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Monday, August 19, 2013

Congratulations, we have achieved peace. Don't ruin it with a "peace plan."

Today, the Israeli-Arab conflict is the least violent it has ever been.

This year, only one Israeli has been killed in a terror attack. Less than 15 Palestinian Arabs have been killed (B'Tselem says 11, and OCHA-OPT says 13), most of whom were involved in rock or firebomb attacks.

The lowest number of Israeli deaths in any year since 1948 has been six (2009 and 1982) according to this chart.

While this isn't the year with the lowest Palestinian Arab casualty count (1999 had only 8 deaths), it is the second-lowest since 1987.

In other words, this is (so far) shaping up to be the least-violent year since the beginning of the first intifada and quite probably since the founding of modern Israel in 1948.

We have achieved just about the best we can ever hope to achieve. Things were far worse in the years before the State of Israel was reborn, they were worse in the 1950s with the fedayeen attacks and the 1960s with the "commando" attacks and the 1970s with the more modern terrorist attacks. During all of those periods, Israel responded quite furiously, so both sides lost many people.

This is what peace looks like. The status quo is not perfect, but compared to everything else in the past hundred years, it is damn good. Call it a detente, call it a standoff, it doesn't matter - Arabs and Israelis have come close to stopping killing each other.

Even in Gaza, Israeli policies have made Hamas and Islamic Jihad think twice about shooting rockets into Israel. Rocket fire hasn't ended but life is getting close to normal in Israeli communities in the Negev.

And as long as there is no aggression against Israel, Israel is helping make the lives of Palestinian Arabs get better and better. As I noted recently, some 28% of the money being paid to West Bank Arabs is coming from Israeli employers. The Israelis are granting more work permits, paying better wages (roughly double what Palestinian Arabs are paying,) with better benefits.

At least some of this can be credited to Netanyahu with his much derided concept of "economic peace" as a basis for real peace moving forward.

If you want to compare the situation against perfection, which is the standard tool in the anti-Israel playbook, yes, things fall short. But if you want to compare the situation against any other time period, the situation is the best it has ever been - and possibly the best it ever can be. Compared to the rest of the region, Israel's peace is even more striking.

Why is there peace now? Very simply, because the leaders of the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza (as well as Hizballah in Lebanon) have a lot to lose by fomenting violence. That is the key to peace - creating a situation where the downside of attacks is much greater than the upside of what could be accomplished by violence. Choosing violence (on a macro level)  has nothing to do with "justice" or "rights" or anything like that - it is a simple cost/benefit analysis of what can be gained versus what can be lost.

Is this year an anomaly? I don't think so. While there is certainly an element of luck involved, the fact is that the situation makes it more "expensive" to attack Israel than to keep still. Of course one cannot predict the future perfectly - if Hamas comes up with a new way to kidnap an Israeli it seems likely they will try it out; if Hamas gets into a fight with Salafist groups then they might shoot more rockets over, if Islamic Jihad gets Iranian money while Hamas is hung out to dry, things might change drastically in Gaza. But for the foreseeable future, calm is in everyone's interest.

And "peace" isn't. The idea of a new push in the long moribund "peace process"  is being pushed from the outside, not from the parties themselves.

What would be the real-life consequences if there was a "peace agreement," no matter what its parameters?

Just this month, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs crossed into Israel -visiting the beach, shopping - during Ramadan, without incident. If the "peace process" is successful, that will be an international border and crossing will be much more difficult in Ramadans to come.

Today, tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs work, happily, for Israeli employers, with decent wages. If "peace" would break out, this would all but disappear and the PA economy would be in even worse shape than it is today.

Palestinian Arab exports to the West would be more difficult.

And, without a doubt, the terror groups who find the idea of formal peace with Israel to be anathema will work overtime to prove their relevance - by shooting rockets and planning suicide bombings, to reclaim their former glory.

Peace will not bring friendship. Anyone who believes that only has to look at how Egypt and Jordan regard their peace treaties with Israel. They have been respecting the treaties but they have not stopped their incitement; arguably in recent years anti-Zionism and antisemitism in those two countries has gotten worse.

Unless you are wedded to the idea of an impossible peace where Israel and the PLO are allied, you should realize that today, we have real peace.

After any agreement is signed, we will see more deaths on both sides, guaranteed.

Efforts should not be put into a fantasy peace plan. Instead, we need a dose of realism. The factors that can destabilize the current peace are the ones that need to be neutralized.

This means doing real work to integrate Palestinian Arabs into Arab countries as full citizens. This means working towards a Syria that is neither Assad nor Al Qaeda, but one that gives its people hope and weakens both Hizballah and Iran. This means a policy that truly supports liberal, democratic forces in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere. It means working towards a Middle East that resembles more closely the de facto peace currently enjoyed by Israel and Palestinian Arabs, where the cost of war is much higher than the status quo.

None of this is easy. But none of it is fantasy, either, which is what the "peace process" has been from the start.