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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Realistic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

myst and menorah (1) by isfullofcrap from flickr (CC-BY)

Eight years ago I suggested a more creative solution to the Israeli-Palestitian problem. Sadly, my advice was not followed.

The most likely scenario is that the conflict will just keep on going indefinitely. The world is full of such frozen conflicts, with more getting generated - like the recent Crimea occupation. Very rarely they get successfully resolved by either force (like Sri Lanka) or negotiations (like Northern Ireland).

It seems very unlikely that either side will be able to solve this issue by force. Israel could try expelling some number of Palestinians, but they'd just move to refugee camps elsewhere. Arab armies didn't win any major war in about a thousand years (even their Medieval caliphate was mostly ran by Turks, Circassians, and other non-Arabs), and even if they suddenly became competent, they won't be able to do much against explicit US guarantees for Israel.

So let's consider for a moment a range of negotiated solutions which could possibly work, from easiest to hardest.

"Palestinians" living in Arab states

A huge obstacle to solving the problem is the official policy of Arab states, which all agreed to not grant citizenship or any other regular legal status to people born in them who are descendants of "Palestinians". This sometimes includes people with mixed "Palestinian" and non-Palestinian Arab ancestry.

Calling these people "Palestinians" is just a political ploy. They've never seen "Palestine", and back when their ancestors lived there there was no "Palestinian" national identity - it was only in the 1970s that Pan-Arabism faded away enough for any "Palestinian" nationality to start developing.

The policy of using millions of people this way, keeping them in a legal limbo to put pressure on Israel, is definitely nasty, but even worse - so far it did absolutely nothing to achieve its goals.

So as a necessary step all "Palestinians" who were born in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria (there's an awkward civil war here, but it will likely be over long before anything moves on Palestinian issue), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and various Arab minor states need to be granted full citizenship or equivalent, as soon as possible.

There's no possible solution without most Arab states cooperating on this. If some of them don't, the rest pretty much need to accept large number of the "Palestinians" in. Non-Arab countries could accept some number of them (like Chile and US did), but these people already share culture, language, and (generally) religion of their country of birth. It's ridiculous to make them move to another continent because of petty politics.

This can only be done unilaterally by each Arab country, so if you want to pressure someone to do something useful to get this problem towards a solution, that's the most obvious place to start.

Gaza Strip

This is really simple. Nobody has any issues with borders or population living there. There used to be some tiny Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, but they're all gone since 2005.

So in the end, some Arab entity will end up running Gaza. Israel and Egypt don't really care about the details, as long as security is maintained. Unfortunately so far it's not, and not only Gaza exports rockets to Israel, it also exports Jihadists to Egypt.

Apparently such terrorism is approved by 80% of the locals. As a result of this, Gaza ended up blockaded from both Israeli and Egyptian side. It's even worse, as Gaza under Hamas is in conflict with West Bank under Palestinian Authority, so even Palestinian Authority joined the blockade. Attempts to break it failed quite miserably, and probably won't be repeated.

This foolishness could easily end if attacks stopped, which would likely result in economic blockade getting gradually lifted, and everybody moving on with their lives.

Israel can't do much about it, other than building an even bigger wall, and occasionally dropping some bombs, possibly even on someone related to the attacks.

One plausible solution would be for a third party like Egypt or Arab League or the UN to take control over security in Gaza for some time, sort of like happened in Bosnia.

Israel definitely doesn't want the job, and so far nobody else volunteered. This is something Palestinians living in Gaza could in principle fix unilaterally, but in practice it's difficult as even a fairly small group of assholes could still export rockets and Jihadists even if they didn't have majority support.

As a minimum if Gazans antagonized only one of their neighbours, not both, perhaps the blockade could be loosen up a bit.


It's going to remain the capital of Israel. Short of a total military defeat, there's no way in hell Israel will abandon it into some kind of international status, or just give away to the Arabs the part which happened to be on Jordanian side of 1949 armistice line.

There's some margin for negotiations of exact borders of Jerusalem, status of Palestinians living there, arrangement for the holy sites, and so on, but it's going to remain Israeli.

Trump's unilateral recognition of reality was a small step in right direction. Other countries should do the same, so we can all move on.


Whichever entity ends up running Palestine will need a lot of funding, and the US, Europe, rich Arab states, and many other foreign sources will need to provide a huge deal of it to make it economically viable.

Not every problem can be solved by throwing money at it, but it works reasonably well for rebuilding economies after destructive conflicts.

As long as conflict is ongoing, Palestinian economy can't rebuild, so foreign money spent will achieve little more than temporary humanitarian relief.

One nice thing Palestinians could do to convince foreigners to be more generous would be ending payments to terrorists and their families.

There's also issue of enormous levels of corruption, but let's focus on the easier problem for now.

West Bank

There's some disagreement, but it's actually surprisingly small.

Palestinians would like to follow something like 1949 armistice lines, with as many of the Jewish settlement being dismantled as possible. Israel would like its border to follow something like the barrier wall, including most of the major settlements, annexing about 9% of territory beyond armistice lines.

Both sides are open to some degree of land swaps, and once allegedly the negotiations even reached the point where border differences were down to 3% vs 6% of the West Bank.

Security arrangements

Israel would also like some kind of strong security guarantees, which would invariably restrict Palestinian sovereignty, at least for some time. Palestinians are understandably not terribly happy about that.

Depending on how it's all designed, such arrangements could even be in Palestinian interest. The absolutely worst outcome for the Palestinians would be getting their own state, getting overran in a civil war by some local Islamists, who start exporting terrorists and rockets in every direction, and getting occupied again. Which isn't exactly unlikely.

It's hard to talk about details, as this part has the widest range of possible outcomes.

Most of these would be temporary, and once long term peace and security is achieved, such restrictions can go away. That can still take very long time, like with Bosnia.

It's possible that both sides would be happy to involve third parties in these arrangements, but third parties are not terribly happy to volunteer.

Oh wait, that was exactly the offer

What I described above was pretty much the Israeli offer in 2000 Camp David Summit. 100% of the Gaza Strip, 92% of the West Bank, $30bln resettlement fund, and some rather awkward security arrangement, many but not all temporary.

There were still significant differences on Jerusalem's holy sites, security arrangements and other such issues, but these are really tiny relative to the whole issue.

There's space for some minor tweaks around the margins, like a bit more generous land swaps, making security arrangements temporary, and throwing more money at rebuilding Palestinian economy, but any possible negotiated solution will look roughly like this, and everyone knows it.

So how is this not solved yet?

There's just no desire for serious peace negotiations on the Arab side. Arab dictators of nearby countries don't care about Palestinians, and find it more convenient to just keep the conflict frozen.

Palestinian Authority doesn't want peace, as any kind of peace would immediately halve number of "Palestinians", with the rest getting naturalized into countries of their birth. They'd rather have fake authority over all the "refugees" than a real country.

Recent American attempts at solving the problem rightly focused on ignoring Palestinian Authority completely, and getting direct agreement between Arab countries and Israel, which then PA without any foreign support will be forced to accept.

This doesn't seem terribly likely to succeed, especially with both Trump and Netanyahu so politically weak, but it's probably the best approach.

Perhaps president Winfrey will try again, and it will look almost exactly like Bill Clinton's Camp David plan from 2000, except Palestinians will be forced to take it seriously by lack of Arab backing.

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