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Don’t Just Stand There

Ami Isseroff

We have all been witness to the tragic unraveling of the middle east peace process  since September, 2000. Some of us have been eyewitnesses, and some protagonists. Suggestions of how to restart the peace process are not absent. Deposing of Arafat, deposing of Sharon, occupation of Palestine by the US, the UN or Israel have all been proposed.

The solution does not lie in a gimmick or political maneuver however. Different leaders will produce the same impasse as long as the conditions and the national goals of their constituencies remain the same. Negotiations in these conditions can produce only florid statements of hope, photo opportunities on the White House Lawn and bitter tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians. Agreements that are not enforced will always be written on sand.

Looking back, the entire sad story seems to have the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, or a recurring episode in the life of a substance abuser who could not learn to fight temptation. It seems that the sides, having foresworn violence and territorial gain, cannot overcome who they are and what they are, and repeatedly return to the same old pattern of behavior.

However, the repetition of tragic mistakes is not limited to the Israelis and Palestinians by any means. The tragedy did not begin in September 2000, or in 1967, nor even in 1948. The foundations of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy were laid after World War I. They were formed in part by big power decisions and improbable and impractical declarations that the powers did not have the will to implement. It has happened time and again, and now the nightmare is back.

The League of Nations mandated a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and the British promised the Arabs self determination after World War I. But expediency won out over honor and consistency. The French got Syria, and Feisal got angry. The Arabs got angry, and the British closed Jewish immigration to Palestine at the critical moment. The Jews of Europe got killed, so the Zionists got angry.

The United Nations decreed partition for Palestine and Israel and internationalization of Jerusalem in 1947. It was a plan based on a crazy-quilt map that just might have had a chance if the two peoples could live together. However, the UN and the great powers did nothing to ensure that the two peoples could live together. Nobody curbed the genocidal plans of the Grand Mufti, or the opportunism of Israeli activists. The Arab League attacked, and the Jews of Palestine defended themselves. The Jews of Jerusalem got evicted and then the Palestinians got evicted. The Israelis got a state,  the Arab demagogues got a perpetual cause around which they could rally their peoples. The UN sent no troops to save either the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem or the Palestinians who became refugees. Instead, they passed Resolution 194, another empty, unworkable, resolution. The refugees got camps.

Again in 1967, the UN did nothing to stop Egyptian aggression. After the war, the Security Council met and passed resolution 242, reiterating the mistakes of the past, and embodying wishful thinking about negotiated settlements, secure settlements and a better world to come. All the while, members of the Security Council who voted for resolution 242 were encouraging Arab states to arm themselves for another war. Other members were winking at Israeli settlements deep in Palestinian territory, unjustified by any security considerations.

The US brokered the Egyptian-Israeli peace. The Egyptians got Sinai and US aid, the Israelis got to keep the West Bank and Gaza for a while. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat got assassinated.

Beginning in 1993, the US helped broker the Oslo Declaration agreements. More high-sounding phrases and ambiguous promises. The Palestinians believed they were getting democracy and a state, the Israelis believed they were getting security. The Palestinians got an Arafatocracy, more Israeli settlements and the offer of some Bantustans. The Israelis got suicide bombers in their buses and city squares and roadside ambushes. US President Clinton got reelected,  Israel Premier Rabin got assassinated. The PLO demagogues got richer, and the refugees got children.

The parties, never despairing of their goals of dismembering each other, convinced that they could do as they wish and manipulate the US or UN as necessary, were on a collision course, each side fed by false hopes and pursuing incompatible goals. The Palestinian people got fed up. The collision occurred in September 2000.   The Israelis got fed up. Sharon got elected.

Both sides have by now violated both the spirit and the letter of the Oslo agreements. Resolution of the conflict is a vital US interest, but the US has still done virtually nothing to protect its interests.

The Mitchell commission came and the Mitchell commission went, like all the commissions before it. The people who sent it got a report. The violence must stop, and negotiations must resume, Mitchell decreed. However, those two conditions are obvious to all. The Mitchell commission was supposed to tell us how the violence would be stopped, but it could not. Without US intervention, the violence will not stop, and any negotiations that will  take place would necessarily be meaningless. The Mitchell report could not say this, because it would embarrass the United States.

Now the US got fed up. The US government, having done everything to further peace in the middle east except what they should have done, has been party to yet another debacle in middle east conflict solution, It is now more unwilling than ever to take an active role in breaking the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. It is waiting for the sides to show a commitment for peace. However, the sides will never show a commitment to peace unless US takes an active role, different from the role it took during the Oslo process, and different from the non-role that has been taken in the conflict by the US and other third parties since its inception.

The Oslo process was doomed to failure, as it was just another formalistic attempt, based on overcoming obstacles by postponement, the usual reality denial and wishful thinking. It allowed each side to try to use the "peace process" as a means to defeat the other. To rekindle the peace process successfully, we must first ensure the preconditions that might make it a success. This cannot be done by tinkering with political leaders or negotiation formulas. It requires a thoroughgoing reform in the societies of both parties, and active intervention by the United States or other third parties. Drawing lines on maps will be of no use as long as each side only views the borders as cease-fire lines in a campaign that must end with the ultimate destruction of the other side.

Some basic preconditions for meaningful negotiations and an agreement that might have a chance are outlined below.

Agreements with teeth – It must be clear to both sides that they will be held strictly to any agreement, and will be held accountable for violations. The penalties for violations must be clear in advance, and must be enforced.

Discouraging Settlements and Settler Ideology - Settlements and settler ideology are injurious to peace and to Israeli society. The US make it much clearer to the Israeli government and public, through repeated statements and through focused economic sanctions, that they will not stand for extensive Israeli annexations in the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis must understand that investing in settlements and settlers is a dead-end investment in a dead-end ideology.

Stopping the Violence  The US must be firm about condemning needless brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, where these can be proven. This will help regain the respect of the Palestinians. Curbing Israeli excesses will also stem the growing tide of hate that those excesses are kindling.

Neutralizing the War Lobby Governments such as Syria, Iraq and Iran are lending material support, pressure and encouragement for perpetuation of the confrontation, and threatening those who try to make peace. These influences must be neutralized. Otherwise, each attempt to renew the peace process will be accompanied by suicide bombings and other terrorist activities by the Hamas, DFLP, PFLP and other organizations supported by these governments.

Defusing the Refugee Problem There will be no progress toward a settlement as long the refugee camps are breeding grounds of terror. Palestinians claim the Right of Return to Israel for three to four million refugees. This would give them a majority in Israel and effectively deny Israeli Jews the right to self determination. . The US and other countries must offer refugees a new life in other countries and change instruments such as the UNRWA and UN Resolution 194, that help perpetuate the problem. .

Encouraging Democracy in Palestine The US and other countries must take real steps to foster democratic institutions in Palestine, including free elections, and the dissolution of the various terror groups that were founded with the intent of destroying Israel. Until and unless there is a civilian administration unrelated to "armed struggle" groups,  there is little hope of peace or democracy.   

Active Engagement and Responsible Commitments – UN resolutions and State Department decrees and EU statements that are not backed up by the will to enforce them are worse than worthless. They become fuel for the conflict, providing fresh propaganda about “legitimate rights” for both sides, to be used in pursuit of illegitimate and inhuman ends. Third parties should not make such pronouncements unless they are willing to live up to their commitments.

Until those preconditions are met, any attempted solution will only make the matters worse.

Ami Isseroff

Rehovoth, Israel

February 7, 2002

A version of this article appeared at http://www.windowatch.com

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