27 June 2007 - The end of Palestine?
Martin Peretz, writing in the New Republic about the Hamas coup in Gaza, has declared: “This is the end of Palestine, the bitter end.” Is he right? I’ve heard similar opinions from other analysts, including some here in Israel, who are convinced that Abbas and Fatah are losers whose only interest is their own personal gain and who will not lift a finger to build a Palestinian state, much less defend Israel from terror.
What are the options if Peretz is right, and the Palestinians really have killed the two-state solution? With Gaza excluded, two new single-state solutions might become possible, in theory. One involves Jordan taking over the West Bank and offering limited self-government there. The other involves Israel formally annexing the West Bank, creating a larger Israel with a slight Jewish demographic majority .
There are three serious obstacles to the success of either of these ideas, even assuming that the demographic balance in the West Bank and Israel will remain as it is today (which it will not) and that Israeli can safely ignore the military dangers and humanitarian crises of a Hamas-run Gaza (which it cannot).
The first obstacle is that terrorism is as much of a threat in the West Bank as it is in Gaza, and will endanger whoever controls the territory. The second is that the goal of a Palestinian state is a fixture in international law and in the eyes of much of the world, though the Palestinians themselves have failed to actually create it.
The third obstacle is the looming confrontation with Iran, which is behind much of what has happened in the past eighteen months. Essentially, Iran now has forces on two Israeli borders, north and west. It would like to be able to threaten Israel via the Golan Heights and the West Bank as well, and Israeli withdrawals from either of these territories might give it the opportunity to do move into position.
The Iranian threat is equally an obstacle to the two-state solution. So we seem to be stuck. The only way out, it seems to me, would be for Israel to work together with Egypt and Jordan to administer Gaza and the West Bank. The first task of the triumvirate would be to disarm both Hamas and Fatah; at the same time, they could create new institutions to prepare for eventual Palestinian independence.
All is in flux—and no one here really knows what to do. Israel itself is in the midst of a huge leadership crisis. Its leading political candidates—Barak, Olmert, and Netanyahu—have all failed in the past and offer little that is new in the present. There are a few new faces coming forward, but they have been politically clumsy and strategically incoherent until this point. The region is rudderless.
It might seem absurd, in these circumstances, to talk about human rights, but the current situation highlights a two interesting aspects of the concept of human rights. The first is that human rights have to be politically neutral—or, more specifically, that they cannot afford to take sides in international or political conflicts. The “weaker side” they must protect is the individual human being.
To understand this, it is important to understand that the modern doctrine of human rights is largely a response to the Holocaust. The world saw the need to bypass national sovereignty in emergencies and affirm the rights of people who had no one to protect them when illegality had become the law in their own countries. Standing up for “national rights” often means leaving human rights behind.
The second interesting aspect of the human rights concept that emerges is that when states are compared on the basis of their human rights records, the most important criterion is the strength of their human rights institutions, not whether they are the aggressor or victim in a particular conflict. Only in states that have such institutions can human rights even be spoken of in a serious way.
Thus, from a human rights perspective, it may be completely irrelevant who controls the West Bank, as long as they uphold the rule of law. Whatever the political fate of the West Bank, extending the rule of law there may be the most important priority. The rule of law has deteriorated over forty years of occupation, intifada, corruption and misrule, and must now be—perhaps jointly—restored.