Wednesday, March 17, 2010

U.S. Must Convince Israel: Of the Three Things You Want, You Can Only Have Two

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman had an excellent analysis yesterday, arguing that Israel, moderate Arabs and the U.S. should support Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's proposal for creating a Palestinian state. Friedman argues that it is the only proposal that (1) protects their interests, (2) resolves the conflict between Israelis and the indigenous Palestinians of the West Bank, and (3) successfully establishes Palestine on the West Bank. All other proposals ultimately destroy both claimants to the land.

Friedman's description of "Fayyadism" is straight-forward: Fayyad calls for "a nonviolent struggle, for building noncorrupt transparent institutions and effective police and paramilitary units, which even the Israeli Army says are doing a good job; and then, once they are all up and running, declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank by 2011."

Friedman is at his best in explaining why Israel has no choice but to accept Fayyad's plan: of the three things Israelis want most, the logic of the situation will allow them to achieve only two. Fayyad's strategy would give them the best two of the three.

Friedman makes these points in one paragraph. I re-format it here to let each of the three choices stand out:

Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank and its Palestinian population in 1967, Israelis have faced a dilemma: Do they want a Jewish state, a democratic state and state in all of the land of Israel (Israel plus the West Bank)? In this world, they can have only two out of three.

Israel can be Jewish and democratic, but not if it keeps the West Bank, because the Palestinians there plus all the Israeli Arabs will eventually outnumber the Jews.

It can be Jewish and keep the West Bank, but then it can’t be democratic; Arabs will be the majority.

It can be democratic and keep the West Bank, but then it can’t be Jewish.

Friedman argues that Israel's only choice is to be Jewish and democratic--and concede the West Bank to Palestine. He thinks Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands this, or he would not have accepted the two-state solution in principle: "But his government is an impossible mix of moderate Labor Party and hard-line religious and nationalist ideologues who actually believe Israel can have all three if it just hangs tough."

The "big U.S. strategy" for the Middle East, Friedman concludes, should be to go all out for Fayyad's proposal and convince Israel it is the only way forward, if Israelis and Palestinians are ever to live in peace, and if the Palestinian wound, which pains Muslims globally and focuses their hostility on Jews and their supporters, is ever to be healed.

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