November 23, 2007
Road to NowhereBy Richard Baehr
The effort to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians is today premised on the belief that if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, there would soon be a basis for achieving a stable two state solution and an end to the violence between the parties. Both recent history and the current state of the conflict suggest this is nonsense. Nonetheless, there are so many people invested in the logic of the argument that "the Israeli occupation is the real problem", that it is worth one more time reiterating why this is not the case.
The peace processors -- whether from the EU, the UN, the US State Department, or the current government of Israel --assert that not only would Israel and the Palestinians rapidly achieve peace following a withdrawal of the IDF and a dismantling of many settlements in the West Bank, but soon thereafter, there would be much good will in the Muslim world toward the United States, presumably earned for pressuring Israel into taking this step.
To test this hypothesis, let us consider what happened in Lebanon and Gaza following those Israeli withdrawals in 2000 and 2005. One definition of stupidity is to do the exact same thing you have done several times before, believing that this time, it will yield different results. There is no reward in international affairs for stupidity.
As to Lebanon, Israel occupied southern Lebanon in 1982 after continuous terror attacks were launched from there into northern Israel (Maalot, Kiryat Shemonah among them). These were some of the most hideous terror attacks in Israel's history: gunning down 21 school children in cold blood, for instance, in Maalot. In 2000, Israel left the small security zone it had maintained in Lebanon after Israelis grew unhappy with the mounting IDF casualty toll in South Lebanon, mainly from roadside bombs planted by Hezb'allah, a Shiite terror group aligned with Iran, as well as a devastating midair helicopter collision that killed over 70 IDF personnel.
Hezb'allah of course is the same group that was responsible for the murder of almost 300 Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s, and the murder of over 100 Argentinian Jews in two grisly attacks in the 1990s. While the IDF had suffered casualties in the fighting with Hezb'allah, the security zone had worked for 18 years to totally cut off terror attacks from Lebanon into northern Israel. The UN, no friend to Israel of course, was invited in after Israel withdrew, and agreed that Israel had withdrawn behind the international boundary, in accordance with UN resolution 425.
The government of Lebanon had indicated before Israel withdrew that if Israel did leave, it would move in its own forces and police the border. This never happened. Instead, Hezb'allah moved in and seized control of the border area. Hezb'allah received over 10,000 rockets from Iran, trans-shipped through Syria. From the time of the withdrawal there was regular shooting at Israelis in the border area, the kidnapping and almost certain murder of three soldiers, an incursion and shooting attack that killed 7 civilians and other killings as well, all before the incident which touched off the 2006 war -- the kidnapping and murder of 8 Israeli soldiers.
In that 5 week war, 160 Israelis died and a fifth of Israel's population fled from their homes or lived in basement bunkers for over a month. Hezb'allah's firing of 4,000 rockets in 5 weeks created this level of terror and disruption, and these by and large were not very precise rockets.
Following the 2006 war, Israel again withdrew from the areas it had occupied in the fighting and turned territory over to the Lebanese army and UNIFIL. But alas, this has changed nothing. Hezb'allah has been re-supplied and now has more rocket power than before the 2006 war, including longer range rockets and missiles. Hezb'allah has argued that Israel did not fully withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, and that a small land area still held by Israel called Shebaa Farms was really part of Lebanon. Hence the Israeli occupation continued and justified their maintaining a militia.
Hezb'allah has now stopped using Shebaa Farms as the sole excuse for their continued violence against Israel and their effort to train and supply Palestinian terror groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Now they say their struggle against Israel will continue until all of Palestine (meaning the current state of Israel) is free of Zionism, and the Jews are expelled from the Arab land.
The real facts about Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon are these: Israel is now less secure on the northern front than when it maintained the security zone, its towns are closer to enemy fire, and the end of the occupation did not end the terrorism or fighting.
One postscript to the withdrawal from Lebanon in the Spring of 2000 was that it was followed just a few months later by the Camp David talks between Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton, the summit that was hoped would resolve all the final status issues in the Oslo process -- settlements, borders, Jerusalem, water, and refugees. The talks collapsed when Arafat walked out, and but two months later the Palestinians began their second and far deadlier intifada. Palestinian officials have admitted that the planning for the second intifada began immediately upon the end of the Camp David summit.
The staged shooting of the young boy, Mohammed Al Dura at the Netzarim Junction was the spark for creating that intifada, along with the rock throwing and attacks that followed the visit to the Temple Mount by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon. In any case, many observers believe that Arafat interpreted Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon as a sign of national fatigue and capitulation -- that Israel was so anxious for an end of the conflict that it could no longer realistically judge the implications of political concessions made under fire.
That bet -- walking out of Camp David and starting a new intifada -- worked for the Palestinians, as the offer made by Israel at Camp David was sweetened by a few percent more of the West Bank at Taba, six months later, after a few months of deadly Palestinian terror attacks in the territories and in Israel.
And then there was the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. For years the Israeli and American Jewish peace camp had called for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. In 2005 it happened, with Ariel Sharon at the helm of Israel's government. The IDF removed nearly 9,000 settlers and pulled all IDF forces out of Gaza. Did this bring peace? Not if you count the over 5,000 rockets fired over the last 26 months at Sderot, a town now one fifth smaller than it was before the disengagement. The Palestinians are succeeding with their rocket fire in driving Israel from territory in pre-‘67 Israel.
Not only did the disengagement not bring peace, it bought the terror group Hamas to power in Gaza. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, and has always declared that a two state solution was unacceptable. Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in both Gaza and the West Bank, and in a one week coup in June 2007, overtook the PA security forces in Gaza, though outnumbered 5 to 1, to take complete control of the territory, slaughtering almost 200 Fatah men in the one week battle. In but 5 months, they have imposed a Taliban-style terror state in Gaza. Fifty tons of weapons have been smuggled from Egypt into Gaza during that period. Smuggling obviously works. You can smuggle in food, or cigarettes, or cars, or weapons. Hamas has chosen what matters.
