Prestidigitation and the Mideast Peace Process
Walk the streets of many American cities and you might find a true artiste plying his trade. The game is called Three Card Monte; and as most experienced police offers will tell you, it is a scam perpetrated by an individual highly skilled in the art of prestidigitation. The object of the game is to pick the "ace of spades" from a set of three cards deftly placed in front of the unsuspecting victim. Let us for a moment liken that elusive "ace of spades" to the Mideast peace process: a goal many people in theory aspire to; but in reality, no one has the ability or wisdom to obtain.
One of the great misconceptions that has arisen out of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that the Palestinian problem is the major source of most of the problems of the Middle East. This idea has been given credence by a number of intellectuals and academicians and has been accepted as fact by the current U.S. administration and several previous ones as well. This explanation is overly simplistic; reality is far more convoluted and complex. If peace with Israel were to be declared tomorrow, would that improve the quality of life for the average Arab? Would Egypt suddenly experience full employment? Would the Syrian civil war abruptly end? Would Shiite and Sunni stop slaughtering one another in Iraq? Would the militias in Libya suddenly lay down their arms and submit to the authority of the central government? Would terrorist cells in Yemen stop plotting attacks against the West and would Iran cease its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons?
The unvarnished truth is that of all the Arab states, only Jordan made any attempt to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians. Egypt kept them confined to the Gaza Strip. Lebanon and Syria had them living in squalor in fetid refugee camps. Even the Arab League instructed its member states to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees and their descendants on the pretext that they wanted to "avoid a dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return." They deliberately keep the Palestinian problem festering, because it serves as a rallying cry for the cause of Pan-Arab unity; for the Arab world is anything but unified. Successive generations of Arab leaders from Gamal Abdul Nasser to Hafez Assad and Saddam Hussein understood this, and played on this theme, using it to enhance their own stature in the Arab world.
This brings us back to the beginning of this article; trying to pick the elusive "ace of peace" from an array of cards that is clearly stacked in the dealer's favor. As of this writing, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are still engaged in negotiations, but if news reports are to be believed, the P.A.'s latest set of demands leave little room for hope. They demand Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, the recognition of East Jerusalem as their capital and the right of the Palestinian refugees (unto the generations) to return to Israel proper. In return, Abbas promises no peace treaty and no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Why should the P.A. agree to a settlement when they are convinced that world opinion would blame Israel for the failure of the talks? They believe time is ultimately on their side, as evinced by the growth of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the growing anti-Israel stance of the European Union, the continuing isolation of Israel from the world community of nations, and with the specter of another Palestinian intifada looming on the horizon. Even among American Jewry, unconditional support for Israel is waning, as manifested by the growth of organizations such as J Street, which gives legitimacy to the Palestinian cause.
The current administration in Washington has made a series of unending mistakes when it comes to Middle East policy. It supported the Arab Spring movement with the expectation that this would lead to genuine democratic reform. With the possible exception of Tunisia, we see how badly this has played out. It assumed that it could work with Islamic fundamentalists, who although they share the same dogma and set of beliefs as Al-Qaeda, were not directly affiliated with that organization. We saw the result of this policy come to fruition in Benghazi. It has diminished U.S. power and prestige in the Middle East, alienated traditional allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, emboldened Iran's nuclear ambitions, and created a power vacuum which Russia seems only too happy to fill. Now the U.S. government insists on pursuing a "Chamberlainesque" policy of "peace in our time" at almost any price, at the expense of Israel. Can it be that this administration really believes that it can actually pick out the "ace of spades" in the bunco artist's array?
Israel has made concession after concession in the name of peace; only to see them reciprocated by acts of war. It unilaterally evacuated Gaza and Southern Lebanon, only to see thousands of rockets fly across their borders. It turned over most of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, only to see a flurry of terrorist attacks directed against Israel and launched from that area. Only when Israel built the much maligned security wall, did the bombings abate. On at least three prior occasions it offered the Palestinians a state of their own giving them virtually everything that they were, in theory, asking for; only to have their offers rebuffed.
Clearly, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezb'allah, and the puppet masters who pull their strings do not want peace. They are not prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state; even within the confines of the 1967 borders on land they view as rightfully their own. This is the crux of the dilemma. The late Golda Meir once said, "We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us." Unfortunately, that day has not arrived. Until such time as it does, is anyone interested in a game of Three Card Monte?