Reaching For Peace, Receiving Violence

Israel, Palestian Authority Face The Dangers Of Unrealistic Expectations

(The New Republic) This column was written by Sarah N. Stern.

Tomorrow, I will be undergoing some exploratory surgery for cancer. I am grateful for the support of friends and family members, but mostly to my physician who has been honest enough to level with me about what, precisely, we are looking for. When it comes to matters of life and death, one does not want to play games.

[..] On July 25, 2000, I was in attendance at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. when Israeli Attorney General Eli Rubinstein had come to address the group. He had just returned from Camp David, Maryland, where the talks between Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton had just broken up. I will never forget what he told us.

“I can look every one of you straight in the eye,” he said, “and I can tell you that we went as far as any responsible government could possibly go. In fact, some will argue that what we offered was irresponsible. What we offered was shared sovereignty of Jerusalem, with Muslim control of the Haram al-Sharif, and Israeli control of the Western Wall, a dismantling of all West Bank settlements, which have always been our eyes and ears to the East, and 95 to 97 percent of the West Bank, with a land swap for the remaining three to five percent.”

“There were people who are now crying in their limousines back to the airport. We figured that if we offered Chairman Arafat an offer that he couldn’t refuse…he wouldn’t.”

“You will find no documentation about the terms of the offer. We have presented this in a ‘now or never’ formulation,” added the former Attorney General.

I have been internally crying ever since. I knew then that by making the terms of the offer so extraordinary, the Clinton-Barak parameters could never be matched, and would doom any future “land for peace” negotiations to failure. How could any responsible Palestinian interlocutor come back to his people with less than what Arafat walked away from? And how could any responsible Israeli interlocutor come back to his people, after the seven years of ensuing violence since Camp David II, and offer so much?

The Clinton-Barak parameters have raised the bar so high as to make it nearly impossible for future negotiators to come to a practical understanding that works for both sides. So it’s no surprise what currently confronts us: A maximalist Palestinian position and an Israeli retreat to the pre-1967 borders, which are actually the 1949 armistice lines. These boundaries were nine miles wide at their narrowest point, lacking the strategic depth to enable Israel to defend itself, which led the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Abba Eban (of the Labour Party) to dub them “the Auschwitz lines.”

With what confidence can the Israelis contemplate that such a retreat will not be met with a barrage of missiles onto the coastal plain, where Israel’s population is most densely located? Particularly in light of how Hamas has used its beach head in Gaza to fire qassam missiles into the neighboring Israeli town of Sderot.

Culpability should not be put on the Bush White House for a lack of “engagement.” If there is any culpability, it should go to the Clinton administration, for encouraging Prime Minister Barak to “bet the barn,” and therefore making it virtually impossible for any future Israeli negotiator to match his generosity.

These already inflated expectations are actually growing. On October 11, Adnan Husseini, advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Palestinian demands for eastern Jerusalem also include the Western wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Said Husseini, “This is part of the Islamic heritage that cannot be given up, and it must remain under Islamic control.” Ceding control of the Western wall is, of course, anathema to the vast majority of the Jewish people.

Unrealistic expectations are seeding the ground for a future explosion. There are times when dialogue is not the palliative we generally think it to be in the West, but can become a stroll down a lethal minefield. We are almost setting the stage here for a religious war.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on October 12 saying, “If the talks fail, we can expect a third, and much more severe, intifada.”

Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Fatah parlimentary list and a close associate of Mahmoud Abbas, warned of the possibility of much greater bloodshed if the negotiations fail. He told the Jerusalem Post, “If we don’t prepare well for the conference, so that it will result in something positive, the repercussions will be much more dangerous than what happened after the failure of Camp David.”

President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to resign if the talks fail, paving the way for another round of bloodshed, and for the strengthening of Iranian-backed Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

Even the European Union’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, Marc Otte, has warned that a failure to advance the peace process at next month’s planned summit in Annapolis could trigger worse violence then what followed the failed Camp David II talks in 2000.

The fantastic terms of the Clinton-Barak peace offering, and its rejection by Arafat, are not the only obstacle to a meaningful, further negotiation. The 1995 Oslo accord specifically obligated Israel and the Palestinian Authority to “abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other.” The Bush administration’s Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East, has a similar provision. Phase I states that at the outset, that “all official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”

These statutes were, and are, critical, and the official Palestinian stance of ignoring them is of great significance. While Israel was embarking on a withdrawal process from Gaza, and taking steps toward implementing a “peace curriculum” in its schools, the Palestinian Authority was inculcating its people with a culture of hatred and death.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, a clip that has been broadcast by Fatah-controlled television throughout last week, shows the entire map of Israel, painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Although the official Palestinian position is for a Palestinian state to exist in Gaza and the West Bank, with shared sovereignty of Jerusalem, the leaders have been preparing their people for the eventual annihilation of all of Israel. This is consistent with the Palestinian National Covenant, which was never formally amended to eliminate its call for the destruction of the State of Israel.

As President Kennedy once said, “Peace does not exist in signed documents and treaties alone, but in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Hopefully, there will be a time when future Palestinian leaders will be preparing their people for a durable peace, one that will last for generations, but at this point we have no firm evidence to believe that is the case. The litmus test of when the Palestinians will be actually ready to sit down and negotiate a lasting peace is when they will stop teaching their children to play war games in their summer camps, training them to become suicide bombers for the sake of a fully “liberated” Palestine.

The Palestinians have been using every means of communication available to teach their children hatred of Israel. Only after we have verification that this incitement stops, will we have a negotiating partner who is not playing “blind man’s bluff.” Until then, we, in the West, will be covering up our eyes and pretending to be the blind man, as the Palestinians bluff.

In a recent conversation with a colleague from another think tank, I expressed my fears. His response was “Life is like a game of charades.”

No, it is not. Not when we are dealing with issues of life and death.

October 27, 2007 | 11 Comments »

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