Friday, April 8, 2011

A Strategy for Settlements: Feedback - Exercising Sovereignty

It's been a few days now since I published Part II of the Settlement Strategy series. Predictably, I've run into some resistance, both in the comments, on the blogs of others and privately. What I hadn't anticipated was the direction this criticism took. I had thought I would be challenged on the substance of my ideas. Instead, I'm being asked, or rather told, why the ideas I'm presenting - while well-meant - are irrelevant. I'd like to therefore address some minor points, to elaborate on my general thought process.

There is a relatively common belief among supporters of Israel and the settlement movement - and dare I say more conservative, right or center supporters - that the key to getting Israel out of its current predicament lies in focusing on three essential considerations, or activities.

First, this group advocates that Israel must begin to fully Exercise Sovereignty. The argument goes that the State of Israel is an independent nation state, and as such, whatever actions it wishes to take within its sovereign territory is an internal matter for the state, not subject to approval or interference by foreign states or international bodies. Complementary to this idea that Israel must reject foreign meddling in its affairs is the notion that it must Exercise Sovereignty within the country's borders, encompassing the territories under its control. What this means, in practice, is the disbanding of the Palestinian Authority, the annexation of the West Bank, and the conferring of something like permanent residency, short of voting rights, "citizen minus" or "resident plus" status on the Palestinians of Shomron and Yehudah.

Proponents of Exercising Sovereignty, as with most settlement advocates, tend to be big on ideas and small on specifics, frustratingly so. For example, the conversation rarely, if ever, approaches the clarity with which I just outlined the final, practical meaning of this approach. I can count on my fingers how many such advocates can stop repeating the mantra of Exercising Sovereignty for long enough to discuss what their vision is for the Arabs of the territories - who, to put it lightly, are present in some considerable number, and are not passive actors but may feel they should have a say in the matter - to bring up a single complication.

Nor do proponents of this approach give a second thought to the diplomatic, economic and security consequences Israel may face as a result of taking such actions. National sovereignty has a strong foundation in international law, but it has never been absolute. There are other nations, larger, more populous and more resource-full than Israel, who have exercised their national sovereignty in ways the international community found distasteful, and these countries have often found themselves on the wrong end of international sanctions or worse. So I want to know, who assured advocates of Exercising Sovereignty that there would be no consequences? Which voice came down from heaven and made this promise? "Don't worry, nothing will happen", is not a plan a thinking person can accept.

I don't have a specific problem with Israel "fully" exercising its sovereignty, annexing the territories, offering permanent residency status to the Palestinians, but I recognize that for every such action there will be consequences, and the planning must anticipate and attempt to resolve those consequences. Who is doing this planning? The Yesha Council? I can tell you they are not. The IDF? Try again. Avigdor Lieberman? The Foreign Minister, like most Israelis, wants nothing to do with another 1.5 million Arabs. So until I see this planning, until I hear a single advocate of Exercising Sovereignty start speaking, comprehensibly, about "the day after", this notion that Israel will put its foot down and the world will cower is not a strategy, it is an arrogant, poorly thought out fantasy, and it is utter folly to pretend otherwise.

This first of the three points of resistance I encountered in feedback to the Settlement Strategy series has run a bit long, and Shabbos is coming, so I'll pause for now and continue next week. Again, as always, I welcome rational discussion. Tell me why I'm wrong, and try to do with without talking about Hitler and antisemitism.

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