Sunday, 9 November 2008

Borders for Israel

[The accompanying image is a photo taken by the author in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sur Bahir; it depicts posters of Hussam Dwaith, the first Jerusalem bulldozer terrorist and former resident of Sur Bahir, and Yasser Arafat on the shutters of a closed shop.]

The case of Jerusalem can seem like an irresolvable mess. All one needs to do is consider the complexities of the interactions of what are essentially three different borders in Jerusalem—the green line, the municipal boundary, and the security barrier—to see how sticky it all is. But I believe that there is one principle which Israel must follow if she is to have any chance of improving this situation. The principle is that of clear boundaries, both in terms of territory and of citizenship.

There currently exist three basic categories of territory and of Arab population: (a) the territory and population which have been inside Israel since 1948, (b) those which have been in Israeli only since 1967 (by virtue of the largely unrecognised annexation of east Jerusalem), (c) and those which have been simply occupied since 1967. As if this degree of complexity were not bad enough, the latter two categories—the annexed and the occupied—are now further subdivided in the Jerusalem area by the separation barrier, which runs alternately inside and outside of Jerusalem's eastern municipal boundary, the annexation line.

My point here is most certainly not that I'm against the fence, because I'm not; my point is that Israel needs clear and simple distinctions. There must be no more than two classes of territory and of people as far as Israel is concerned, not three, four, or five. Today there are Arabs inside Israel (living under Israeli law) who are not given their due by the Israeli state, and there are Arabs outside of Israel for whom Israel takes responsibility (it provides food, power, a degree of governance, etc.). Israel must move towards a situation in which every Arab in the world is either a citizen or not, and all territory in the world is either sovereign or not. These clear distinctions must be reinforced by government policies giving Arab citizens perfectly egalitarian treatment both in terms of rights and duties, and non-citizens nothing. Israel must begin immediately to move towards a situation in which every Arab citizen is provided all the basic civic services (such as garbage collection, water supply, municipal zoning, public schools, passports) and civil rights (such as the right to vote and stand for election in both municipal and national elections) and is simultaneously required to perform some form of national service equivalent to the service owed by Jewish citizens. Meanwhile, non-citizens would receive nothing from the state, and residence in Beit Jala would give them no more claim to Israeli state services than would living in Canada. Naturally, we should strive for a situation in which all citizens reside on sovereign Israeli territory and all non-citizens do not.

The current situation in lacking in many respects. Some Arab citizens are provided substandard state services and few are required to perform any national service. Worst of all, the Arabs of east Jerusalem live under a legal regime devised specifically for them which gives them some, but not all, of the rights of citizenship. Meanwhile Arabs in places such as Gaza continue to demand and receive Israeli resources.

Today's messy situation with its multiple in-between categories, both of territory and of people, is encouraging Israeli-Arabs, east Jerusalem Arabs, and Palestinians to coalesce into a single hostile population which either straddles Israel's border or is entirely within Israel, depending on how one views things. It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the core Zionist principle of Jewish political sovereignty in the Land of Israel than such a simultaneously inside-and-outside hostile population. The only feasible and moral way to control this threat to distinguish as forcefully as possible between the Arabs who are in and those who are out; the country needs thus needs borders.

Ariel Sharon, in his autobiography, 'Warrior,' frames the question of the Israeli Arabs in an evocative manner. He says (note that he was writing in the late 1980s), that with the Palestinians, Israel has numerous options for conflict resolution, but with the Israeli Arabs, there is no other option but co-existence. Should they become implacably hostile, the Jews will either lose the country or forcefully expel the Arabs, and neither of these scenarios is acceptable. The process which is underway now, set in motion by the great victory of the Six-Day War and of successive Israeli governments' unwillingness to face the hard choices brought about by that victory, are gradually leading to a situation in which the non-citizen Palestinian Arabs are becoming more hostile to the State of Israel, and the citizen Israeli Arabs are becoming more at one with the Palestinians.

The situation is one which requires a combination of rapid action and long-term planning. Neither the left-wing approach of hoping against hope that genuine agreement with the Palestinians can be reached, nor the right-wing approach of hoping against hope that neither the world nor the immutable principles of human morality will notice if Israel retains control of occupied land without resolving the status of the people who live on that land has any chance of improving the situation, let alone resolving it.

A long-term plan, implemented in a largely unilateral manner, and based on the foundational understanding that the current Palestinian polity will agree to neither (a) a permanent Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria nor to (b) an Israeli withdrawal from these areas, must be developed and put into action with as much coordination as possible with Israel's allies. The core goal of such a plan must be to create a clear eastern border for Israel. No clean solution to Israel's problems is within reach, but movement in the right direction is quite possible.