Just Wait

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Former head of the National Security Council Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland delineated in a recent speech in Jerusalem a number of reasons why Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are doomed to failure within current paradigms.

The first is the rise of Islamist fundamentalism among the Palestinians. As Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak said bluntly last week, “Hamas will never sign a peace agreement with Israel.” And for a very simple reason: It cannot. According to Hamas theology, any land that has ever been under Islamic sovereignty attains the status of dar-al-Islam and belongs to the Muslim Wakf. As such it can never be ceded, and all Muslims are under a religious duty to recapture the territory lost to infidels.

Even if hard-core Hamas support were only 15% of the Palestinian population, as Eiland believes, that would be sufficient to disrupt any peace treaty with Israel. But, in fact, the unwillingness to accept Israel’s existence, within any borders, has always been central to Palestinian and pan-Arab thought.

In his new book, former CIA director George Tenet describes Yasir Arafat as “always wanting one more thing. [A]nd one more thing was never enough because what he really wanted was for the peace process to be ever-active and eternally unresolved.” As long as the process flickered, he could always hope to extract new concessions from Israel, without ever having to make good on any of his promises.

The refusal to accept Israel’s existence has only become more entrenched on the Palestinian side in the aftermath of the Oslo process, under which an entire generation of Palestinian youth has been raised to see its highest calling in life as martyring oneself to kill as many Jews as possible.

Next there is not enough land or water between the Mediterranean and the Jordan for the growing Palestinian and Israeli populations. As a consequence, the maximum that any Israeli government is prepared to give is far less than any Palestinian leader would ever be prepared to accept, whether with respect to territory, Jerusalem, or the “refugee problem.” And that gap has only widened since the breakdown of Oslo.

Israel’s fundamental mistake, according to Eiland, has been to treat the Palestinian problem as one that is within its capacity to solve alone. What is needed now is start looking outside the paradigm of two states between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Such efforts would include territorial contributions to a Palestinian state from Egypt and Jordan, in return for lucrative economic incentives. (Eiland, for instance, suggests allowing Egypt and Jordan to dig an underground tunnel across the Gulf of Aqaba that would allow for the creation of a Red Sea port that would quickly become the primary transit point between the Gulf States and Europe, and therefore an economic gold mine.)

Then there is the problem of the order of obligations under any peace treaty. Israelis are no longer in the mood to follow the Oslo model of territorial concessions in return for Palestinian promises. Israeli prime ministers may continue to insist that they are prepared to evacuate thousands of Israelis from their homes, but only after Palestinian terrorism stops. Meanwhile Palestinian leaders say they can only act against the terrorists after the parameters of a political settlement are clear.

Finally, there is no reason to trust in the intention or ability of Palestinian leaders to deliver on their promises. Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking has long been plagued by an overemphasis on promises made by Palestinian leaders without any consideration of whether those promises command any popular support. Even if Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s long-time right-hand man, were sincere about making peace with Israel, he has consistently shown himself unwilling to take any risk and therefore incapable of delivering on any promise.

Palestinian promises have repeatedly proven themselves not to be worth the paper they were written on – whether in Lebanon in the ‘70s, Jordan prior to Black September, or with Israel. Since the Saudi-brokered Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah, Ha’aretz’s Zev Schiff notes, there have already been five cease-fire agreements. And after each one, lethal fire was resumed within hours.

The population of the Gaza Strip – already one of the densest on earth – is projected to grow to 2.5 million by 2020. The situation in Gaza is already one of anarchic clan warfare today, and will only go worse as the population grows and all resources are plowed into arms rather than economic development. The resultant instability will inevitably spill across the border into Israel, and doom any peace agreement, even if the technical problems could be overcome.

MOST ISRAELIS RECOGNIZE this reality. Yet there remains a strong impulse to run after will-o’-the-whisp hints of peace, such as those currently coming from Damascus, or at the very least a feeling that Israel must ever be ready to entertain any peace initiative and begin negotiations in order to demonstrate its eagerness for peace.

In a recent lecture to foreign journalists, however, Robert Aumann, winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in game-theory, argued that these impulses must be suppressed for our survival. Israel, he said, must stop conveying the impression to the Arabs of being desperate for peace at any price.

The Arab strategy is not to defeat Israel in battle, but to gradually wear down Israel and make life unbearable. Time, the Arabs feel, is on their side. The key for Israel, then, is to convince the Arabs that “We have time; we have patience; we have stamina.” But Israel’s weariness, its various capitulations, gestures, convergence plans have only served to convince our Arab “cousins” that “we no longer have spiritual strength, that we have no time, that we are calling for a time-out.”

