Monday, October 18, 2010

FP on the 10th anniversary of the intifada

Glenn E. Robinson writes in Foreign Policy about the tenth anniversary of the second intifada. While the article is not terrible, it makes some mistakes, and in at least one case it appears that Robinson is purposefully misrepresenting a quote. (see update below*)

This year's 10th anniversary of the start of the second Palestinian uprising passed with barely a mention in the Israeli, Palestinian and American media. This is not surprising, considering the uprising is widely seen as a disaster for most Palestinians and Israelis, putting the Middle East peace process into a deep and perhaps permanent freeze.

As I noted at the time, the Arabic media did not ignore the anniversary at all. Palestine Today published Islamic Jihad's gleeful tally of "martyrs" as well as the number of Israelis they had killed; Hamas followed with its own stats. Al Jazeera published a ridiculously biased history of the intifada. To these Arabs, the terror spree was a point of pride; they do not see it as a disaster at all. The fact that this contradicts all common sense is not relevant - the anniversary was celebrated.

The dominant Israeli narrative, shared by many in the United States, can be summarized as follows: Israel offered a generous deal at Camp David, which Yasir Arafat rejected -- and then went home to make war against the Jewish state. In this narrative, the second intifada was a planned event, led and directed by Arafat himself, demonstrating that the Palestinians will never accept Israel.

The problem with this narrative is that it is factually wrong on all counts. Former peace negotiators Robert Malley and Hussein Agha have done more than anyone else to destroy the myths that were propagated about Camp David. Their work is now supported by a slew of memoirs and other accounts. As they noted recently, their "revisionism" of 2001 has now become orthodoxy that "barely elicits a raised eyebrow."
First of all, while there may be some doubt as to exactly when Arafat took over the running of the second intifada, there is no doubt that he controlled it fairly early on and that he was planning for an uprising. David Samuels goes into detail on these points, with interviews with major Palestinian Arab colleagues of Arafat. Hamas recently announced that Arafat had instructed them to strike at internal Israeli targets at the very start of the fighting.

More troubling, the Malley/Agha article that Robinson links to and quotes was not talking about this narrative at all, but rather about the competing narratives about the Syrian peace initiative at the time. It is a bit dishonest to misquote them so brazenly.*

...The intifada was a strategic disaster for the Palestinians. As a stateless people, Palestinians lack many basic political and human rights and statehood presents the only viable path toward securing these rights. The uprising put off statehood by at least a decade (and perhaps permanently), and at high levels of human suffering and economic devastation.
If you assume that the goal of the Palestinian Arab leadership is to create an independent state and end the scourge of statelessness that their people suffer under, no doubt it was a disaster. That assumption does not account for many other actions of that leadership, however.

And, seriously, what political and human rights do Palestinian Arabs in Area A - some 95% of those living in the West Bank - lack? Certainly the ones in Lebanon and Syria and elsewhere are lacking in rights, but a Palestinian Arab state would not solve their problems, because there is precious little indication that a new "Palestine" would welcome millions of new immigrants or even provide them with citizenship. (Why are we not seeing them give Lebanese Palestinians any passports?) But the PA has representation in the UN that arguably has more real political power than Israel's, PA citizens are living the same lives they would if there was a state.

Secondly, the intifada created a cult of martyrdom among Palestinians. Suicide bombings were unknown in the Middle East until Hezbollah in Lebanon learned of their effectiveness from Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers in the 1980s. After 400 Palestinian Islamists were exiled to southern Lebanon for a year in 1992, they brought the technique home with them. A smattering of suicide bombings in the 1990s gave way to an average of one every two weeks during the first four years of the uprising. The tactic of suicide bombing was accompanied by a cultural motif to support, justify and venerate the "martyrs."
There were 21 suicide attacks between 1993 and 2000 before September. A little more than a "smattering," I would say, though of course they increased dramatically afterwards.

Third, the intifada killed the Zionist and post-Zionist Left in Israel. Israel's center-left staked its political future on a peace deal with the Palestinians, which itself was based on the presence of a Palestinian partner for peace. The dominant Israeli narrative of the intifada holds that there is no reliable Palestinian peace partner; this has led to the virtual extinction of the Zionist Left in Israel. Since the start of the intifada, Israelis have elected only prime ministers who cut their political teeth in the right wing Likud party: Ariel Sharon (three times), Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is true, to a point. However, others have noted that the mainstream Likud-led government now holds an official position that is very close to what the Israeli Left's was in 1993. Likud officially supports a two-state solution - something that no American president said publicly before 2001! In a larger sense, the Left has won, and they then marginalized themselves by moving further and further from the center.

Fourth, the intifada empowered the forces of Greater Israel. The biggest political winner over the past decade has been the Israeli settler community. About 500,000 Israelis now live on the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line, and they and their political allies are now arguably the single most powerful political force inside Israel.
This is absurd. The residents of the territories were powerless to stop the abandonment of Gaza. West Bank communities have been dismantled. This is an Arab talking point, but it does not represent the consensus within Israel. (Far more recently, President Obama's amateurish handling of the "peace process" has made many Israelis more intransigent towards giving up any land, but that is for different reasons and that doesn't reflect inherent political power of the Jews of Judea and Samaria.)

And lastly, the information revolution has arrived in the Middle East. During the first intifada, uncensored events were only occasionally caught on video by private citizens and the videos were only disseminated if a friendly television station was willing to broadcast them. The second intifada was seen in real time, through videos and cell photos that were posted on the Internet within minutes of being taken.
Yet the vast majority of these pictures are still going through layers of left-leaning media, meaning that the events that end up being seen are still the ones that the media wants you to see. The recent staged Silwan stone-throwing event illustrates that nicely.

If there is any takeaway from the tenth anniversary of the intifada, it is that Israel cannot trust mere words coming from the Palestinian Arabs. Remember that the letter that Arafat sent Rabin to kick off the Oslo process claimed that the PLO has renounced violence, and yet more Jews were killed during the first five years of the Oslo "peace" process than during the last five years of the abrogation of Oslo that the intifada represents.

(h/t Zach)

UPDATE: Zach emailed my post to Robinson, and he replied, "Having read that blog posting, I cannot take it very seriously. As to Malley’s quote, it is not a misquote in the least."

Well, there you have it.

*UPDATE 2:  Re-reading the Malley/Agha article, I see that their quote was indeed directed at the entire narrative of Camp David, not only about the Syrian track that was being mentioned immediately previous to that quote. So I was wrong in saying that Robinson misrepresented their article, and I apologize.