The Israeli-Palestinian Paradox

THE current enforced separation of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the wake of the recent terrorist bombings in Israel, may help relieve many Israelis' understandable security concerns. But it is not a long-term solution for either Israel or the new Palestinian Authority (PA).

It is far too costly for both sides. Like it or not, the fates of the Israeli and the Palestinian people are intertwined. If Israelis do not feel secure, Palestinians cannot prosper. If Palestinians do not prosper, Israelis will never feel secure.

This paradox is least understood by Israeli critics of the current approach. Some have always opposed Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank because they did not want to give up territory to the 1 million Palestinians who live there. At the same time they wanted to be rid of the "Palestinian problem."

Now many critics of the current policy oppose granting the Palestinians more autonomy. But freezing things where they are does not help achieve the separation these critics want; indeed, it maintains the fiction that the Palestinians can be subjects of a Greater Israel.

In offering Israelis less physical separation than a Palestinian state would provide, critics of the current approach ensure continuation of Palestinian discontent and help create the conditions for renewed street fighting, if not worse. Any approach that precludes political independence makes it far more difficult for Palestinians to promote their own prosperity and consequently undermines Israel's security - which critics of the Israeli government say is their highest priority.

Likewise, the Palestinians need what Israel can offer economically. The best market for Palestinian products is Israel. Next-door Jordan, Syria, and Iraq are relatively poor, have extensive unemployment, and will feel threatened by Palestinian competition. Markets in the Gulf countries are closed to Palestinian products and are far more costly to reach. Moreover, Palestinians need the relatively well-paid jobs in Israel.

Nor is there any other answer to the security dilemma. What appears most attractive to Israeli critics - reintroducing Israeli forces to secure the Palestinian territories - is neither practical nor possible, if peace is the long-term goal. Indeed, the PA can take the lead in offering Israel real security. It is better suited than anyone to combat Palestinian terrorism. In the economic sphere, no one is better suited than Israel to offer the Palestinians prosperity. Achieving Israeli security and Palestinian prosperity requires cooperation, and that can only occur on mutually acceptable terms.

The Oslo process is precisely that cooperation. Few analysts anticipated the high cost that Oslo would extract, particularly in human terms. Yet surrender to the voices calling for a pre-Oslo separation is a recipe for disaster.

It is high time for Israel and the PA to grasp the fact that they have become mutually dependent - if one suffers, both do. Israel should appoint to a cabinet-level post a recognized economist whose mandate would be promoting Palestinian prosperity. And the PA must similarly appoint a senior-level official to its government whose mandate would be enhancement of Israeli security.

The Oslo process disentangled Israeli and Palestinian territorial claims and provides a reasonable path for separate Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian political existence. But it also recognized that the economies and security of Israel and the PA are intertwined and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Only if both peoples recognize and accept this can they have what they both want - security and prosperity.

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