Peace in the Middle East? Not Yet
Published on: March 24, 2010
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  • fw

    Netanyahu is a fool, and the settlers ought to be uprooted, in the interests of a resolution.

    That said, the Palestinians are not going to get any more than what Barak offered Arafat in 2000, and what Olmert offered Abbas a few years later.

    I think that accounts for the stubbornness on the part of the old Palestinian guard that is still clinging to leadership positions. Why all the sacrifices in the intervening decade between Camp David and the present, if the final terms are roughly the same?

    With respect to Israelis, Saudi Arabia’s veteran diplomat referred to Arafat’s rejection of Camp David as a crime against the Palestinians.

    It was so disastrous in its effect on the prospects for peace and the confidence of Israelis in the sincerity of their Palestinian counterparts, that international received opinion has had to rewrite history, and claim that the U.S. was “acting as Israel’s lawyer,” as if that fact, even if true, has any bearing on whether or not Arafat should have accepted the deal, rather than stalked off without making any kind of counter offer.

    Moreover, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and uprooted its Gaza settlers, and got two wars in return, and a thrown stone from terror apologist Edward Said.

    Again, received opinion pretends that these withdrawals never occurred, and therefore condemns Israel for it’s military response to border attacks from both neighbors.

    Finally, more Jews were effectively expelled from Arab states after the creation of Israel than Arabs were from the old, Turkish and then British Palestinian mandate. They comprised some of the culturally-richest communities in the Middle East, and they will never be reconstituted.

    There are numerous Arab states, and there will be an additional one when Palestine achieves independence, but there will never be a Jew-ran, or Jew-raq, or Jew-syria, or Jew-egypt, or Jew-rocco, though Jews in these countries have, in principle every right to sovereign territory in these nations that the Palestinians have in their territories.

    The truth is, Arab’s get many nations, with their oil wealth, but Jews only get one, and even that one is declared illegitimate.

  • fw

    Netanyahu is a fool, and the settlers ought to be uprooted, in the interests of a resolution.

    That said, the Palestinians are not going to get any more than what Barak offered Arafat in 2000, and what Olmert offered Abbas a few years later.

    I think that accounts for the stubbornness on the part of the old Palestinian guard that is still clinging to leadership positions. Why all the sacrifices in the intervening decade between Camp David and the present, if the final terms are roughly the same?

    With respect to Israelis, Saudi Arabia’s veteran diplomat Prince Bandar referred to Arafat’s rejection of Camp David as a crime against the Palestinians.

    It was so disastrous in its effect on the prospects for peace and the confidence of Israelis in the sincerity of their Palestinian counterparts, that international received opinion has had to rewrite history, and claim that the U.S. was “acting as Israel’s lawyer,” as if that fact, even if true, has any bearing on whether or not Arafat should have accepted the deal, rather than stalked off without making any kind of counter offer.

    Moreover, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and uprooted its Gaza settlers, and got two wars in return, (and a thrown stone from terror apologist Edward Said.)

    Again, received opinion pretends that these withdrawals never occurred, and therefore condemns Israel for it’s military response to border attacks from both neighbors.

    Finally, more Jews were effectively expelled from Arab states after the creation of Israel than Arabs were from the old Turkish and then British Palestinian mandate. They comprised some of the culturally-richest communities in the Middle East, and they will never be reconstituted.

    There are numerous Arab states, and there will be an additional one when Palestine achieves independence, but there will never be a Jew-ran, or Jew-raq, or Jew-syria, or Jew-egypt, or Jew-rocco, though Jews in these countries have, in principle every right to sovereign territory in these nations that the Palestinians have in their territories.

    The truth is, Arab’s get many nations, with their oil wealth, but Jews only get one, and even that one is declared illegitimate.

  • Luke Lea

    At the very end of Oslo, Clinton desperately pleaded with Arafat to accept the terms as negotiated. What did he want? Arafat replied, “More.” Another junior group of Palestinian negotiators were more explicit what “more” meant. They guessed that $500 billion in compensation might be enough.

