Middle East Conflict: Proponents of Peace

Since the start of the Second Intifada in the fall of 2000, opposition to Israel and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has become less of an intelligently framed political argument and more of a visceral, illogical, irrational, emotionally framed tantrum tinged with some of the worst anti-Semitism seen since 1945. Most critics of Israel suffer from a basic lack of understanding of both Middle Eastern history and the simple political realities of the current situation “on the ground” in Israel and occupied territories. Perhaps the first myth which must be dispelled about the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that a lasting peace could be made if Israel simply returned to the pre-1967 “Green Line” border. Legitimate Israeli security concerns regarding such a withdrawal, namely that it would leave Israel nine miles wide and indefensible either against conventional invasion or terrorist infiltration, aside, the Palestinians have never shown their willingness to accept such a two-state solution. The occupied territories are not the issue at stake; Israel’s very right to exist is the issue. Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded and commenced its decades-long campaign of terror against Israel in 1964, three years before Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Article 2 of the charter of the PLO states that “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit”. These borders include Israel-proper in addition to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PLO is not looking for a two-state solution, it is looking for a one-state solution, and the elimination of Israel in its entirety. It is similarly a fact that the PLO Charter contains articles calling for the complete elimination of the “Zionist entity” in Palestine. Contrary to pledges in both the Oslo I and Oslo II interim accords, the PLO has refused to remove these offending articles which can only serve as impediments to peace. It is another incontrovertible fact that Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David Accords of the summer of 2000 after having been offered essentially all of what he had requested. In return for the few small areas of land in the West Bank which leftist Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak refused to cede, Israel offered to compensate the Palestinians by ceding land from Israel-proper. Palestinian negotiators had agreed to the plan prior to the Camp David meeting, which was supposed to just be icing on the cake. Arafat showed up and made issues of resolved problems, and was generally bellicose in his statements. He refused to offer a counter-proposal after rejecting the agreed upon terms, preferring instead to allow the peace process to die. The start of the Second Intifada shortly after this breakdown of promising peace talks has been linked in the past to Ariel Sharon’s much publicized visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000. The reality is quite different. The Palestinian Authority Communications Minister, Imad Faluji, publicly admitted that the Second Intifada “had been planned since Chairman Arafat’s return from Camp David,” and its start was timed to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and indeed had little if anything to do with Sharon’s visit. Opponents of Israel today criticize Israel and Prime Minister Sharon in particular for a lack of willingness to “return to the table”. Sharon’s construction of a massive security fence meant to prevent terrorist infiltrations from Palestinian towns and cities into Israeli towns and cities has been criticized for its unilateral nature. In other words, Sharon commenced construction without first asking the Palestinian Authority for permission. “Why not continue with the peace process?” many critics of Israel’s government ask. The simple reality of the situation on the ground in Israel and the territories however makes this question irrelevant. The more appropriate question is “With whom can Israel continue the peace process?” Yasser Arafat has shown his unwillingness in the past to agree to what amounts to the most generous offer realistically possible for Israel, and has been directly linked with hundreds if not thousands of terrorist attacks conducted by his Fatah organization and its Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade and Tanzim Militia subsidiaries. After Arafat gave into American pressure and appointed Mahmoud Abbas to the post of Prime Minister, Arafat undermined Abbas’s talks with the Israeli government by refusing to order a cessation of terrorist attacks. Abbas eventually resigned because he realized that he simply did not have the power in the Palestinian political equation to enforce any cease-fire agreement or peace treaty. Moreover, even if Arafat had been won over, both Hamas, which claims with some validity to have more support among Palestinians than Arafat’s Fatah, and Islamic Jihad have promised to reject any settlement which would allow for the continued existence of an Israeli State at all. Ahmed Queri, Abbas’s replacement, is similarly impotent to inforce any agreements. Sharon, who has made statements voicing his support for a two-state final solution, has been driven to the last-ditch option of taking unilateral action by the absolute futility of continuing talks with either those who have no power to stop the violence, or those who have no desire for a two-state solution. In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu successfully ran for Prime Minister of Israel under the slogan “Peace with Security” [author’s translation]. This simple motto in many ways represents the basic feeling of the Israeli populace towards the ongoing conflict. Peace is worth almost any price to the average Israeli, provided that it is indeed peace. Israelis know they have much to lose. They have grown crops in the Negev Desert, built one of the world’s most technologically advanced industrial sectors, and literally created great wealth out of nothing. The Oslo “Peace” Process brought only more terrorism. Israeli deaths from terrorism during the Oslo Peace Process were numerically comparable to Israeli deaths in the first Intifada. The Israeli people are sick of false promises and the outright betrayal of their trust. To those who criticize the Israeli government for what can be easily construed as overly harsh anti-terrorism measures in the West Bank, I ask for a workable alternative. There is no politically meaningful moderate Palestinian leadership. There are no longer Palestinian leaders capable of signing and more importantly enforcing the tenets of an agreement. Oslo is dead; make no mistake about it. The terms offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David will be the best ever offered at a negotiating table by an Israeli government simply because there is nothing else short of Tel Aviv to offer. If no Palestinian leader emerges willing and able to keep Hamas in check, there will be no peace. Ariel Sharon would sit back down to the table if he could be assured that he would not be sitting alone, but he needs a Palestinian counterpart. Israel is not the obstructer of peace; the Palestinians are.