All You Need to Know About the Middle East “Peace Process”

Anti-Zionists need not worry: they’ll get their way in about 40 years.

An odd conjunction of paragraphs in Joe Klein’s latest, one silly and one profound:

The most frequent request, especially from the Palestinian side, is for the President to lay out a proposed two-state plan. One Israeli expert said that this doesn’t have to be the ultimate deal–state to state issues (like the right of return, or reparations, for some Palestinian refugees) can be worked out between the Israelis and Palestinians–but Obama’s proposal should resemble Bill Clinton’s parameters laid out in December 2000, including suggestions on borders, security and sovereignty.

While Israel would seem to have the whip hand in any negotiation strategy–it controls the Palestinian lands, Netanyahu has practically no domestic opposition, the Palestinians remain divided between Fatah and Hamas–the Israelis I spoke with think that some sort of accomodation with the Palestinians has to come soon. “Next year, 50% of all first-graders in Israel will be either Arabs or Othodox Jews,” a member of the centrist Kadima Party told me. “We have a serious demographic problem.”

The first paragraph is just silly.  I don’t know who Klein’s “Israeli expert” is, but he doesn’t understand the basics.  The entire point of the Clinton parameters was that it was a complete deal, with — almost — a complete end to the occupation (it wound up being about 98% of the West Bank) in exchange for the right of return only being implemented within the State of Palestine.  The Israeli Cabinet accepted it, although whether it could have survived a vote of no-confidence is an issue; Arafat rejected it, and the rest is history.

At this point, the overwhelming problems are that the Israelis won’t give up settlements and the Palestinians won’t give up the right of return.  No amount of massaging, negotiating, bridging formulas, new frameworks, or anything else is going to change that.  I still believe that Obama should adopt Sari Nusseibeh’s brilliant suggestion to take the People’s Voice Accord and put it to a vote of both populations.  But unless he wants to do that, there really isn’t much he can do to make progress toward peace.  The Islamic interlocutors that Klein refers to as being so exercised about the Gaza situation are obviously not so exercised that they would actually take any political risks for a genuine two-state solution.  It’s all just rhetoric, all over.

Which is why Klein’s second paragraph really gets to the heart of the issue.  Anti-Zionists should not fear: in this case, demography is destiny.  Within a generation or two, Arabs will outnumber Jews even within the Green Line: before then, we will see more educated and secular Israelis get out of Israel entirely (as they are beginning to do).  If you believe Efraim Karsh, Arafat predicted this 13 years ago; in any event, he was frequently quoted as stating that his strongest weapon was “the womb of the Arab woman.”   So in about 40 years, the Palestinians will have their dream of a united Palestinian state from the Jordan to the sea.  Of course, by then, it will be an overpopulated, desperately poor, environmental disaster area.  But it’s not clear that that will matter.  Progress.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

12 thoughts on “All You Need to Know About the Middle East “Peace Process””

  1. You're right about the first part. No Israeli government is going to participate in the establishment of a Palestinian state without the issue of Arab refugees and their descendents being definitively settled. The whole point from their perspective is to put an end to the conflict.

    Regarding the second part, this is the strategic point of settlements as far as I am concerned: the Arabs think time is on their side. Demographically, they may be right. This belief encourages them to drag their feet in getting to a resolution because they think they'll get a better deal tomorrow than today. Settlements throw a bit of a monkey wrench into that logic by making the territory that Israel can easily evacuate for a possible Palestinian state progressively smaller over time.

    This is the same reason the Palestinians are always complaining that the Israelis are going back to square one rather than starting from their last (rejected) offer. From their perspective, a cost-free rejection of an offer is a good thing. Israelis, obviously, think otherwise.

  2. At this point, the overwhelming problems are that the Israelis won’t give up settlements and the Palestinians won’t give up the right of return. No amount of massaging, negotiating, bridging formulas, new frameworks, or anything else is going to change that.

    To be more specific, the Israelis won't give up East Jerusalem and its environs, while the Palestinians won't give up the right of return.

    Anti-Zionists should not fear: in this case, demography is destiny. Within a generation or two, Arabs will outnumber Jews even within the Green Line:

    They've been saying that for decades – do you have any proof? What I've been <a>reading suggests that the Arab population in Israel proper is likely to level off around 25% (maybe slightly higher) due to dropping birth rates. It's only when you factor in the West Bank (which also has dropping birth rates) and Gaza (which is exploding in population) that you end up with Arab demographic domination.

    before then, we will see more educated and secular Israelis get out of Israel entirely (as they are beginning to do).

    That will definitely be the case if Israel's less-than-friendly neighbors in Hamas and Hezbollah get better weapons, and if the bloody Haredim continue breeding like rabbits while constituting a drain on Israeli government resources.

    he was frequently quoted as stating that his strongest weapon was “the womb of the Arab woman.”

    It hasn't helped Gaza. Israel actually did itself a favor by getting its settlers out of that human anthill – the Palestinian population there is exploding so fast that most of them are children, and the whole place is going to turn into essentially a single sprawling urban area.

  3. Brett didn't read Jonathan's post carefully enough.

    Israel is suffering from a double demographic whammy–Arab and Haredi birth rates. These are the two poorest sectors of Israeli society. And most of the Haredi have an ingrained culture of poverty, which serves to prevent defections into broader society. They therefore concentrate their energies on diverting tax revenues to their social systems. And they are pretty successful at that. They're not very good at producing tax revenues. To do that, they would need to work on secular jobs, and have businesses that can survive in secular society. This would entail greater individual independence, which would weaken the rabbis. It would also entail secular education, which would . . .

