Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The deadly price of pursuing peace. Part II


by Evelyn Gordon


2nd part of 2


YET this desperate quest for peace also failed to win Israel points among the general public, because each new initiative raised new hopes of a peace that was in fact never achievable. And it is human nature to be angrier over disappointed hope than over having never hoped at all. What is worse is the very fact that whenever negotiations broke down, it was Israel, rather than the Palestinian side, that came back with a better offer, created the impression that both sides thought peace would be achievable if Israel just gave enough. Thus the lack of peace must be Israel's fault.

In fact, though, it became clear almost immediately after the Oslo deal was signed that peace was unachievable, because Israel's initial territorial concessions produced such a sharp rise in terrorist violence. Whether this stemmed from Yasir Arafat's unwillingness to control terror or his inability to do so was irrelevant: if ceding land for peace instead produced war, there were no grounds for believing that ceding more land, as Oslo required, would produce anything but more war.

Nor did this pattern change after Mahmoud Abbas replaced Arafat in 2004. Even during Abbas's year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas triumphed in the Palestinian elections in 2006, terror continued. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Palestinians killed 54 Israelis and wounded 484 that year (2005), while nonfatal attacks numbered in the thousands, including 1,059 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza. The rocket attacks are particularly significant, because the IDF left Gaza in August 2005, which meant Abbas could not accuse Israeli forces of impeding his efforts there. Yet not only did he never order his own forces to stop the attacks, he explicitly and repeatedly declared that he never would do so. Indeed, he began cracking down on Hamas only in 2007, after the Islamic group's takeover of Gaza made him realize that it threatened his own power, and has repeatedly offered to reverse this crackdown as part of a proposed reconciliation with Hamas (which Hamas has so far rejected). Again, it makes no difference whether he was genuinely reluctant or merely felt powerless: Israel cannot cede land if that land will become a base for terror attacks against it.

Equally important, however, is that Palestinian negotiating positions preclude any deal. While it was initially plausible to believe that these positions would eventually moderate, a decade and a half with no movement whatsoever has proved otherwise. No Israeli government, for instance, could sign a deal forfeiting all Israeli connection to the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, to which Jews have prayed three times a day for millennia. To do so would be cultural and spiritual suicide. But even worse is the Palestinians' insistence on a "right of return" to Israel for 4.7 million descendants of Palestinian refugees (according to the UN's almost certainly inflated figure). Added to Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens, these "refugees" would outnumber its 5.6 million Jews and could thereby simply vote the Jewish state out of existence. That would not be cultural and spiritual suicide but actual physical suicide. And how can peace even be seriously negotiated with someone who insists that its price is your disappearance from the map?

Yet rather than stating clearly that peace is not and never will be possible unless the Palestinians end terror and stop insisting that any deal result in the Jewish state's eradication, Israeli prime ministers never stopped assuring their fellow citizens and the world that a deal was possible. It began with Yitzhak Rabin, who instead of acknowledging that the upsurge in terror proved Oslo a failure began incanting a mantra about fighting terror as if there were no negotiations, and negotiating as if there were no terror. The implication was clear: terror is not an insurmountable obstacle; peace is still achievable.

In his first go-round as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu continued the illusion: he not only campaigned in 1996 on a slogan of bringing "peace with security," again implying that peace was possible, but he continued negotiating with, and ceding territory to, Arafat. These would have been reasonable moves in the context of a viable peace process, but would be senseless if peace were actually unachievable and territorial concessions only produced more terror. To the uninformed, the obvious conclusion was that peace was achievable — in which case Netanyahu's visible distaste for both negotiations and concessions would certainly be an impediment.

Similarly, when Palestinians responded to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's July 2000 offer with the second intifada, Barak did not declare peace unachievable; he went to Washington and Taba and offered additional concessions. Again, the implication was that he still thought peace was possible if he offered enough — so if peace remained elusive, the fault must lie with Israel's stinginess. Then, despite Abbas's failure even to respond to Olmert's far-reaching offer of September 2008 (Abbas remained mute for nine months, until long after Olmert had left office — finally telling the Washington Post that the offer was unacceptable), Olmert nevertheless told Haaretz in September 2009 that Abbas was not to blame for the talks' failure and was still a partner. And today, in his second stint as prime minister, Netanyahu is again paying lip service to the idea that peace is achievable.

