The Israeli Labor Party “Security & Peace Plan” (Or Is It Too Late?)


Almost 50 years after the occupation of the West Bank by Israel, this is a peculiar moment in Israeli politics and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both government ministers and supporters of the rightwing government in Israel as well as critics of the current status quo in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza all seem to agree that the two state-solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “dead.” That seems to be a consensus. But the alternatives could not be more stark: [1] creeping annexation by Israel and the formalization of an apartheid one-state entity with unequal rights for Jewish and Arab citizens and West Bank non-citizens, or [2] caught between democracy and anarchy, a one state-solution with neither a clear cut majority population, neither Arab-Palestinian nor Jewish, in which two sides to a long and intractable conflict are left of a sudden to figure out how to forge together a common life out of nothing more than animus.

In light of the current impasse, the Labor party in Israel has recently voted to accept the semi-unilateral plan of party leader Isaac Herzog. The proposal is for Israel to begin taking steps to disentangle and separate itself, if only in part from occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank. (Note the difference between “occupied territories,” not “the occupied territories.”) You can read the whole thing here, in addition to this critique here. While much has been made of Herzog’s claim that the two-state solution is dead, the plan’s approach, if intended in good faith, is more complex than simple. Interestingly, while the plan assumes military and economic “coordination” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the plan makes no formal demands for compromise from the Palestinian side. The ball is assumed to be squarely in the Israeli side of the court.]]

The plan’s strong suit are its basic assumptions. Assuming first [1] that a bi-national state would violate the principle of Jewish self-determination, which for the vast majority of Israeli Jews is politically non-negotiable, while what is in effect the current unequal bi-national status quo is a prescription for intolerable conflict and violence, what does one do on the second assumption that [2] the parties to the conflict are unable to come to an agreement based on the combined principles of national determination for and mutual recognition between Jews and Palestinians? This is the complex question that the center-left and left have been unable to answer heretofore. Its nub would be the starting point of the entire scheme. While everyone knows what a two-state solution will demand from both parties to the conflict, there is no “agreement” on the horizon, no formal “end of conflict” between two competing national movements even as the conflict continues to promise nothing but festering violence and asymmetrical conflict lurching towards catastrophe.

The logic of the proposal proceeds from these two assumptions to conclude: [1] The plan provides security for Israel, based on the purely positivist point of view that a sovereign entity’s first political responsibility is to provide for the security of its population. With minimal contact between civilian populations, the plan offers a modus vivendi with the army in place until a final agreement is secured between the parties. [5] Regarding a final status agreement, the proposal responds in a constructive and open way to the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiation under a regional umbrella based on Clinton parameters and understandings reached with Palestinian negotiators under the Israeli administration of then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in which far ranging final status concessions were put on the table.

The problems with the current Labor Party proposal are related to vagueness in terms. One assumes that the language was meant intentionally to obfuscate. [1] While strong on a commitment to combat terrorism, the document does nothing to define the problem from the Israeli side, namely the fact that the territories in the West Bank are “occupied territories.” Indeed, the words “occupation” or “occupied” do not appear once in the document. [2] When the word “settlement” appears (only two times) it is only in reference to those so-called settlement blocs. At no point does the document identify the settlements as a principle obstacle to peace. Aside from committing to a settlement freeze outside the major so-called settlement blocs which Israel expects to keep in a final status agreement, very little detail is provided about which “incremental measures” are proposed to be taken. Do these include dismantling settlements and outposts outside those settlement blocs? [3] While the plan calls to separate so-called villages, namely Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, from Jewish controlled West Jerusalem, aside from mentioning the Clinton parameters, no detail is provided about access for West Bank Palestinians to East Jerusalem or the future of its status. [4] The plan lacks any vision towards the two-state solution towards which these interim steps are meant to lead. Would the proposal freeze in place the occupation which the its framers won’t even name.

These might indeed be fatal problems for a proposal, the principle virtue of which would be, at least on paper, to separate the two hostile populations in the Israeli occupied West Bank. If defined and implemented correctly, the proposal could [1] protect not just Jews from Palestinians, but also Palestinians from Jews, while [2] breaking the logjam of the current impasse in the absence of an agreement and the ongoing grinding status quo creeping annexation and internecine conflict. One would be encouraged by the proposal only if was clear that it is meant not just to freeze the occupation in place, but actively to change the status quo on the ground by dismantling settlements and outposts outside the so-called blocs, all while keeping the army in place until a final resolution is secured in such a way as to create a new political order based on two viable and interconnected states. The final question is whether the proposal would reduce conflict while creating space in which, even in the absence of peace, the parties could work towards peace, based on the principles of self-determination and mutual recognition.

Critics are right to ask if it’s all too late. At stake is what Israel would actually be prepared to do on its own, even without a formal agreement with the Palestinian leadership, before it’s too late. But if it’s too late, then what?


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to The Israeli Labor Party “Security & Peace Plan” (Or Is It Too Late?)

  1. milx says:

    It’s never “too late,” which is the crux of the problem. Israel has no incentive to act now when they can always act later and, unless you’re trying to leverage apocalypticism, there is no such thing as “too late.” Far greater reconfigurations of demographic realities have occurred throughout history (and even now in many countries) than the withdrawal of a few hundred thousand settlers. The only time it will be truly “too late” for the Two State solution will be once Israel hits a stage that they no longer fear a demographic timebomb by annexing the West Bank. Either this will be because they no longer fear ruling in open apartheid over the Palestinians of the West Bank, or because they will have a secure demographic advantage and can afford to hand out the franchise without losing a Jewish majority.

    The failure to understand this basic fact underlines the major problem w/ Western (and Palestinian) approaches to peace in Israel. Israel decided early on that putting facts on the ground only benefited them in terms of negotiations; the longer you wait, the less you have. Nothing has changed. If today somehow the EU and the USA put together the political will to boycott, sanction and entirely divest from Israel (as improbable as it sounds), tomorrow Israel could unilaterally withdraw from the WB and be done with it. This idea that somehow they could settle the WB so much that two States are impossible is just not compatible with reality. They can remove settlers. They can withdraw to very generous border lines that include most of the settlements. They can eventually, if the PLO drags their feet long enough, just annex the entire thing outright with a permanent Jewish majority. The onus of urgency is ultimately placed directly on the Palestinians who continue to lose each day they do not close a deal with the Israeli govt.

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