Israel's Endgame

This is an attempt to put down a few thoughts on the three ways that the Israel-Palestine situation can play out, and before you say I'm horribly unqualified to have an opinion, this isn't an opinion.  It's a view from the Twenty-Second Century of what happened.  Not even saying when it happened, but that, at some undisclosed time, the situation changed to something stable.  To one of three possible futures.

And before we start, I will admit there is theoretically a fourth, which I'm going to discount.  The fourth is that Israel will cease to exist.  Israel, while sometimes under attack, does not any longer have an existential crisis.  From my reading of history, and what I have been told (in part by Israelis themselves), is that in the Arab-Israeli wars (as recently as the early seventies) there were moments when it looked possible that Israel would fall, but I do not believe that is an option any longer.  In the early days of the country, i.e. in living memory, it looked touch-and-go, but that time is in the past.  I also understand that Israelis, due to the history of the Jews in World War Two, consider Israel to be exceptional, inasmuch as it is forming a safe homeland for a group of people previously repeatedly persecuted.  I dispute neither its right to exist, nor its right to arm itself to ensure that it feels secure.  I suspect in all three outcomes I'm suggesting below Israel would continue to be more militarised than most countries.  How much so would remain to be seen and would depend on which outcome emerges.  I'm trying very hard not to judge at all during this piece.  I'm merely trying to set out three ways Israel, as a secure country, can end up.

OK, so I say there are three outcomes.  What could they be, bearing in mind we're dealing with stable endgames here.  The problem you get in conflicts like these is that you can't get out of the cycle.  It's like Xeno's paradox - you solve it by stepping out of it, out of the present time, and imagine a stable situation, irrespective of how you could get to it.  So let's do it.

Outcome number one.  Two states.  Two stable states.

This seems to me the hardest to get to, just because the levels of self-control by both sides would be something incredible.  You would run into so many chances to hit what I'd call the Shankill Road effect.  When the IRA declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland and began negotiations, a mural went up.  "On behalf of the Shankill Road we accept the unconditional surrender of the IRA."  When I heard about that, I genuinely cried.  Why, given a possibility of peace, would people be so stupid as to try to begin the conflict again?  Well, in part because they didn't believe it, I suppose, and wanted to gain an advantage in the seemingly-inevitable breakdown.  So, a stable two-state solution.  What would that entail?  Well, to be stable you have to have the bulk of the West Bank, uninterrupted by settlements.  Otherwise you're dealing with the Palestinian Archipelago solution (feel free to google that for a map) and that's never going to defuse the tensions.  Whether Gaza would be part of it or not wouldn't actually change the sustainability, to be honest.  An entire region of the West Bank, and a generation or two of no violence, and people would slowly change normality to be that.  Whatever wall was in place between Israel and Palestine would probably be removed over time, just for convenience, after peace.  It could last, if you could reach it, but the possibility of either government being able to persuade their respective populations to avoid overreacting to any attacks, real or perceived, makes that seem unlikely.

Option number two.  One state.  An inclusive single state.

This is the medium option, in my opinion, but still possible.  Israel simply formally annexes the occupied territories, and grants full citizenship to all Palestinians within it, but with the support of whatever organisation is in charge of them, with the majority support of those people, and lives up to what most of its residents claim makes them unique in the Middle East.  Israelis I have met, and I am not judging this but re-iterating what I have been told, are proud of being religiously tolerant and multi-racial, saying that religious persecution is far lower than in other Middle-Eastern state.  The fact that Arabs serve in the Knesset and on their supreme court is also a point of pride.  Well, would they be prepared to allow all Palestinians to share that, and would the Palestinians go along with it?  I won't answer either, because the point of this is to say that were this to have happened fifty years ago, would the resultant state be peaceful or not.  While I can't see how either side would agree to it, times change, and I couldn't see the IRA making peace and forming an administration in Northern Ireland either.  To be stable the country would also need to divide on political rather than ethnic grounds.  Again, how that happened no one can remember (since it was fifty years ago) but happen it did, and the people integrated.  The country would, after some shocks in the world community, potentially stand as a beacon of tolerance.

Option number three.  One state.  But not quite option two.

And then we reach the third option, which seems to me to be an endgame, and it's also stable.  It's not nice, but it's stable.  Israel pushes the settlements further and further, criss-crossing the West Bank, dividing and subdividing it, until there is simply no Palestinian land at all.  Whether the Palestinians move out, or starve, or spontaneously disappear, a hundred years is sufficient time for a people to disappear.  The Native Americans suffered this fate from the US, slowly being removed from one reservation to another until there were few left, a long way from anyone.  And the US is a big place.  If Gaza wasn't closed to Egypt, would more people leave and not return?  Imagine that it was open for at least some of our hundred years, and you can imagine the density of people leading to people simply leaving, having forgotten why they were ever there.  It's a one-state solution, and it contains Arabs, and presumably eventually, when those populations were small enough, could merge into solution two.

The problem I have, and the fear, is that option three is the one which seems to be at the lowest equilibrium.  It's the one it takes the least energy to get to.  It's the one which doesn't require a brave and terrifying decision to say "Some of our people will die, and we will not react.  At all."  Imagine a politician saying that.  British politicians aren't prepared to say that, which is why our own civil liberties can be eroded so easily with the threat of terrorism.  What chance Israeli politicians, where air raid warnings are a daily occurrence, at least at the time of writing, and a public will sanction trading a hundred imprisoned Arabs for a single IDF soldier?  No, what I call bravery they would call surrender, or capitulation, or murder.

So.  Where are we?  Well, I very much enjoy visiting Israel, although I can't stand the US Jesus souvenir hunters who want to see every place where something "absolutely definitely happened" (although we don't really know, what with it being razed to the ground by the Romans in the first century, and the New Testament not having been written for several centuries afterwards).  I have met aggressive people, and quiet people, and Israelis both at work and in bars, and a few Palestinians in bars, and I have liked them all.  And I would like them all to get along and not, any of them, be under any threat of terrorism or starvation or their families being shot at.  And I understand Israelis being shocked at missile attacks and wanting either justice or revenge or safety (depending on who you talk to and your own bias) and I understand Palestinians feeling trapped, or vengeful, or violent, or desperate (ditto).  And I think we're trapped in a cycle, in a paradox, in which the only way out is to think about how this ends.  Think a hundred years, and maybe from an endgame someone can work out what would need to happen to reach, if I might use the phrase in its modern English usage rather than the original Biblical one, the Promised Land.  Peace.

So let us end with a prayer from the great Rabbi himself.  Rabbi Burns.

"Then let us pray that come it may,
"As come it will, for a' that.
"That friends and worth, o'er all the earth,
"May bear the gree, for a' that.                    [bear the gree - win out]
"For a' that, and a' that,
"It's comin' yet, for a' that.
"That man to man, the world o'er,
"Shall brothers be, for a' that."
     Robert Burns. 1795