Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

Window of Opportunity

You hear the words "window of opportunity" connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so frequently they have lost much meaning in and of themselves (if they ever had any to begin with). Most recently, we were besieged by media reports that the "historic" Gaza withdrawal would result in a "window of opportunity" in the Middle East. So now we finally get down to what the "window of opportunity" really meant; that is, whose opportunity and for what.
Education Minister Limor Livnat said Tuesday that Israel should use what she termed a "window of opportunity" afforded by the disengagement, in order to build up West Bank settlement blocs, even over the objections of the nation's closest ally, the United States. (Ha'aretz)
Yep, that's the opportunity folks. Can you hear it knocking? In another quote from this article:
"Whoever thinks the disengagement from Gaza will continue with disengagement from the large settlement blocs is very wrong. We will see to it this does not happen," [Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev] Boim said.
And you just know that the Palestinians aren't going to be thankful for this opportunity. Ingrates.

Comments:
That's calling it pretty much how I see it too. Israel pulled out of Gaza for every reason but the right one.

As best I can tell, the primary motivation was gerrymandering:

Disengagement and ethnic cleansing Israel's pullout from Gaza is openly justified by demography - in other words, the need to maintain a Jewish majority
Daphna Baram, Guardian/UK, August 16, 2005
 
Absolutely (the Baram article is quite good). I think the talk of "American opposition" from Livnat and co. is a bit of political grandstanding also -- basically trying to cuddle back up to the settlers and pro-settler Israelis after having lost some cred with the disengagement. The Bush admin. isn't going to make too much of a fuss about this -- why would they? This is essentially what Bush wrote in his letter to Sharon.
 
Hi Alex,

I've noticed a tendency on both sides of the I-P conflict - a double double standard, if you will - with respect to interpretation of rhetoric. On the pro-Israeli side, there's a tendency to dismiss all Israeli political statements as "mere rhetoric" while taking at face value everything said by Palestinian political figures. On the pro-Palestinian side, the tendency is precisely the opposite: to dismiss inflammatory statements by Palestinians while treating Israeli rhetoric as deadly serious.

I mention this because I think it's relevant to interpretation of the statements you cite. All rhetoric, whether by Israelis, Palestinians or others, needs to be interpreted in its political context. I'm inclined to cut Hamas some slack in taking credit for the Gaza withdrawal, for instance, because it's election season in the PA. I'm inclined to cut the Likud MKs some slack for the same reason.

The context of these particular statements is that the Likud Central Committee is meeting on September 26 to decide whether to depose Sharon. If it does, then both intra-party elections and general elections are very likely. Since the merkaz (central committee) tends to the right, this means that Likud figures are trying to shore up their position by right-wing posturing. Likud MKs always announce big settlement construction plans at times like this. Once the leadership elections are over, the plans tend to get quietly shelved.

Obviously I don't know this for certain. However, the same thing has happened in the recent past under similar circumstances. In March, when it looked like Sharon might not be able to pass the budget, he announced the construction of a new neighborhood in the E-1 zone between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim. Once the political danger was over, the construction was suddenly postponed until 2007 and then until at least 2008. Nobody, least of all the settler movement, thinks that neighborhood will ever get built. At this point, I also see no reason to believe that the "window of opportunity" in the West Bank will still be open next month.

Re demography: I think Daphna Baram overstates the possibility of ceding the Triangle to the PA, which isn't supported by any major party these days. In any event, I believe that Jewish Israeli demographic concerns often get stereotyped. Given the way that Jews have been treated as a minority during the past twenty centuries, it's entirely possible to be anxious about maintaining a demographic majority within a nation-state for reasons other than racism. In an ideal world, all minorities would be protected, but you and I both know that isn't the case, and I don't think Israel (or anyplace else) should be required to formulate its political policies on the assumption that the rest of the world will act morally.
 
Jonathan,

Yes, you are right about the rhetoric (as I mentioned, I think this also applies to the U.S. "opposition" and the Likudniks pressing forward with settlement construction despite it).

On the other hand, the facts seem to back up the CONSISTENT rhetoric (by more than just disgruntled Likudniks like Livnat, but by Sharon and Weisglass, etc.) that the Gaza disengagement was essentially a way to ease out of an untenable situation there and continue to build in the West Bank. You might not see an unprecedented flood of settlement building there, but you'll have consistent growth, and the wall continues to go up.

Re: demographics... well, here we get into lots of problems with the nation state and democratic governance. Certainly I don't give Israel a free pass on minority rights simply because other governments have not acted morally in the past.
 
You might not see an unprecedented flood of settlement building there, but you'll have consistent growth, and the wall continues to go up.

There's some room for debate about exactly how much of the WB Sharon intends to consolidate, but I think you're basically right about his intentions. My point was that the WB consolidation and the Gaza withdrawal are largely independent of each other. The idea of settling the WB has been part of Israeli right-wing politics for a long time, and didn't need Gaza to provide a "window of opportunity." In fact, as you're aware, the far right was very much against the evacuation of Gaza.

If you read between the lines of Weisglass' "formaldehyde" interview, it's pretty clear that the withdrawal was motivated by a combination of strategic concerns (both demographic and geopolitical), security reasons and domestic politics. The last is possibly most critical; among the things let slip by Weisglass is that the domestic opposition had Sharon running scared in late 2003. The same combination of factors will ultimately result in a withdrawal from the WB and a final-status deal, probably not next year but sooner than either of us might think.

Certainly I don't give Israel a free pass on minority rights simply because other governments have not acted morally in the past.

I agree completely. No state can call itself democratic or Jewish unless it grants equal rights to minorities. I'm not particularly interested in defending Israel's track record in that regard, which in many ways isn't a very good one.

What I meant in my above statement about demographics was something much more basic - that it's reasonable for Jewish Israelis to want to remain a majority within the borders of at least one nation-state. One has only to look north to Lebanon to see what can happen when a majority becomes a minority, and there are also similar examples outside the Middle East. Given the way minorities are treated throughout the world, and given the way Jews in particular have been treated over a period of centuries, I don't think it's fair to brand Israeli Jews as racist for having concerns about their demographic position.
 
Well, from what I've been reading, the Gaza withdrawal was supported by a majority, whereas that's not exactly the case regarding large West Bank settlements (from what I've read -- can't seem to find the link or remember exactly what the numbers were, but there was an article about a survey in Ha'aretz sometime recently). So I don't know if domestic politics will dictate a WB withdrawal as you suggest (though I hope you are right).
 
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