Thursday, April 10, 2014
Peace process peters out
Clifford D. May
Blessed are the peacemakers. But don't confuse peacemakers with peace processors. The latter think they can persuade the lion to lie down with the lamb. The former are realistic enough to grasp how perilous that is unless the lion has just had a big dinner and a couple of stiff drinks.
Sad to say, Secretary of State John Kerry has proven to be a peace processor, one loath to acknowledge that the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have come to a very dead end. Actually, they never moved off the starting blocks.
Let's stipulate that Kerry is a good man who believed he had the diplomatic chops to succeed where his predecessors failed. Still, at a time when thousands of men, women and children are being slaughtered in Syria, al-Qaida is resurging in Iraq (and elsewhere), Egypt is in turmoil, and negotiations with Iran are at a critical juncture, his decision to invest so much time and energy in this effort -- a dozen trips to the region -- has to be seen as ill-advised.
Even if the region was not in turmoil formidable obstacles to a Palestinian-Israeli settlement remain. Among them: Mahmoud Abbas was elected to a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005. He has continued to occupy that office ever since, avoiding the inconvenience of elections. Suppose he signed a treaty: What would his signature mean?
Though Abbas remains the boss on the West Bank, Gaza is ruled by Hamas which openly rejects his authority and is unambiguously committed to Israel's extermination. Hamas would not be bound by any compromises Abbas offered Israel.
Not that Abbas has offered compromises. All he has done is to send an envoy to sit at the table so long as Israelis, in exchange, release dozens of Palestinian terrorists from prison. Imagine the distress of victims' families as they watch the murderers of their loved ones returned to the West Bank where Abbas celebrates and financially rewards them. Imagine how difficult this is for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who understands -- as Kerry apparently does not -- that for a thousand years the spilling of Jewish blood was an inexpensive proposition, a condition Israel was created to rectify.
But here's the real stunner: Abbas still refuses to acknowledge Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people -- a people with a history, culture, language and religion dating back three millennia in this corner of the Middle East. That can only imply one thing: Abbas rejects the principle of "two states for two peoples" -- the only basis on which to a two-state solution could possibly be achieved.
It's not as though this were a new idea. In 1947 the United Nations proposed the partition of the Palestine Mandate -- territories that came under British control when the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I -- into independent Arab and Jewish states. (Why did the U.N. not propose Palestinian and Jewish states? Because back then "Palestinian" was a term used to refer to Arabs and Jews -- and more often to the latter.)
The Jewish leaders of Palestine agreed to take the deal. Palestine's Arab leaders -- and the leaders of all the existing Arab states -- rejected it, and sent their armies to strangle the State of Israel in its crib. Against all odds, Palestinian Jews defended themselves successfully.
The failure of this first war against Israel might have resulted in at least grudging acceptance of Israel by its Arab neighbors. Instead, as Canadian author George Jonas has noted, it produced among the Arabs "the special humiliation of a Goliath beaten by David."
In 1967, the states on Israel's borders launched another major war to push the Jews into the sea. Again, Israelis prevailed. At the Arab League summit that followed, eight Arab heads of state issued the "three noes": No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.
Nevertheless, the 1967 war opened what seemed like a great opportunity: Gaza and the West Bank, which had been ruled by Egypt and Jordan respectively, were in Israeli hands. Why not create an independent Palestinian state in these territories -- the first such state in history? All that would be necessary would be for the leaders of that state to recognize and peacefully coexist with Israel. But no Palestinian leaders have been willing to accept that, and even today no leaders of Arab and Muslim states are urging them to do so.
At this point, whatever Abbas may want -- I don't claim to be able to read his mind or heart -- he's savvy enough to know that if he agrees to end the conflict with Israel -- on almost any terms, no matter how favorable to Palestinians -- Hamas would declare him an "Arab Zionist" and a traitor, crimes for which Hamas would seek to impose capital punishment without the nuisance of lawyers and trials and such; as would Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Iran's proxy, and Iran's rulers who are aiming to become the region's nuclear-armed hegemon.
Some say that Netanyahu faces the same threat: In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated after proposing that Israel make far-reaching concessions for peace. It's my conviction that Netanyahu -- whose brother was the only Israeli soldier killed during the successful rescue of hostages from Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe in 1976 -- would take that risk, and even accept that fate, if he believed it meant giving Israelis the gift of a durable peace.
What I don't believe is that Abbas will present Netanyahu with such a decision. What I don't believe is that the renewed peace process Kerry initiated ever had the slightest chance of changing Abbas' mind.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security, and a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times.