Friday, June 11, 2004

An Indivisible Issue No More? 

For a lot of political scientists, avoiding conflict is all about finding ways to split the difference. In most cases, somehow or another, a negotiated settlement can be found for any disagreement.

But what happens when you can't split the difference? When there is a desideratum that is for some reason unsplittable (in the case of a divorce, for example, a child fits the bill), negotiating a compromise becomes suddenly much more difficult, perhaps impossible.

Jerusalem has famously been one of these "indivisible issues." Another such indivisible issues in the realm of world politics is Kashmir; in fact, if you scratch an ongoing international conflict, you're likely to find something that could be construed as an "indivisible issue."

On the other hand, indivisibility may not be quite the insurmountable obstacle to peace that it appears to be. My friend Stacie Goddard has written a dissertation arguing that indivisibility is not a fundamental property of these conflicts; rather, she argues, indivisibility is constructed as part of the bargaining process, as the two sides try to legitimate their claims. Indivisibility arises when the legitimation narratives employed by leaders resonate within their societies and end up locking them into positions from which retreat can only be viewed as capitulation.

To the extent that Stacie is correct, then, this tidbit from The Head Heeb should be regarded as very good news indeed:
Correspondent Guy Berger informs me that Ehud Olmert has stated that at least six Arab neighborhoods within the Jerusalem city limits will be ceded to Palestine as part of a peace settlement. This, even more than Sunday's cabinet vote, is a sign of how much the debate within Israel has shifted. In 1996, when I was a stringer for the Jewish Week, I met Olmert at a synagogue event in Long Island. At the time, Olmert was Mayor of Jerusalem and was strongly backing Netanyahu in the general election that would bring him to power. One thing he was adamant about, almost to the point of obsession, was that Jerusalem was a united city and that Israel would never give it up.

Dividing Jerusalem was a truly radical notion then; it had been broached in the Beilin-Abu Mazen document but was not yet a serious subject even within Avoda. Now, even the moderate wing of Likud - for which Olmert has often walked point in the past - is starting to talk about putting Arab East Jerusalem on the table. An ultimate peace settlement may still require a generation of walls, but the debate over its terms - at least from the Israeli standpoint - has changed irreversibly.
What Jonathan is claiming here is that the notion of dividing Jerusalem has been broached by a prominent center-right Israeli, indicating that we've moved out of a win-or-lose-only environment into one in which splitting the difference may be possible. I certainly hope he's correct.

I should point out that it takes only one side to make an issue indivisible: I simply don't know whether there is a Palestinian leadership that's in any position to make compromises, nor whether such a group, if it exists, would be willing to split the difference on Jerusalem. Still, it definitely bodes well for peace when a hard-liner like Olmert believes that compromise is a possibility. I hope The Head Heeb's source isn't just leading us on.

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