    We need to take them seriously. Blood money is real for them. Honor requires it. Land cannot be surrendered voluntarily, let alone by force, without compensation. Furthermore, Islam is a religion about the bringing real estate within the realm of “the law” just as much as Judaism is.

    Ireland resisted foreign settlement in northern Ireland for 400 years even in the absence of a religious injunction. It is unrealistic to suppose that the Palestinians will eventually give up on their claims. And the demographic tides run strongly in their favor.

    If Israel hopes to survive, it is imperative to settle now (in the next generation). Only Europe can supply the necessary means. Face up to it.

  • telaviv

    very good analysis. i would only add that the W. Bank population is not close to accepting concessions on refugees or anything else. the conflict must be looked at from the religious-islamic angle and not so much from the territorial.

    egyptian peace is between the govt. of egypt and israel, while its people oppose israel overwhelmingly more due to religious inclinations.

  • dmitry

    This otherwise promising analysis unfortunately de-emphasizes what is arguably the most important aspect of the conflict – the active, pernicious and aggressively genocidal involvement of the Arab countries. The Palestinians themselves are nurtured in the state of endless belligerency by the “hosts” of their Diaspora that keep their descendants stateless, often confined to camps and educate every successive generation in militant schools. They are in many ways cannon fodder for the ambitions of Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, et al – to in fact eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. Now that Iran has joined the push in the last decades, it’s become even worse, since Iran is directly funding the radical elements within the settled Palestinian population west of the Jordan River as well.
    Thus, no amount of good will concessions, partition plans, settlement removals or other “peace process” steps are likely to produce the desired outcome of peaceful coexistence, since they are all focused on mollifying that part of the Palestinian and Arab people that already largely coexists with Israel.
    Essentially, it’s like selling the wrong thing to the wrong crowd – the decision makers are not in Ramallah or Gaza, and not even in the camps of Lebanon or Libya, but rather in Damascus, Mecca, Teheran, Tripoli and Cairo. And what they want to buy – Israel can’t sell them, since nobody would negotiate their own demise (and be able to carry it out in a democratic model of governance without losing power).

    So the overall point here is correct – conflict management rather than conflict resolution is what is going on and likely will continue. Alas, the explanation of the root cause seems lacking.

  • dmitry

    There is one more fundamental abstraction at play that prevents an accurate understanding of the situation – even the Palestinians as the cannon fodder of the Arab war on Israel are not, in fact, participating in the war as a unified community. Rather, an observer would benefit from one more level of detail as follows: the Palestinians are split into subcommunities, often at loggerheads with each other, and each with its own degree of coexistence with the Jews west of Jordan. Some of the obvious examples are the Druze – non-Muslim Arabs allied to the Jews who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (often by choice in the Border Police detachments that are in direct violent conflict with the West bankers), vote Likud, etc, the Negev Bedouin – Muslim Arabs who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (often guarding the violent Gaza border and in tracker units) but vote for their own sectoral party, the Galilee Muslims who are citizens of Israel but are radicalized to a large degree, the Galilee Arab Christians who are citizens of Israel and are largely integrated into the Israeli life yet don’t serve in the Army, the East Jerusalem residents who are permanent residents of Israel and are largely quiescent, the Judean Desert Bedouin who are neutral, the Beit Sahour/Beit Jallah/Bethlehem Arab Christians who are Palestinians and are quiescent.
    The conflict populations are in fact the primarily Muslim Gaza and West Bank village, camp and town residents who comprise less than half of the total Arab population west of the Jordan River, and not all of them are radicalized either.

    On the other side of the equation, if one thinks of a fair split of disputed territory roughly following the ethnic composition of the population in the territory (a formula that was eventually applied to Bosnia in the Dayton Accords, for example), then Israeli Jews number around 500,000 in the area defined by the commentators as “settlements” – east Jerusalem and West Bank. Arabs number perhaps 2,500,000 in that same area. A “fair” split would give Israel approximately 15% of the combined east Jerusalem/West Bank area on the soul-counting basis alone, not even taking into account relative economic weight of the two populations, historical rights, security, etc. As the proportion of Jews in that area grows – and it’s been growing, the “fair” share of the split for Israel has been growing as well, and that’s the core logic behind all the screaming about facts on the ground…

  • Marc R

    I agree. Excellent analysis. I have only a few minor quibbles.

