A state of nature
The death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has brought forth all the shopworn bromides about the critical opportunity now ahead, to finally forge a lasting peace and a two state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat's death has not changed any of the underlying dynamics that continue to prevent such a peace or a two state solution from emerging.
The first of these critical dynamics is that Palestinian society is now more accurately described as a chaotic, violent state of nature (in the Hobbesein sense), than as a political entity ready for the next step to peace and statehood.
The second is that the overwhelming political sentiment of the Palestinian community remains the same as it has been for a century — that no Jewish—majority Israeli state can exist, that Israel's creation was an original sin, and that in the end, it must disappear.
President Bush, in a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last Friday, indicated that he would devote his political capital to trying to forge a peace agreement that could lead to a Palestinian state before his term ends in four years. The President is no fool. The original Roadmap for Peace envisioned a Palestinian state by 2005. Now the President is hoping to achieve such a state by 2009. In light of the damage that has been done to relations between the two sides since Arafat launched the second intifada in September 2000, Bush is aware that ground has been lost.
In the summer of 2000 at Camp David, Israel was led by Ehud Barak, who, in order to reach a final settlement between the parties, staked out compromise positions that went well beyond any of the red lines he had promised not to cross when he was elected over Bibi Netanyahu in 1999. Barak's offer, and later the revised offer crafted by former President Clinton at Taba in January 2001, which required further Israeli concessions, were not enough to get the Palestinians and Arafat to agree. Palestinian advocates have argued that the Camp David offer was insufficient, and that the Taba proposals were as well.
American apologists for Arafat's intransigence, such as former State Department official Robert Malley, the New York Times' Deborah Sontag and even dovish Jewish groups like Americans for Peace Now, have invented extenuating circumstances surrounding the Camp David process that suggest that the timing for a final agreement was not right, or the atmospherics not conducive enough.
I think the explanation is in fact much simpler. There was not in 2000, and still is not today, an intersecting set of concessions Israel can make and still be Israel (and not another Arab—majority state), and what the Palestinians expect from a final deal with Israel. The Palestinians proved in 2000, when they chose war over peace, that the concessions they demand from Israel mean the end of Israel. The most significant concession is a right of return for 4 million or more Palestinian 'refugees' to Israel, rather than to a new Palestinian state. Arafat made clear at Camp David and thereafter, that he would not give up the right of return for the refugees. For this demand is at the heart of the conflict — the historical grievance that Palestinians have held close to their hearts for over half a century.
The 1948—1949 war resulted in about 600,000 Palestinians leaving their homes. Many left of their own volition — either before war broke out (the wealthy), or due to encouragement from Arab media, broadcast by the nations which sent their armies to invade Israel in 1948 once the British gave up authority. Some, a small minority of the total, were driven out in the fighting with Israel.
Compared to refugees from any other war in history, the Arab refugees from this war should in theory have had it better. Whether they wound up in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza (occupied by Egypt), or the West Bank (occupied and annexed by Jordan), these refugees wound up but a few miles from their original homes, among other Arabs, who spoke the same language, and practiced the same religion. These were far more favorable circumstances than those experienced by refugees driven thousands of miles from their former homes into new nations speaking different languages in other wars of the 20th Century. Many of these other refugees, from the Jews, to the Armenians, to the Vietnamese, Hmong and Cambodians, died on their journey.
That there are still many Arabs who fled the 1948 war still stuck in stinking, crowded refugee camps 55 years after the war, is not Israel's fault. These refugees and their millions of descendants (who have also been awarded refugee status by the UN, despite never having set foot in Israel) have become the poison that has prevented a solution to the Arab—Israel conflict for all this time. They have been promised that they would someday return to their homes, so they could not be resettled. Their lives remained miserable, and this misery was visible, which helped propel political instability both in the camps and abroad .
The refuges were also told they were all run out of Israel by the Zionists. In their new countries or lands they were housed in camps (except in some cases by Jordan), and in a few cases (Lebanon), never allowed to travel or leave the camps. They have been fed a steady diet of hatred of Israel, and the Jews. Their jailers have been other Arabs, and the United Nations relief organization UNWRA, anxious to keep alive a determined, angry and violent loathing of Israel. In no other place in the world are refugees from a conflict a half century old still called refugees and not resettled.
The frenzy at Yasser Arafat's funeral was revealing. Arafat would have been pleased. No cries of 'peace with Israel' or 'we want a state' were to be heard. Rather the screams were for jihad, and death to the Jews and to Israel. Arafat was the ultimate rejectionist, or resister. His cause was the struggle to reverse 1948 — to bring the Palestinians back to Israel proper, and kill the Jews or at best bid them farewell.
The apologists for Arafat, and the obituary writers in the politically correct mainstream press, were full of praise for Arafat and the new path he followed after Oslo. He was, we were told, like Begin or Shamir before him, a former terrorist, who chose the path to peace. But that story is false. The Israelis and the Americans were duped by Arafat during the Oslo process. There was no new Arafat. Arafat never accepted that for his 40 plus years of struggle, he would only wind up with a little over 2000 square miles in two disconnected pieces of property. Of course, the Palestinians could have had more than this by accepting partition in 1947. But even getting back to those lines, which Israel will never accede to, would only have served to strengthen the Palestinians for the final push to eliminate Israel in its entirety.
