More insights into the barriers to peace

Mar 2, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

March 2, 2007
Number 03/07 #01

Today’s Update features three pieces which provide original thinking into why Israeli-Palestinian peace has been and remains so hard to achieve.

First up, Jerusalem Post columnist and author Saul Singer calls attention to something that most Westerners do not understand – Palestinians and most other Arabs will view any two-state peace deal with Israel as essentially a form of surrender or capitulation, not, as Israelis and Westerners will, as an achievement. He goes on to say that if you look at the problem in this way, ideas like the “political horizon” by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appear misguided – the main route to achieving peace lies in doing everything possible to convince the Palestinians of Israel’s strength and permanence. For Singer’s full argument, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Beirut based photographer and journalist Mitchell Prothero who points out in the online magazine Slate that the thuggish gangs that roam the Palestinian streets are increasingly beyond the control of both the major factions, Fatah and Hamas. He makes it clear that the police and security forces are similarly part of the problem, and it is difficult to see how the Mecca agreement or anything else is likely to bring them under control. For this article, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the veteran Israeli author, journalist and pundit Hillel Halkin argues that, contrary to popular belief, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is unlikely to put an end to Palestinian irredentism and the conflict with Israel. He argues that a solution must be found that includes Jordan taking a predominant role in the territories, creating order, and providing Palestinians a wider horizon in a  combined state. For this provocative and original argument, CLICK HERE.

Interesting Times: Peace = capitulation

Saul Singer


It must be hard to be Condoleezza Rice. Being the umpteenth envoy assigned to bang your head against the wall called “Mideast peace” is hardly enviable. Each trip, she must hold up the flimsiest straw – this week, the fact of a meeting – and call it progress.

One wonders if she and other top diplomats who, with great sincerity, dedicate themselves to this thankless task, ever consider that they may be on the wrong track. Not regarding the goal of peace, or even the two state vision, but with respect to the underlying paradigm on which all such diplomacy is based.

Rice is operating on a straightforward assumption: Palestinians are not embracing peace because they don’t believe it is possible, or that it is attractive enough. The West’s task, then, is to draw with increasingly vivid colors the “political horizon” that is the Palestinians’ for the asking.

From Rice’s point of view, the situation must seem quite absurd. She must ask herself, don’t the Palestinians realize that if they just stop “struggling” they can have the state they are struggling for? Perhaps she wonders: why don’t Israelis see that, if they just put their cards on the table, the Palestinians are exhausted and ready for a deal?

The assumption is that both sides want the same thing, yet are too hampered by historical baggage to take the other side’s yes for an answer. But what if this assumption is wrong?

This reigning hypothesis is unconsciously based on a misunderstanding of the Arab side. As hard as it is for us to comprehend, we must accept that in the Arab mind, peace with Israel – far from success – still represents capitulation, humiliation and defeat.

SINCE THE 1967 war, which ended with UN Security Council Resolution 242 establishing “land for peace” as the paradigm for ending the conflict, the West has assumed that the Arab world in fact favors such a deal. We tend to forget that in 1967, the Arab states were about to invade and destroy Israel, which at that time did not control a single grain of the West Bank, Gaza, and even east Jerusalem.

Resolution 242 essentially said to the Arabs, “you wanted to destroy Israel, you lost, so now make peace and be happy you are getting the land you just lost back.” Though the Arabs were defeated and weak, they said no.

Now, Israel is militarily and economically much stronger than it was in 1967. Even diplomatically, just about all the countries that broke relations with Israel during the 1973 Arab oil boycott have restored ties. The UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, passed in 1975, was revoked in 1991.

Given this strength, it is not crazy for the West to keep trying the waters, hoping that the Arab world is ready to give up its century-old refusal to accept any Jewish state, however minuscule. What makes no sense is to forget that the Arab-Israeli peace that is a shining prize in Western eyes would be a source of shame and mourning for much of the Muslim world.

