An Idiotic Initiative

As a matter of course, one might well ignore “peace plans” put forward by Knesset members like MK Benny Elon of the ultra-right Moledet party, a central member of the National Union coalition party. But Elon’s new “Israeli Initiative” bears some examination both because it may unfortunately become a significant part of Israel’s policy planning if Benjamin Netanyahu is elected Prime Minister after the fall of Ehud Olmert and because it has at least one point of interest.
Benny Elon
Under Elon’s initiative, Israel would annex the entire West Bank, placing it all under Israeli sovereignty. But the Palestinians in the West Bank would then become citizens of Jordan, without actually leaving, although those that wished to would be given financing to do so. Elon revives the old right-wing contention that there is already a Palestinian state, and it is Jordan. But he adds to this a fairly bizarre layer wherein Palestinians would be living on sovereign Israeli land, but would be represented by Jordan. Thus, they would be subject to Israeli security arrangements (this is the most basic characteristic of sovereignty, after all) and their only recourse would be to the Jordanian government in hopes it would plead and win a case with Israel. What happens in Gaza is unclear.

Elon either willfully misrepresents or completely misunderstands various polls of Palestinians who say they would move elsewhere if they could. Rather than ascribe this to the obvious, and accurate, cause–the misery, economic devastation and hopelessness of living under occupation–Elon decides this is because they don’t have faith in the Palestinian Authority, hence would not wish to live in an independent Palestinian state that would be led by the PA. He similarly distorts Jordan’s view by saying it sees the emergence of a Palestinian state as a threat, something that might be true if such a state was headed by Hamas, but not if it is headed by Fatah.

Why would Jordan ever agree to this? Elon answers: “Israel, the US, and the international community will invest in the long-term development of the Kingdom of Jordan to
restore and strengthen its economy. Israel and Jordan, together with Egypt, Turkey, and the US, will create a strategic organization to halt the Islamic axis based in Teheran, and to promote overall peace between Israel and the Arab countries.”

Basically, Jordan would be paid. But in fact, Jordan is already being paid through its aid from the US and Israelis already do business in Jordan. If King Abdullah agreed to this, it would most certainly destabilize his own regime. Even if one expects he could survive the initial swell of anger at such a move, the monetary gains are minimal and Egypt, Turkey, the US, Israel and Jordan already work together for regional security and all are certainly united in their efforts to stem Iranian influence in the region. Elon’s plan is to offer Jordan the status quo in exchange for the King risking his dominion. It’s either a measure of Elon’s contempt for Abdullah or his own self-delusion that he believes such an arrangement would get anything but a good belly-laugh from Jordan.

That’s all even before one considers the problems inherent in having a large number of people living in whole communities on one country’s sovereign territory while being citizens of another. It is also before one considers that Elon’s plan would include full Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem including the Haram al-Sharif/Har Ha’Bayit/Temple Mount. So, yes, the plan is absurd on its face. But what is interesting is Elon’s proposed solution to the issue of refugees.

In a surprisingly straightforward statement in his proposal, Elon says this of the Palestinian refugees: “The problem of the Palestinian refugees is not a political, but a humanitarian one. The establishment of the State of Israel did not take away their state from the Palestinians, since such a state had never existed. However, in many cases it did take away their homes and their dignity.”

Elon’s reasoning is that the refugee problem can be solved simply by dismantling the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), taking down the refugee camps and making (granted, with financial assistance from the US, Israel and the “international community”) the refugees into citizens, presumably of other countries, with some doubtless, even in Elon’s vision, remaining in the West Bank under the wacky arrangement mentioned above.

But, though it is not for the first time, it is rather noteworthy that a fairly prominent Israeli leader publicly acknowledged the dispossession of the Palestinians. Despite Elon’s complete denial of Palestinian national rights (the fact that they never had a state, while true, has no bearing on whether they have national rights) he only slightly understates the material losses and the impact on “dignity”. This is a telling sign.

The upcoming 60th anniversary of the birth of Israel and of the Palestinian dispossession which they call al-Naqba (the catastrophe) will bring an unprecedented focus on Palestinian refugees, and international pressure for a resolution of this issue is likely to increase. This is Israel’s greatest fear and the typical Israeli response of stonewalling and refusing to admit that it is even an issue that Israel must deal with is likely to be weakened considerably. In perhaps his only real insight, Elon seems to recognize this and is acting to pre-empt the issue.

Elon does not, of course, propose anything remotely satisfactory for dealing with the refugee issue. But he does at least admit that Israel must address it and must take at least some responsibility for the resolution of the problem. He does so employing right-wing rhetoric and ideology. But he does so.

Israel is, in fact, going to have to come to grips with this issue if it ever hopes to move past the conflict with the Palestinians. The arguments over intent are, in the last analysis, irrelevant. Israel’s creation resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. It must admit this and redress the issue. The paranoia regarding this clause in the Arab League proposal must be overcome.

The Arab league proposal calls for an “agreed upon” resolution of the refugee problem. This is an acknowledgment of the fact that Israel will never agree to the repatriation of Palestinian refugees behind the Green Line (the border of Israel before the 1967 war). Indeed, the language here was so conciliatory that Lebanon, the country most vehemently opposed to settling any Palestinian refugees permanently in its own territory, insisted that an additional clause guaranteeing the “…rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries” be added.

This still requires Israel to acknowledge the historical reality that its birth, by any version of history, caused the displacement and dispossession of most of that area’s Arab inhabitants. If Israel cannot bring itself to make that leap, there is not much hope for resolution.

Elon’s plan isn’t going to be supported by any of the major Israeli parties, including Likud. But, should Likud gain control of the government after Olmert’s time draws to a close (and polls have been indicating for some time that this is the most likely outcome of the next election), Elon’s National Union Party could well hold a prominent and pivotal role in a Likud-led right wing government. That doesn’t mean the plan would be pursued but, coupled with Netanyahu’s own adoration for the “Jordan is the Palestinian state” line of reasoning, it would likely gain some prominence.

These are, of course, all plans for deepening the conflict. Much like the insistence of some parties that a full right of return must be enacted, or that the occupation cannot end as long as Israel holds to Zionism, the idea that the refugees can be avoided or that Jordan is the Palestinian state are simply ideas that block any hope of political progress. Academic debates in universities and coffee houses are all well and good, but politically, the contours of an eventual settlement have been known for some time. Like it or not, the only possibility for a settlement of these issues is something along the lines of the Arab League Plan, the Geneva Initiative, The Taba Agreements and the sundry other plans that have come down along similar lines. There simply isn’t anything else on the agenda because all the other ideas being floated about (and some of them are not at all bad ideas) in various circles on all sides have no political traction or support.

It’s time to act on what is there, not come up with more hare-brained schemes. Concerted efforts by ALL parties can make it happen, and, if such arrangements do not fully resolve all the problems (and they certainly will not), well, that’s why diplomacy is always practiced without end.