Monday, September 15, 2008

A Smart Move in Israel

Lately, things haven't been going so well on the peace front in Israel. Talks with Syria over the Golan Heights have been called off as Israel is roiled by domestic political turmoil, with the looming indictment of Prime Minister Olmert and the impending party elections on Wednesday. Meanwhile, nothing seems to be happening in the negotiations between Israel and Fatah, with both sides expressing pessimism that a deal is possible before the end of the year.

However, yesterday a ray of light may have burst through the clouds. Haim Ramon, the vice prime minister and one of Olmert's closest advisers, presented a plan to buyout Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory of the West Bank. Stating that dreams of "Greater Israel" are dead, Ramon's plan would pay approximately $300,000 to each family to leave the West Bank and relocate inside of Israel proper. According to Ramon, survey data indicates that 11,000 of the 61,000 Israelis -- or 18% -- who live beyond the security fence would accept the buyout.

Even if this plan goes nowhere, it is still a fairly important breakthrough. First, it is always good to hear high ranking Israeli officials acknowledge that there is no way Israel can keep all of the West Bank. Doing so would continue to waste Israeli resources and lives, perpetuate the misery of the Palestinians, continue to alienate world opinion, and eventually turn Israel into an apartheid state, as the Palestinian population will soon surpass the number of Jews in Israel. Second, I believe that many more people would accept the money than the poll data indicates. Many people predicted that the forced withdrawal from Gaza would go badly, but the resistance that occurred was more or less token with settlers making a visible protest but little actual violence. When I was in Israel last year, I spoke with many settlers, and many of them were of the very hard-core variety. All of them acknowledged that the writing was on the wall, literally. The security fence being built by Israel meant, they knew, that the lands on the other side of the fence would eventually be abandoned by Israel. Certainly the prospects of that much money will encourage many others to accept the inevitable.

I'm not in any way saying that this plan will succeed, or even pass. But even if it gets 20% of the settlers out, it's a step in the right direction. Israel needs to recognize that its occupation of the West Bank is no longer sustainable and is too costly for all concerned parties.

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