American and European leaders are also guilty of endlessly proclaiming that peace is achievable, even though they know better (this knowledge explains why most European leaders are less hostile to Israel than their publics). But they cannot be more Catholic than the pope. As long as Israel's government maintains this fiction, other world leaders can do no less. And so the world is constantly being told that peace is around the corner only to be constantly disappointed, which inevitably produces frustration and rage. And even worse, Israel's very efforts to achieve peace — its refusal to acknowledge that peace is unachievable, its habit of responding to every failure with a better offer — has led the world to conclude that Israel is to blame for the endless disappointments.

REVERSING the devastating damage Israel's international standing has suffered since 1993 will be difficult at best. But it will not be possible at all unless Israel and its friends overseas understand that the desperate pursuit of peace is not the solution but the problem. Only then can Israel and its supporters halt the destructive behavior of the past 16 years and start doing what is needed to reverse the decline.

First, Israel and its supporters must reiterate Israel's own claim to the territories at every opportunity. While many have grown accustomed to disavowing Israel's right to this land, Israelis of all political stripes were outraged by President Barack Obama's Cairo speech, in which the only justification for the existence of a Jewish state was assumed to be the Holocaust — while the Jews' historical claim to the land of Israel was thrown down the memory hole. By taking this stand, Obama may have unwittingly provided the impetus for reviving a broad-based assertion of Jewish rights. For instance, on July 17, the left-wing Haaretz's star columnist Yoel Marcus wrote that Obama's "disregard of our historical connection to the land of Israel" was "extremely upsetting." Marcus concluded that "as a leader who aspires to solve the problems of the world through dialogue, we expect him to come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust, and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he now stands." If even a hard-core Oslo supporter such as Marcus can be provoked into reasserting Israel's claim to the land, then there is hope for reviving such sentiments across the Israeli political spectrum.

Second, Israel must cede no more land until the Palestinians prove they can and will keep it from becoming a base for anti-Israel terror. And if rocket fire from Gaza resumes, Israel will have to consider reoccupying it, as that may be the only alternative to periodic wars that inevitably cause heavy Palestinian casualties. There is not currently much of an appetite for such a course of action within Israel, but that could easily change if the rocket barrages resume, just as Israelis' initial reluctance to return to the West Bank was swept aside by escalating terror from that territory in the early part of this decade. And while a return to Gaza would certainly cause an initial wave of outrage abroad, so did Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Israeli troops returned to Palestinian cities in the West Bank following a wave of deadly suicide bombings. Yet that criticism died down fairly quickly, and today Israel hears very few complaints about the IDF's ongoing total control over the West Bank. What it does hear complaints about, on an almost daily basis, from both world leaders and human-rights activists, is evacuated Gaza — not just Israel's military operations there but also the blockade, another defensive measure aimed at compensating for the absence of troops. So it seems reasonable to assume that a reoccupation of Gaza would follow the same pattern: initial outrage that would gradually die down as the Palestinian death toll dropped and life in Gaza improved, thanks to the end of the blockade, resumption of trade across the border, and improved employment opportunities.

Third, Israel and its supporters must start telling the truth about the impossibility of peace at present — and about the reasons for the impasse. This is by far the hardest task for those seeking to change the "peace process" culture. And that is true not just for the international arena but for Israeli domestic opinion as well. Most Israelis know perfectly well that peace is not currently possible, and why, but they still think it is essential to speak as if this were not true. Nevertheless, Ne tanyahu's leadership represents a unique opportunity because, in marked contrast to most Israeli politicians, serving as the national explainer is something at which he excels. Both his speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009 — where he outlined his approach to the peace process — and his address to the United Nations General Assembly in October struck a real chord with mainstream Israelis. Netanyahu is capable of explaining, in a way Israelis can readily un derstand, why his country's national discourse about peace needs to change. The same principle applies to overseas opinion; in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu was not even a member of the govern ment, but he was still one of the most sought-after, if not the most sought-after, Israeli interviewees by the foreign media. This is a moment in history when some one must finally start telling the world the truth about the situation, and the prime minister is uniquely qualified to do it.

Finally, Israel must stop projecting a sense of panic, through both words and deeds, which merely emboldens its enemies. Israel has not only survived for 61 years despite the absence of peace; it has thrived. Its population has increased more than seven-fold; its per capita income has risen nine-fold; it has maintained a strong democracy in a region where democracy is otherwise unknown. And it can continue surviving and thriving without peace for as long as necessary.

That is, unless its own mistakes destroy it. Right now, that is what is happening: Israel's growing pariah status poses a far more serious long-term danger to its survival than any extant military threat. Yet because this pariah status is largely due to its own actions, Israel has the power to reverse the trend. That process must begin with recognizing where the problem truly lies.

Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and a Jerusalem Post columnist. She lives in Israel.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


No comments:

Post a Comment