Back to the 90′: the “Phased Plan” argument strikes again

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Whenever the prospect of renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remerges, those who oppose the peace process bring up again the famous “Phased Plan” or the “Phased Strategy” argument.

At the base of this argument is the assumption that the Palestinians don’t want peace, pure and simple. They might negotiate with Israel in the hope of winning concessions, but this is only in order to move to the next phase – from which they will start fighting again, to win more concessions, and so on, until all Jews – much like the Crusaders – are kicked out of the Middle East (“thrown into the sea”). During his lifetime, Yasser Arafat symbolized this approach in the eyes of the Israeli Right Wing and its supporters, and now they try to pin this to Abu Mazen.

It is almost impossible to argue against this logic – not because it’s true, but because the people who hold it claim to know the hearts and minds of the other side. Nothing the Palestinians do would satisfy the Phased Plan prophets: even if they abandon the armed struggle completely and start teaching Zionism in their school, it would only be perceived as a trick, aimed at getting more concessions out of Israel. And if the Palestinians continue the armed struggle – well, this is just further proof that they don’t want peace. It’s a perfect circle, who’s only possible conclusion is that you should never sign an agreement with the Palestinians or offer them any territorial concessions.

BUT LET’S GO BACK to the Camp David summit and Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” on the crucial summer of 2000. According to the Phased Plan logic, Arafat should have accepted the concessions he was offered rather than rejecting them, just as he did in Oslo. He should have got the 90-something percent of the land and the foothold in Jerusalem, build his power, and from that improved position, move to the next phase.

But Arafat did the exact opposite – he said that under the conditions Barak and President Bill Clinton presented him, he can’t sign a deal that would put an end to the conflict.

Why give up this huge gain, just over some small border changes and the refugee problem, unless he really saw this as a final agreement, after which he won’t be able to continue the Palestinian fight or present more claims? I don’t claim to know what was in Arafat’s heart, but one thing is sure – his actions contradict the Phased Plan pattern.

Of course, this simple logic doesn’t prevent people from holding the Phased Plan argument and using Camp David as proof to their claim that the Palestinians don’t want peace at the same time.

RICHARD LANDES is at least honest enough to try and give a practical test to the Phased Plan concept, one that doesn’t rest entirely on an intimate knowledge of the other side’s soul:

I’d like to propose something that can test Palestinian intentions in concrete terms that will not only reassure Israelis profoundly, but benefit the Palestinian refugees. To my mind, the greatest sign that the Palestinian Authority had no intention of pursuing Oslo as a way to achieve peace, but as a Trojan Horse, is the fact that, once they had control of significant tracts of land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they never made the slightest move to get Palestinian refugees out of the camps and into real housing.

I suggest that President Obama demand, publicly, and in the same strong terms with which he addresses the Israelis, that the PA begin immediately building settlements for Palestinian refugees on the lands available to them in the West Bank, so that they can begin living decent lives. This would […] signal to the Israelis that the “right of return” — i.e., the demand that Israel commit demographic suicide — is not lurking in the background of the “Arab Peace Plan.”

This idea is somewhat disconnected from the reality of the West Bank, let alone Gaza: one can’t really build anything – certainly not a city for hundreds of thousands of people – without Israel’s consent, and Israel doesn’t allow the Palestinians to do any significant work outside the major cities (which are overcrowded as it is). And in Gaza, Israel doesn’t allow any sort of building material in – amongst many other things, from books to pumpkins – so that the Palestinians there can’t even rebuild the houses that were destroyed during operation Cast Lead.

But if we leave all that aside, what is Prof. Landes really asking? The way I see it, he demands from the Palestinians to give up one of their major claims before Israel has even considered to end the occupation, and just in order to prove that their heart is pure. Why should they agree? I don’t support a return of all the 48′ refugees, but I do understand the Palestinian demand to solve this issue on the negotiating table, much in the same way Israel refuses to define its borders until its security concerns are dealt with.

(Having said this, I agree that from a humanitarian point of view, the refugees problem should be solved ASAP, but we are discussing here the political implications of the issue).

As for the “demographic suicide” – well, Israelis should certainly be worried about that, but not because of the Palestinian refugees, but due to the possibility that the ideas of those who oppose the two-state solution – like Prof. Landes – will prevail, and Israelis will be left with the entire land from the sea to the Jordan river, but also with the choice between an Apartheid state and a non-Jewish one.

6 Comments on “Back to the 90′: the “Phased Plan” argument strikes again”

  1. 1 EH said at 10:09 am on June 10th, 2009:

    Why should a refugee from Yafa be forced to live in Nablus? Not just forced to live in Nablus, but told that her house and property in Yafa, illegally seized by the Israeli state in the years after ’48, are forfeit? Because by agreeing to leave the camp and accept permanent settlement in an eventual Palestinian state, that is what she would be doing–renouncing any claim to what she had lost and the home she had, and implicitly allowing the Israeli state to claim that it no longer has any responsibility for her or her claims.

  2. 2 noam said at 2:55 pm on June 10th, 2009:


    The question is whether you want to reach a solution. If you insist on a full return, there will never be an agreement. This is totally unpractical. Most of the Arab houses don’t exist; others are occupied. And what is your solution? Turn all the Israelis to refugees themselves?

