What's in a Road Map? Ending the Violence in the Israel/Palestine Conflict

The US, Israel and several Western powers demand that Hamas renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel.

Here's the problem: violence is the only pressure the Palestinians can exert on Israel. No one else is applying any pressure, of any sort. Suppose the Palestinians did indeed renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel. Why would Israel have any reason to do anything other than what it pleases?

There are perhaps some limits on this: perhaps Israel would not dare actually to wipe out the Palestinians, or push them over some border at the cost of many thousands of Palestinian lives. Suppose this is true. Nevertheless Israel would have not the slightest incentive to change any of its present conduct. In that case, the Palestinians would continue to starve and the settlements would continue to expand.

This would be a heavenly gift to Israel. There are Israelis who do not support the settlements or the occupation, but these people are no problem for the government: they're not about to bring it down. Why would they, given that their greatest fear, Palestinian violence, had ended? On the contrary, they'd have every reason to support the current régime, because the Israeli economy would flourish: military expenditures would decline, social spending could increase, and tourism as well as investment would boom. As for the settlers and their supporters, they'd be very happy too. So all Israelis, at least all Jewish Israelis, would be having a great time, while the Palestinians starved.

But suppose 'we' really do want the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Suppose we want peace in Palestine. That would require something more practical than asking the Palestinians to sign their own death warrant. And it would require something more practical than all the well-intentioned plans for negotiated settlements that Israel sees no interest in pursuing. Let's look at a 'road map' that might actually lead somewhere. It won't be implemented in the foreseeable future, but perhaps it's something to consider when people wonder why the Palestinians 'aren't more reasonable'. And there's nothing quirky about it: it's the sort of plan the UN would almost certainly endorse were it not for opposition by a few Western powers.

First, all Western countries would suspend all military, economic and financial aid to Israel, until such time as Israel withdraws completely from every inch of the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. (Since it would take a while for the suspension to happen, Israel would have plenty of advance notice, and could easily withdraw before any action was taken.) The suspension would be initiated unilaterally, meaning it would actually be put into place unilaterally, without any negotiations. It would be in force for one week, after which time it would be dropped unless the Palestinians suspended all violent attacks on Israel or Israelis - except, of course, as a response to Israeli attacks. These measures would be absolutely essential to demonstrate that, at long last, the West was serious about its much-proclaimed desire to end violence in this tragic conflict. Unlike past proposals, both sides would now have a real incentive to make peace.

Suppose the Palestinians did indeed suspend all attacks after one week. Then Israel would have another week in which to announce its intention to effect a complete withdrawal of all military forces from the occupied territories, regardless of whether the settlers left. These forces would have to be withdrawn, under the sanctions, within another three weeks. If the announcement was not forthcoming, or if the withdrawal was not completed on time, the sanctions would intensify. All shipments, travel and communications to and from Israel, including financial transactions, would cease, except for strictly humanitarian aid. The situation would be roughly what prevailed in Iraq after the first Gulf war. Naturally enforcing these sanctions would require a robust international military presence on Israel's borders, assuming its neighbours agreed. The sanctions would remain in place until complete withdrawal, or resumption of Palestinian violence, whichever came first.

Once the withdrawal was complete, that is to say, once every last Israeli soldier had left the occupied territories, the Palestinians would be asked to recognize Israel. Assuming they agreed, they would get sovereignty over their own territory and therefore the right to do what they thought fit there, within the limits of such international rules as the Geneva Convention. Of course this power would extend to the settlements.

This, I think, would be a realistic peace process. Israel would have an incentive to make peace, as would the Palestinians. Isn't that what's needed to bring an end to terror in Palestine