David Akov, the Israeli consul general based in San Francisco, visited us today. Here are some notes from the conversation.
On the Gaza evacuation: “The settlers wanted to use violence as a political tool, but when it came to doing it, they decided not to.” Akov said this showed that “a very clear majority of Israelis do play by democratic rules.” (A dig at the Palestinians, here.)
On the West Bank: Here the Palestinians say there are more than 400,000 Israelis in illegal settlements. Akov said the number depended on who was counted, and that a number that high included Israelis in the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and has no intention of giving back. He also said there were clusters of settlements (Maale Adummim was one, Gush Etzion another) that were not going to be given back. “In any future agreement, these areas will have to be part of Israel,” he said. “The big question is, what other areas would be given to the Palestinians.”
I took this to mean that if Israel carves out these pieces of the West Bank, it would have to offer other pieces within pre-1967 Israel as compensation. I doubt that whatever Israel offered would be received as a fair trade, and whether it actually would be a fair trade. It is not the verdict of history, or of human nature, to be evenhanded in territorial dealings, and I don’t think the Israelis have been evenhanded up to now. But at least their government acknowledges that it will have to trade something rather than merely subtract from the West Bank, and that is a start.
I also noted that the proposed Palestinian state would clearly be divided into two pieces, the West Bank and Gaza, separated by Israel. This would require a connection 40-50 miles long. I asked him how that would be done. The Israeli government prefers a train, he said. I understand that; when a train gets moving, no one gets off, and the train could travel across the corridor without stopping or ever having gone through customs.. But, I thought, no way will the Palestinians settle for a train, not even a train, like the Eurotunnel under the English Channel, that can carry cars and trucks. They’ll want a road. I sure would.
For the record, I also asked him whether Israel has nuclear weapons, knowing that everyone says they do. His answer: “Israel has said it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.” I asked him what “introduce” meant: “have” or “use”? He said, “At this point, Israel will not say more than that or show more than that.”
Respond to Bruce.