    First, you’re probably right that the “go for broke” strategy turned out to be a mistake. But that wasn’t obvious at the time. Only by having Arafat reject peace did it clarify the situation that we’re in.

    Second, it’s not so clear that the Palestinians have refused to accept anything other than going home. The fact is, nothing else has been offered to them. Unlike other war refugees, the host Arab nations have kept the Palestinians in refugee camps for several generations for their own propaganda purposes. Because, of course, most of these refugees were not born in and have never lived in Palestine. Like the Jews who were expelled from Hebron and the Arab lands, they will need to say goodbye to their old land.

  • Roy

    The Palestinian-Israel conflict is, relative to other regional conflicts, less deadly. Management of it may be precisely what is called for. This is German sociologist, Gunnar Heinsohn, writing in The Wall Street Journal:

    ” In Arab nations such as Lebanon (150,000 dead in the civil war between 1975 and 1990) or Algeria (200,000 dead in the Islamists’ war against their own people between 1999 and 2006), the slaughter abated only when the fertility rates in these countries fell from seven children per woman to fewer than two. The warring stopped because no more warriors were being born.

    And so the killing continues. In 2005, when Israel was still an occupying force, Gaza lost more young men to gang fights and crime than in its war against the “Zionist enemy.” Despite the media’s obsession with the Mideast conflict, it has cost many fewer lives than the youth bulges in West Africa, Lebanon or Algeria. In the six decades since Israel’s founding, “only” some 62,000 people (40,000 Arabs, 22,000 Jews) have been killed in all the Israeli-Arab wars and Palestinian terror attacks. During that same time, some 11 million Muslims have been killed in wars and terror attacks — mostly at the hands of other Muslims.”

    Here’s the link:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123171179743471961.html

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  • Sorry to be a wee bit off subject here, but having been a mideastern history major, and having hitched through the mideast in mid-60s and having kept up over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that this old saw about how we have to do a two-state solution BEFORE Arab Muslims accept Israel is exactly backwards. They need to undergo something akin to a reformation and they need to do that first. If there was a two state deal tomorrow, do you seriously think Saudis and Iranians would stop funding Pali terrorists? No way.

  • When I was in Damascus and Baghdad in1965 it wasn’t uncommon to see bazaar booth owners who had pictures of Hitler in their stalls, pictures festooned with flowers, etc., right next to that of whatever dictator ran Syria or Iraq at the time. Fact was I loved the Arabs. Their congenital hospitality to travelers is unparalleled. But the notion that there is such a thing as a single moderate Arab Muslim anywhere but in an expat diaspora far away from the Mideast is patent baloney.

  • Don’t mean to keep rattling on, but in the mid-60s, if you were a hitchhiker in the mideast, you soon learned the code word for Israel when walking the streets. It was “Disneyland,” and you dared not say the word Israel out loud lest an angry crowd would gather and begin to harrass you. At the time you could go by land from Jerusalem Jordan to Israel, but not back from Israel, nor could you ever travel in another Arab country once you had an Israel visa stamped on your passport (at least that was the word on the hiker’s street then, never was able to verify it). In the youth hostel in Damascus, there was a map of the mideast that the hostel owner had blackened out where Israel should have been. Little reminders of the extent of the hatred everywhere you went among a people who were otherwise wonderful.

  • Roy

    Here is former legal advisor and general Counsel to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), James Lindsay. The agency, largely funded by the U.S., employs a staff of 24,000, and has survived 60 years, notwithstanding its original three-year mandate. Lindsay is critical of his former organization:

    “UNRWA — is it part of the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict or part of the problem?

    The humanitarian aspect of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has cast a fresh spotlight on the presence in Gaza of the nearly sixty-year-old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), raising important questions about why the UN still operates schools, hospitals, and clinics for “refugees” six decades after the partition of Mandatory Palestine.

