A dangerous myth

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made some interesting comments. Apparently she believes that Syrian President Assad should not be rewarded while he is creating chaos in Lebanon, perhaps to deflect attention from consideration of the Rafik Hariri murder:

“My understanding is that it is the view of Israelis, and certainly our view, that the Syrians are engaged in behavior right now that is destabilizing to the region,” Rice said to reporters traveling with her on a European tour that will also include stops in Vienna and Madrid.

The Palestinian issue “is at the core of a lot of problems in the region,” Rice added. She said “there is no substitute for trying to get to the place where the Palestinians finally have their state and the Israelis finally have a neighbor who can live in peace and security with them.”

The “Israeli-Palestinian track is extremely important” because it “unlocks the key” to “further engagement between the Arabs and the Israelis,” Rice said. [my emphasis]

I am quite happy for anything which interferes with the attempt to get Israel to give the Golan Heights back to Syria, since I believe that Syria is presently preparing for war in which the strategic value of the Golan will be paramount. However I find Rice’s comments on the Palestinians disturbing.

She appears to accept the view, promoted by the Saudis and others and often mentioned approvingly by the US State Department, that the “Palestinian problem” is at the root of the Israeli-Arab conflict, or even at some of the broader issues in the Middle East.

The corollary to this is that all we have to do is force Israel to make the needed concessions to give the Palestinians a satisfactory state and to solve the refugee problem, and Israeli-Arab wars will be a thing of the past.

There are many, many things wrong with this. The first is that the Arab nations couldn’t care less about the Palestinians except as a tool to destroy Israel, as has been shown by their treatment of the refugees (and what is going on in Lebanon today is an example). So there is no reason to think that even if the Palestinians could be made happy this would reduce the hostility to Israel’s existence in the wider Arab world.

Another major problem is that the Palestinians themselves — under their present leadership — cannot be given a state that will be ‘satisfactory’ to them, nor can there be a satisfactory ‘solution’ to the refugee problem that will leave the Jewish state in existence. Hamas, for its part, has been quite clear that they will not accept a state in the territories, except as a temporary expedient. And while elements of Fatah have claimed that they would be satisfied by a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders (something which is in itself unreasonable), there is plenty of evidence that Fatah, too, only sees this as a temporary condition. And both factions explicitly demand full right of return for refugees and their descendants.

Unfortunately, it is in part the prevalence of this myth that makes a real two-state solution impossible. This is because it leads the Palestinians to believe that their unreasonable demands will ultimately be granted, because the world will support them in forcing Israel to concede.

The other part of the puzzle is that both the Palestinians and the Arab world now believe that Israel can be defeated militarily. So there is no reason for them to move in the direction of accommodation.

What should Israel do in this situation? Unfortunately, there is probably no way to undo the perception of weakness created by last summer’s war other than by fighting another war and this time winning it. I expect that the Palestinians, Hezbollah, Syria, or some combination thereof will provide the opportunity in the near future. So a high degree of military preparedness is required.

On the diplomatic front, conciliatory behavior is seen as weakness (at least until the perception of military weakness has been dispelled). Israeli offers to meet Palestinian needs will simply open the door to new demands. Therefore the best stance for Israel to take is the most hard-line one possible: there must be no talks with the Palestinians or the Arab nations about anything unless and until all terrorism and incitement stops.

As I’ve said before, Israel is in as much danger today as it has been at any time since 1948, even without considering the Iranian nuclear threat. This is a result of the incompetence of the last few governments, which laid the groundwork for last summer’s defeat.

The nation has overcome huge odds, as in 1967, and has managed to find creative solutions to difficult problems, as in Entebbe in 1974. At this critical point, there’s one overriding need: competent, courageous and dedicated leadership.

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