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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bursting liberal assumptions about the peace process (updated)

In Monday's Washington Post, Richard Cohen argues that Binyamin Netanyahu has to make peace, now, with the Palestinian Arabs:
A moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership has actually emerged in the West Bank (but not, for sure, in Gaza), terrorism has been denounced, rejected and, in the West Bank, all but disappeared. A Palestinian state in some sort of pupa form is taking shape, even able to police itself. The trumpeted unification of Fatah and Hamas is indeed a problem — the latter being a virulently anti-Semitic terrorist organization — but even here, where there’s a will there’s a way.

I can understand Netanyahu’s reluctance to move off the dime. The Arab world is in flux. Zealots, radicals and anti-Semites are vying for influence. The region’s so-called revolutions are actually counterrevolutions — reversing the policies of the military men who secularized their governments and tempered their hot hate of Israel with cold pragmatism. The region may not be getting ahead of history but returning to it. It could be a swell time to do nothing.

...Time has not only moved on but, as Obama pointed out, it is no longer on Israel’s side. The occupied West Bank is a looming demographic disaster, and the world has embraced the Palestinian cause. Today’s moderate Palestinian leadership may disappear tomorrow, and the 1967 borders are no less defensible than the current ones — missiles and rockets do not pause for barbed wire.
In my talk on Monday night I spent a little time discussing how important it is to dissect anti-Israel arguments to expose their fallacies. Here is a wonderful example that shows the fallacies not only of this specific article but from many liberals who push Israel to make one-sided concessions for "peace."

Cohen builds a case. He states, accurately, that the current PA leadership appears more moderate than any other. His conclusion is that this is therefore the time for Israel to be more pro-active - which means to make more concessions - to break the deadlock. If Israel waits too long, Cohen says, then the current leadership could disappear and be replaced by something worse.

What are Cohen's unstated assumptions and implications?

The major fallacy is the same one that many, many people make. It is that a peace treaty that results in a Palestinian Arab state would represent a real, permanent peace, one where neither side will have any claims against the other, where terrorist groups disappear or change their ways. Since that is a laudable goal, it is important to do whatever is needed to get there.

But what if that endgame is impossible? What if Palestinian Arab groups never agree to forgo the "right of return" or parts of Jerusalem or settlement blocs? In fact, is there any indication whatsoever that such demands would disappear?

Cohen's assumption has no basis in reality, no proof and is pure wishful thinking.

The next fallacy is that a relatively moderate Palestinian Arab leadership is equivalent to a truly moderate Palestinian Arab leadership. This fallacy is that since Abbas is not actively supporting terror, he is therefore someone who can be counted on to bring real peace.

This is false. Abbas has shown no flexibility on "return" or on the 1967 lines, nor on prisoners or Jerusalem. He has publicly bragged that he has not compromised at al on any of these issues. He still praises genocidal Jew-haters.. He has not stopped incitement in the PA media. For heaven's sake, he went out of his way to have a special meeting with child-murderer Samir Kuntar when he visited Lebanon! By any objective measure, he is not moderate. Comparing him favorably to Haniyeh or Arafat does not make him a Gandhi.

If the PA leadership was truly moderate and showed interest in compromising for peace, then Cohen might have a point that the ball is in Netanyahu's court. But by ignoring their coddling of terrorism, he is rewarding it by insisting that it is Israel, and Israel alone - the one party that has already given compromise after compromise - to move yet again.

The third fallacy is that real problems aren't real. Cohen says, "The trumpeted unification of Fatah and Hamas is indeed a problem" but dismisses it out of hand: "even here, where there’s a will there’s a way." The supposedly moderate PA has just agreed that an anti-semitic terror organization belongs in its government, yet to Cohen this is merely a small problem that can be swatted away with meaningless platitudes. To him, the necessity for peace (which would never be a true peace to begin with) is so important that Israel must ignore real risks and paper over real issues.

The fourth fallacy is that Israel is the intransigent party. Yet it is Abbas who broke off the talks, not Netanyahu. It is Abbas who has refused to return to the table despite pleas from the US president. It is Abbas that added new conditions for talks that had never been there before. Israel has always said it wants to talk without preconditions. Why is Cohen's column not aimed at Mahmoud Abbas?

The fifth fallacy, not explicit here but one that underlies many of the arguments, is that Netanyahu is the problem. If he could be forced out of office, the thinking goes, a more flexible Israeli leader would be able to break the deadlock.

This is also false. Netanyahu's recent US speeches are well within the mainstream Israeli consensus, Kadima and Likud alike. Negotiations with the previous government foundered on these very issues, these very same red lines, with only minor differences - differences that would not make the Palestinian Arab leadership any more flexible.

A sixth fallacy is implicit here, the idea that the PLO's uncompromising negotiating position is inherently just and Israel's is not because of the "occupation." Even though UNSC resolution 242 calls for compromise in setting borders, the mantra of "illegal occupation" has made people reflexively blame Israel when it tries to compromise instead of caving to all demands - something everyone knows must happen anyway. This gives the PLO effective veto power over any Israeli concessions.

The Palestinian Arab position that Jerusalem and "right of return" are prerequisites for peace has been swallowed whole by many liberals. In fact, why is an independent Palestinian Arab state dependent on that? Israel accepted the partition plan without Jerusalem, because it wanted to build an independent state above all to be a refuge for the Jewish nation worldwide. If Palestinian Arabs want a state so badly, why is Jerusalem a prerequisite for it to be viable? Their insistence of these issues do not, in themselves, make them critical. In fact, they call into question whether the end game for the Palestinian Arabs is to build a state - or to destroy one. When even the Likud leader publicly calls for a Palestinian Arab state in front of millions of TV viewers, it is hard to argue that Israel is against it. So what do the Palestinian Arabs really want, and if things are so desperate, why aren't they feeling pressure to come back to the table?

By embracing the Palestinian Arab narrative of preconditions, peace becomes less likely, not more.

Cohen knows deep down that Palestinian Arabs have not embraced peace, and are not likely to. There is one assumption he makes that is accurate: that the next PA leadership is not likely to be as moderate as today's. Hamas will have a big influence in the next PA government, no matter what.  He knows - or should know - that Palestinian Arabs do not have any moral qualms against suicide bombings, but their respite is tactical. What does this mean for the future of the peace process? Doesn't it mean that Abbas and Fayyad, for all their vaunted moderation, are out of touch with how Palestinian Arabs really think? Doesn't it mean that there is serious tension within the PA as to whether Abbas is too peaceful and too cooperative with the US and Israel? Why does it make sense to force a peace agreement onto a people who do not want to live with its provisions?

For people like Cohen, the goal is a signed peace agreement - but that is not anything close to real peace. He assumes that the two are identical, but this is the most fatal assumption of all. Israel's insistence on its red lines is to ensure both a real peace and the ability to defend itself if that peace should go south - a very reasonable concern given what is happening in the Arab world today.

There is no shortage of people who say they have Israel's best interests at heart by forcing it to make concessions that would compromise its own security, both short term and long term. Those people need to take a long hard look at their underlying assumptions. Too often, they allow their desire for an agreement overwhelm their ability to soberly look at both the pros and cons of that very agreement. They don't even consider what might happen the day after an agreement is signed.

The goal is a real peace. Israelis have yearned for that moment since the state was born. Israel has made concession after concession - giving up real, tangible assets like land and oil fields and entire beautiful towns - to reach that goal. It is insulting to say that it is the Israeli side that needs to do yet more to make peace with an entity that has walked away from peace talks, that praises terror, and that is now aligned with Hamas.

Real peace cannot be built on lies and fallacies and wishful thinking.

(h/t DG for #6)