    UNRWA began providing assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in May 1950, in the wake of the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli war. Since then, the organization has survived wars, coups, uprisings, and, in Gaza and the West Bank, even the creation of the first-ever Palestinian governing body — the Palestinian Authority — which operates in parallel with, not in place of, UNRWA institutions.

    Over the course of its long history, UNRWA has rarely been the subject of comprehensive external evaluation, and virtually nothing has been written on the organization’s strategy and operations by a senior staff member with knowledge of how UNRWA actually works.

    This path-breaking study by James G. Lindsay, UNRWA’s former general counsel, offers one of the first insider accounts of the organization. In it, Lindsay analyzes the agency’s evolution over the past half century, evaluates recent criticisms of its operations, and recommends bold new policies for the U.S. government — UNRWA’s largest single-country donor — that will help repair an aid and relief system that has strayed from its original mission.”

    Here’s the link to his paper:

    http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC04.php?CID=306

  • Marc R

    Thanks for your insights Tom.

    It definitely puts a lie to those who seem to forget that it was not the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 that caused the animosity towards Israel.

  • Fred3

    How many actual refugees from 1948 are still alive? That is, not counting those born since, in Lebanon, Jordon or Syria, how many are left?

    I’ve heard the number is about 50,000. They’re all over 62 years old now. In 20 years the number will dwindle a lot.

    An O’Reilly born in Brooklyn is not considered an Irish refugee. A baby born in Lebanon should be considered Lebanese.

  • SC Mike

    It would be much simpler if Israel just changed its name to “Iran.” It would then get this administration’s love and respect…

  • A blemishless analysis, Walter. But it does not get to the two ultimate strategic questions (not that it purported to).

    First, what’s the most propitious Israeli attitude to push the political majority of the Palestinian Arabs toward accepting Israel’s legitimacy? Concessions, reasonableness and diplomacy? Or the fist in the face? Will they be persuaded by civilized sincerity, or only by the bloody conclusion that they can never win?

    Second, what’s the stake for the US? How much does this stuff really matter, compared to other stuff?

    I would submit that once reasonable people agree on the essential analysis, which you have summarized brilliantly, these become the real questions that drive the main actors.

    They are hard questions.

  • Bob

    “The truth is that American national interests require a peace process in the Middle East even if peace remains out of sight.”

    The trouble is that since the US is seen by Arabs as almost all-powerful (and certainly as possessing great influence over Israel), if it is involved in perpetually ongoing negotiations, it will be seen as acting in bad faith.

  • Peter Burman

    In 1967, Israel was threatened with a war of annihilation. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were attacking; Israel won. Yet Israel is expected to sue for peace. Why is it that when any other country wins a war, they dictate the terms of peace, but Israel is expected to sue for peace.

  • PetraMB

    This is a subject that is hard to deal with in just a short post like this, but the “narratives” presented here certainly capture much of the usual debates very well. However, if the US is looking for a solution, the most important point made by WRM is that the difficult issues date back to Israel’s establishment and the war launched by the Arab states to undo this. That’s why it is completely pointless to pretend that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is needed. It was the Arab-initiated war that created the refugees, and it was, and is, Arab intransigence that made this refugee status inheritable. As long as the Arabs refuse to face up to their responsibilities, the conflict will indeed remain intractable. And let us not forget that the Arabs also created some 800 000 Jewish refugees in the course of this conflict.

    And while I’m a devoted WRM fan, I think he is wrong to claim in his Foreign Affairs article:
    “George W. Bush failed at everything he tried.”
    It doesn’t really come natural to me to defend Bush, but credit where credit is due: his Annapolis talks produce the Olmert offer, which is by now without doubt the blueprint for an agreement, at least as far as the territorial aspects are concerned.
    The fact that the Palestinians were unwilling to say yes to Olmert’s proposals only goes to underline the validity of WRM’s conclusion that peace is not around the corner.