    That’s why I believed Israel should assume some sort of responsibility to the refugees problem, but it will be more on the symbolic level. As for the houses, it is clear that there should be some sort of compensations involved.

  3. 3 rlandes said at 8:24 pm on June 10th, 2009:

    thanks for the post on my suggestion.

    altho you do have a “humanitarian concession” clause, i find your position on Palestinian refiugees as “bargaining chips” to be fairly horrific. Should Israel have kept their 800,000 refugees from 1948 in refugee camps for the last 60 years as a counter-bargaining chip?

    the Palestinian and Arab leadership’s treatment of their refugees — the camps are really prison camps — is nothing short of scandalous. it’s index of their malevolence: the misery of their own people is a weapon aimed at destroying israel. it shows the palestinian people as the sacrificial victim on the altar of arab hatred.

    so i don’t think it’s “giving up one of their major claims” to start settling the refugees, i think it’s renouncing one of their most heinous policies. it doesn’t prove their heart is pure, it just proves its not black as night, it proves they’ve stopped the revolting practice of inflicting misery on their own people in order to attack israel and plan her destruction.

    i think if israel were to engage in anything even remotely similar to this — say not building shelters in sderot so they could point to children killed by gaza qassams for international sympathy — you’d be outraged. so what i suspect is going on here is an example of a fairly widespread unconscious progressive racism in which the palestinians are not expected to behave decently even towards their own people, much less israel. it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations: just as you don’t scold your cat for catching a mouse, you don’t scold the palestinians for abusing their own people.

    in the final analysis, getting rid of the refugee problem is not a bargaining chip, its an anti-bargaining chip. if the palestinians renounced the claim to return, they would bring peace much closer, by reassuring israel they were serious about real peace.

    finally, on the subject of the two-state solution — i’m not against the idea, i’m against it now (i’m a member of peace-when, not peace-now). eventually, when palestinian leadership show signs of willingness to be a civil polity rather than a rogue and malignant state, i’m all in favor. (and this is something they can start doing right away).

    now, “two-states” is not a “solution” but a recipe for war. does that matter to you, in your support of the ‘two-state “solution”‘?

  4. 4 noam said at 11:43 pm on June 10th, 2009:


    You have a point when you say that in the post-colonial world we sometime expect less of minorities or hold third world countries to different standards. I try not to do that. I write a lot against anti Arab racism in Israel, but I don’t accept the way women and gays are treated in the Arab communities, for example.

    The Palestinian case is different though, because the Palestinians are not a free society, nor an independant state. Every aspect of political, economical and civil life in the WB and Gaza is under the influence, if not direct control, of Israel. That is why I oppose most kinds of “tests” Israel might put the Palestinians through. You don’t lecture someone while standing on his foot, let alone on his head. So I would be very happy to see the refugees problem settled, and I agree it might ease some tension and help move things forward, but I will never put it as a precondition.

    As for the two state solution – I am not naive. I am not that sure that we can achieve peace immediately. But in order to stabilize the region (and also from the obvious moral reasons), I think we must leave the WB immediately. As for our security, we tend to forget, but Israel survived for 19 years in these borders, with a more hostile environment and a smaller and weaker army.

  5. 5 rlandes said at 12:06 am on June 11th, 2009:

    Noam says: The Palestinian case is different though, because the Palestinians are not a free society, nor an independant state. Every aspect of political, economical and civil life in the WB and Gaza is under the influence, if not direct control, of Israel. That is why I oppose most kinds of “tests” Israel might put the Palestinians through. You don’t lecture someone while standing on his foot, let alone on his head.

    I think you much overestimate the Israeli control (mostly control of damage) and underestimate the room that the Palestinians have to move. Certainly in Gaza, if a government “for the people and by the people” (to quote the Cairo speech) had taken over, worked for the welfare of the Gazans, shut down the Qassams, and moved towards settling some of the refugees in the evacuated settlements (even if it meant rebuilding them), then I think that the Israeli measures of closing their borders would have been far less crippling.

    The Palestinians have the choice at any time to start moving towards a civil polity and the Israelis would welcome and encourage any such move. The real problem — and this is also the answer to your question about why Arafat said no to Camp David, even tho that’s what the Phased Plan called for — is wounded honor. As long as the Arabs/Palestinians view an independent Israel as a blackening of their honor, they cannot accept a positive-sum deal with Israel. There’s the problem, as I see it, and they can begin working on it yesterday… for example, start moving seriously against honor-killings. No one on the outside, certainly not the Israelis, are preventing them from doing that.

  6. 6 Happy and Proud said at 2:39 am on June 15th, 2009:

    Are you joking?

    “Every aspect of political, economical and civil life in the WB and Gaza is under the influence, if not direct control, of Israel.”

    Right, Israel (which has no presence in Gaza, not a single soldier, civilian, or outpost) has lots of influence – that’s why you see those thousands of rockets, booby-trapped horses, and suicide bombers coming from those places.

    That you actually state this preposterous notion is evidence enough that you cannot be taken seriously.