Monday, November 13, 2006

Settling the Occupied-Liberated Landscapes

Gershom Gorenberg on Bloggingheadstv with Robert Wright (author of Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny).

Gorenberg, writer for Forward, is American born and has lived in Israel for the last three decades.

His newest work, The Accidental Empire, reviewed here by NYTimes, has revisioned the narrative around Israeli settlements. The subtitle of the book is Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977.

From the article:

Generally speaking, there have been two prevailing explanations: one of Israeli innocence, the other of guilt. In the first, the tiny state was forced into war in 1967 and grabbed Gaza, Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights in self-defense, planning to hold them only until they could be safely traded for peace. In the other, Israel used its victory in 1967 deliberately to expand its borders. It disenfranchised the locals, stole their land and settled the territories with religious fanatics.
Gorenberg has now added a third--accidental. A policy of no-policy. It was more a stumbling unintentionally into the settlements. There was debate within the Israeli government which crossed traditional right/left (likud/labour) party lines.

The settlements grow out of the 1967 Six Day War in which Isreal destroyed the Egypt, Syria/Lebanon, and Jordan. Israel ended up occupying land not ceded to it in the 1948 UN Declaration of Nationhood. Lands like the Golan Heights (still occupied, Syria), Sheba Farms (Lebanon, still question marks), West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt sued for peace with Israel in exchange for the Sinai (Camp David Accords). Israel withdrew from the Gaza last year and was beginning to withdraw from the West Bank until the recent attacks both from Gaza and particularly in Lebanon, from which it had withdrew a few years ago. Both withdraws, which Sharon-Olmert and his centrist Kadima party had advocated, were if was thought bring peace. Instead they have become launching stations for rocket attacks from Hamas/Islamic Jihad (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon).

What Gorenberg shows brilliantly is that the settlers, sometimes encouraged from others, went and took land. Ex post facto, a rationalization had to be created. The long term strategic thinking behind the settlements never really was taken into account. Moreover the groups by the seventies, especially after the religious uptick in Isreal after the "non-win" of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, were religous ultra-nationalists, often combining messianism and hippie aeshtetic.

It is hard to face down these groups as was evidenced by the relatively small-scale Gaza withdraw last year. Remember the photos of the Israeli army pulling women, children, and non-violently protesting youths out of their homes. The idea of doing this again in the West Bank after the vicious attacks of the last year seems unlikely. Olmert is not Sharon.

This after the fact rationalization has been one generally of incompetence according to Gorenberg, to which I would agree. Wright intelligently points out that particularly now that the primmary threat to the state of Israel is not invasion from a nation-state but rather terrorism, the settlements are even more problematic.

Gorenberg's key criticism of the recent Kadima policy of dis-engagement, while generally well thought out in theory, has been blown practically by the unilateral nature of its implementation. Sharon in this sense very close to Bush and unsurprisingly Bush never intervened to force a negotiated settlement and then put pressure on Hamas after its electoral victory, which in part was a response to the shaming/failure of Fatah-PLO to stop Israel from unilaterally acting.


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