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Monday, December 04, 2006

Israel's massive hasbara failure

An article in the Palestine-Israel Journal from yet another well-meaning and wrongheaded author on how to establish peace between Israel and the Arabs shows, in passing, where Israel has utterly failed in its PR.

The author bases his peace plan on the following premises:
The unspeakable tragedy that has unfolded in the sixth Israel-Arab war should force us to focus on what peace might look like. The building blocks are clear, but they are threatened particularly by those who stop thinking when it is most needed. The building blocks are:
(1) UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and UN Security Council Resolution 242 demanding the return of Palestinians who so wish and the withdrawal of Israel to the pre-June 1967 borders.
(2)The resolution by the Palestine National Council of November 15, 1988, thereby accepting a two-state solution.
(3)The proposal by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for recognition by all Arab states.

Putting the building blocks in place, we get two states side by side, with East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank reverting to Palestine (Israel has already withdrawn from Gaza), the Golan Heights to Syria, and some minor border problems solved, sometimes through creative adjustments. It is not a big revolution; it only takes common sense.
But there are also minimum and maximum demands on both sides. Palestine has three minimum, non-negotiable demands:Palestine has three minimum, non-negotiable demands:

* A Palestinian state in line with (1) and (2) above, with
* East Jerusalem as the capital, and
* The right of return — as a right, the numbers to be negotiated.

Israel has two minimum, non-negotiable demands:

* Recognition of the Jewish state, Israel,
* Within secure borders.

All five goals are legitimate and compatible.

Besides the fact that the author purposefully frames the minimum demands in such a way as to gloss over the differences, this list shows Israel's complete inability to define its red lines to the world as clearly as the Palestinian Arabs have.

Israel's red lines are - or should be - at a minimum:
  • No return to the "Auschwitz" borders of pre-1967, even with "minor adjustments." An eight-mile wide Israel is not acceptable and was not a part of UN resolution 242, as most people choose to misinterpret it.
    • Major settlements will remain intact and a part of Israel.
  • No negotiations on East Jerusalem - it is a part of Israel forever.
  • Not only recognition, but support for the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
    • Implied within that is the idea that all neighboring states that support Israel's right to exist will themselves act against any terror groups on their territory that act contrary to this idea.
    • Implied also there is no real PalArab "right of return" to the Jewish state beyond a token number
  • Recognition that the PalArab "refugee" problem is not Israel's problem. By any definition, the vast majority of PalArabs are not "refugees" and those in camps in neighboring states should have been absorbed decades ago. UNRWA should be dismantled.
The problem is that Israel has had successive wishy-washy governments that weakened or violated these "red lines" repeatedly , usually under pressure from the West but sometimes out of the misguided idea that Israel was not under an existential threat. So we see, for example, that Israel allows Jerusalem Arabs to vote for the PA government, or that Barak has made the Old City of Jerusalem negotiable.

The tragedy is that this author is not making up these Israeli "red lines" - he is following what the Israeli government has been signalling themselves. The very retreat from Gaza did more to undermine Israel's long-standing position that the territories were "disputed" and not "occupied" than anything else. One resolves "disputes" with a give-and-take; one does not abandon your his position altogether.

So we have a Palestinian negotiating position that is based on very clear and oft-stated red-lines of their own - right of "return," East Jerusalem, free passage between Gaza and West Bank. And an increasingly fuzzy Israeli position on these same issues that makes the West think that Israel will willingly bend on them.

Who can blame the West for wanting to pressure Israel - Israel herself has signaled that these positions are all on the table and the Palestinian Arabs have made clear that their positions are non-negotiable!

The fact is that the two sides cannot agree unless the Palestinian Arabs show more flexibility. The idea that the sovereign state is the side that has to keep giving in indefinitely and the people who supposedly desire a state can keep making demand after demand is ludicrous. For better or for worse, Israel has already accepted the idea of a Palestinian state and it is up to the PalArabs to act as if they are willing to build one.

The very idea that a Palestinian Arab state cannot possibly exist without Jerusalem, for example, is absurd on the face of it. It is a purely emotional requirement that has no bearing on the viability of a state. Why is this considered a "red-line" for the Palestinian Arabs and not for the Palestinian Jews? Yet this is the sad situation Israel finds itself in because it has not been more adamant about Jerusalem than the Palestinian Arabs have been. And the blame rests squarely with the State of Israel wanting to appear "flexible" and "reasonable" to the West, sacrificing two thousand years of yearning for the vaporous hope of a short-term peace.

Similarly, the idea that the descendants of 1948 refugees have the "right" to "return" to Israel is a non-starter that has no bearing on the real viability of a Palestinian Arab state. Once a state is established, it can let in anyone it wants, but in no other case in world history has such a "right" been considered legitimate - otherwise every set of refugees' progeny can claim land all over the world with impunity.

Israel has failed miserably in putting forth consistent and logical positions and it is hurting Israel's negotiating position far worse than any terror attacks or threats.