Ever since the Peel Commission report of 1937 stated that "partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does," many plans have been proposed for partitioning the country between the Jews and Arabs - and all have failed. The common denominator of all the plans, from the UN's decision of 1947 to the Oslo Accords and the road map is the dependence on the goodwill of the sides. That recipe led over and over to deadlocks and outbreaks of violence.
A similar fate befell the armistice agreements that in effect divided the country after the Israeli war of independence, and the Israeli occupation of the territories, which was based on territorial unity and "administrative partition" between civilians with full rights and subjects of the military government. Ariel Sharon's latest hit - an imposed interim agreement (also known as "disengagement" with a separation fence) - doesn't even pretend to promise quiet, but only that the conflict will continue from improved lines.
The idea of partition has much support, both international and domestic. But in light of the failed performances by the sides, which have prevented its execution, it is worth considering the alternative of internationalization: expropriating the authority to determine the borders and security arrangements from the Israelis and Palestinians and giving the authority to the superpowers, led by the U.S.
In recent years it has become evident that negotiations do not lead to a solution or to solving the conflict because the domestic price of the concessions appear to each side as higher than the advantages of compromise. The Geneva initiative, which tried to present a model for an historic compromise showed that even when faced with the most moderate Israelis, the Palestinians could not give up their demand in principle for the "right of return" or explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Living together has not softened suspicions and hatred between the communities. The Palestinians believe Zionism is a plot to take away their land and many Israelis believe that terror and murder are built into the very nature of their neighbors.
Now Sharon wants to give up the ethos of "settlement throughout all of the Land of Israel" to buy some quiet. But like Ehud Barak, he'll find out that the Palestinians don't give up something for nothing. Their desire to fight was not reduced even when their cities were conquered, their government was crushed and their leader jailed in his office. And they enjoy broad international support for their struggle, as shown by the "fence trial" in The Hague last week.
Internationalizing the solution would free the sides from conflict with their respective national ethos. In their name, the superpowers would give up "the right of return" and "Judea and Samaria" and would also have to give up their own contribution to fanning the flames of the conflict. The Europeans regard the Palestinians as the heirs to the Resistance, and the Americans compare the Israelis to the pioneers who won their Wild West. That romance of the war has to stop and make way for the encouragement of normalcy.
The idea of internationalization prompts nearly automatic rejection in Israel on the grounds that foreign intervention would get in the way of the war on terror. But that is very short-sighted. It is true there is no point in positioning an international force in the territories just for decoration, like UNIFIL in Lebanon. First a solution has to be set, dictated with sticks and carrots to both sides, which depend on aid and legitimacy from the international community. The arrangement in Cyprus is an example of international determination that overcame the hatred between the communities.
The American historian Howard Sachar wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times that small countries are captive to the concept of "territorial security" and are unable to compromise. The superpowers dictated the borders in Europe and the Far East after the world wars, and that should be their function now, instead of hiding under the cover of "honest broker."
The current international constellation offers Israel a ripe moment for just such an arrangement, with the world being run by a single friendly superpower. Thus, perhaps, the conclusions of the Peel Commission can be fulfilled, in which even if the partition does not offer the Jews and Arabs "all they want, it offers each what it wants most, namely freedom and security."
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