.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Benny Morris on the insurmountable obstacles to peace

A very worthwhile read at Tablet Magazine by Benny Morris.
I am speaking of a basic, strategic impasse which, unfortunately, is far more cogent and telling than the ongoing “negotiations,” which are unlikely to lead to a peace treaty or even a “framework” agreement for a future peace accord. This unlikelihood stems from a set of obstacles that I see as insurmountable, given current political-ideological mindsets.

The first, the one that American and European officials never express and—if impolitely mentioned in their presence—turn away from in distaste, is that Palestinian political elites, of both the so-called “secular” and Islamist varieties, are dead set against partitioning the Land of Israel/Palestine with the Jews. They regard all of Palestine as their patrimony and believe that it will eventually be theirs. History, because of demography and the steady empowerment of the Arab and Islamic worlds and the West’s growing alienation from Israel, and because of Allah’s wishes, is, they believe, on their side. They do not want a permanent two-state solution, with a Palestinian Arab state co-existing alongside a (larger) Jewish state; they will not compromise on this core belief and do not believe, on moral or practical grounds, that they should.

This basic Palestinian rejectionism, amounting to a Weltanschauung, is routinely ignored or denied by most Western commentators and officials. To grant it means to admit that the Israeli-Arab conflict has no resolution apart from the complete victory of one side or the other (with the corollary of expulsion, or annihilation, by one side of the other)—which leaves leaders like President Barack Obama with nowhere realistic to go with regard to the conflict. Philosophically, acceptance of the rock-like unpliability of this reality is extremely problematic, given the ongoing military and philosophical clash between the West and various forces in the Islamic world. Perhaps the fight between America and its allies and its enemies in the Middle East and South Asia and North Africa and the banlieues of Western Europe will go on and on, until one side is vanquished?

In this connection, our age, it may turn out, resembles the classic age of appeasement, the 1930s, when the Western democracies (and the Soviet Union) were ranged against, but preferred not to confront, Nazi Germany and its allies, Fascist Italy, and expansionist Japan. During that decade, Hitler’s inexorable martial, racist, and uncompromising mindset was misread by Western leaders, officials, and intellectuals—and for much the same reasons. Living in unideological societies, they could not fathom the minds and politics of their ideologically driven antagonists. The leaders and intellectuals of the Western democracies, educated and suffused with liberal and relativist values, by and large were unable to comprehend the essential “otherness” of Hitler and ended up fighting him, to the finish, after negotiation and compromise had proved useless.

Another problem for Westerners is that the Palestinians, by design or no, speak to them in several voices. Hamas, which may represent the majority of the Palestinian people and certainly has the unflinching support of some 40 percent of them, speaks clearly. It openly repudiates a two-state solution. Hamas leaders, to bamboozle naïve (or wicked) Westerners like Henry Siegman [4], occasionally express a tactical readiness for a long-term truce under terms that they know are unacceptable to any Jewish Israelis (complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and acceptance of the refugees’ “Right of Return”), but their strategic message is clear, echoing the Roman statesman Cato the Elder: “Israel must be destroyed.”

The secular Palestinian leadership looks to a similar historical denouement but is more flexible on the tactics and pacing. They express a readiness for a two-state solution but envision such an outcome as intermediate and temporary. They speak of two states, a Palestinian Arab West Bank-Gaza-East Jerusalem state and another state whose population is Jewish and Arab and which they believe will eventually become majority-Arab within a generation or two through Arab procreation (Palestinian Arab birth-rates are roughly twice those of Israeli Jews) and the “return” of Palestinians with refugee status. This is why Fatah’s leaders, led by Palestine National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, flatly reject the Clintonian formula of “two states for two peoples” and refuse [5] to recognize the “other” state, Israel, as a “Jewish state.” They hope that this “other” state will also, in time, be “Arabized,” thus setting the stage for the eventual merger of the two temporary states into one Palestinian Arab-majority state between the River and the Sea.

...The key to understanding Fatah objectives today lies in its leaders’ stance on resolving the refugee problem. Contrary to what many Western commentators and analysts have chosen to believe, the Palestinian stress on the importance of the refugees is not a tactical matter—a way to gain further leverage in negotiations. The Palestinian leadership is unanimous and resolute in insisting that the problem’s solution lies in the “Right of Return”: Israel, and the world, must accept the principle of repatriation and eventually facilitate repatriation. The idea that the refugees must return to their homes has been the ethos, the be-all and end-all of Palestinian politics and policy, since 1948. No Palestinian leader can or will ever abandon this principle, on pain of assassination, and none has. (For Western journalistic consumption, Yasser Arafat once vaguely wrote that the Palestinians would take account of Israeli demographic sensibilities when it came to implementing refugee repatriation; and more recently, Abbas was reportedly willing, in his secret 2008 negotiations with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to countenance less than full refugee repatriation in the initial phases of a deal. But in their public utterances during the past two years, Abbas and his colleagues have been rock-solid in their advocacy of an unrestricted “Right of Return”—and why not take them at their word?)

And this represents the second insurmountable obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The United Nations has on its rolls 4.7 million Palestinian refugees [10]; the PLO claims that there are 7.5 million [11], only a small number of whom belong to the 700,000-odd Palestinians originally displaced from their homes in what became the state of Israel. Some two-thirds of the 700,000 moved or were removed to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip; one-third ended up in Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Abbas himself is a refugee from Safad, the Arab-majority eastern Galilean town that the U.N. General Assembly partition plan of November 1947 (Resolution 181 [12]) earmarked for Jewish sovereignty.

The vast majority of the current 4.7 to 7.5 million “refugees”—say nine-tenths of them—are the children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren of the originally displaced 700,000. And more than half of them live in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian demand that Israel accept a mass refugee return means that, if implemented, Israel, with its 6 million Jewish and 1.5 million Arab citizens, would instantly or over a short time, become an Arab-majority state.

...To these formidable obstacles to peace-making—the unchanging Arab desire for what amounts to Israel’s disappearance and consistent advocacy of the demographic means by which this can be achieved—one may add the hardly routine challenges of differences over future Israeli-Palestinian borders, with sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Old City and, in particular, its Temple Mount complex, and the fate of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The demilitarization of a future Palestinian West Bank-Gaza state is a further bone of contention.

It is hard to envision any circumstances under which the current Obama-initiated direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks can succeed. Politically, the two contending leaders have little room for maneuver and, at least on the Arab side, little will to concede anything. And even if, by some miracle, Abbas and Netanyahu were to reach a framework agreement or even a detailed peace treaty (a departure into the realm of total fantasy) with Abbas accepting the Jewishness of the “other” state and waiving the “Right of Return,” and Netanyahu conceding Arab sovereignty over the bulk of Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Temple Mount, such an agreement would fail to stick and would never be implemented. Abbas might sign off on “an end to the conflict” and “no more demands”—and most likely be assassinated by Arab extremists in consequence—but a majority of Palestinians, and certainly a large minority of them, would continue the struggle, rendering the agreement no more than a wind-blown piece of paper. Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian general elections, would denounce the signers as traitors and continue the fight for all of Palestine, as would many in Abbas’ own Fatah party. The agreement would not end the conflict. Nor would it deter or obstruct future, continuing Palestinian claims.
I don't agree with everything he says, but he at least is publicly airing the issues that people who have been following the situation have known about for years, and usually willfully ignore. Peace will not come about through willful ignorance.

(h/t EBoZ and Joel)