Monday, May 18, 2009

Missing the ‘piece process’


by Jonathan Rosenblum


I never thought that I would long for the days when talk of preserving the "peace process" was all the rage. Though the "peace process" was always a good deal more about process — negotiations, signed agreements, more negotiations — at least the name implied that peace was the ultimate desideratum. Today, the creation of a Palestinian state has become the be-all-and-end-all of America's Middle East strategy, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is called upon to express his acquiescence daily.

But a Palestinian state is not the ultimate goal nor should it be. At best, in a world far different than that in which we happen to live, it would be a means to Israel finally being able to live in safe and secure borders. Today, it would assuredly be the opposite.

The exclusive emphasis on the "the two-state solution" is misbegotten for many reasons. The most basic is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Palestinians want a state, unlike the Jews in 1948, who were prepared to accept anything, no matter how truncated, in order to have a state. Robert B. Kaplan, who makes clear that he has little sympathy for the current Israeli government, nevertheless writes in the April 21 Atlantic that there is no evidence that the Palestinians really want a state. They have far more power without a state, for without a state, they can lob missiles at Israel without ever taking responsibility. Hamas's absolute control over the Gaza Strip — i.e., its quasi-state status — made it easier, not more difficult, for Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead.

The behavior of Arafat at Camp David makes clear that he preferred the role of revolutionary leader, true to his cause to the last, to the messy responsibility of trying to build a functioning society. The diversion of massive international aide to the pockets of top Fatah officials and for the maintenance of multiple militias, rather than using that aide to improve the lot of the average Palestinian, is another indication that the Palestinian leadership, such as it is, is not really interested in a state.

The focus on what Israel must do sends the wrong message on a number of counts. It totally fails to acknowledge what Israel has already done, including the withdrawals from Lebanon, Gaza, and let us not forget much of the West Bank, and how little it received in return. Lebanon and Gaza became Iranian proxy quasi-states, and the West Bank too became a launching pad for suicide bombers. Only when the IDF took back control of the West Bank did the terrorism abate. Nor have those withdrawals improved Israel's international standing, which was always one of their principal justifications. Rather by rendering Israel more vulnerable to missile and terror attacks, they virtually guaranteed an eventual Israeli response sure to be condemned by all and sundry as "disproportionate."

The focus on Israel's acceptance of the "two-state solution" further takes the spotlight off of what the Palestinians have never done — to wit move one iota from any of their traditional positions since the handshake on the White House lawn. In recent weeks, leading Fatah (yes, Fatah not Hamas) figures have reiterated that Fatah never has and never will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state at Annapolis. I wonder how far Prime Minister Netanyahu would get if he agreed to a Palestinian state on condition that all Jews now living in that state can stay where they are.

By placing the onus on Israel for moving forward, the mantra about "the two-state solution" conveys to the Palestinians precisely the wrong message: That they must do nothing. More than 15 years after Oslo, the Palestinian media and textbooks are still infected with a culture of martyrdom and pervasive hatred of Israel and Jews. How can a generation raised on such propaganda be a generation to make peace? And how can anyone think that peace will be easily attained? Instead of telling the Palestinians that they will have to clean up their act, President Obama engages in false equivalencies about "hatred" on both sides that have no relationship to reality, and suggest that all that is needed is a bit more kumbaya feeling.

The message the Palestinians are hearing is: Just sit tight and we [the Americans] will get you your state, without you doing anything. The obsession with Israel's acceptance of the "two-state solution" is based on the assumption that the eventual outcome is known in advance, and it might as well be sooner than later. That is what the President means when he says that at some point the parties have to stop talking because we can't wait forever.

And when Obama praises the Saudi plan as a brave initiative, with which he may have a few cavils, he not only raises panic in Israel about the easy assumption that the eventual solution is already well-known but about the content of that solution. The Saudi plan calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the '49 armistice lines — and with that the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of families and the destruction of everything built in Jerusalem since '67 — and the return of millions of Palestinian refugees. And only then will the Arab states begin negotiations over normalization. Outside of the editorial pages of *Ha'aretz, *it would be hard to find a minyan of Israelis willing to sign off on anything remotely resembling that plan. (And if you will ask me, what then did President Peres mean when he praised the Saudi plan at the AIPAC convention, I will be struck dumb.)

Remember that this generous plan is being propounded by the Saudis, whose representatives refuse to so much as exchange hellos with any Israeli and heatedly deny any suggestion that they might have done so. Doesn't that level of hatred for Jews and Israel sort of make the focus on how forthcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu is or isn't seem a bit ridiculous?

Everything coming out of Washington today betrays an incredible naivete about how intractable the issues are between Israel and the Palestinians and how far away any viable peace is. The administration acts as if nothing happened in the last sixty years and the only problem until now was the lack of involvement of people with their depth of understanding. Yet a moment's attention would suggest that, if anything, peace is further away than ever. For one thing, there are two Palestinian entities rather than one, and the more "moderate" one — the one that acknowledges the existence of Israel, if not its right to exist as a Jewish state — is the weaker of the two. The only thing that is propping up the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and protecting it from a Hamas takeover at present is Israel's continued presence there. And then there is the not insubstantial matter of Israelis experience from previous experiments along the lines they are being asked to proceed — i.e., missiles falling all around

The American linkage of action against Iran with progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front again betrays the same dangerous naivete, and puts things backwards as well. The time frame for serious action — economic or military against Iran — is months, a year at most. Can anyone possibly imagine that major steps will be made towards a Palestinian-Israeli agreement in that time?

Moreover, why should such progress be a condition of action vis-a-vis Iran? The Sunni regimes are scared witless by Iran, which threatens their regimes both internally and externally in a way that Israel does not. If it is in their interests to do so, and if they believe that America intends to act forcefully against Iran (and not just leave them at Iran's mercies), they will be part of any coalition. But if either of those conditions are not met, they will not. Israel is irrelevant. Similarly, the United States either acknowledges that Iran poses a significant threat to a wide variety of American strategic interests, which have absolutely nothing to do with Israel, or it does not. But any Israel leader who acts against his better judgment on the Palestinian front in the hope that the United States will then act to prevent Iran from going nuclear is building castles in the sand, given the current resolve shown by Washington vis-a-vis Iran.

No decent lawyer would allow a client to sign an agreement, no matter how attractive, without a due diligence as to both the reliability of the other party and its capability of performing according to the terms of the contract. Yet President Obama (Harvard Law) and Secretary of State Clinton (Yale Law) are pushing Israel towards an agreement where the unreliability of the other side is well-established by virtue of two decades of broken promises about ending incitement and stopping terror and its ability to perform is beyond doubtful, given the likelihood of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank as soon as Israel withdraws. Hopefully Israel has better lawyers.



Jonathan Rosenblum is founder of Jewish Media Resources and a widely-read columnist for the Jerusalem Post's domestic and international editions and for the Hebrew daily Maariv.


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


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