It has been the overriding contention of this blog that while we all strive towards a solution to the conflict that will bring peace to the two peoples, we will actually sabotage those efforts by not confronting the painful truths that underlie the conflict.
I have chosen two recent pieces, one by Gershon Baskin of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information and the other by Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the academic research institute, The Shalem Center in Jerusalem to illustrate these differences.
According to Baskin, there is an ongoing ‘cycle of violence’ that must be stopped.
“The mutual calls for revenge continue to feed this horrific cycle of death and destruction. Many of our political leaders, on both sides, follow the mob response calling for more death, more blood, and more revenge. How many more families on both sides must bury their dear ones before we all wake up and realize that this must end?”
Both sides must come to their senses, put an end to the wanton killings, and realize that the only way forward is to come to mutually agreed upon political compromises. Baskin elevates Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to some sort of prophet of peace.
“Fortunately Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the recent violence positively stating: ‘Despite all the circumstances we’re living through and all the attacks we’re experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path’.” And again, at the end of his piece, playing the role of Israel’s leader; I have a partner in President Abbas who continues to show his moral commitment and courage to lead his people to peace.”
But this is sheer folly. Surely Baskin knows that there isn’t really a cycle of violence between two rational, reasonable players but rather a cold, brutal and unprovoked attack by a Jihadist entity–Hamas–against a sovereign state, with the new weapons of terror, the unpredictable Qassam–and now Katyusha–rockets, calculated to hit at the heart of Israeli population centers in the south, in range of approximately a quarter million Israeli civilians. When the launchers of these rockets ‘hide’ in densely populated civilian areas–schools and hospitals are not off limits–of their own people, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the leaders of the Jihadists see a huge public relations windfall in the unavoidable deaths of their own people (Baskin’s estimates, which he conveniently borrows from unnamed Palestinian sources, that of the more than 100 Palestinians killed last week, “more than half of them civilians,” is viewed by Israeli authorities as grossly inflated, but either way, it points to the dilemma a democracy faces in battling an enemy that willingly uses its own people as human shields, if not human sacrifices).
And surely Baskin is aware that President Abbas is not the saintly figure he portrays him as. Even if his recent statements were more for internal consumption, to maintain some semblance of authority among his own people, they should still give us pause. In an interview in Jordan last week he reiterated his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State and noted that he reserved the right to return to resistance (code for terror); he also indicated that he has no problem with Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Abbas: PLO Taught Everyone How to Resist
Turning to Hamas, Abbas said he has no problem with their not recognizing Israel’s right to exist; he simply wants them to join a unity government to negotiate the issue. Abbas added that he would never accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. “We negated that concept in the Annapolis peace conference, and it almost ended because of it,” he said. “They wanted us to state, in the closing statement, that we recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but we wouldn’t hear of it,” he said. Abbas also said that while he’s against resuming an armed conflict with Israel at this time, he doesn’t rule it out in the future.
But leaving all that aside, the fundamental reality is that Abbas, whatever his true intentions, is a weak and ineffectual leader. His Fatah party was decimated by Hamas in Gaza last June. Barely fighting back, they were toppled in a matter of days. Serious analysts of the current situation are fully aware that the only thing that stands in the way of Hamas executing a similar coup in the West Bank is the IDF. If Israeli forces (and intelligence on the ground) withdrew, Abbas and Fatah would fall to Hamas in no time. And what would that mean for Israelis? Nothing short of having Ben Gurion airport, all of Jerusalem, not to mention Tel Aviv held hostage to the Jihadists and their rockets.
To assess the situation in any less stark terms borders on the irresponsible.
Yossi Klein Halevi offers us the more unpalatable, sober assessment of where we truly stand, pointing out that we are not just battling Hamas and other Jihadist factions, but rather, Iran. The Iranians are employing Hamas, just as they continue to use Hezbollah, to wage a proxy war with Israel that started under Arafat, and continues unabated to this day.
“The Palestinian struggle is no longer about creating an independent state. It is about being a front-line participant in the Iranian-led jihad to destroy Israel, evolving from a nationalist to a religious war. The thousands of celebrants in Gaza who, following the yeshiva massacre, offered prayers of thanksgiving in the mosques and distributed candies to passersby weren’t only indulging in feelings of revenge for Israel’s recent military incursion but heralding the coming jihadist victory over the enemies of God. A real solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be reached by dealing with its primary instigator: Iran.”
Halevi points to the importance of understanding, and naming what we are up against before we can effectively confront it.