A poll taken a few months ago in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and United Arab Emirates – all considered moderate Arab states – found that the most admired leaders there were, in order of popularity: Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah, French President Jacques Chirac, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In 2004, when people in these same countries were asked why the US had invaded Iraq, the answers were perhaps even more revealing. “Controlling oil” and “protecting Israel” were cited by a large majorities, with “desire to dominate the region” and “weakening the Muslim world” named by slightly smaller majorities.

In Western eyes, peace is so obviously desirable that the idea that it could be seen negatively is rarely considered. But try, for a moment, to look at the situation through Arab eyes. Peace would be the ultimate ratification of Israel’s existence. It would be seen as an abject surrender to the West’s bid to dominate the Arabs.

In October 1995, when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister and Oslo was in its heyday, Nizar Qabbani, the most popular poet in the Arab world, mourned the accords thus: “In our hands they left / a sardine can called Gaza / and a dry bone called Jericho / …they gave us a homeland smaller than a single grain of wheat / a homeland to swallow without water like aspirin pills…”

Today, Hamas leaders openly say that their dreams of Israel’s destruction are closer to fruition than any time since 1967. They see the struggle as not only, or even primarily, one of military strength, but of legitimacy. And if it is suddenly and increasingly more legitimate to speak of a world without Israel, why should the Arabs, at this very moment, throw in the towel?

In this context, what we think of as a “political horizon” designed to tempt Arabs has the opposite effect. How does dressing up defeat make it more tempting?

Unfortunately, there is no direct way to change the fact that, to the bulk of Arab opinion, peace equals capitulation. All that can be done is to tip the scales of inevitability: from a world where it seems that Israel can be waited out, to one in which Israel is not only growing in strength but in legitimacy.

It may be counterintuitive, but the Palestinians’ many allies who think they are promoting peace by vilifying Israel are doing the opposite. The same goes for Western governments who assume that “evenhandedness” advances peace.

The most pro-peace policy is the one that most convinces the Arabs of Israel’s permanence. Even the US is far from such a policy, since it will not routinely reject the currently favored back-door means to Israel’s destruction, the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel.

When it comes to a “political horizon,” the problem is not that the Arabs cannot see a Palestinian state, but that they can see a Jewish one. The Arab world will settle for a Palestinian state only when it is convinced of the permanence of Israel.


Policing the Policemen

Forget the talk of unity. Gaza will be a mess until someone can control the underpaid and overarmed gunmen that wander the streets.

By Mitchell Prothero

Slate.com, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

GAZA CITY—The next time the leaders of rival political factions here in the Palestinian territories come to a podium with smiles and handshakes—as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh recently did to announce a unity government they pray will end factional fighting between their Fatah and Hamas parties—remember Majed Ghrayeb, a top Fatah security official.

One evening, a little over a month ago, Ghrayeb was at home when the interior ministry’s Executive Force—the Hamas addition to the more than a dozen militias, mafias, and gangs that ply their trade in the Gaza Strip—attacked his house in the Jabaliya refugee camp. In the ensuing gun battle, Ghrayeb was wounded and taken from his home by the Hamas gunmen.

Within minutes of the attack, Abbas, whom everyone calls Abu Mazen, called Haniyeh in an effort to get Ghrayeb released. Haniyeh reached the commanders on the ground, ordered them to release Ghrayeb, and was promised that he would be let go “in five minutes,” according to an official in the room at the time.

About five minutes later, the Hamas fighters executed Ghrayeb and dumped his body in the street.

Despite Abbas’ and Haniyeh’s recent moves toward cooperation, the two men have failed to address what might be the only issue that currently matters: who will command the thousands of underpaid and overarmed gunmen who wander the streets of the Gaza Strip “keeping order.”

It’s great news that Hamas is now willing to share ministry portfolios with Abu Mazen’s Fatah party. Great news, that is, if you or a family member are chosen for a cabinet position. But for the rest of the Gaza Strip’s poor and frustrated residents, all that matters is the lack of money, the number of guns in the hands of young men, and how it seems that Haniyeh and Abu Mazen have little, if any, say in the behavior of their own security forces.

