Monday, September 26, 2011

The Personal Politics of the Middle East Conflict

As this past week's events at the United Nations have once again demonstrated, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular, are dominated by the personal politics that can overtake the facts on the ground.

This is an area near and dear to my heart. It's a subject on which I've spent the better part of the past two decades thinking and writing about (including my Master's Thesis).

Put simply, the actions of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shows a level of cowardice to avoid making any concessions or dealing directly with Israel and that the peace process is all but dead as a result of Israel lacking a political leader among the Palestinians willing to put their life on the line to actually cut a deal establishing a 2-state solution.

For decades, Palestinians have bought into the notion that if they can wait out Israel's leadership, they'll not only get a state of their own, but that they will overwhelm Israel through demographics and geopolitical realities to eventually create a Palestinian state on what was once Israel.

Israel will not go quietly into the night, but it has made repeated efforts to make peace with its Arab neighbors. First, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat made the historic trip to Jerusalem to make the case for peace. The resulting Camp David Accords solidified the notion of land for peace, and Israel withdrew from Sinai (a landmass more than twice the size of Israel proper and which had mineral and oil deposits and dozens of Israeli communities from 1967 onwards). Israel forcibly removed those Israeli settlements in making the case for peace.

Sadat's bravery in the face of overt hate towards all things Israel made him a target for assassination, and he died at the hands of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (a forerunner for al Qaeda). Yet, for nearly 30 years, there has been a peace between the two countries.

Jordan's King Hussein likewise made peace with Israel, despite a significant Palestinian population within his own country that he had kept under tight reign after the PLO sought to overthrow his government in 1970 (the PLO is the umbrella organization that includes Fatah).

Jordan's King Hussein likewise made peace, and the Palestinian Authority was designated as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Yasir Arafat, the head of Fatah, was given several opportunities to make a peace deal by and through the Oslo process, but never even gave the consideration of a counterproposal. He simply walked away from the process, opting instead to maintain civil administrative control over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza all while pursuing the ultimate goal of a 1-state solution.

By the time Arafat died and was superseded by Abbas, the Palestinians have not budged from their ultimate goal of a 1-state solution.

Hamas now controls Gaza after Israel unilaterally disengaged from the region and left Palestinians in full and complete control over their future there. Far from creating an economic and social environment for improving Palestinian lives, Hamas has turned it in to a terror-haven for incessant attacks against Israel, requiring Israel to defend itself against suicide bombers and rocket and mortar attacks. \

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and none of the Palestinian leadership talks of recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. That comes as the same Palestinian leadership speaks of making its own territories (at present and looking ahead to a future Palestinian state in the West Bank) - free from Jews. That's ethnic cleansing any way you cut it, and world diplomats consistently ignore that reality.

Abbas not only cannot rise above this, but he actively encourages undermining Israel's rights to exist, and his craven cowardice shows that Israel has no partner in peace.

That's despite an Israeli electorate that has consistently shown itself willing to cede land for peace despite the security risks it posed to Israel. The Israeli public has moved away from land for peace as the Gaza disengagement has shown that withdrawing from land will not mean peace - particularly with the Palestinians. It's led to a hardening of Israeli positions on security, but the Israelis have maintained that a 2-state solution is the only solution.

But for the failures of the Palestinian leadership to actually lead and show courage in adopting a 2-state solution, there would be peace.

That's entirely on the failure of the personal leadership of Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas who cannot get past his regimes' decades-long goals. When you've spent decades building up towards a 1-state solution, accepting a 2-state solution is untenable; the population has been radicalized into believing that they can ultimately get what they want and will continue using all means at their disposal towards a Palestinian state.

Moreover, they can look forward to seeing Israel being forced into negotiating against itself - it keeps putting forth deal after deal to the Palestinians from which they get no counterproposal. If they were so keen on a state to call their own, they could have accepted either the 2000 or 2007 Israeli proposals establishing a Palestinian state. They have chosen not to do so and have made no such effort to create a functioning state in the territories in which they already have full dominion or civil administrative control. Instead, Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas revel in the ability to attack Israel's sovereignty and take no responsibility for the situation of their own making.

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