The media is also full of stories, op—eds, and editorials, on the need to strengthen the 'moderates' who have so far emerged as Arafat's likely successors, Abu Mazen, chief among them. Abu Mazen is an aging member of Arafat's old terror group. He may, in fact, be more palatable than the other alternatives for leadership, including the jailed killer Marwan Barghouti. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbollah are more openly honest about their goal of destroying Israel and continuing the intifada, though they might be talked into a politically opportunistic pause in the action. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade (now renamed the Arafat Martyrs Brigade), Barghouti's base of operations, was the group Arafat formed to provide Fatah and the more mainstream Palestinians with their own suicide bombing unit during the intifada. This week in Gaza they served notice to Abu Mazen that he needed to get with the program and continue the conflict, rather than accede to American or Israeli pressure to control the terrorists or dampen the terrorism.
To understand contemporary Palestinian politics, it is only necessary to hear what the Palestinians themselves say, and watch what they do, or read and listen to their media. Gaza and the West Bank are now out of control, and have been for some time. Local warlords control patches of territory. Armed men are the only authority. Abu Mazen does not have many men with guns behind him. The people, more than half of whom are under 18, are frothing with emotion, which has always propelled the Palestinian movement, and also held it back from compromising and achieving any political or economic gains from negotiations with Israel.
The state of Palestinian society is nothing if not a repeat of the repression, corruption, and violence Arafat brought forth in Jordan, and then in Lebanon, before he and the PLO were booted out of both countries in the 70s and 80s. The average family in Gaza contains 6 children. In the West Bank, an average family has 4.5 children. The population is growing by a hundred thousand a year or more. Enormous population growth was always a large part of Arafat's strategy to eventually overwhelm Israel's Jewish population. Time was on Arafat's side, and if the end of Israel did not come in his lifetime, at least the concessions by Palestinians that would ensure its survival would not come in his lifetime either.
Those who welcomed Arafat and his gang back from Tunisia, and then armed them, believing that a new Arafat had emerged, were only welcoming the modern day Trojan horse into their midst. For forty years Arafat sacrificed generations of Palestinians to a mean existence, so as to mainline the hate needed to build for their eventual political triumph over Israel. And the meanness of that existence served to provide succor abroad for the Palestinian movement — portrayed as the ultimate victims of the last vestiges of colonialism by the West. As Arabs and Muslims flocked to Western Europe, political support for the Palestinians became a cheap method for the governments to pacify a rapidly growing, unassimilated population in their midst. In the Arab world, support for the Palestinian cause has always been an effective diversion— to keep the 'street' angry at Israel, rather than their own autocratic leaders.
Today, half or more of adult Palestinians are out of work (making it easy to draw big crowds on the street). Israel wants to separate from this madness — removing the settlers from Gaza, and completing a security fence near the green line in the West Bank. But even if Israel withdrew to the green line and a state were created, it would be a non—functional state, addicted to violence, run by warlords, an economic basket case dependent on money from abroad (sure to wind up in the leaders' pockets, a tradition maintained by Arafat and his partners for decades). This state would be unstable, a perpetual threat to Israel, and with the exploding population, clamoring for more space, (from Israel of course). The grievances and claims would never end. The situation is miserable now, and will likely be as miserable, and more dangerous later.
President Bush has called for Palestinian elections to lend some legitimacy to the leaders he hopes will be elected. Those elections will be held in January, just two months away. But one election does not make for a democratic state. It does not in itself make for a peaceful society. It does not ensure minority rights, political dissent, religious tolerance, or freedom of speech.
And Bush surely knows this. Which is why he stated that he hoped a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel could be created within four years, not two months from now. Tony Blair undoubtedly wanted a faster timetable. To appease his own angry leftists in the Labor party, Israel needed to be thrown overboard to the wolves. Europe wants to believe that the anger in the Muslim world can be pacified by sacrificing Israel.
Certainly Arafat succeeded in making his people's cause a wider Muslim grievance. But Muslim anger did not begin with the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and won't end even if it were resolved. The road to appeasement can travel through lots of small countries sacrificed, thrown over the side by the major powers, whether Israel, Taiwan or others. Britain and France tried that strategy in Munich in 1938. The beast was not sated with Czechoslovakia, and sixty million deaths resulted from the war that inevitably followed.
The Israeli—Palestinian conflict may simply be impossible to resolve at the moment, or perhaps for a very long time to come. Prime Minister Sharon has chosen to mange the conflict, since he does not believe at present it can be resolved. There will be some tense moments ahead for Israel, and perhaps for the US—Israel relationship, though I am a bit less nervous about this than some others (Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney). But in the end, meaning the next few years, I expect the Palestinians to once again self—destruct and soil the welcome mat their friends have left out for them. Until their goals and methods change, there is no other outcome in sight. And until some really creative approaches emerge to deal with a population too large and growing too rapidly to achieve self sufficiency within the proposed borders of the new state, no such state that is created will have been worth the long wait.