The tax revenues collected by Israel and the huge amounts of international aid given to the Palestinian government are the only things that keeps Gaza eating. And because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize the state of Israel, most of that revenue has dried up since the party’s January 2006 election victory. At the same time, since Israel evacuated its Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 and Israel turned over the Egyptian border to Palestinian authority in November of that year, local black-market trade in guns, rocket launchers, and drugs has boomed.

It’s easy for Americans and Israelis to say—as they recently have—that the Palestinians need to unify their security forces and support a government that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. But doing so would require a series of impossibilities. First, the Palestinian Authority would need to find an interior minister who could integrate a slew of different factions that hate each other and whom the fighters on the street would respect. However, any potential minister who was himself untainted by factional bloodletting would also lack the gunmen needed to bring the others in line. Hamas will never accept the command of Fatah security boss Mohammed Dahlan, and Dahlan’s men are loyal to him only as long as he pays their salaries. And if Haniyeh can’t even keep his men from killing senior Fatah officials against direct orders, it seems unlikely that he can force his more militant allies to accept the terms that would reopen the aid spigot the government desperately needs.

In the Khan Yunis refugee camp, a Hamas stronghold, the Executive Force is housed and trained, not without irony, in a former Israeli settlement. In new blue camouflage uniforms, Hamas militants go through the motions of training to be real police officers. For the most part, they’re sweet kids, quick to laugh and joke with an American visitor, and a few even speak fondly of the days before the intifada when Israeli settlers would come to Khan Yunis to shop and hang out. To a man they insist that while they are Hamas party members, they want to be part of a police force that protects all Palestinians, regardless of affiliation.

But when pressed, one of their top officials—a huge, gregarious man named Abu Mutana—admits that even with the new deal, the chances of preventing more intra-Palestinian bloodshed are slim. On his giant hands, he checks off the problems: hate for Dahlan by his own men, family feuds and revenge killings that continue unabated despite the pleas of the leaders. Finally, he admits that unity is a charade, as would become clear if he were ordered to arrest Ghrayeb’s killers. “If you ask me once, I am the interior ministry police. You ask me again, I am Palestine’s police force.” He pauses and grins. “You ask me a third time, my friend, and I am Hamas; only Hamas.”

An hour later, back in Gaza City, more than 3,000 armed young men aligned with Fatah were marching and shooting guns in the air. My driver and I assumed the war had resumed, for who would send thousands of armed men to fire wildly in the air in front of the Islamic University of Gaza, a hotbed of Hamas support that was recently burned and looted by Fatah gunmen.

But it seems they just want jobs. After what they claimed was eight months of training—although their ability to march and handle automatic weapons makes me suspect they need another eight months—they have no jobs, only uniforms and weapons.

As they shouted and fought over whose turn it was to shoot the machine gun in the air, a local journalist leaned over and whispered in my ear. “This is about money,” he said. “Fuck Fatah, and fuck Palestine. If [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert called right now and offered them each [$250] a month, they’d all become Jews and join the Israeli Defense Forces.”

Mitchell Prothero is a writer and photographer based in Beirut. He covers conflict and terrorism issues throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.


Courage Of the Hashemites


New York Sun, February 27, 2007

King Abdullah of Jordan is by all accounts, like his father King Hussein, a competent ruler and a likeable man. Like his father, too, he has been frequently admired, both in Israel and the world, for his constructive attitude toward an Israel-Palestinian peace settlement.

And again like his father, Mr. Abdullah has been, of all Arab heads of state, the friendliest toward Israel and the most willing to meet with Israeli diplomats and to talk to the people of Israel. He has indeed spoken to them twice this month, once in an interview in the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz, and once in an interview on Israel’s television’s Channel 2 — in both of which he warned that unless Israel makes major concessions to the Palestinians, a last window of opportunity may shut forever. “If we don’t solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict [now],” the king said to Channel 2, “we may never solve the Israeli-Arab conflict [at all].”

