Rushing the Peace Process
By Cliff May
March 7, 2017
This palm-fringed oasis in the Jordan Valley has been
continuously inhabited for 10,000 years. That justifies it billing itself as the
“oldest city in the world.”
Officers of the Palestinian
National Security Force (NSF)
headquartered here will proudly tell you that it’s now among the safest places
in the Arab Middle East, and that their paramilitary organization is an
important reason why. They’re also grateful for the training, arms,
ammunition, equipment and even buildings being provided by American taxpayers.
This arrangement was agreed to by the Israelis who, in
1994, gave the Palestinian Authority administrative control over Jericho and
other West Bank cities.
Could the next step be a “two-state solution” to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Count me among those who see that as unlikely
anytime soon no matter how energetic, determined and skillful the diplomacy of
the Trump administration turns out to be.
The Middle East, always a bloody corner of the world, has
become bloodier over recent years. Historians will debate the extent to which
President Obama’s policies contributed to that result. But given this reality,
Israeli leaders from Labor on the left to Likud on the right are convinced that
the withdrawal of their military forces from the West Bank would leave a vacuum
— and that jihadis would fill it.
Consider the precedents. In 2005, every Israeli soldier and
settler was pulled out of Gaza. Within two years, Hamas had taken control and
begun launching missiles at Israeli villages and cities. A series of small wars
followed, as has the incessant digging of terrorist tunnels into Israel.
Five years earlier, the Israelis withdrew from southern
Lebanon. That strengthened Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, with whom other wars had
to be fought, the last in 2006. Since then, Hezbollah has installed more than
150,000 missiles in homes, schools and mosques — all aimed at Israel.
Back in 1982, as part of a historic peace agreement signed
a few years earlier, Israelis handed the Sinai Peninsula over to Egypt. Today, a
branch of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, wages an insurgency there.
Despite all that, and contrary to some reports, Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never ruled out the possibility of a
“land for peace” deal with the Palestinians. But in return for relinquishing
the West Bank (seized from Jordan in a defensive war nearly 50 years ago), he is
adamant that the Jewish state receive a verifiable Palestinian commitment to
Hamas, which controls Gaza and has cells throughout the
West Bank, unequivocally rejects that idea. Hamas believes that Islamic law
obligates Muslims to fight non-Muslims who control lands that were, at any time
in the past, conquered by Muslims.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who turns 82
this month, does not appear to share Hamas’ religious convictions. But were he
to end his long career by shaking Mr. Netanyahu’s hand on the White House
lawn, he’d be labeled a traitor, not just by Hamas but also by those seeking
to succeed him in the West Bank, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran which,
as a direct result of Mr. Obama’s policies, is currently the ascendant power
in the Middle East.
You’ll hear it argued that in the absence of a two-state
solution there will have to be a “one-state solution,” meaning Israeli
annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. At that point, Israelis would face a
Catch-22: refuse to grant citizenship to Palestinians living in those
territories, in which case Israel ceases to be democratic, or become a minority
in their own country.
There is no mystery about what the latter choice would
mean. Jewish communities have been persecuted in and expelled from many lands,
not least Muslim-majority lands. Nor can we say that was in the past and, since
then, attitudes have changed. There are more than 20 countries that call
themselves Arab and more than 50 that self-identify as Islamic. Minorities enjoy
equal rights in few if any. (By contrast, Arabs and Muslims constitute about 20
percent of Israel’s population and they enjoy more freedom, rights and
benefits than do Arabs and Muslims in any Arab or Muslim country.)
All this suggests now is not the time for dramatic
diplomatic initiatives. Significant changes will occur once Mr. Abbas passes
from the scene. American policymakers should be getting ready.
Meanwhile, it’s worth prodding the Palestinians to
develop the institutions — like the NSF —
that both define and sustain true statehood. Lacking that, they will remain
dependent on the “donor community” indefinitely. Worse, a Palestinian state
could arise, achieve recognition — and then fail. Who would benefit from that?
The lives of West Bank Palestinians, in Jericho and
elsewhere, can be made better. They are in dire need of more jobs with better
pay and benefits. Israelis are willing to assist, willing to expand economic
cooperation. But first Palestinian leaders must end both their opposition to
“normalization” with Israelis and their support for BDS (Boycott, Divest and
Sanction), a campaign that seeks to drive away Israeli investors, businesses and
Finally, a little perspective would be helpful. Palestinian
resentment of the Israeli military presence in the West bank is understandable,
as is bitterness over the fences and walls that separate the West Bank from
Israel. But both were a response to conventional and terrorist attacks that
killed thousands of Israelis — they were not the cause.
In recent days, the artist who calls himself Banksy has
generated quite a lot of media attention by opening a hotel next to a section of
wall in Bethlehem, proclaiming that it has “the worst view in the world.” Is
there no reporter with spine enough to ask him why he considers the bombed-out
ruins of Aleppo, Mosul and Sana’a more scenic?