“The jihadist war against Israel has shifted from one front to another–suicide bombings inside Israeli cities until 2004, Katyushas on Haifa in the north in 2006, and now Katyushas on Ashkelon in the south. All are battles in the same war. So far, it is a war without an all-encompassing name, and that linguistic failure reflects a larger Israeli failure to treat this as a unified conflict. We still refer to the suicide bombings of 2000-2004 by the Palestinians’ misnomer, “the second intifada”–which falsely implies a popular uprising, like the first intifada, rather the orchestrated slew of terror attacks that it was. Awkwardly, we call the 2006 battle against Hezbollah “the second Lebanon War,” a name that places the conflict in the wrong context–the first Lebanon War against Palestinian nationalist terrorism in the early 1980s rather than one more front in the Iranian war against Israel. And now we are calling the daily rocket attacks against southern Israel “the war of the Qassams,” even as the Qassams are augmented by the far more deadly KatyushasIn contending with Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel is trying to treat the symptoms, rather than the cause.”
Halevi prescribes a dose of realism:
“To deal effectively with the jihad requires an awareness that Israel is in fact at war with the Iranian regime, which manipulates proxies along Israel’s borders, supplying them with weapons and training, and energizing them with the promise of imminent victory.”
The well-intentioned may persist in their fantasies that if only we were to negotiate harder and with greater flexibility, we could achieve what we all want; two states for two peoples living in peace. But Halevi cautions us against such wishful thinking. Without first dealing with the Jihadists, it’s all pie-in-the-sky.
“Following the yeshiva massacre, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speculated that the gunman was attempting to “derail” the peace process. Brown’s implication, widely shared in the West, is that the best way to defeat the jihadists is to create a Palestinian state.But a viable Palestinian state living peacefully beside Israel will not be possible without disconnecting Iran from these groups who are attacking Israel on its behalf. This may require destabilizing the Iranian regime–hopefully through intensified sanctions against its nuclear program, and by military force against its nuclear installations if sanctions fail. Without stopping the momentum of the Iranian-led jihad against Israel, the appeal of Hamas among Palestinians will grow. So long as the international community tries to create a Palestinian state without seriously confronting the jihadists, Iran and its proxies will continue to make peace impossible–not by “derailing” negotiations, but by making those negotiations irrelevant.”
The Iranian-Israeli War – Yossi Klein Halevi
Regardless of the affiliation of the actual perpetrator of the massacre of eight students in a yeshiva library in Jerusalem last week, the ultimate responsibility for this attack, as for almost all the terror attacks on Israel in recent years, lies with Iran. The Palestinian struggle is no longer about creating an independent state. It is about being a front-line participant in the Iranian-led jihad to destroy Israel, evolving from a nationalist to a religious war. A real solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be reached by dealing with its primary instigator: Iran. After Yasser Arafat launched a war against Israel in September 2000, he initiated an alliance with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Until then, Iran’s only client within the Palestinian national movement had been the Islamic Jihad, the smallest of the Palestinian terrorist factions. According to a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, Arafat promised the Iranians that he would turn Gaza into a second southern Lebanon, and Iran began providing weapons and funds to Arafat’s Fatah. In January 2002, Israel intercepted the Karine A, a ship carrying Iranian-supplied Katyusha rockets and mortars and C-4 explosives for use in suicide bombings. Three years ago, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal orchestrated a formal alliance and today Hamas is an integral part of the Iranian war against Israel. Iran has trained hundreds of Hamas operatives – and continues to fund individual members of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Brigades. The writer is a senior fellow at the Adelson Center for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. (New Republic)
The moral majority for peace
Gershon Baskin , THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 10, 2008
Reaching a peace agreement by the end of the year seems almost impossible. The violence between the sides is once again in full gear and the rage on the streets of both Israel and Palestine is on the rise. Israel killed more than 100 Palestinians in the last “operation” in Gaza – more than half of them civilians, say Palestinian sources. Palestinian celebrations in Gaza after the murderous attack in Mercaz Harav and crowds of Israelis calling “death to the Arabs” once again demonstrates that we have not learned anything. Jews and Arabs have been killing each other over this land for 100 years. The mutual calls for revenge continue to feed this horrific cycle of death and destruction. Many of our political leaders, on both sides, follow the mob response calling for more death, more blood, and more revenge. How many more families on both sides must bury their dear ones before we all wake up and realize that this must end? Fortunately Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the recent violence positively stating:
“Despite all the circumstances we’re living through and all the attacks we’re experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path.”