    Israel will not long exist as a prosperous modern state. If the EU wants to put tremendous short-term pressure on the Israel government, all they have to do is offer visas to Israeli technologists and entrepreneurs. Jews fleeing Russia already prefer Germany to Israel as a refuge. Maybe some Israelis would, as well.

  4. Sincere question: are there Israelis who accept a two-state solution but reject right of return to the area controlled by the future Palestinian state? I don't see the reasoning behind this, except in a really off-the-wall way.

  5. Hi Brian —

    The Israelis who favor a two-state solution accept a right of return to the Palestinian state; the problem is that the Palestinians reject that. So we're back at the beginning.

    Brett — those are interesting findings from Aslak Berg, although the response from Joe I think nails it: if the only way to maintain a Jewish majority is to get a Haredi plurality, then it might not be worth the candle.

  6. Brett — those are interesting findings from Aslak Berg, although the response from Joe I think nails it: if the only way to maintain a Jewish majority is to get a Haredi plurality, then it might not be worth the candle.

    I agree – I was just responding to the part about Arabs outnumbering Jewish Israelis within the Green Line.

  7. Joe S. says:

    "Israel will not long exist as a prosperous modern state. If the EU wants to put tremendous short-term pressure on the Israel government, all they have to do is offer visas to Israeli technologists and entrepreneurs. Jews fleeing Russia already prefer Germany to Israel as a refuge. Maybe some Israelis would, as well."

    Oh, that'd be sweet. And I wouldn't be surprised if younger Israelis took that in large numbers; why work in a religious whackjob-dominated hellhole when you could work in a much more pleasant society?

  8. I think we underrate the Israeli will to fight.

    I'd give them 100 years, not 40.

    I don't remember how long the Christian Kingdom of Outremer lasted, but I think there are parallels. the last Crusader fortress in the wholly land was in Tartus in Syria– a little island a mile or so off the coast. Quite poignant.

    A Kurdish mercenary arose, who unified the Arabs to drive out the Crusaders. Defeated Guy of Jerusalem at Hattin, drew Richard the Lionheart of England to a draw outside of Acre, and the next 100 years or so was a mop-up operation against the Knights Templar (who went on to visit their crusading spirit in the Baltic countries) and the Hospitallers (who would move to Tripoli, Rhodes and finally Malta, and make their final contribution to western history stopping the Turkish Sultan).

    That mercenary was Salah el Din, known to our history as Saladin.

    The Middle East awaits its next Saladin. I feel that he will, in time, come. But armed with nuclear weapons. To throw the infidel once more out of the Middle East.

    Israel's best strategic decision would be to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and begin an aggressive programme of economic development for Israeli Arabs (and hence a lower birthrate) and joint economic development of the OT.

    Instead Israel will prevaricate. Driven by the Settlers, they will try to cling on to militarily indefensible positions in the West Bank. Hamas in turn will face a greater and greater threat from Islamic Jihad and other such extremist groups. We'll miss Hamas, when it is gone.

    It might all end in a rain of nuclear hell. I hope not.

    But I cannot see how Israel, as a democracy, could possibly withdraw from the West Bank. Or even make meaningful concessions. They are trapped by who they are.

  9. "why work in a religious whackjob-dominated hellhole when you could work in a much more pleasant society?"

    Because the much more pleasant society is showing a disturbing rise in anti-semitic riots? You might just figure that, if you're going to be hated and attacked wherever you go, you might as well stay someplace where somebody in the same position has your back.

  10. That mercenary was Salah el Din, known to our history as Saladin.

    The Middle East awaits its next Saladin. I feel that he will, in time, come. But armed with nuclear weapons. To throw the infidel once more out of the Middle East.

    Is that before or after Israel nukes said Saladin and his allies out of existence? The surrounding Arab countries are some of the most vulnerable to nuclear strikes, particularly Egypt (which is a nuclear targeteer's dream – just three warheads, one in the Aswan Dam, and Egypt is gone). Moreover, Israel has got the lead on its Arab neighbors both in nuclear technology and in ABM.

    Hopefully it never gets to that.

  11. Brett

    The problem is that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and the whole concept of Ummah says that if a moslem country were to be attacked with nukes, other muslim countries would feel impelled to become involved. Rather like the process which brought the whole of the English-speaking world (ex Ireland) into WWII.

    We can't game how this will play out, fully, but Israel is a tiny target. 3 nukes and the damage probably makes the country unviable. You don't have to be terribly accurate, either.

    In that context, it might be irrelevant to an Arab leader whether he or she loses the major Arab capitals. If two rational, risk-averse powers like the USA and USSR with no history of racial enmity can come close to WWIII during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Russian commanders with missiles armed, waiting for a US invasion, with orders to strike; US generals about to greenlight an invasion), then how much greater the danger with parties that are not entirely rational and have deep ethnic and religious hatreds?

    Maybe such wonderful things will happen in the Muddle East before then (renewable energy, mass desalination?) that the struggle for land and national identity will NOT take us there, but history is not happy on this one.

    The political nature of the Arab states (call them mukhbarrat states, say) makes them vulnerable to a single charismatic leader.

    The Israelis are pulling the protestant Irish trick, but it is unlikely they can make it last forever.

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