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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Olmert crosses another Israeli "red line"

In diplomacy, one of the worst things you can do is abandon your principles, even for a second. Once you allow even a theoretical exception to a previously iron-clad rule, there is no going back.

There was a time when Israel referred to the territories, consistently, as "disputed" and not "occupied." There is a major difference between the two in international law and Israel was on unpopular but strong legal ground to maintain that position - and the US supported it. Sharon's and Olmert's rush to abandon the territories and evacuate all Jews has fatally undermined that policy, and one hardly hears the word "disputed" anymore from Israeli officials. As a result, Israel's attempts to hold on to large settlement blocs while giving up most of the territory has no legal basis whatsoever, and relies entirely on nonexistent Palestinian Arab and "good faith."

There was a time when Israel could tell the world unambiguously that Jerusalem was its undivided, eternal capital. Then Ehud Barak, now considered one of the more hawkish members of Olmert's government, offered to share Jerusalem with Yasir Arafat. It may have been under very a specific context but that is irrelevant now - the issue of Jerusalem is considered "negotiable" forever.

One after another, red lines have fallen. Paradoxically, these falling red lines have worked against any chances of peace, as they strengthen the resolve of Israel's enemies towards the next set of red lines.

The latest red line was Olmert's seemingly symbolic allowance of 41 Iraqis who consider themselves Palestinian (appears that they have never lived there themselves) to immigrate into the West Bank. This "goodwill gesture" crosses yet another red line in longstanding Israeli policy, and rather than promoting peace, it gives the PalArab "right of return" legitimacy - it strengthens the Arab "red line" on not allowing Palestinian Arabs, even after many generations, to ever integrate into any other society:
The minister of information of the caretaker government, Riyad Maliki, on Monday stated that he views the return of the 41 Palestinian refugees from Iraq as a first step in the return of all of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq to the West Bank.

Speaking from Cairo to Ma'an, he stated that the Palestinian government is to pursue the issue and to make the necessary consultations with the Israeli government to persuade it to let all of the 18,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq return.

The minister was glad to announce that he "succeeded in returning part of them," adding that the government is doing everything in its power to relocate all of the refugees to the West Bank.
Ironically, not only does this hurt Israel immeasurably, but it also hurts the millions of so-called Palestinians who live in Arab countries as their chances of ever becoming citizens have just dropped even further: the Arab governments can continue to wash their hands of any responsibility for the events of 1948, now that Israel has symbolically taken that same responsibility.

A goodwill gesture has no legal or political benefits, and its only possible wishful reciprocal benefits evaporate almost immediately. But the negative repercussions from such gestures can last forever.

A wise leader would know this.