On missed opportunities

The Obama administration and the EU are apparently moving full-steam ahead to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pressing Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reach a peace agreement. As always, the idea is that Israel will withdraw from most of the West Bank, there will be compromises on Jerusalem and refugees, a Palestinian state will be established, and shalom b’yisrael.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her first foray into Middle East politics as US secretary of state, called for urgent action by Arabs, Israelis and the international community to break the cycle of Mideast violence and to move toward a comprehensive peace in the region…

“We cannot afford more setbacks or delays – or regrets about what might have been had different decisions been made,” she said in apparent reference to the failure of previous peace initiatives.

With the Obama administration’s Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, seated behind her at a conference meant to raise billions to help the Gaza Strip recover from its recent war with Israel, Clinton said President Barack Obama would continue the Bush administration’s focus on seeking a two-state solution that entails Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state coexisting in peace…

“By providing humanitarian aid to Gaza we also aim to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized, a state that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors and is accountable to its people,” she added. — Jerusalem Post

As Herb Keinon explains, there are significant differences between the US and the EU on the little matter of Hamas. Both seem to think that somehow Hamas must be integrated into the PA, but the US seems to be demanding that Hamas commit to the three original Quartet conditions for participation — recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of past Israel-PA agreements — while the EU would like to somehow finesse the issue to get Hamas involved no matter what their position, ‘in the interests of peace’.

Right here the process founders, because there is no way that Hamas can be included in a Palestinian entity that will be at peace with Israel. None. Regardless of whatever formula Hamas can be coaxed to utter, acceptance of Israel contradicts the essence of Hamas.

My suggestion was that Israel should first eliminate Hamas, and then see what can be accomplished with the PA. But — since Israel has replaced the Arabs as the most appropriate subject for Abba Eban’s famous remark “[They] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” — Operation Cast Lead ended with Hamas as strong, or stronger in some senses, as before. This was really a historic failure, one whose dimensions have yet to be appreciated.

One particularly dangerous idea is that Israel should release Marwan Barghouti, imprisoned on a charge of multiple murder, to be freed and allowed to unify Fatah and Hamas. Barghouti (see here and here), a Fatah leader, is no less committed to eliminating Israel then Hamas. Putting Barghouti in charge would probably be almost as bad a move as bringing back Arafat was in 1993.

Hamas appears to be the major obstacle, but what Obama’s people don’t seem to understand is that the problem goes far deeper than Hamas.

This weekend I attended a presentation by Aryeh Green, a remarkably perceptive observer. He and I share the view that one of the worst mistakes that Israel has made since 1948 was the decision to bring Yasser Arafat back from exile in Tunis to head the PA. Arafat did many things, like lying about his intentions, talking peace in English while calling for jihad in Arabic, financing and directing terrorism against Israel while pretending to fight it, and so on. If the early 1990’s were a short window during which the gap between Israel and the Palestinians could have been bridged, Arafat insured that it was not. If anyone closed the ‘peace window’, it was he.

One of the worst things he did was to develop the Palestinian Authority’s educational and communications functions — the schools, the media, the mosques, sports, summer camps, etc. — as a massive system with one goal: to teach Palestinians that the only way to end the conflict with Israel was to defeat it by violent ‘resistance’. Israel was portrayed as a demonic interloper that had stolen the Palestinian homeland, which would ultimately be taken back “with blood and with spirit”, as Arafat and other Palestinian officials enjoyed saying. Incitement against Israel from official PA sources continued all through the Oslo  period (in violation of the agreement) and continues today, including veneration of suicide bombers and vicious antisemitism.

Now it seemed to Green and it seems to me that if the PA was truly interested in peace with Israel that there would be some effort made to educate their population in this direction, remembering that PA media (etc.) are entirely under the thumb of the leadership. But of course nothing of the kind was ever done, and the present ‘moderates’, Abbas and Fayyad have continued the policy, proving that they are no more interested in a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel as Arafat was.

What is needed is not more Israeli concessions, and not more complicated diplomatic maneuvers like the Camp David talks.  Rather, the opposite: there must be no concessions, no aid, no rebuilding, nothing but isolation until some Palestinian leadership indicates — by ending the incitement as well as the terrorism — that peace is in fact what they want (hint: this would not be Barghouti).

Palestinians are fond of saying that they can wait hundreds of years, as long as it took to get the crusaders out of Jerusalem. Israel needs to show them that Jews can wait too.

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One Response to “On missed opportunities”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    So long as there is no ‘other side’ which truly wants Peace every concession is a mistake. There are many Israelis who understand this but few Americans who do. Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to change perceptions on this matter, though it does not seem very likely.