Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 09:46 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 09:46 | SYDNEY

Peace with illusions


Anthony Bubalo

3 September 2010 11:44

It would be dull to join the already large chorus of commentators predicting failure for the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, launched this week in Washington. Assuming that readers of The Interpreter are smart enough to work out for themselves why the talks probably won't succeed, I have decided to join the ranks – of perhaps more accurately, the rank – of the optimists.

Writing in the New York Times, the Lowy Institute's Martin Indyk (I think he also works for Brookings) gave a number of reasons why we should 'suspend our disbelief' that the current talks will succeed. In fact, if the talks are to succeed, they will have to produce a general suspension of disbelief by creating four key illusions.

First, the illusion that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, while enabling the Palestinians to build their own capital in East Jerusalem and to have sovereignty over the Muslim holy sites in the Old City. You do the first by re-drawing the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, which have changed considerably since Israel took control of the eastern half of the city in 1967. 

A solution to the question of sovereignty over Muslim holy sites is more difficult, though it is also essential (no Palestinian leader can be seen to barter away Muslim rights in the Old City). It is doable, but they might need David Copperfield for that one. 

Second, the illusion that the roughly 4.8 million Palestinian refugees will be granted the 'right of return', while ensuring that few actually return to Israel. 

You do this by granting refugees the in-principle 'right of return', but implement it in practice by a variety of means including a few family reunions in Israel, a lot of return to 'Palestine', some refugees staying where they are and others going to third countries, with financial compensation thrown in.

Third, the illusion that Palestinians will gain control of the West Bank, while allowing most Israeli settlers to stay where they are. You do this by swapping large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank for territory currently inside green-line Israel. Israel will still have to dismantle smaller and more isolated settlements deeper in the West Bank, however.

Fourth, the illusion that 'Palestine' will have full control of its borders, territory, and airspace, while giving Israel a veto over who (especially Iranians) the Palestinians allow through their borders, into their territory and their airspace. You do this through a range of security measures, like an Israeli presence or monitoring on Palestinian borders with third countries, as well as limits on the type of armed forces the Palestinians can have and the security agreements they can enter into with other countries.

Quiet a conjuring trick, I hear you say, so spare a thought for the conjurers. For if I have shown, very simplistically, that these four illusions are possible, the real trick will be finding the illusionists willing and/or able to pull them off.  The next year will tell us whether Mahmud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama are up to the trick.

Photo by Flickr user Charles Crosbie, used under a Creative Commons license.