…everyone knows what a two-state solution looks like and the general formula for getting there… the tough thing is marshaling the necessary political will. — James A. Baker, one of the original sources of the Administration’s policy to force Israel and the Palestinian Authority into a ‘peace’ agreement, February 2010
So, it starts again. The US will sit the Israeli PM down with a Palestinian Arab ‘leader’ who represents almost no one, and whose regime is paid for by the US and protected by the IDF. Since its inception said regime has told its people that Jews are descended from monkeys and pigs, that the greatest Palestinian heroes are terrorists who murder Jewish children, that Palestinian children should aspire to martyrdom, and that in the future Israel will be destroyed and replaced by an Arab state.
This Palestinian Authority (PA) has said over and over that it will not recognize Israel as a state belonging to the Jewish people. It demands a ‘right of return’ to Israel for Arab ‘refugees’ and requires that any peace agreement must include a transfer of all the area of the Palestinian Mandate east of the 1949 armistice line, including all of East Jerusalem. It insists that every Jewish resident of this area be removed, while calling Arabs who live in Israel the ‘owners’ of the land.
Israel is prepared to agree to a sovereign Palestinian state in the region, although with a few limitations (demilitarization, retaining control of airspace, security presence in the Jordan Valley, etc). One would think that if the PA actually wanted a state, they would agree. After all, if ‘Palestine’ can live peacefully alongside Israel, one would expect that ultimately the restrictions would be lifted. Of course the PA rejects them out of hand.
Speaking of Palestinian demands, Israel has some demands too. For example, that an agreement recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, that so-called ‘refugees’ be resettled in ‘Palestine’ or Arab nations and that the Palestinians will finally agree to end their claims against Israel — to end the conflict.
Naturally, the PA categorically rejects all of these. It is probably true that no Palestinian leader could accept them and survive, politically or physically.
Finally (Barry Rubin calls this the “wooly mammoth in the living room”) there is Hamas, which controls all of the Gaza strip (40% of the Palestinian population) and has many friends in the area supposedly governed by the PA. Hamas doesn’t agree that Jews can be allowed to live anywhere in the Middle East, is committed to violent genocide and supported by Iran. They also oppose the PA — they killed a bunch of the Fatah opposition in 2005 when they took over Gaza — and would happily take over all of Judea/Samaria as well.
Only the IDF prevents them from doing that today. Who will protect a sovereign ‘Palestine’? The PA army being trained by the US? That plan is working so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t it! Or maybe the UN? Just look at the result of that approach in Lebanon. If Hamas takes over, what stops them from inviting in Syrian or Iranian forces? This is a formula for a bloody regional war.
Please, tell me again what “everyone knows.”
There is an asymmetry between the Israeli and Palestinian positions. Israel says “we think the Palestinian Arabs have as much of a right to a state as we do, and we’re prepared to compromise as long as it doesn’t mean committing suicide.” The PA, on the other hand — and I’m not even referring to Hamas here — thinks that a Jewish state is historically illegitimate, and it’s time for the US and the international community to give it over to its ‘rightful owners’.
The premise that the Palestinian Arabs have a ‘right’ to anything, given the historical record, is actually pretty dubious. But Israel has moved a long way toward an accommodation, even despite the vicious war of 2001-2003 — some call it the ‘Oslo war‘ — in which the Palestinians demonstrated their contempt for a previous offer of a sovereign state.
The difference in Israeli and Palestinian outlooks is nicely caught by Rubin, who writes,
Is “comprehensive peace” in the interest “of all people in the region?” [the words of US envoy George Mitchell] On one level that seems obvious but on the level of actual reality it is completely false. Consider this: having peace in Europe was arguably in the interests of everyone at all times between, say, between 1337 (start of the Hundred Year’s War between England and France) and 1990 (the Cold War’s end), yet nonetheless there wasn’t peace much of the time.
Why is that? Because there were ideologies, nations, and leaders who thought there was something more important than peace: gains, victories, land, glory, the will of the Creator of the Universe, and other things. Moreover, they perceived that triumph was easy and that they could have everything they wanted. This worldview does not characterize the position today of, at most, more than 10 percent of Israelis (or Americans and Europeans for that matter) but does characterize the position of more than 95 percent of Arabs, Middle East Muslims, and Palestinians.
Rubin thinks that the US is naive about the way in which ideology drives the Muslim nations of the Middle East, and projects Western views of interests where they are inapplicable:
An element of this doctrinaire, deterministic “even-handedness” and “mirror-imaging” practices by Western governments today is to misunderstand much about the Middle East (and Israel as well) to the point that they fail in their efforts and stumble into crises. This point also applies to their understandings of Islamism, Iran’s ambitions, the internal problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more. These mistakes cost lives and produce strategic disasters.
Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and most of the PA’s own Fatah rulers don’t think a “comprehensive peace” is in the interests of Palestinians, much less all the peoples of the region. They believe that anyone who does think so should be murdered. They are certain that the elimination of Israel, which they do not number among the “peoples of the region” is in everyone’s interest.
I think this is true to a great extent, but I’m a bit more cynical. I think that US officials understand the Palestinian Arabs better than they let on. I believe that much of what appears to be foolish naivete is actually pap for public consumption, masking the consistent US policy — strongly influenced by Saudi Arabia — to shrink Israel to 1949 lines with little regard for the cost to Israel’s security (think about James A. Baker’s business relationship with the Saudis).
These negotiations have very little upside for Israel. They are very unlikely to lead to a peace agreement for the reasons above. And if somehow there were an agreement it, would make the threat of a Hamas takeover and subsequent war greater rather than less. Although the obstacles to peace are primarily on the Palestinian side, efforts will be made — by the Arabs and anti-Israel elements in the US and Europe — to blame Israel, and to force concessions that at best will weaken her, and at worst will get people killed.
Here’s my advice for Israeli negotiators in what is probably a no-win situation: don’t give up anything without getting something in return. When they demand an extension on the freeze on construction east of the armistice line, you demand recognition that Israel is the state of the Jewish people.