist jihad. Yet it seems as though Israel's annexation of huge chunks of the West Bank would make the third option "non-viable," as they say in Washington.

So why did Bush endorse the annexation? How does the endorsement benefit the United States? What is it that I'm missing?

It pains me to say this, but I am very concerned that in endorsing the West Bank annexations, Bush has destroyed any hope for a successful Palestinian state. This seems terribly inconsistent with at least one of the strategic objectives of the Iraq war, which was to gain influence over failed or failing states in the region. In any case, what are we going to do when the West Bank becomes the next headquarters for international jihad?

UPDATE (Friday morning): Via Isreallycool, who is probably going to de-link me for this post, Kerry has endorsed Bush's endorsement:

Kerry on Wednesday blessed the agreements struck by US President George W. Bush and Sharon. Bush said after meeting Sharon that Palestinian refugees should return to a future state of Palestine, not Israel, and sanctioned the idea that Israel would retain control of some settlements as part of a final peace deal.

OK, Mr. Kerry, same questions. It would be great if one of the two of you explained how supporting the West Bank annexation is in American interests.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Organization of the Islamic Conference is calling an "urgent meeting next week to discuss rising violence in Iraq and the recent U.S. policy shift on Israel's withdrawal from the Palestinian territories."


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