Interim Conclusion: A Howl-inducing Step for Israelis and Palestinians (DD Versus Bibi Part 7)

03/11/2015 05:28 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

I heard a sigh from DD, the imaginary Israeli Defense Dove. It had taken a little longer to get back to me this time.

"The PLO's Council has recommended to Palestinian President Abbas that Palestinians cease security cooperation with Israel," she noted, "Abbas wants Israel charged at the International Criminal Court. In the meantime we saw Bibi performing before your Congress thanks to your Republicans. Can it be that Palestinians and Republicans are colluding to get Bibi reelected on March 17?"

"And now," she added, "I understand that the Obama administration wants another push towards Israeli-Palestinian peace in the near future. If the last effort is its model, it will fail and make things worse. It cannot succeed without circumspect consideration of the regional circumstances -- which includes Iran's arc from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon."

"I'm not overly optimistic about my own step-by-step-no-comprehensive-resolution plan," she added, "It too could be undermined by many factors -- Bibi's reelection, blinkered Palestinian moves, the Obama administration's apparent inability to see this part of the world as it is, the political opportunism of your American Republicans."

"What I've suggested is an alternative to certain failure; it allows for advances without a resolution -- and salutary changes without being myopic."

"So let's assume that the steps I've described in my previous six posts work, more or less," she said, "Then we need to go further. If you think imagined angry protests against some of my previous suggestions, just wait until my next one. It is intended to make backsliding very difficult."

"Let's hear it."

"Remember how Israeli doves used to say: 'A piece of land for a piece of peace.' I propose another linkage: between settlements and violence against Israel. It would involve an unusual public agreement among Palestinian, Israeli, American and European leadership -- and the UN and Arab League should back it. "

STEP 7: "A two dimensional formula needs devising. Here, roughly, is the first part: if Israel violates its agreement to halt settlements in the territories, a certain proportion of American aid to Israel will be deducted -- or at the very least the amount spent on building and defending new settlements.

But: no more settlements, no deductions. Israel's Economics Minister Naftali Bennett declared just this week that he opposes yielding a "centimeter of the Land of Israel." The first part of my formula would make religious ultra-nationalists like him responsible for the consequences of their own extremism.

Israel should agree to this principle in public and detail openly the costs of more settlements to its own citizens.

But this radical step is inseparable, entirely so, from the second part of the formula. I cannot stress strongly enough that neither part can stand alone if we want successful change in the situation.

Here it is, roughly. Israel should designate a certain number of potential settlement sites in the West Bank near the pre-1967 border, some bigger and some smaller. It will build nothing on them. But for every act of terrorism or violence -- missiles, suicide bombs, whatever -- visited upon Israelis, whether these originate in Gaza, the West Bank, from Hizballah in Lebanon or elsewhere in the region, a settlement will go up. It will be approved and funded by the U.S. and the EU and be considered permanent.

The Palestinian leadership should agree in public to both aspects of the formula and so should the Arab League. It puts anyone who employs terrorism on the spot. It would, for example, make Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah or West Bank terrorists responsible -- directly and immediately -- for what Palestinians don't want: more settlements."

But: no terrorism, no settlements. No settlements, no terrorism. The point is not just linkage but to place everyone in a beneficial bind."

"A beneficial bind for Isaac and Ishmael?" I interjected, "Then what?"

"Well," she answered, "it wouldn't really be a bind. It would enable new steps because a new reality will have taken hold. Of course, if there is a new Intifada, everything would likely get scuttled. I fear that regional developments could do that too. On the other hand, if all the steps have been taken with productive results, there would also be new possibilities, despite regional developments.

"We'd have been stepping along for five years. It would be time to imagine another two years. But that would be discussed then, not before. After all, the only sure prediction in the Middle East is that the unpredictable happens here often enough, sometimes too often."

It was after midnight in Tel Aviv and this time DD closed our conversation because she wanted to get some sleep.

"Let's talk again soon," she said

"One last question for you DD," I said, "Have you ever thought of running for office?"

"I couldn't manage it. Remember that I am a fictitious character and that our conversation is virtual, unlike political reality," replied a weary Zionist Scheherazade.


Mitchell Cohen is editor emeritus of Dissent Magazine and professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. His book Zion and State (Columbia University Press) examines the intellectual origins of the conflict between the left and the right in Israel. It has just been republished in Paris by Editions la Decouverte.