Is Separation a Solution for Middle East Peace?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Israel/Palestine is the Fermat's Last Theorem of geopolitics. It will take just as long to solve.

It will now be another generation — perhaps several — before peace comes; it will doubtless arrive as a form of advanced mutual exhaustion. Until that happens, the tasks are 1) to minimize the loss of life and 2) to keep the conflict from expanding beyond Israel/Palestine.

Out of the despair, disgust, and disillusionment of the last eleven months has come the increasingly tempting idea of "unilateral separation." What does that mean, exactly? Not quite clear. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak explains it, "We'll be here and they'll be there." In between, a presumably impenetrable barrier. Split the house into two units, with iron doors locked and bolted between them, and razor wire on the windows. The cobra has one condominium, the mongoose gets the other. It's not a happy way to live, but it would be better, for both sides, than today's vicious intimacy.

The idea of separation has grown popular across Israel's political spectrum, supported by politicians on both the traditional left and right. They include the Center Party's Dan Meridor, Likud's Michael Eitan and Labor's Haim Ramon.

As Yosef Goell writes in the Jerusalem Post: "For years supporters of the Oslo process were at pains to argue that there is no military solution to the conflict. They were partly correct. The painful truth is that in the short and medium terms there are no 'solutions,' either military or political, to such protracted conflicts. We now know there is no diplomatic and political 'solution' either."

Separation would be difficult and politically dangerous on both sides. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza would have to be shut down. Considerable numbers of Palestinians would have to be relocated. The melodramas of deracination, in a land of such murderous grievances, would be explosive.

Such large population transfers have been accomplished before — in Cyprus, for example. Both sides would have to agree to separation, and cooperate in the moves; it's hard in the current atmosphere to see how such cooperation could come to pass. If the Israelis attempted to relocate numbers of Palestinians by force, there would be much blood, and for Israel, a catastrophic CNN Effect. Turning out the Palestinians would get spun to the world audience as the Highland Clearances and the Trail of Tears and the Bataan Death and even, grotesquely, as the trains to Auschwitz — a replay, precisely, of the "nakba," the Palestinian "disaster" of 1948.

The current inkblot interminglings of Palestinian and Israeli territories could only be sustained if the two tribes were willing to coexist more or less peacefully. Without that, separation has the attraction of clarity: Us here, them there.

But the interminglings of Palestinians and Israelis are not just territorial; they include elaborate economic dependencies. Will those be severed? And with what consequences?

What of Jerusalem?

With what Solomonic surgical technique do you approach that baby?

My thought is this: Since both sides cannot live peacefully in the holy city, let neither have it. Vacate the Old City and its holy places — the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall. Bring in the U.N. as a shabbes goy to tend them. The violent ardors that Jerusalem excites profane the place. They turn spiritual yearning into nationalistic fanaticism. The best human impulses (love, generosity) reverse their magnetism, and become the worst (hatred, violence).

Make Jerusalem a forbidden city, uninhabited except by God.