Just in case Kadima’s leading lights–Olmert, Dichter, Livni and Mofaz–ever tire of their hysterical anti-Hamas grandstanding in the runup to the Israeli elections, they would profit by reading this piece of reasoned analysis by Prof. Asher Susser at the Israel Policy Forum website. Susser is Distinguished Professor of History at Tel Aviv University and director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. In his column, he lays out the likely scenario for near term political developments in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. I agree most strongly with his warnings against allowing ideology to stand in the way of pragmatism in dealing with Hamas. I have some reservations about other matters he discusses.
Susser notes that Israel will likely complete the Separation Wall within the year:
The current thinking in Israeli political circles is that after Israel’s elections March 28th, the first thing the new government will have to do is to complete the security fence in the West Bank. This should be accomplished by the end of the year…
Completing the fence will create a new political and security dynamic that will allow Israel to safely contemplate more withdrawals. There will be approximately 70,000 Israeli settlers on the “wrong” (eastern) side of the fence and about 150,000 Israelis settlers on what one could call the “right side” of the fence, that is within the security boundary, even though it strays from the 1967 line.
As time goes by, the people on the wrong side of the fence will probably find it more and more difficult – for political and logistical reasons – to live in the middle of the West Bank. And there is an expectation that some of these people, if encouraged with fair compensation, may begin to return to Israel voluntarily. And this would create a situation where another disengagement – this time from most of the West Bank – could make sense.
My main disagreement with this argument is that it posits a nicely orchestrated series of steps which logically lead up to disengagement. But I do not feel that the Separation Wall will have the desired effect of soothing the Israeli psyche or of preventing terror. Further, it will be far too tempting to do what Ehud Olmert is already trying to do: tell the world that Israel’s permanent international border should more or less follow the path of the current Separation Fence.
To his credit, Susser tries to lay out a different approach:
Of course, none of this means the fence will be Israel’s permanent eastern border. That border will have to be eventually negotiated with the Palestinians, as will the issue of Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees. But it could serve as a temporary boundary until that time comes. It would mean the creation of a provisional Palestinian area, with which Israel will one day negotiate the outstanding final status issues.
Olmert does not believe that Israel will have to negotiate is borders “eventually” with the Palestinians and he certainly won’t negotiate with them about Jerusalem or refugees. Those like Susser who posit the Separation Wall as a temporary edifice will live to rue the day they said this. I predict that unless challenged, the Separation Barrier will start out as temporary in much the same way that Israel began settlements in the West Bank in 1967 (it thought it would place temporary settlements there until Jordan sat down to negotiate a peace deal). Eventually, the Wall will become just as permanent in most Israeli’s eyes as the West Bank settlements now are.
The wisest sentiments here are reserved for Hamas and what Israel’s policy should be towards this problematic organization:
So Hamas will have to find a pragmatic way to live with Israel, just as Israel will have to develop a pragmatic way to live with Hamas. In short, we are not actually in a revolutionarily different situation than we were before the elections.
In order to find a way to live with Hamas, I believe we should put them to the test: not in the ideological sphere, but based on their behavior. I don’t think that we should demand that Hamas rewrite their charter and recognize Israel’s right to exist, etc. The PLO – with whom we negotiated for years – did neither of these things. The PLO did not recognize Israel’s right to exist but, more importantly, it recognized Israel.
Israel should say to Hamas: “If you keep the peace, stop terrorism, and maintain law and order in the Palestinian territories, we can live with that. Israel would resume transferring tax payments to the Palestinians and could even coordinate with the PA on certain social service issues. But if you return to violence and tolerate lawlessness, you will pay the price.” With that, Israel can leave it up to them to decide how they will act.
We know they have long-term designs on Israel’s destruction. I do not think that their designs are achievable and, frankly, they can have whatever long-term designs they like. I don’t expect them to become Israel’s best friend. This relationship is not fundamentally different from our ties with the rest of the Arab world, even those with whom Israel has made peace. We don’t expect a warm peace with Hamas, but would be satisfied if we could reach a safe, pragmatic, modus vivendi.
So in essence, Susser is saying to the Kadima grandstanders: “cut the crap with laying down ideological conditions and expecting Ismail Haniye to sing Ha-Tikvah and salute the Israeli flag. Not only ain’t it gonna happen…there’s no reason it should. Israel needs good behavior from Hamas not ideolgoical purity.”
Ehud Olmert doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who sits in his office or home reading the writings of Mideast analysts (especially ones he doesn’t agree with). So I doubt Susser’s piece will cross his desk. But he’d profit from reading the views of a pragmatic and reasonable Israeli academic on the subject.