'Ultrasound' of Palestine Shows Birth Defects

According to doctors, chances are that this creature will never be born - and, if it is, it will not live long.

Yonatan Mendel
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Yonatan Mendel

With the High Holy Days behind us, Israeli chief negotiatior, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - chairperson of Israel’s eighth-largest political party - and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - a senior member of a party that lost in the latest Palestinian elections, are due to resume negotiations. When they meet, they will try to advance the vision of the two-state solution, which is beginning to take shape in its current form. It even showed signs of life at a press conference in Washington in late July, during which the United States Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of a final-status agreement within nine months.

Besides the amount of time set aside to negotiate the agreement — a gestational nine months — we can point to two complications that could affect it during birth. Emotionally speaking, even before the agreement comes into the world, it suffers from a complete lack of the materials from which one makes peace, such as promoting reconciliation and justice, recognition of injustice or the intent to create equality. For all practical purposes, the goal of the talks, at least according to Livni, is “not to argue with the past, but rather to create solutions for the future.” This position is very popular among the Israeli public, since it promises peace without mentioning rude words such as "Nakba” or “occupation.”

It promises peace, but emphasizes mostly what Israel will receive in exchange: a Palestinian commitment not to make any demands in the future. If so, then this is a “peace” that, with a stroke of the pen, will release Israel from international pressure, boycotts and ostracism, without obligating it to look backward, take responsibility, ask forgiveness, bring back the refugees or pay compensation. Having its cake and eating it too — that is the Israeli version of “peace.”

But the main complication that the incipient agreement could suffer from is physical, and the latest ultrasound shows that there really is a problem. Usually, when we try to imagine “peace,” we do so according to an inclusive map that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which Israeli schools call “Israel” and Palestinian schools call “Palestine.”

Both sides sketch all sorts of odd lines on this map and underneath it they put a key that only they can read. But if we try to distance ourselves from the general maps and examine the “Palestinian state” everyone is talking about, we immediately encounter tough questions about the incipient state’s viability. So, as a public service and to assist us in imagining “peace” in our mind’s eye, I have prepared a simulation of the map of the Palestinian state that is to be born in May, when the process ends - complete with “an end to the conflict” and “an end to demands.” From the current school maps, I have extracted the future map of non-historical Palestine which, according to all its godparents, is supposed to be sovereign and sustainable, a state like all others, that breathes on its own.

I spent a lot of time trying to draw the map of the future Palestine. I tried to be sensitive and determined when I sketched it. I examined the past agreements and based myself on them. I relied particularly on the Camp David understandings of 2000, in which it is said that Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat “almost everything.” I was careful not to harm the tiny organs of the incipient state, while at the same time making sure not to put pressure on the nerves of Ma’aleh Adumim. I used a surgeon’s scalpel to allow continued use of Route 60 from the Otniel junction toward Beit Hagai and I checked the map’s lines thoroughly, to ensure it preserved the essentiality of the Ariel settlement bloc and free Israeli movement in the Jordan Valley.

After all that, I made the usual “painful concessions” for the sake of “peace”: I opened the main artery and sketched the open crossing from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Afterward, I behaved with appropriate generosity and, on the basis of past agreements, I made sure to give the Palestinians land in exchange for the land that the blocs took from them, and in exactly the same amount. I took those territories from the Negev and the Lachish region.

I labored for hours over amendments to the border, trying in vain to overcome the limits of my computer skills and those of the bare-bones drawing software. What the ultrasound revealed in the end was the odd creature depicted in the accompanying illustration. Considering its appearance, it’s hard to imagine what its parents will name it and how they will respond when they see it for the first time. Will they love it and wish it long life? That’s not at all certain.

The truth is that, according to what the doctors say, chances are that this creature will never be born - and, if it is, it will not live long. After all, no Palestinian textbook will show this twisted creature as “a map of our country,” and no Palestinian on earth will agree to write the word “Palestine” next to it. Just between us, not even Israelis will do that, nor will they start drawing, come May, the State of Israel with its new borders, as a hollow-looking state surrounding another state on all sides.

If some Palestinian representative does sign off on the bizarre map shown here, “Palestine” will become a state on paper only. The Palestinian leadership’s motivations for ratifying an agreement based on borders such as these — internal problems, American pressure, exhaustion and depression that stems, as Erekat says, from the fact that “the Palestinians have suffered enough” — do not ensure the young state any real chance of standing on its own. Even worse, the Palestinians making this historic concession of 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine will be an unelected prime minister, a president whose term has expired and a chief negotiator who represents a failed party.

That being the case, the current talks suffer from severe problems. It’s hard to see how they will be solved; actually, it’s more likely that, sooner or later, they will put the sides back on their chronic collision course. Just between us, Israel is not thinking about the future Palestinian map or about the viability and health of the Palestinian state. It entered the talks out of a desire to fulfill all of its security-related urges. It does not see, or want to see, the Palestinians — and paradoxically, that is precisely what is pushing it to move forward on “peace” with them. On the other side is the Palestinian leadership, which, because of the current political situation, could sign an agreement that will give rise to an urban legend with no future. This leadership may bring into the world a perforated West Bank that will be connected to Gaza by an umbilical cord, without sovereign borders and surrounded by a security zone on one side and a separation barrier on the other. The state may be called “Palestine” by the Palestinians who sign the agreement establishing it, but it’s not certain that it will be called that by the Palestinian people.

It would be better to discuss these problems early on. If we are to look at the situation realistically, we must admit that there are many problems along the road from the current vision to a real peace agreement. An agreement that stems only from American pressure or Israeli demographic and security fears will not bring about real peace between the sides. An agreement that does not deal with the deep problems of the past and flees to narrow solutions will not truly promote trust and reconciliation. Rather, it will lead to at least one of the leaderships (mainly, the unelected one) being seen by its people as illegitimate. An agreement whose authors do not undersand that when two nations create their homeland they are drawing the same map — who focus on the physical barrier between the states instead of on the symbiotic relationship between them — will never bring peace. If that happens, we could wake up one morning to find that the two-state solution has been carried out — one state born with severe shortness of breath, and the other continuing to live with megalomania.

Dr. Yonatan Mandel, a post-doctoral scholar in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is the projects manager of the Mediterranean Unit at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.Credit: AP
Map of Palestine.Credit: Yonatan Mendel

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