Thursday, December 17, 2009

The End of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

It’s all over, folks.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is dead. For there to be peace among the Israelis and the Palestinians the occupation must end, but the occupation will not end and nothing Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or George Mitchell can do will change that. The reason for this is because there are two possible ways for Israel to end the occupation, but both have already been tried and both have already failed. The first possible way is through a negotiated settlement. The second possible way is through a unilateral withdrawal. History has shown that neither will work and, furthermore, Barack’s counterproductive call for a total settlement freeze has killed any likely chances for meaningful negotiations in the future.

Negotiated Settlement:

The idea behind a negotiated settlement, of course, is that Israeli officials would sit down with Palestinian officials, presumably Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and hammer out the details of a workable two-state solution. Unfortunately, if we have learned anything, it is that Palestinian leadership has never shown the slightest inclination toward accepting a two-state solution.

For example, in 1937, the British Peel Commission, formed to find a possible solution to the Arab Uprising of 1936 to 1939, originally recommended two states, an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Jewish leadership accepted the offer, while the Arab leadership refused.

In 1947, of course, the United Nations passed resolution 181, also calling for a two-state solution and again the Jewish leadership accepted and the Arab leadership refused. The Arabs of the Palestinian Mandate (they were not yet called “Palestinians”) then launched a civil war against the Jews prior to the British withdrawal in May of 1948 and were defeated.

Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. At no time during this period did any Arab leadership call for a “Palestinian” state on this land and neither did the Palestinians, themselves. It was only after Israel acquired both territories during the 6 Day War, a defensive war on the part of the Jewish state, did Palestinian nationalism gain ground and we began to hear Palestinian calls for a Palestinian state.

Since then, however, the Palestinian leadership still consistently refused to accept a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, offered Yassir Arafat 100 percent of the Gaza, over 90 percent of the West Bank, and the Arab sections of East Jerusalem, as a capital. Arafat refused the offer and refused, even, to make a counter offer.

Just recently, in 2007, PM Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas a similar offer that also included land-swaps to bring the Palestinian holdings of the West Bank to something close to 100 percent, but he, too, was turned down flat.

What can this possibly mean other than that the Palestinian leadership is still not ready to accept the two-state solution?

What more can they possibly want beyond 100 percent of the Gaza, something close to 100 percent of the West Bank, and the Arab parts of the East Jerusalem as a capital?

The right of return?

The right of return, of course, is entirely a non-starter for Israel because it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It would mean that, yet again, Jews would have to live as a minority among a hostile population that has consistently sought the destruction of the Jewish community in its traditional home. The Knesset could never accept any such condition, nor should they.

Unilateral Withdrawal:


While the Palestinian leadership has never accepted a negotiated settlement, nor have they accepted Israeli unilateral withdrawal from occupied territory. In 2005, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the entirety of the Gaza strip. In a move that traumatized Israeli society, the IDF turned Jewish rifles on Jewish settlers in the Gaza and forced about 10,000 of them to leave their homes in order to clear the way for Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza.

At the time, the Gazans had an opportunity. Israel did precisely what virtually everyone throughout the world had been calling on it to do, end the occupation. And they did so, but, yet again, the Palestinian leadership showed itself unwilling to allow the end of that occupation.

At the time, the Palestinian people could very well have raised up a political party calling for peace, future prosperity, and normalization, but they refused. They could have raised a political party that might have said something along these lines. “Since what we desire above all else is peace, the potential for prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for sovereignty over our own land, we call upon our neighbor to the East to join us in creating an atmosphere that might encourage those goals. Because Israel has ended the occupation of Gaza, we declare an end of the war against Israel and for full economic cooperation between our two peoples.”

Instead, they increased rocket fire by a magnitude of 10-fold against southern Israel and elected Hamas, an organization that calls quite specifically for the genocide of the Jews, which is precisely why both Israel and Egypt blockaded the Gaza shortly thereafter. It is for this reason that Israelis now find themselves less inclined to withdraw from the West Bank, because they do not want to see such a withdrawal result in thousands upon thousands of Qassam and Katyusha rockets potentially falling on Tel Aviv.

Operation Cast Lead, tragic as it was, and however unfashionable it might be to say so within western left-liberal circles, was a direct result of that decision by the Palestinian leadership and its people.

The Obama Administration:

As I have written before, Obama’s big mistake, if he was hoping to actually bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, was calling for a total settlement freeze in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The demand for total settlement freeze, even within blocs that would likely end up as part of Israel, has resulted in a number of negative consequences that undermine even the slim possibility of a negotiated settlement.

The first negative consequence is that by calling for a total settlement freeze, Obama placed a precondition on negotiations at a time when he should have avoided any move that might decrease the likelihood of the two sides sitting down at the negotiating table. When Obama called for total freeze, Abbas took it as an opportunity to avoid negotiations and insisted that the Palestinians would never sit down with the Israelis until Israel met that demand.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, could not meet that demand even if he wanted to because it would have meant tearing apart his governing coalition. The demand for total settlement freeze was really nothing less than a demand that Netanyahu step aside and allow his government to fall. Naturally, this he refused to do and while Obama has back-pedaled on this requirement, the damage has already been done. Abbas refuses to negotiate and Netanyahu knows that he has no friend in the White House.

Furthermore, if the United States is to broker a two-state settlement, it is imperative that the Israeli public have at least a little faith in the good will of the American president. They do not. Recent polls have shown that a grand total of 4 percent of Israelis believe that Barack Obama is a friend to the Jewish state. In Israel, Obama is about as popular as Swine Flu because he made serious demands upon Israel and virtually no demands upon the Palestinian leadership.

This means that the Israeli people do not trust Obama to broker a negotiated settlement and no Israeli PM can make peace without at least some level of trust by the Jewish Israeli citizenry toward the American broker.

Conclusion:


A confluence of factors has now led to the end of the peace process and to a no-win situation for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israel cannot negotiate an end to the occupation, nor can it act unilaterally to do so without serious risk to its people, as the Gaza withdrawal proved in 2005.

Israel should, despite all, take that risk.

Negotiations have proven, time and again, to be absolutely pointless. The status-quo is simply intolerable because Israel cannot indefinitely maintain the occupation. Thus, the only thing for Israel to do is declare its final borders, remove the IDF behind those borders, and be the first country to welcome the state of Palestine among the brotherhood of nations.

And when the rockets start raining into Israel, again?

Well?

As always, Israel will defend itself… as well it should.

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