Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Seven Myths of the Palestinian-Israel Conflict

With so much attention lately in the media about jump starting the so-called peace process between Israel and the Arabs, I thought it would be interesting to expose the common false assumptions underlying the statements from many world leaders:

1. The heart of Middle Eastern instability and terrorism is the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This the biggest granddaddy of them all. If we could only solve this conflict (presumably by forcing an "obstinate" Israel into concessions) we would remove the motivation and support of terrorists. The absurdity of this claim is obvious when one listens to Al Qeeda's and Iraqi insurgents own rhetoric-- which is based on fundamentalist political Islam. The Israel "problem" is just one of their many grievances against the west, and thus can never be pacified. The westerners are "heretics" and must be subjugated.

2. Israeli "settlements" are an obstacle to peace. This is easily rebutted by 2 simple facts:
a. Before 1970 their were no "settlements", yet the Palestinians were not exactly falling into our arms. b. Israel showed that it is not only willing to stop settlements but to actually dismantle them and expel settlers, as was done in the disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. What did the Palestinians do with the vacated lands and greenhouses? They turned them into launching pads for rockets targeting Israel's cities.

3. Regarding the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is the "occupier" of lands that were stolen from the Palestinians. The truth: the native inhabitants of Palestine never ruled themselves. They were always subject to rule of some occupying power. It never "belonged" to the Palestinians (other than individual land ownership) Currently, the area known as the West Bank is disputed territory. The Palestinians, as a national entity, did not come into being until the 1960s under the PLO.

4. Hamas and Hizbullah are not terrorist organizations but legitimate "resistance" movements who are simply trying to restore Arab rights. This is a subtle but sinister attempt to use the language of metaphor to put a positive spin on movements whose goal is to destroy Israel. When they say "resistance" what do they mean? Resistance to what? When they say they resist "occupation" what they really mean is the whole State of Israel. They openly say this. Thus "resistance" is simply a nice word for "destruction of Israel". Its as cynical as calling the Nazis or the KKK "resistance movements".

5. Israel has a peace partner with Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the PLO. Indeed, one could call Abbas more "moderate" in comparison to Hamas. Nonetheless, Abbas does not control half of the Palestinian people, in Gaza. Furthermore, by his own statements, the Palestinians will accept nothing less than withdrawal to 1967 borders and return of refugees. In other words, he demands the Israel knowningly commit national suicide, by withdrawing to indefensible borders with a hostile failed state and allowing a flood of Arab refugees into Israel.

6. Netanyahu, by his "extremist" policies, including his unwillingness to discuss a 2 state solution, is killing peace. This is really quite absurd. For the past 15 years since Oslo every Israeli leader, including Olmert, have publicly agreed to a 2 state solution, and made offers which were rejected. All of this discussion of 2 states had not brough peace any closer. So now, that Netanyahu doesn't what to discuss it-- suddenly he is to blame for lack of peace? This is really cynical and is dripping with hypocrisy.

7. "Solving" the Palestinian conflict will help "solve" the Iranian race for nuclear weapons. The linkage between these 2 issues could go in either direction-- the Palestinian problem makes tackling the Iranians difficult, or that Iranian support in the region for extremist rejectionist ("resistance") groups makes peace with the Palestinians more remote.
In reality, its hard to see how Iran's drive to regional hegemony has anything to do with the Palestinians. Secondly, even if the Palestinian-Israel conflict were resolved, how will that change Chinese and Russian support for Iran? How will it change Iranian ambitions? Sunni Arab countries are threatened by Iran for their own reasons, having nothing to do with helping America or with peace with Israel.
On the other hand, Iranian support for extremist groups have emboldened them and given them hope that one day soon, they will be able to throw the Jews into the sea (or back to Europe). So why should they compromise? Once Iran gets nuclear weapons, these groups will have nothing left to fear of Israel.

Ultimately, it is obvious to anybody with eyes in his head that the Palestinians will have to rule themselves in the future, whether this means a state or some other kind of entity. But currently it is not Israel that is blocking this outcome, but Palestinian and Arab rejection of Israel's right to exist in this region. Even the Arab league so-called "Saudi initiative " peace plan calls for Israeli self-destruction. In other words-- the Arabs want peace, but without an Israel.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Obama-Bibi Show

Behind all of the talking heads, speculation, commentary and buzz surrounding the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, the basic facts on the ground remain unchanged. Both Israel and the US know this, but cannot publicly declare that there is not a chance in hell that there will be a Palestinian-Israeli agreement in the forseeable future. So they dance around each other, making public statements in support of peace and negotiation. The Europeans, Americans and Arabs need to maintain the illusion of "progress" towards peace.

So the meetings and declarations are just a big orchestrated farce.

Obama will pretend to be pressuring Israel into a 2 state solution, even though he knows that this is impossible given the Palestinian divide. He cannot make Israel commit national suicide by forcing us into making a deal with Abbas. Bibi will continue to evade saying the magic word "state", knowing full well that ultimately the end game is indeed a Palestinian state, but not in the near future, so why provoke his domestic right wing opponents? As Ehud Barak correctly point out, after all, Israel has been talking about 2 states for the past 15 years since Oslo, and the Palestinians have not exactly fallen into our embrace. This is the precise point that Leiberman has been making all along.

There will be "virtual" pressure on Israel to make gestures-- taking down a few checkpoints or makeshift illegal buildings in the territories, but it will lead nowhere.

So really the argument between Bibi and Obama, and with Bibi's erstwhile colleagues in Kadima, is, how best to handle the PR. Do we say "two states", in order to appease the world, or avoid saying it, in order to not raise unrealistic expectations?

Unfortunately, American efforts to "reshape" the Middle East, as in the past, are doomed to failure.