Windows of opportunity have allegedly been shutting, one after another, for so long in the Israel-Palestinian conflict that anyone taking the rhetoric about them seriously can only be amazed that there are any left. It’s nice to know that King Abdullah thinks that some still are. And yet it’s time his admirers started telling him that if he simply goes on talking about a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict without showing some readiness to be part of the solution, he is contributing nothing at all to a solution.

For years now, the world, and Mr. Abdullah with it, has been living with a self-willed illusion — that the fairest and most logical way to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict is to create another Arab state, one called “Palestine,” which will live peacefully alongside Israel.

The more impossible the establishment of a state of this sort seems to become — the more, that is, it appears to be ruled out by a combination of Israeli settlements, Palestinian anarchy, and the growing strength of Islamic extremism in Palestinian society — the more the windows are thought to slam shut on peace’s prospects.

In reality, however, a separate Palestinian state would not solve any conflicts at all, neither for the Palestinians, nor for Israel, nor for the Middle East. Such a state would be tiny, divided into two noncontiguous areas, poor in water and natural resources, unable to absorb even a fraction of the millions of Palestinian Arabs abroad, and located on barely 20% of the area of British-Mandate Palestine that the Palestinians claim as their own — and it could not possibly satisfy Palestinian aspirations. It would simply spur the Palestinians to make irredentist claims on Israel that would push the horizons of peace further away than ever.

Nor do the Palestinians need such a state, because they already have a state of their own. This state is King Abdullah’s Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which was originally that part of British-Mandate Palestine located east of the Jordan River, and in which Palestinians comprise well over half the population and an even larger percentage of the economic, educational, and cultural elites.

Jordan is 15 times larger than the West Bank plus the Gaza Strip and four times larger than Israel, and with the addition of Gaza and most of the West Bank, from which Israel would withdraw, it would stretch from the Mediterranean to Iraq and be a potentially wealthy and dynamic country that could gradually absorb a large number of the descendants of Palestinian refugees. It could also bring stability and economic prosperity to a Palestinian society west of the Jordan River that now lives in a state of impoverishment and chaos.

It is worth recalling that for two decades after it lost the West Bank to Israel in the 1967 war, Jordan continued to view the area as belonging to it and demanded its return. It was only in 1988, when King Hussein despaired of the prospects of getting the West Bank back, that he formally waived Jordan’s claim to it. What is to prevent Hussein’s son, with the encouragement of America and Europe, from renewing this claim?

It will be said, of course, that Jordan does not want the West Bank and Gaza — or at least that Jordan’s ruling Hashemite caste, which fears losing power to the country’s Palestinian population, does not want them and their millions of Palestinian inhabitants. And by the same token, it can be said that the West Bankers and the Gazans do not want Jordan: They seek, after all, a country run by themselves, not by a monarchy with Bedouin roots.

But in the long run, the advantages in getting together would be great for both sides. For Jordan it would mean, besides the end of the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel, a port on the Mediterranean and control of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The Palestinians, for their part, could look forward to an eventual democratization of Jordan’s politics that would allow them to play the role they feel they are entitled to. King Abdullah must know that his country cannot continue to rest on a narrow political base forever.

It would indeed be a bold step for King Abdullah to come forward now and re-propose the “Jordanian solution” to the Palestinian problem that his father renounced in 1988. Initial reactions in the Palestinian and Arab worlds would no doubt be critical. But initial reactions have a way of yielding to second thoughts when a plan is a good one.

King Abdullah has spoken a great deal about the need for Israel to show courage in taking necessary risks vis-à-vis the Palestinians. He needs to show some courage himself. The windows of opportunity for an Israel-Palestinian settlement are still open — but however often one looks through them, it’s always Jordan that one sees in the distance.

Mr. Halkin is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.



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