June 29, 2007
No More Land for War in Israel: Part 2By Richard Baehr
Part 1 may be read here
The difficult part of commenting on the Israeli Palestinian conflict has never been in assigning blame for what has gone wrong. Rather, it has been in trying to come up with rational and creative policy suggestions and alternatives to the many failed approaches of the past decades. The recent events in Gaza provide some clarification as to what is still in the realm of the possible between the two parties and what is not.
This article examines the two approaches to resolving the conflict that have received the most attention in recent years:
1. the so-called two state solution of Israel and Palestine (living side by side in peace and security, a phrase that always goes with this formulation); and
2. the single bi-national state of Israel/Palestine (the post-apartheid South African reconciliation solution) pushed by many pro-Palestinian advocates, and an increasing number of people on the left, including the Jewish left.
It is my view that both of these approaches have suffered probably fatal blows as a result of the Hamas victory in Gaza, and equally important, how that victory was achieved. The many articles that have appeared recently to analyze the new lay of the land between the parties have exclusively focused on the two state approach, which even the professional peace processors admit is now in jeopardy. But arguably, it has now become much more difficult for the advocates of the single bi-national state solution to defend that approach as well.
The Two State Solution
Achievement of the two state solution was always dependent on a number of factors:
1. Both sides wanted to end the conflict, and would compromise on some very important issues in order to resolve the conflict. For the Israelis, this meant sharing Jerusalem and abandoning all of Gaza and most of the West Bank, and even offering slivers of pre-67 Israeli land in exchange for land retained by Israel in the West Bank for a few settlement blocks where most of the settlers reside. Gaza of course was abandoned in August 2005 without any change in the positions of the parties on the other outstanding issues (in other words, Israel gave up something for nothing).
2. For the Palestinians, the biggest compromise was giving up on the right of return for so-called Palestinian refugees (well over 95% of whom are not refugees from Israel, regardless of what the UN calls them: they have never stepped foot in Israel) and accepting that Palestinians can return to their state but not Israel.
The second Palestinian compromise was to end the state of war against Israel by accepting that there would be no more claims or demands on the Jewish state This compromise necessarily meant that terrorism and violence directed against Israel would end, and that terror groups could no longer exist within Palestinian society. For Palestinians , it meant getting on with building their state, and giving up the dream of ending the state of Israel.
3. This formulation is, in essence, the deal that Yassar Arafat rejected at Taba just before Bill Clinton left office in January, 2001, and which Israeli leader Ehud Barak accepted. It is also very close to the deal that was offered at the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, and was rejected by Arafat, and followed two months later by the far deadlier second intifada.
Apologists for the Palestinians - Robert Malley, Jimmy Carter, and Deborah Sontag among them - have tried to find some additional nuances to complicate this brief history of the period when the two sides supposedly came closest to resolving their long conflict. Sontag's pathetic attempt in the New York Times included pointing out that one of the missed opportunities at Camp David occurred when Chelsea Clinton was seated between Arafat and Barak at a key dinner meeting, presumably preventing the two leaders from resolving all outstanding issues before dessert.
The reality is that the two sides did not come close to ending the conflict at Camp David or Taba because only one party, the Israelis, was really prepared to end it. Yassar Arafat never set his sights on only liberating Gaza and the West Bank, but always envisioned the end of Israel (even if this came in stages that took many decades), and the eventual triumph for the Palestinians and control of all the land.
4. For the past six years, the peace processors, who always believe a deal is possible if only the parties work harder at negotiations (and the US leans a bit more on Israel for concessions), have complained that George Bush did not engage enough to get a deal done. Rick Richman has put the lie to this claim.
5. The electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections in 2006 complicated the narrative of the peace processors. Instead of the good (moderate) PA and the bad (terrorist) Hamas, now there also had to be a good Hamas (the political wing) and a bad Hamas (the militant wing). So Israel had to negotiate not only with Abbas and his PA but also with the "good Hamas" (these turned out to be the folks who only threw Fatah fighters from the 5th floor roofs or below in the recent fighting). Though it was late in the game for this, the peace processors were still hoping to boost Abbas' standing and make him look good in the eyes of his people, so they would at some future point reject Hamas in any of its forms, good or bad.
The perverse truth of course is that the non-stop incitement against the US and Israel in the Palestinian media and mosques since Arafat's return from Tunis have made suspect any appearance of ties between a Palestinian leader and the two enemy nations of Israel and the US. And the rejection of Abbas and Fatah in the election reflected widespread resentment of the corruption, incompetence and lawlessness that had enveloped Palestinian society since the start of the Oslo process, and in particular, since the start of the second intifada.
6. As a result of the Hamas rout of Fatah in Gaza we now have not only two disconnected pieces of territory that are populated by Palestinians but two warring Palestinian governments, each of which has nullified the election results of 2006 and the coalition government compromises that were reached between Fatah and Hamas in the months that followed. This of course does not augur well for the sanctity of agreements between Israel and either party in the future.
These events signal the following: there is no Palestinian Authority or any authority that speaks or represents all Palestinians. Israel can negotiate with Fatah, but they do not speak for Gaza. Israel and the West can try to prop up Abbas so he retains a hold on the West Bank, but the history of Fatah corruption and incompetence in government and the existence of many Palestinian militias, an offshoot of the Arafat era (to ensure that no one was strong enough to challenge his authority), means that Abbas has very little control of events or groups.
The second intifada was largely fought between Israel and terrorists in the West Bank, not in Gaza. Hamas and Islamic Jihad may be lying in waiting to avoid Fatah revenge killings at the moment, but they are also waiting for Abbas to fail. The Fatah gunmen and killers - Al Aksa, Force 17, Tanzim and others - were as ruthless as the Islamic terror groups during the intifada. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad decide to light up the West Bank with attacks on Israeli settlers and penetrate into Israel for other attacks (a proven way to win approval among the Palestinian population, dominated as it is by radicalized youth), it is far more likely that the Fatah gangs and militias will try to compete on this level, as they did during the intifada, than try to squelch the violence and protect the illusion of a new peaceful Fatah.
