Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a zero-sum game?

     A zero-sum game is one in which a participant's gains results only from another participant's equivalent losses. Dividing a pie is one example. This definition also seems to describe the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
    The land that is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis is finite. If one party in the end gets more, the other will have to make do with less.
    The same thing will happen with East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians insist is their future capital, but large parts of which are already settled by Israelis. Both parties cannot have that part of the city in its entirety.
   Water, a scarce and diminishing resource in the region, is more easily divided, but it must be shared as well with surrounding countries, such as Jordan and Syria. The scarcity of water may lead to war. Thus it too can be subsumed under the zero-sum category.
  The main issues between the Palestinians and Israelis are refugees, settlements, borders, security, Jerusalem, and water. Each of these issues is still largely perceived by most of the participants in terms of conflict--a zero-sum game, in other words.
   This attitude needs to change if Palestinians and Israelis are ever to live together in peace. As long as both groups regard the problem as a zero-sum game, a sustainable and just peace will be impossible.
    If the two-state solution is to become a reality, what is needed is a willingness to divide the land and everything else on an equitable basis. That will not be easy. A true and lasting peace will require major sacrifices on both sides:
    1. Since the present condition of the Palestinian population in areas occupied or controlled by Israel is untenable, unjust, and dangerous, Israel must change and create conditions to permit Palestinians to thrive in their new state. That seems highly unlikely if the Palestinian territory is divided into umpteen pieces.
    2. Israel’s right to exist must be recognized by all nations, especially the Arab nations, resulting in a country with internationally recognized borders and committed to the pursuit of peace. While not impossible, it may be difficult for all Arab nations to accede to this condition.
    3. Both Palestinians and Israelis must renounce violence and armed conflict and the threat thereof must cease. Unfortunately, there are still too many extremists on both sides for whom violence is second nature. To renounce violence would mean that these groups lose their raison d'etre.
    4. National security must be provided for both Israelis and Palestinians. This will require international guarantees. But such guarantees will not be enough for many Israelis, who will want to defend themselves in order to prevent another Holocaust, while the Palestinians will not be satisfied with a demilitarized state.
    5. The killing of all non-combatants must be stopped. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Modern urban warfare makes such casualties inevitable.
    6. The Palestinians will need to establish an acceptable National Authority capable of providing good governance. The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas is a step in this direction, but Israel and the US both remain suspicious of Hamas.
    The two-state solution that both sides officially acknowledge as the only viable option will require major historic compromises:
   1. An end to Israeli territorial claims in West Bank. The building of new settlements must stop and some may have to be dismantled.
   2. An end to Palestinian claims inside Israel. This would mean that the 1967 border, even with some minor adjustments, cannot be the starting point for negotiations. Many Israelis regard that border as indefensible. One can argue in response that no border is defensible today using modern weapons.
   3. The Palestinian recognition that refugees from 1948 war who choose to return would do so largely to a new Palestinian state rather than to what is now Israel. Israel simply cannot accept such a huge influx of Palestinians nor would it be possible to return the property of the refugees after more than sixty years.
   4. The Israeli recognition that fulfillment of the right of refugees to settle in the West Bank would be either to the Palestinian state or to what is now still Israeli territory as part of a negotiated minor land swap. But the Palestinians would find this difficult to accept. They want to retain the right to return to their original land.
   5. A formula to divide and share Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. But the building of numerous Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem make this more difficult with every passing day.
   6. A formula to divide and share resources, especially water. Any agreement would also have to involve some of the surrounding countries. Already there is not enough water for either the Palestinians or the Israelis.
   The question is not whether the two-state solution is theoretically attainable, but whether the Israelis and the Palestinians have the political will to make it happen. This solution may require international involvement and pressure, which will not be well received.
   Another solution, which would be the product of maintaining the status quo, is the binational- or one-state solution. These two do not necessarily mean exactly the same thing. Many Palestinians increasingly favor some form of this. But that is a separate topic which I will examine in a future posting.

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