Thursday, February 22, 2007

The case for a larger Israel

Smooth Stone points to an interesting website with a PDF of an entire book, "The Case for a Larger Israel," by David Naggar. He argues that for lasting peace, Israel should expand. Naggar also has a blog that makes some interesting points.

Now, I am way too much of a realist to think that, no matter how compelling the argument, it would ever amount to much. But there is much value in making such an argument anyway, even if the idea itself is doomed before it can get started (not the least by the present Israeli "leadership.")

In the very first Mishna in the Talmudic tractate Bava Metzia a famous case is given. Translated into English:
If two persons hold a cloak, one says, "I found it," and the other says, I found it," one says, "All of it is mine," and the other says, "All of it is mine," the first one shall swear that not less than one half of it belongs to him, the other one shall swear that not less than one half of it belongs to him, and they shall divide it. If one says, "All of it is mine," and the other says, "Half of it is mine," the one who says "All of it is mine" shall swear that not less than three-quarters of it belongs to him, and the one who says "Half of it, is mine” shall swear that not less than one-quarter of it belongs to him; the former shall take three-quarters and the latter shall take one-quarter.
Israel has always been in the position of claiming only half, while the PalArabs always claim all. To the judgmental world, Israel's attempts to solve the problem peacefully by offering to share is interpreted as one side claiming all and the other side claiming half.

This is not the way to negotiate if you want to end up in the most advantageous position. And negotiators are expected to shore up their cases, not to give them away.

Arabs are fond to say that Israel's territorial ambitions stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates. Although the idea is absurd in today's political climate, Israel's claim to the land it has would be immeasurably strengthened if it consistently provided a maximalist negotiating position, rather than the minimalist one it has for the past decade.

The book argues, probably correctly, that an Israel that is much larger would benefit Arabs as well as the world. One only has to compare how Gaza is today with how it was under "occupation" and it isn't hard to see that Israel's rule at its "worst" is better than most Arab rule at its best. But the plausibility of the argument is not as important as the fact that it should be made and made often - because that is how one negotiates.

In the context of the Arab world, people like Abbas (as well as Arafat and Nasser) are considered "moderate." Now, in absolute terms, they are far from moderate - their positions are far more extreme than Israeli "extremists'" positions. But compared to the Muslim Brotherhood cadre of groups, they seem comparatively moderate. Repeat the "moderate" mantra enough, while Jews who feel that they should be able to live where Abraham lived are considered "extremist," and you have a formula for losing the bargain.

But if even some Jews would be putting forth the arguments that there are parts of Jordan and Syria that should be under Israeli control (parts of which were in biblical Israel,) and all of a sudden the Jewish residents of Hebron do not look quite as crazy.

For better of worse, the Arabs have turned Middle East negotiations into a bazaar, a souk where land and "refugees" and paper promises are the coins of the realm. It is way past time for Israel to play the game the way it is meant to be played.

Part of the game, by the way, involves walking away when there is no deal to be made.