7. Even if Abbas succeeds in turning around the West Bank on a dime, it still changes nothing in Gaza . So there are two Palestinian entities (states they are not) with different agendas. In Gaza, Hamas, a proxy for Iran and Syria and Al Qaeda, will use the territory as a base to destabilize Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Hamas does not exist so as to bring an era of cleaner streets and modern medicine to the Palestinians.
And Hamas will not risk losing control in Gaza through new elections. Such regimes need only one electoral or military victory to eliminate the need for future elections. Abbas wants calm, Hamas wants conflict and turmoil. Hamas knows the West will not allow a million or more Palestinians to starve, so it is free to operate and pursue its goals.
8. There can be no end of conflict with two warring Palestinian entities in place. If a Palestinian consolidation of power were to occur, it is far more likely that it would happen after Hamas would seize control in the West Bank, as opposed to Fatah displacing Hamas in Gaza. Hamas understands discipline and plays offense; Fatah is on the defensive, now to be propped up by the West. Even with Tony Blair's best efforts, it is hard to imagine a new respectable Fatah.
If Hamas were to win in the West Bank, there is also no possibility of a two state solution, despite the new clarity of a then-restored single Palestinian entity. Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction. There are fools who will argue that Hamas would mature and move towards an accommodation with Israel at that point. They could, for instance, discuss the speed at which Israel would be destroyed, among other issues. In reality, a Hamas consolidation would all but ensure a total war with Israel. And after Israel won such a bloody war, which they would, only a madman would try to create a new indigenous Palestinian entity from the wreckage.
9. To avoid such a war, and the likely road ahead on the West Bank that leads to it, a different approach is needed there. But it likely involves Jordan, not the single bi-national state approach which has been floated, as the only alternative to the two state solution. In fact the very idea of a Palestinian state has run its course.
The Single Bi-national State Of Israel/Palestine
No one who cares about the future and security of Jews in Israel has ever supported the concept of a single bi-national state. That is because the very concept is absurd on its face. Historian Ton Judt, who may be a serious historian but is not a serious analyst of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, has admitted that Jews might not be safe in such a state, though he has thrown his support for the concept. Judt, however may now be safe at Upper West Side cocktail parties attended by the likes of Eric Alterman, Philip Weiss and their ilk.
The real support for the single binational state has come from passionate Israel haters such as Ali Abunimah. Abunimah likes to use the South African model in two ways to support the concept. Israel, he charges, is an apartheid state today. But in a bi-national state there will be reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, as occurred in post-apartheid South Africa.
Abunimah pretends to have been a supporter of a two state solution. His two state solution would have been a West Bank and Gaza Palestinian state free of all Jews, and Israel itself overwhelmed with 4 or 5 million returning "refugees" (really non-refugees) exercising their right of return. Two Palestinian Arab states in other words, which would in time find no reason not to merge and form a single state without Israel.
Abunimah says that Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank has ended the chances for a two state solution. This is nonsense. Since Israel offered to withdraw from more than 95 % of the West Bank, and abandon all interior settlements at Taba, exactly how did settlements prevent a settlement?
The recent developments in Gaza are also clarifying as to the single state approach:
1. Hamas, to whom Abunimah is much more sympathetic than to Fatah and Abbas, has just shown what it thinks of reconciliation. Are these supposed Nelson Mandela acolytes who at some point will put their grievances behind them to start fresh with their former enemies? Silly question. Hamas has just mass murdered about 200 Palestinian Arabs, whose crime was to be from the wrong anti-Israel party. At the moment, it is impossible to see them reconciling with Fatah or Fatah with them. And neither party will reconcile with Israel's Jews at a point in time when power in a bi-national state beckoned. There is a reason why Israeli Arabs, despite their sympathies for the Palestinian national movement and grievances about unequal treatment within Israel, have never shown any interest in being ruled by Fatah or Hamas. Who wants the non-law of the jungle to replace a state that is part of the civilized world?
2. The bi-national state formulation always assumed that Arabs would win the long term demographic battle with Israel's Jews. But the Gaza disengagement, and now the Hamas victory, have separated Gaza from the West Bank, not only in a geographic dimension but politically, ideologically and religiously. Hamas is a player unlikely to disappear from the scene. They want an Islamic state, not just a Palestinian Arab-run state. In essence, Hamas, like Saudi Arabia, is intolerant in every way that matters. Already Hamas is crushing the small Christian Arab community in Gaza. The idea of Hamas reconciling with Israel's Jews and allowing freedom of religion, civil liberties, political dissent, and respect for women and gays, is zero. How many Christians are citizens of Saudi Arabia? Where are their churches?
Are we supposed to believe that in an Arab-run bi-national state that Hamas will make life any better for the non-believers? Of course Fatah has never been all that kind and welcoming to non-Muslim groups either. Recall the gentle treatment meted out to the two Israeli soldiers who took a wrong turn in Ramallah right after the beginning of the second intifada, and in front of a cheering frenzied mob, were torn apart limb from limb as if by wolves disguised as people. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail, but once free, sought the guidance of the better angels to help resolve the conflict in South Africa. That has never been the Palestinian way. Their movement has always romanticized and glorified violence and inculcated hatred of the Jews. Separation may be a solution, but not reconciliation in a bi-national state. That much is clear after the events in Gaza.
As the dust begins to settle, the creative approaches to this ugly conflict will begin to emerge. I will offer some in a future article.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.