By Vic Rosenthal
“If you were to read the Palestinian newspapers these days you’d be appalled by the sinister headlines: killings, kidnappings, arsons, shootings, revenge attacks and Kassam launchings. Then you read calls for a “national unity government” – as though Palestinians were already living in two different countries, one in Gaza (under Hamas) and the other in the West Bank (under Fatah).
The people’s sense of defeat is caused by our leaders’ ineptitude; the violence is fed by poverty, oppression and deprivation.” — Bassam Eid in the Jerusalem Post
Palestinian civil society today is an oxymoron. This is obviously bad for them, but it’s also bad for Israel, since it is not possible to acheive peace, or even a cease-fire, when there’s no stability and no control on criminal behavior.
Interestingly, Eid doesn’t primarily blame Israel or ‘occupation’ (although he does mention ‘oppression’). “The Palestinian issue has ceased to be what it was in the early 1970s, ’80s, or ’90s; the Palestinian people have outdone the Israeli occupation in opposing our own rights”, he says.
Why is this? In my opinion, it’s mostly a result of the actions of one of the worst men in recent history: Yasser Arafat.
From 1948 until the time of Oslo, the competition between the US and the Soviet Union defined the parameters of conflict in the Middle East. The Palestinians were held as a pawn by such personalities as Nasser, and no solution was possible. Special structures were set up (UNRWA) to ensure that there would be no possibility of solving the refugee problem, and Soviet financing of Arab militarism and terrorism prevented any kind of rapprochement with Israel.
However, in the early ’90’s there was a window of opportunity. The Soviet Union was gone, the PLO had been evicted from first Jordan and then Lebanon, Iraq’s power had been broken, and Iran was spent from its long war with Iraq. King Hussein of Jordan had mellowed (or realized where his interests lay) and Egypt was as addicted to US aid as Israel. Militant Islamism had not yet become a major player on the world stage. It was truly a historic moment of opportunity.
The idea of the Oslo accord was to develop a relationship of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, starting with mutual recognition, formation of a Palestinian Authority, an end to terrorism, gradual normalization of relations, transfer of territory, and ultimately — after some degree of trust was obtained — a settlement of difficult issues such as the refugees and Jerusalem.
The Oslo approach was a disaster for various reasons, but there was one overwhelming cause: Israel’s partner was Arafat’s PLO, which was named ‘the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ and which became the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Arafat, a corrupt liar, murderer and thief, effectively dominated the PLO and PA. He never intended to establish a state alongside Israel, but only to use whatever concessions he could obtain to facilitate terrorism — which incidentally did not stop but increased during the Oslo period — with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel. He established an educational and media system designed to turn children into terrorists and to incite hatred in every part of Palestinian society. He stole billions of dollars of funds provided by international donors to help build the infrastructure for a Palestinian state, as much to keep the Palestinian people hungry, miserable and frustrated as to enrich himself. He orchestrated terrorist attacks to provoke Israeli responses. Finally, he rejected the Clinton/Barak offer in 2000, lied about what was actually offered, and started the bloody Al-Aqsa intifada.
By 2006, Palestinian society was shattered. Many Palestinians turned to the radical-Islamic Hamas, which is struggling with the remains of Arafat’s Fatah (now supported to some extent by the US) for control. The years of Arafatian education and incitement have created an entire generation of young people who are obsessed with hatred and getting revenge against Israel, which they blame for the situation in which they find themselves. They are not prepared to compromise for a state in the territories alongside Israel.
Israel too was wounded spiritually and economically by the period of Oslo terrorism and the intifada, and has not been able to achieve a clear sense of direction since. The present government, incompetent and enormously unpopular, seems to be staying in power because there is no better alternative.
The world has changed since the Oslo accords were signed. Iran has become a major power, challenging the US for control of the region, and creating a powerful proxy, Hizbullah, which will soon dominate Lebanon. Israel recently fought a nasty war with Hizbullah, and the consequences of this are still playing out. Radical Islamism is gaining strength in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and it’s uncertain how long the ‘moderate’ governments in these countries will remain.
The historic moment for Israel and the Palestinians seems to have passed. It may not return in our lifetimes.