How to worsen the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
deadlines for an agreement would only encourage failure
By Clifford D.
June 23, 2015
- The "peace process" between Israelis and Palestinians has ground to
a halt. What should American and European leaders do? Try not to make the
will be a challenge. Many in the West believe that the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict is relatively easy to solve — certainly not on a par with the much
bloodier wars being waged by Sunni and Shia jihadis in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and
Palestinians say they want a state of their own. They should have one in Gaza
and the West Bank (territories Israel captured from Egypt and Jordan,
respectively, at the end of a defensive war in 1967). The Israelis want security
within recognized borders. Have the "international community" promise
them that. If Israelis and Palestinians can't work this out on their own, impose
a "two-state solution." It's a tempting approach. Let me explain why
it's dead wrong.
years ago this summer, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to test the
hypothesis that Israelis could trade "land for peace." He ordered the
evacuation of all Israelis from Gaza — forcibly removing those who refused to
quietly pack up and leave.
hoped Gaza would thereafter become a peaceful place whose leaders would focus on
economic development, education and health care. If that happened, the argument
for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would become compelling. But, he
believed, if Gaza instead became a base for attacks on Israelis, they would be
able to strike back hard — with the understanding and support of the
what followed: In 2007, Fatah and Hamas, the two major Palestinian political
factions, went to war with one another other in Gaza. Fatah, led by Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was the loser. Hamas soon began firing
missiles — thousands of them — at Israeli villages. That led to wars with
Israel in 2008 and 2012. Then, last summer, on top of missile attacks came the
revelation that Hamas was building tunnels designed to infiltrate terrorists
into Israel for the purpose of mass murder and hostage-taking. The result was an
Israeli invasion of Gaza and 50 days of war.
Mr. Sharon, it turns out, was wrong: Despite the fact that Israel was attacked
and, as Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it, went
to "extraordinary lengths to prevent civilian casualties," many in the
West — including in a United Nations report issued this week — blame Israel
as much or more than Hamas for the death and destruction suffered by the people
of Gaza last summer.
on this experience, most Israelis fear that withdrawal from the West Bank would
be disastrous. The power vacuum left behind soon would be filled by Hamas, the
Islamic State, an al Qaeda affiliate or Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanon-based foreign
the Judean Hills in the West Bank all Israel's major population centers could be
targeted with mortars that no missile defense system can knock out. Israel would
strike back with predictable consequences.
of which brings us to this: Over the weekend, French Foreign Minister Laurent
Fabius visited Jerusalem and Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, where
he discussed a resolution he is eager to advance in the U.N. Security Council.
It would call for the immediate renewal of talks between Israelis and
Palestinians and set a timeframe of about 18 months for them to reach a
permanent agreement based on the 1967 lines and with Jerusalem as a shared
by the deadline, no agreement is reached, Western governments would recognize a
Palestinian state. Is it possible Mr. Fabius does not realize that would give
Mr. Abbas a strong incentive not to compromise?
if, through some miracle, the 80-year-old Palestinian Authority president did
come to terms with Israel, what would be the result? He was elected to a
four-year term 10 years ago. Hamas doesn't recognize his authority. It's likely
that his successor — whoever that may be and however he may come to power —
won't be either.
this, should Israelis really be expected to make concessions that will endanger
the lives of their children? In the past, American presidents, Republican and
Democratic alike, have blocked such actions in the U.N. Security Council. But
President Obama is threatening to break with that tradition. There is
speculation that he's actually encouraging the French to take this step.
glib reply: "Something needs to be done!" But perceived urgency is not
the same as smart policy. How about this: Concentrate on incremental
improvements. With barbarians chopping heads just over the border, joint
Palestinian-Israeli security programs should be quietly expanded. Instead of
promoting boycotts against Israel, push for Palestinian-Israeli economic
cooperation, with Israelis providing more and better jobs for Palestinians in
the West Bank. In the absence of such cooperation, a Palestinian state will
inevitably end up a failed state and a ward of the international community
Gaza presents an opportunity for modest gains. At the moment, Hamas appears to
be going out of its way not to provoke another conflict. Its forces have been
moving against Islamic State sympathizers. Israelis should be encouraged to
reward such behavior.
a cautious approach could save and improve lives — Palestinian and Israeli
alike. No one will win a Nobel Prize and former enemies won't be seen hugging
and mugging for the cameras on the White House lawn. What we might see, however,
are Israelis and Palestinians learning that peaceful coexistence is possible
and, for those who don't yet know it, desirable. At the very least, Western
leaders would not be making matters worse.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.