On threats and opportunities

Recently Israel has been warned of the ‘threat’ of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state if it doesn’t move to make ‘peace’ with the PA soon. Ha’aretz threatened,

Concerns are growing in Israel’s government over the possibility of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence within the 1967 borders, a move which could potentially be recognized by the United Nations Security Council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently asked the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to veto any such proposal, after reports reached Jerusalem of support for such a declaration from major European Union countries, and apparently also certain U.S. officials.

The reports indicated that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has reached a secret understanding with the Obama administration over U.S. recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Such recognition would likely transform any Israeli presence across the Green Line, even in Jerusalem, into an illegal incursion to which the Palestinians would be entitled to engage in measures of self-defense.

There is no doubt that some ‘major EU countries’ and “certain U.S. officials” would love to see the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria declared illegal, not to mention East Jerusalem (in fact, these same countries and officials would probably say that Israel should be replaced by a Palestinian Arab state if they spoke honestly).

But a secret agreement? There’s still enough support for Israel in the US Congress and the public to make this a very dumb idea. At least today.

Here’s another threat, of a different kind, this one from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas:

“I don’t know what the Israelis want,” he said. “They must start thinking about what needs to be done if they really want peace.”

Meanwhile, Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called on Abbas to seriously consider dissolving the PA because of the failure of the peace process. “This authority was created so that it could prepare for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Khraisheh said. “But after more than 15 years of thorough negotiations with Israel, this state still hasn’t been established.”

On Sunday, The Jerusalem Post, quoting senior PA officials, revealed that Abbas was already considering dismantling the PA, to protest Washington’s failure to force Israel to freeze settlement construction.

Leaving aside the fact that the dissolution of the PA would end the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow to Abbas and Co. from the US, as well as the arms and training for the PA’s new army, the implied danger here is that Hamas — or Israel — would take over control of PA territory and population.

Both of these threats, one from the Left and one from the PA, imply that Israel must make a deal — and that means a deal according to Palestinian parameters — before it is too late. There is also a subtext, which is that what prevents a deal is Israeli ‘intransigence’, which is, in fact, the opposite of the real reason.

The main putative ‘obstacle to peace’ is that Israel refuses to stop all construction activities in East Jerusalem and within existing settlements in Judea and Samaria. This is a problem for the Palestinians because they have sold their version of the ‘two-state solution’ as a total Israeli withdrawal. Israeli ideas that include keeping some of the large settlement blocs close to the Green Line in return for swaps of territory elsewhere are non-starters for them.

In particular, possibly because it is trying to keep ahead of the agitation of the Hamas-influenced Islamic Movement of Raed Salah, the PA’s position on Jerusalem has become harder than ever.

Israel has actually been observing a ‘settlement freeze’ by not constructing new settlements or expanding the boundaries of old ones for years. The only thing that changed was Barack Obama’s unfortunate early insistence on a more restrictive freeze than what the Bush administration agreed to. Now suddenly, it’s impossible to talk at all without it.

From Israel’s point of view, accepting a freeze in East Jerusalem means that it is not sovereign there. It means that outsiders can tell Israel what it can or cannot do in its capital (unlike Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem was officially annexed to Israel in 1980, although this is not recognized internationally). While Israel is prepared to cede parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians — and perhaps even some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem — it will not give up the principle of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Another problem for Abbas is that his version of a ‘two-state solution’  includes a right of return to Israel for descendants of Arab refugees. This has always been unacceptable to Israel and always will be, since it means that the Jewish state will cease to exist. I can’t imagine that Abbas didn’t realize this all through the Oslo and Annapolis periods, but he seems to be pretending that this is a new demand suddenly thrown up by Israel’s (not really so) right-wing government.

And of course Abbas, Fayyad and others will not agree that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. In their ‘two-state solution’, Israel is the state where Jews are permitted to live. That’s their big compromise — they’ll let us live, for a while, in part of their land, at least until the 5 million ‘refugees’ can ‘return to their homes’.

The PA and Ha’aretz (speaking for the international Left) are telling us that Israel needs to hurry up and surrender — give up its insistence on sovereignty in East Jerusalem, in keeping the settlement blocs, and who knows what else — because there are certain to be more demands — before the window closes. What is not said is that the window isn’t open now, not even a crack. It has been closed for almost two decades.

Although the Obama administration made an error in initially calling for a settlement freeze, other issues will certainly prevent a real peace between the PA and Israel. The fundamental mistake that led to the present deadlock was made in the early 1990’s, when there really was a window of opportunity. The mischief-making Soviet Union had collapsed, Saddam Hussein had been humbled and Iran was exhausted from its long war with Iraq. Perhaps, free from outside interference, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs could actualize their common interest of peace.

And then, the Oslo agreement, which called for the return of the exiled PLO terrorists, led by Yasser Arafat (and including his second-in-command, Mahmoud Abbas) was signed. The PLO, whose name was used in Israel as a curse, the organization that has killed more Israelis than any other including Hamas, was designated the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Arafat went immediately to work, establishing an educational and media system to teach hate, funding terrorism against Israel, talking peace to the Americans in English while calling for jihad in Arabic, etc. His efforts culminated in the second intifada, in which thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were killed, and which multiplied the mistrust and hatred that Arafat had created and nurtured many more times.

Although Abbas is less outspoken in favor of violent terrorism than Arafat, his fundamental positions are no different. He is not prepared to compromise on borders, not on right of  return, not on Jerusalem, and — importantly — not on recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, everyone is in for a long pull. Maybe the PA will collapse and Hamas will take over, maybe a Palestinian state will be declared. Israel will simply have to meet the security challenges as they come up. Some day there may be another possibility to make peace, but now it is farther off than ever.

Today’s threats are not the alternative to opportunities. They are just threats.

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One Response to “On threats and opportunities”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The question is why the American government does not see the truth of the situation as described in this piece. Why again and again are leaders led by illusion instead of by an accurate assessment of the situation? The historian Niall Ferguson talks about ‘stupidity’ as a major factor in history. I once would have discounted this but more and more I see how true it is.
    If the United States would just examine the statements of Palestinian leaders, would just read their media they would understand a ‘peace process’ now is not going to go anywhere.
    They would too see that all the negotiations with Iran is a sham- and that if they want Iran not to be a nuclear power they are going to have to take action which is more than just half- hearted sanctions.