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My proposed solution to the conflicts surrounding Israel.

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24 May 04.

Return the Golan Heights to Syria, annex the West Bank to Jordan, and annex the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

1. If you look at any map of the area, you will see that this is logical: you wind up with contiguous countries whose borders basically make sense. Annexing them to Israel is evidently impossible without a huge loss of life. Having some sort of single government ruling over these three regions is simply not gonna happen, and two or three separate governments are going to be too weak to do anything.

2. This finalizes the situation. I believe that the main reason for continued violence is that both sides believe that they can gain ground. There are Jews who believe that they can achieve an Israel from sea to sea, and Arabs who believe that they can one day achieve the dissolution of Israel. By drawing firm borders with a government and an army defending all sides of those borders, the hopes of both belligerent sides are shattered. They'll have to live with immovable, fixed borders, just like the rest of the world does.

3. Israeli troops will leave the Palestinian areas. A power vacuum would be suicide for Israel, so if we want Israeli troops out of these areas they will need to be replaced by some other legitimate, external police force, and Egypt and Jordan would be the natural candidates. Even if the Israeli army does feel the need to interfere, it is still much more circumspect about sending troops to bordering countries (read: an invasion) than sending them to territories which are, in a hazy sense, a part of Israel (read: a police action).

4. The economy tends to follow the borders [see, e.g., the work of Helliwell]. The economies of these territories simply can't stand on their own. Depending on Israel is evidently too dysfunctional to work. Reworking the borders so these territories are contiguous with the surrounding Arab economies will give the PA a fighting chance to integrate into working economic systems.

5. This gives Palestinians a real live government that will represent them, so they will finally have a say in the government that rules over them. It will put them under the oversight of large governments which have the money to build an infrastructure.

6. This creates an accountable government. As it is, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the people in these areas, and has done a famously crappy job of caring for and policing them. Part of this is that the government is underfunded, and part of this is the questionable level of motivation on the part of President Arafat and his crew to stem violence against Israel. By putting the populace under the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian governments, there is a real, stable government which can be taken to task for the misbehavior of its citizens, and which has an existing police force which can take care of things without endless suspicion from the citizenry it patrols. If Egypt allows its new citizens to commit violence against Israel, Cairo can be sanctioned.

Politics and objections
Israel Historically, Israel has given up more land for peace than it's taken, so I don't think it will be the main sticking point. There is a far right which still wants to see Greater Israel, but there is a still larger population that just wants peace and an Israel that's left alone.

Security is still an issue, and the Arab states need to show a real interest in shutting down extremists (which most Arab states at least pay lip service to). For example, the Golan Heights are actually heights---a perfect place to launch rockets on Northern Israel, which (until the occupation) was a favorite hobby among Arabs. [I know absolutely nothing about military strategy or logistics, but perhaps the UN's forces can be moved from their current position (between the part of Syria occupied by Israel and the rest of Syria) to the Israeli border per se.] The Arab states would have to both show a sincere effort to police these areas and accept responsibility for terrorists within their new borders, and---more difficult---Israelis would have to trust that the Arab states are doing so.

The Arab states The PA as it stands now is a liability, with huddled masses of poor people living in an area with a crappy infrastructure and no economy. Despite endless supporting rhetoric, Egypt and Jordan have been historically disinclined to accept their poor neighbors into their countries, preferring instead to offer limited aid.

The first solution: throw political guilt at them. Public discussion is entirely focused on what Israel should or should not be doing. Egypt and Jordan are happy having it that way, because it means that they basically have no major responsibilities. But if Israel is so evil, other countries should be bending over backward to protect the PA from Israel, and annexing is the best imaginable way to do so.

A complementary solution: throw money at them. If we could find $87 billion to rebuild Iraq, we should be able to find the resources to build up and support Gaza and the West Bank with change behind the Congress's couch cushions. If the U.S.A. needs to lubricate this deal by offering a few billion along with the territories, then that's the cheapest peace we've ever bought. This also gives these countries a carrot that can be withheld if its new citizens continue to commit violence.

The Palestinians On a pragmatic level, the Palestinians can only gain from this deal. They will have a government which can defend them against any Israeli incursions, and the Israelis will have no reason to incur anymore. They will have a government which has a real live tax base (and potentially international aid) for the building of an infrastructure and an economy. In terms of day-to-day well being for Palestinians and their children, a hard border with Gaza and the West Bank on one side and Israel on the other is a hands-down victory.

The Right of Return (a digression) One thing that Palestinians lose in the deal is a chance to destroy Israel. The rock and hard place of Middle-Eastern politics are the right of return and the existence of Israel. For reasons I have discussed too much already, you can not have both simultaneously. Personally, I think Israel should continue to exist, and I am also inclined to view the right of return as a concept which has done more harm than good.

For those unfamiliar, the right of return is regarding the fact that many of the parents and grandparents of the current residents of the PA had lived in Israel in 1947. War was declared the day after Israel was founded, and Arabs either fled or were kicked out, depending on your source. Either way, they were denied the right to return after a semblance of peace was re-established.

It bears some limited similarity to the situation of three out of four of my grandparents. They were born in Romania, Russia, Poland, and what would eventually become Israel, if family lore and memory serve me correctly. In three out of four of those cases, hatred of Jews caused my grandparents to either leave or be ejected.

After the Nazi dust had settled, the world debated the best thing to do with these people who had been displaced, often to concentration camps. The final consensus was to deny Jews the right of return to Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. Perhaps it would have been possible to arrange for the Jews of 1947 to go back to their homes (which had by then been reoccupied) so that they could recoup their belongings (which had already been looted) and resume their lives among people who had learned to hate them. Instead, the world consensus was to carve out land for Jews on another continent and let them call it home. This was a moral second-best solution which still leaves a bitter aftertaste for many, but on a pragmatic scale it was better than the endless violence and misery that would have transpired if Jews were shunted back, homeless, to their old homelands.

Here, over half a century later, Israel has a solid economy, and I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries my grandparents left or were ejected from. Nobody is up in arms (literally or figuratively) about the denial of millions of Jews' right of return, because in an imperfect world, just forgetting about history is sometimes the best outcome you could ask.

The point of all that discussion about history is that I really don't care about history anymore. I don't care who was living where or how the U.N. drew borders half a century ago. In fact, to the extent that an obsession over history causes death and misery, I truly loathe history. The pragmatic thing to do is to look at the lay of the land as it is today, without resort to The Bible, maps of the Ottoman Empire, or stories about our grandparents, and ask how people can be made happier based on current conditions.

The most sure way to peace is to draw hard-and-fast borders and put an established government on all sides of those borders. Palestinians will have real live governments representing them, and both sides would no longer be able to try sliding the borders a bit to the left or right through incursions or violence. Achieving this requires three concessions: the Israeli right-wing must give up its hopes for a Greater Israel; the Arab world must give up on demands for a right of return to where things were sixty years ago; and we the observers must shift our focus from Israel's foibles to asking what the Arab states can be doing to ameliorate the situation.

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