A Decidedly Immodest Proposal for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Radical, but not as radical as “A Modest Proposal” of Jonathan Swift.
Israel came into existence in 1948. While the strife between Jewish settlements and Palestinian backlash began well before then, it is convenient to date this Middle East conflict from that date. Sixty-six years is a long time. And efforts to quell that dispute go back nearly that far, with the United States seriously involved as mediator, up to the level of the president. The most recent chapter has had Secretary of State John Kerry lavish an inordinate amount of time and energy to what is euphemistically called the peace process, only to have both sides contribute to its abandonment, at least for now.
The fact is, no solution is in sight, neither the sensible two-state one nor any other. It is not overwhelmingly difficult for a knowledgeable third party to spell out a reasonable end-state that is reasonably fair to both sides, one that could be agreed to by reasonable leaders of both sides. Although Israelis and Palestinians differ in culture and religion, these “deeper” divisions are not the main stumbling block on the path to a solution. That was the case in the long strife in Northern Ireland, which thankfully, was finally resolved. Most of the issues that divide the present adversaries might be called “pragmatic”: who gets what land, how are the settlements dealt with, what will be the role of Jerusalem and more. The so-called right to return (sixty years later!) is a harder and more fundamental question, though I have no doubt that a reasonable solution can be devised even for this issue. Indeed, I would guess that in the file cabinet of Martin Indyk—and of some others—can be found more than a sketch for a final solution, an expression that ought once again be allowed to take on its ordinary meaning, as the German “Endlösung” from which it derives should not be.
“Where there’s a will, there is a way” is an old saying. And it is often true and, I believe, it is true in this case. What do you do when there is a lack of will—on both sides, in my view? There are two “traditional” ways to improve the direction of a will; they are euphemistically called the carrot and the stick. The carrot has been implicitly (and probably explicitly) in operation in all the negotiations sponsored by the United States. It is my firm belief that it is time for the stick.
I will now propose a scheme by which the stick should be wielded, though it should be understood that what I will put forward is only a scheme, a conceptual model; I am far too ignorant of the relevant circumstances to put forward an actual plan. I have no fear, however, that you, dear reader, will get the idea.
The immodest proposal rests on the assumption that the United States provides substantial aid both to Israel and to the Palestinians. Big bucks, I am certain. Further, it assumes that an outline of a proposed final solution can be taken out of Mr. Indyk’s file cabinet and that it can be made public. This document should be given to the negotiators and their bosses, as a starting point for them to make the changes that both sides can agree on. Others will know better whether a “neutral” third person, presumably American, should be present during some or all of the discussion; I suspect that the answer to that is “yes.”
Now for the wrinkle, the stick. If an agreement is reached at the end of six months: bravo! If that is not the case, American aid to both sides will be reduced by 15% from what it was during the last full year. If not after another four months, aid goes down by another 15% and so after another four months and yet again for two more four month periods. That takes us to 22 months of unsuccessful talking, with only 25% of the last full-aid year remaining. After that the two sides should be left to stew until they see the light.
I realize this is a big stick and that it will cause a mega-sized ruckus. It will alienate the vast majority of Jewish voters, though there are some, like me, who will applaud. But President Obama will not run for office during or at the end of this period of coercion and the 2016 presidential candidates of both parties can repudiate this scheme and rightly say they had no say in the matter. Whether the scheme is successful or not, history will celebrate Mr. Obama if it works or it will give him high marks for trying. Going on for the next couple of decades the way the last have gone should not be an option.