I hate to write about the ‘peace process’, because even to write about it is to suggest that it’s a process that under the right conditions might lead to peace. As has been clearly demonstrated in the past few days, there is an unbridgeable gap between the parties — and it isn’t construction in settlements.
At this point both sides are trying to explain why it is the other side which is intransigent, when really the problem is that there is no intersection between their objectives:
- Israel: live at peace in the Mideast
- Arabs: get rid of the Jewish state
Netanyahu has insisted that the Palestinian Authority (PA) recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for extending the construction freeze. And predictably, the PA has refused. They say that such recognition would result in the expulsion of Arabs who are now citizens of Israel, and that it would contradict the “right of return” for the descendants of the Arab refugees from the 1948 war.
The first objection is absurd — Israel has always defined itself as a Jewish state and has not kicked out its Arab citizens, even when mightily provoked as in 2000 when ‘Israeli Arabs’ rioted — perhaps ‘engaged in rebellion’ would be better — killing Jews and destroying their property. So why should PA recognition have this effect now?
The second objection is correct. But Israel does not agree that the so-called refugees have any such right, and practically speaking understands that a ‘return’ would be the end of Israel. So the refusal of recognition amounts to a demand that there shall be no obstacle to the destruction of the state.
Recognition is the most important issue at stake in the entire process, because what has prevented peace — what prevented the Arabs from accepting partition proposals in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008 as well as other land-for-peace initiatives, is the fact that they do not accept the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. Without recognition there can be no end of the conflict, no peace. So if this is unacceptable, what is there to negotiate?
From the Palestinian point of view, the negotiations are useful because each ‘obstacle’ that must be ‘surmounted’ amounts to yet another concession by Israel, a concession in land, security or sovereignty. Although there may never be agreement, concessions once made are difficult or impossible to unmake, and they advance the Arab goal little by little.
From the American point of view, the negotiations are useful because Barack Obama has promised that he would bring peace between Israel and the Arabs, and there’s an election coming up. They are also useful because the administration has promised its Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, that it would squeeze concessions out of Israel.
But what good are they from an Israeli point of view? Ami Isseroff agrees that the Arabs are not interested in peace; rather they are interested in blaming the failure of the talks on Israel. Then they can unilaterally declare a state within the 1949 lines with (at least) EU support, and Israel will be left without Judea and Samaria or East Jerusalem, and without international support. Better, says Isseroff, to give them what they want and then Israel will have the “moral high ground” when the Arabs pay it back with war.
But the “moral high ground” is a laughable concept to the realists who make policy in the US, the EU, the UN, etc. Indeed, look how the US administration is already spinning this:
One Washington source suggested that Netanyahu’s move had not worked well with American officials, as it hadn’t come across as a sincere bid to resolve the issue given that the Palestinians were sure to reject it.
“It just looks like he doesn’t want to do it [extend the freeze], and he just wants to put it on the other side,” he said of Netanyahu apparently trying to shift responsibility – and blame – to the Palestinians.
“I don’t think it plays well here,” he said of Netanyahu’s gesture, “but I don’t think anybody wants to criticize it.”
The hypocrisy is blinding. The Arab demand for a freeze — something which is at bottom irrelevant to the outcome of the negotiations — is considered legitimate, while Netanyahu’s insistence on the most substantive issue of all is seen as a trick. In other words, we’re going to blame Israel no matter what.
And this is the US, arguably Israel’s closest ally. The EU doesn’t think that Israel should receive anything in return for extending the freeze, because their position is that settlements — that is, Jewish communities east of the 1949 line — are illegal, even communities that were occupied by Jews prior to 1948. This is simply racism covered with legalistic trappings, but there it is.
There is no reason to expect fairness from these venues, and Israel must not base policy on such an assumption.
It is also essential to keep in mind the overall situation — the threat from Hizballah, Syria and Iran, which is not disconnected from the ‘peace process’, because the various Palestinian terror groups may constitute an additional front in the next war.
But most important is the political content and psychological impact of the piecemeal surrender that is represented by the talks. The whole premise is that the Palestinian Arabs deserve a state, and Israel, which has wronged them, must be cajoled and pressured into giving it up.
The onus for the conflict is therefore placed on Israel rather than the Arabs, who, after all, violently resisted the international consensus to create Israel, engaged in continuous terrorism against the Jews that lived there, and to this day demand a right of self-determination for themselves while denying it to the Jewish people.
The one-sided “Arab (or Saudi) Initiative”, which has been praised by Barack Obama, is a perfect example of this kind of thinking. Israel is required to withdraw to 1949 lines, provide a solution for the Arab ‘refugees’ and for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Only then will there be some form of ‘normal relations’ granted to Israel (but not recognition as a Jewish state).
The implication is that because Israel is responsible for the conflict, it must first make amends — and then it will be allowed to live, although probably not for long if the ‘refugees’ are allowed to ‘return’.
By suggesting that Israel must honor the ‘peace process’, Ami Isseroff and others are in effect validating this concept. What they understand as the moral high ground is actually an admission of immorality — of guilt — and of submission to ‘morally superior’ Arab victims.
As long as Israel participates in a process that assumes its guilt, the outcome will be its punishment.
US administration speakers often say things like “how can we get to a Palestinian state?” But nobody talks about the need to protect Jewish sovereignty, which is endangered by the piecemeal concessions in return for nothing which characterize the ‘process’.
The correct framework for a ‘peace process’ would start with the recognition that Israel is the state of the Jewish people — just as ‘Palestine’ wishes to be the state of a ‘Palestinian people’ — and has a right to be at peace in its land. A corollary is that Israel must have, in the words of UNSC resolution 242, “secure and recognized boundaries,” rather than being based on the 1949 lines.
There is no reason to think that justice for both Jews and Arabs could not be obtained under such a framework.
Israel needs to take the initiative rather than allow the terms of the engagement be dictated by the Arabs, the EU and the Saudi-influenced Obama Administration.