    One final note on Gaza: there are some interesting proposals that envisage the land swaps that would compensate the Palestinians for the settlements as adding land to Gaza, which could enlarge the territory by about 1/3, instead of adding pointless bits and pieces of land to the West Bank. Obviously, these proposals are eminently sensible, because Gaza is not only the most densely populated Palestinian territory, but also has considerable economic potential, given its location on some prime Mediterranean beach, some gas reserves, the capacity for a port, closeness to Egypt, etc. If the Palestinians were really interested in a viable state, this should be the most attractive land swap.

    I’ve to say that I’ve always rooted for Obama — when I saw the first interview with him shortly after he became a senator, I said that this man will be America’s first black president. Like many of his admirers, I now feel that I overestimated him. Certainly when it comes to the Middle East, his policies look more and more disastrous — and I’m saying this not just as an Israeli because he is leaning so hard on us. But I’m afraid it’s true that in the Middle East, it’s the “strong horse” that is admired, and under Obama, the US looks just appalingly weak and wavering. Being hard on old allies and deferential to bitter enemies doesn’t win you respect or clout around here.

  • telaviv

    tom good posts, shows how deep the issue is in muslim world.

  • I’ve never blamed the Arab street for the problems in the Mideast. They’re just pawns. I decided not to go to Israel, though that was where everyone from the west was going in late 1965 when I was there. Interesting to think back and realize that all or at least most of those wannabe kibbutzniks who went through the one-way Mandelbaum Gate in then divided Jerusalem were left-leaning in those days, smitten I guess with the promises of a life of collective gardening. Now those leftists, who couldn’t wait to “work the land” for Marx’s sake, are Israel’s worst enemies. Funny that. I was one of three oiut of about a hundred who didn’t go into Israel, because I didn’t want to be shut out from traveling through the rest of the mideast and northeastern Africa, since I was headed to Egypt, Sudan (where in 1965 it was said that one million were already dead in the south from the Sudanese Arab extermination and slave-gathering regimen and where my visa prohibited me from going anyway (anywhere south of Khartoum), and on to Ethiopia. When Bush and Powell finally brought peace to the south of Sudan, that’s when Darfur exploded, since the black rebels there (who unlike in the south, are Muslim just like their racist persecutors in Khartoum) wanted their autonomy too. Ironically, I was headed (age 18) to South Africa, home then of apartheid and the rule of its sl-called architect PM Verwoerd Now they’re calling Israel an apartheid state. It’s a valid concern, not because it’s Israel policy at any level, but simply because of the demographics of Arab birth rates about which Israel must do something. But what? And frankly, with this idiot of a president we’re saddled with, Israel had best reestablish its independent ways and regain the spirit that allowed it to triumph in 1967. And they sure as hell shouldn’t give that land back. There never was a Palestine to begin with, just sand and shacks and massive Islamic dysfunction, and Israel was about to be attacked on a multi-country front when they preempted. You expel an near attack like that, that otherwise would have ended in total Israeli genocide, you don’t return the land to your attackers, your would-be killers. Tough times ahead for Israel, but they’ve seen worse. They’re survive and continue to thrive.

  • “otherwise why do we spend so much time, effort and money trying to threaten, bribe or cajole the two sides into sitting down?”

    Unless you consider press releases and briefings and the occasional trip to the region by someone who won’t be missed much while they’re gone, we spend very little effort and money. Time, yes, but that is the one thing we have in spades.

  • “We are 62 years closer to peace in the Middle East today than the world was in 1948.”

    That implies you’ve always known that the date of the final peace was after March 24, 2010. If that’s so, maybe you know the precise date of the final peace. I hope you do and you quickly share that info with the rest of the world.

    Btw, I’m still dying to know what you were doing in Palestine when Arafat gently kissed you on the crown of your head. And if you’ve since washed that spot.

  • Peter

    Peter Burman has a question:

    “In 1967, Israel was threatened with a war of annihilation. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were attacking; Israel won. Yet Israel is expected to sue for peace. Why is it that when any other country wins a war, they dictate the terms of peace, but Israel is expected to sue for peace?”

    The answer: Oil.

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