No value in blaming only Israel for Middle East problems


Jamie Hyams

Canberra Times – 21 January 2008

In the wake of the visit by US President George W. Bush to the Middle East, we have seen many opinion pieces critical of Israel and the United States. Writers such as Jonathan Steele may believe writing pieces like “Pointless flight of a lame-duck President” (Canberra Times, January 14, p9) contributes to Middle East peace. However, by apportioning the blame for the conflict solely to one side Israel they are achieving the exact opposite.
The only way for a genuine peace is a two-state solution, and this entails both sides making serious compromises. Israel has already withdrawn from the whole of Gaza, but must also withdraw from the vast majority of West Bank territory, as it has previously offered to do and as current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has reaffirmed it will do when the circumstances are right.
The Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist in peace as a Jewish state. This entails ending terrorism and incitement, and renouncing the dream of a return to Israel for the Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants, who will need to be settled in the new Palestinian state. In continuing to insist that Israel admit five million Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority is pushing for two Palestinian states side by side rather than a genuine two-state solution.
Issues such as the status of Jerusalem and financial assistance for refugees will also need to be negotiated. In the shorter term, both sides must take steps to build confidence. The Palestinians will need to take strong action against the terrorist infrastructure and must end the incitement to hatred of Israel, which has continued unabated in the Palestinian Authority’s own media even since the Annapolis Conference.
For their part, the Israelis must take serious action against illegal settler outposts. Once the terrorism threat is reduced, the Israelis must also take steps to reduce the restrictions on the Palestinians, such as making transit through checkpoints and the security barrier easier. Ultimately, most checkpoints should be removed.
Blaming Israel for the problems is not just counter-productive, it’s plain wrong. Under the guidance of then president Bill Clinton, whose efforts Steele lauds, the Palestinians, at Taba early in 2001, were offered a state in all of Gaza and 95 per cent of the West Bank, with land inside pre-1967 Israel in exchange for the other 5 per cent. The Palestinians were to have a capital in East Jerusalem with shared sovereignty over the city’s holy sites, and there was to be a generous financial package for refugees.
Instead of accepting this offer, the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat refused point blank and ramped up the terrorism war against Israel. Had it not been for this decision, not only would the unpopular Israeli measures such as checkpoints, the security barrier, targeted killings and arrests have been unnecessary, but the Palestinians would have had their own state by now.
Despite the ongoing terrorism war, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in August 2005, in the hope that the Palestinians would set up their own economy and peaceful civil society. However, much of the economic infrastructure the Israelis left behind was destroyed, and the attacks on Israeli communities began immediately.
Then, in early 2006, the Palestinians elected the terrorist group Hamas to govern them. Much has been written about how the Palestinians are being punished for electing Hamas, and how Hamas is being punished for being popular, but this is patently untrue.
The previous Palestinian government was only given international legitimacy because it recognised Israel’s right to exist, renounced violence and agreed to abide by all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These same preconditions were put to Hamas when it was elected, but Hamas refused. To grant Hamas international legitimacy and aid in the face of this refusal would only show the Palestinians that rejectionism works, and would discourage compromise.
The fact that there is no direct aid to Hamas does not mean, however, that there is no aid to Gaza. International aid to Gaza has actually increased since the Hamas election. The difference is that it goes directly to the Palestinians, through international aid agencies, rather than to their terrorist government.
The Hamas control of Gaza is a major stumbling block to peace, but it can only be overcome by the Palestinians realising there is no future in following Hamas, not by the international community kowtowing to the terrorists, proving to the Palestinian people that compromise is unnecessary.
There will only be Middle East peace when both sides recognise the legitimate aspirations of the other, and act accordingly. By continuing to promote the line that the Middle East conflict is all Israel’s fault, and that all that is needed to solve the problem are Israeli concessions, Steele and others like him are dissuading the Palestinians from making the compromises necessary for peace. By doing so, they are making it less likely that peace will be achieved, which is to the detriment of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.