We also know that Hamas wants to have both manufacturing and agriculture enterprises in Gaza. But the manufacturing program consists of but one product: more accurate, longer range, and hence more lethal rockets. Rockets are now hitting the outskirts of Ashkeleon and go deeper into the Negev. It would be hard to argue that Israel improved its security by withdrawing from Gaza.
Which bring us to the current initiative to hold a peace conference in Annapolis between PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israel. Given what has occurred in south Lebanon and Gaza, if you believe that if only Israel left the West Bank there would be peace, there are two possible explanations:
To begin, the PA is able to hang on in the West Bank today for only one reason: the presence of the IDF. In the second intifada, lest we forget, every single suicide bomber came from the West Bank, except for one incident with two terrorists traveling on British passports who entered from Gaza. The simple reason for the absence of attacks from Gaza is the fence around Gaza, which prevented Hamas from getting suicide bombers into Israel.
The second intifada ground to a halt through several Israeli actions: targeted assassination of various terror group leaders, construction of a security barrier that made entry into Israel from the West Bank more difficult, and the IDF re-positioning itself in various Palestinian cities after a series of deadly attacks in March 2002, culminating in the murder of over 30 mostly elderly Israelis at a Netanya seder.
The IDF had given control of these cities over to Yasser Arafat during the early years of the failed Oslo process. They quickly became bases for attacks against Israeli settlers and Israelis within the green line both before the intifada and of course during it. In 2006 there were very few terror attacks, but that was in large part because the IDF stopped 71 suicide bomb plots by terrorists in the West Bank, with 279 Palestinians arrested in these sweeps, including 45 already wearing suicide belts.
Hamas won the elections in the West Bank in 2006. As in Gaza, their brand of resistance and martyrdom was more popular than the idea of compromise. The population in Gaza and the West Bank is a very young one: median age 14. A very high birth rate -- 5 to 6 per woman of child bearing age -- has created this situation. And this young Palestinian population has been steeped in 15 years of non-stop incitement and propaganda directed at Israel, Jews and America, a process begun by Yasser Arafat, our supposed partner for peace, after his return form Tunis. This incitement campaign has been unceasing, in the Palestinian media, schools, mosques, and summer camps.
Some wine and cheese Palestinians, (e.g. Saeb Erekat), who spend a lot of time with the likes of Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk and negotiators from left of center Israeli governments, seem reasonable to outsiders. But in Arabic, the message to the Palestinian population was consistent and different from the diplomat-speak of the Palestinian envoys: jihad until victory, glory to the suicide bomber martyrs, and resistance until the collapse of Israel.
The idea that most West Bank Palestinians would accept a two state solution and give up their 60 year grievance against the existence of Israel, is absurd.
Perhaps the greatest absurdity, though, is the demand by Palestinians for an immediate halt to "natural growth" in Israel's settlements in the West Bank. Presumably, natural growth, or settlement expansion (new construction or expansion of homes) to accommodate growing families, will end if the settlers just stop having babies. Of all the people in the world who might stand out as hypocrites for such a demand, the Palestinians take the prize.
Of course the very idea of a two state solution today is nonsensical, with Hamas in firm control of Gaza and Abbas only nominally in control of the West Bank. Were Israel to withdraw from West Bank settlements and pull back the IDF in exchange for some vague promise of non-violence or future crackdown on terror groups in the West Bank, none of this would affect the situation in Gaza. Only Israel can displace Hamas in Gaza, not the PA or Fatah forces. And with the IDF withdrawn, the West Bank would be much more likely to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza.
That possibility poses the great danger to Israel of an admittedly terrorist entity controlling the West Bank. Instead of rockets fired at Sderot, a city of 20,000, the rockets could be fired at Israel's coastal plain where 2/3 of Israel's Jewish population lives, but ten miles from several Palestinian cities. They could also be fired at planes flying into and out of Ben Gurion Airport. What country can survive such a breakdown in basic security?
So why should Israel do it? So some Jews will feel less guilty about being an occupier? Ken Levin in his book The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege argues that as a result of our long terrible history in country after country, and then to top it off the Holocaust, some Jews now seem to be unable to accept that they can be in a position of power. They are only comfortable being victims and envy the suffering of others, since suffering is righteous. So we accept the narrative of our enemies and assume we are the guilty party. This is not only a destructive tendency, it also ignores the history of this conflict.
So long as a Jew-killing ethos is the spoken language of every Arab country and Israel is viewed as a state that can be unraveled in stages, there is no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or between Israel and any of its neighbors who remain at war with the Jewish state after near 60 years as a nation. Israel has to dig in for a long siege. Little has changed since 1948 when the Arabs tried to emulate Hitler and eliminate the Jews of Israel. Most still want to. The only real change is the increase in firepower available to the regimes that have always found Israel a convenient way to deflect the pressures generated by their own despotic rule or find the presence of a non-Muslim state in their midst a cancer to be eradicated.
Certainly, rational people can find a two state solution that might be fair to both parties, assuming both sides were willing to end the conflict and accept the other's existence. That of course is true on only one side of this dispute. Israel paved the way for a Palestinian state by signing onto the Oslo process, and offered it to the Palestinians at Camp David. The Palestinians signed onto the elimination of Israel in stages with that same agreement.
For Israel, there really is nothing to negotiate and nobody to negotiate with at this point. At best, Israel can hope to manage the conflict with the Palestinians. And recent history has shown that management of the conflict works better when Israel is firm and decisive. Appeasing, conceding, and begging for recognition that is not coming, only sends the wrong messages to Israel's enemies.
Richard Baehr is political director of American Thinker.