Over the past quarter century, there has been a sea change in the Israeli consensus about the contours of a future peace with the Palestinians. That change has not been met by any reciprocal movement on the Palestinian side. Instead Palestinian attitudes on refugees, the status of Jerusalem, terror have only hardened. Now it is time for the Palestinians to show some willingness to compromise.

The horrified journalists responded to Aumann’s argument by pointing out again and again that if Israel adopts the waiting strategy he advocates there is no possibility of peace in the near future. To which he kept responding in the same way. True, there is no hope in the near future. But unless the Palestinians become convinced that the Jews are here to stay, and start thinking about building their own society, there will be no peace in the long-run either.

In the meantime, our only strategy is to wait patiently for some change in the Palestinian mindset.

Published in today’s Yated Ne’eman

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7 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    The most popular slogan among Israeli youth is “Ain le Koach” – which can be translated as, “I have no physical, mental, emotional or spiritual STRENGTH to endure the trails and tribulations of living in Israel”. Time is on the side of the Arabs, and if we continue to throw ourselves at the Arab doorposts with olive branches begging for the right of existence and coexistence, we are diminishing our Tzelem Elokim and exhibiting lack of Kavod Shamayim.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If Hosni Mubarak, Ehud Barak, and Barack Obama led their respective countries at the same time, would that help or hurt the “process”?

  3. Loberstein says:

    “The world cries about our disproportional acts of self-defense. Let them cry. Set a ridiculous yardstick of 100 or 1,000 to 1 and stick to it regardless of what the world says.”
    “denying civil rights to the majority of the non-Jewish inhabitants. The international community will not accept this and will continue to put pressure on Israel until this situation is resolved, which will continue to make it difficult for Israel to fight the terrorists ”

    These two quotes take opposite approaches. One says that the world’s opinion doesn’t matter, or as Ben Gurion once said “UM Shmoom” abpit the UN. The other quote feels that Israel has to behave without certain boundaries or we will be even more isolated.

    As much as i don’t want to, I have to agree with Professor Auman is saying. There is not short cut to peace and we cannot let our guard down or look weak. The Arabs are their own worst enemies.

    What I will not agree to is loosing our “tzelem elokim”, becoming cruel and indifferent to suffering. We spill the wine because the Egyptians died in the Sea of Reeds. Our humane behavior may make it harder but we cannot become like the Arabs.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Muslims can ignore dar-al-Islam when it suits them. As far as I know, no Muslims attacked Spain between 1492 and 1992 – despite the fact it used to be ruled by Islam. But they’ll only ignore it if it appears impossible to win. Right now radical Islamists can claim success against the USSR (may it rest in pieces) and soon they may be able to claim they got the US out of Iraq. They are in no mood to conveniently forget any territorial claims.

    As Aumann said, Israel has no chance of peace any time soon. Israelis who don’t want to pay the price for living in a hostile Middle East should probably do what I did and leave. Leaving one’s country is not as easy as pretending things can be fixed to a satisfactory standard, but it is a much healthier choice.

  5. ariel says:

    A professor from Hebrew U once explained why he and other leftists grasp at any straw of peace: they don’t have religion. A religious person can trust in G-d and is not forced to accept irrational peace plans. But to the leftist – peace plans are his only hope.

  6. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    The problem of the concept of *dar-al-islam* is one that has received far too little publicity. Unlike suicide terrorism, *dar-al-islam* is a tenet of mainstream Islam and it makes the acceptance of a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East absolutely impossible. There is unfortunately little that we can do until this situation changes and we have little power to change it.

    Yet almost as difficult a problem is the insistence of most Religious Zionists on Israeli control of the entirety of what was once the British mandate of Palestine while denying civil rights to the majority of the non-Jewish inhabitants. The international community will not accept this and will continue to put pressure on Israel until this situation is resolved, which will continue to make it difficult for Israel to fight the terrorists who continue to try to kill us.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution.

  7. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    It is common in democratic societies to impute humane attitudes to all human beings. When nations or peoples behave badly the conventional wisdom in the democracies is to say that the people are unfortunate hostages of their nasty dictatorial governments or in the case of the Palestinians, mob rule. Unfortunately this is not the case with the Palestinians. They do indeed want to destroy us. The proper response to terror from Gaza might be, not as Prof. Aumann suggests, to wait them out, but to announce that since the civilian population is a full partner in terror, further terror and missile attacks will be met with a policy of causing maximum casualties. The world cries about our disproportional acts of self-defense. Let them cry. Set a ridiculous yardstick of 100 or 1,000 to 1 and stick to it regardless of what the world says. Either the Palestinians behave themselves or there won’t be any Palestinians. As for the threat of withdrawal of US aid, we would be better off without it. We would produce and market our own armaments, producing Israeli rather than US jobs, and also delegitimize US military aid to Egypt and other Arab countries.