Sunday, July 29, 2012

Settler Leader’s Wrongheaded Proposal

Settler Leader’s Wrongheaded Proposal

Seth Mandel

Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

First, the obvious: What about the Palestinians? Dayan doesn’t say Israel should give the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria voting rights. If he would, is he not concerned about the demographics at play? If he would not, is he suggesting that the Palestinians should be a permanently stateless people and that Israel would be permanently without clear national borders? He writes that Israeli security should be paramount, but the Judea and Samaria he envisions would be a long-term security nightmare for Israel.

Second, has he thought through the implications to U.S. foreign policy of his proposal? Specifically, he seems to want the U.S.–a principal external force on the peace process–to ignore its own dedication to the right of self-determination for the Palestinians. But that would mean weakening American devotion to the general principle of self-determination, which is a major driving force behind continued American support for Israel. Does Dayan, as a political figure in a country whose right to exist is constantly being questioned by a resurging global anti-Semitism, not just in the Arab states but all over Europe, really want to weaken American support for the idea of a right to self-determination?

Additionally, Dayan writes that the return of the Palestinian refugees from around the Arab world to the Palestinian state would be a major security threat. But he also acknowledges that those Palestinian refugees are treated as second-class citizens in those countries and kept in squalor elsewhere (chiefly by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Should they stay that way? And isn’t a primary goal of Israeli national policy to convince the Palestinians to return to a Palestinian state, not Israel? Humanitarian concerns often clash with security concerns, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the humanitarian concerns altogether–it means we go back to the drawing board and get creative, not give up.

And finally: Dayan claims removing the settlers would be impossible. Why? Today there are no settlers in Gaza. He’s also moving the goal posts; many of the settlements would remain in Israel as part of any final-status agreement. Israel’s critics often dishonestly ignore this when speaking in broad terms about The Settlers. Dayan is making the same mistake, and playing right into their hands.

The fact is, Dayan is right that the current Palestinian leadership prefers the status quo, and are not making the effort needed to secure a deal. He’s also right that a Hamas takeover of all of the future state of Palestine would immediately nullify the peace deal, and anyone who thinks Hamas isn’t still dedicated to Israel’s destruction is not paying attention. But it would be more constructive if Dayan made these critiques of Mideast policy as part of an effort to reform the current structure of the two-state solution in ways that might make it more workable, not less.