Israeli leaders have been less explicit. This is most unfortunate. The leaders on both sides should sound a voice of morality recognizing that the violence on both sides of the conflict will continue as long as there is no political agreement that will lead us to the end of the conflict.
I find it completely beyond comprehension that people on both sides actually believe that the way to put and end to the violence of the other side is to hit them with more force and bring more suffering on them. How can any thinking person believe that if we kill more of “them” that they will simply surrender? Would we? If the Palestinians continue to kill us in a wholesale manner would we consider surrendering our rights? Would we lay down our arms and make concessions on our rights for liberty, freedom, statehood, and justice because we suffer losses?
Palestinians are no different than us on matters concerning their national dignity, dreams of statehood and demands for freedom, liberty and justice. If we were occupied and denied our freedom would we lay down our arms? Would we adopt strategies of non-violence? I doubt it.
NO, IT IS not easy to reach a negotiated end to this 100 year conflict. Both political systems are so weak, divided and dysfunctional that it is almost impossible for the political leaders to find the courage to make the leap that is necessary to give each other the minimum concessions that are needed to produce an agreement.
In our weak and divided political systems, the “spoilers” of peace on both sides have more power to destroy than the leaders have to negotiate. The public outcry for revenge by crowds and by politicians on both sides is the food that energizes the spoilers. The leaders have almost no support. They must stand against the tide of cynicism and the real sense of despair that peace is not possible.
Reaching a peace agreement, however; is possible. An agreement cannot be reached in any kind of public forum. An agreement cannot be reached by negotiating each of the issues separately. The issue of Jerusalem cannot be detached from the issue of borders, refugees, security or even economic relations. Each one of the issues is inter-connected and inter-dependent. The agreement will be a package deal with trade-offs on the various issues. The agreement will provide each side with at least the minimum of what is defined as their key national security and strategic interests. Both sides will need to feel that they got the most that was possible. Both sides will have to feel that they have achieved some sense of justice for their demands and for their people. Both sides will have to sell the agreement to their people in some form of democratic process.
If I were in the Israeli leadership I would be conducting secret negotiations since July 2007. I would engage only my closest confidantes in those talks. I would know that if even an inkling of the concessions being considered were to be known the coalition would collapse, elections would take place and under the current political mood, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and the right-wing would take over and lead us to more doom, death and destruction.
I would understand that I need until the end of the year gifted to us by President George W. Bush and his Annapolis summit. I would use each and every one of those remaining days to produce the best agreement possible.
I would even agree to a one year cease-fire with Hamas that would provide us with the quiet that we need to negotiate. The cease-fire would put an end to the rocket fire in the south. Yes it would tie our hands in our ability to respond militarily to potential dangers and risks in Gaza and in the West Bank. It would require that we significantly increase our security and even intelligence cooperation with the security forces of Abbas (which is in our interest to do anyway).
It would require us to understand that Hamas will continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza and that we would have to increase our cooperation with Egypt in the hope that the Egyptians will be more effective in finding and destroying the tunnels into Gaza. It means that we would have to end our strangulation of Gaza policy for the coming year. The cease-fire cannot be kept in place if the people of Gaza continue to feel under siege as the private sector in Gaza is brought to total bankruptcy.
I WOULD understand that once I have an agreement in hand, I would call for new elections in Israel. I would be convinced that the overwhelming majority of Israelis will support the agreement. I would know that because the silent majority of Israelis desire life and peace. I would hope that Abbas will also lead a democratic process in Palestine that even if limited to the West Bank would produce a moral majority that would be significant enough to demonstrate that the Palestinian people support peace. I would understand that the implementation of the agreement will take place over a number of years and that eventually the political situation in Gaza will enable it to be implemented there as well.
I would understand that we need to work together to create the conditions on the ground that will enable significant improvements in the daily lives of Palestinians. If security conditions did not allow for the removing of many check points right now, I would already work with the Palestinians to transfer to them all of the civil and administration control over all of the areas that I already know will no longer be part of Israel, including most of what is know as area “c”. There is no need for Israel to continue to control planning and building, for example in most of the West Bank. I would understand that I hold the keys that open many doors of hope for the Palestinians and for the Israelis. No, I could not do it alone, but fortunately I have a partner in President Abbas who continues to show his moral commitment and courage to lead his people to peace and I would stand tall knowing that I too had the courage and the moral commitment to lead the people of Israel forward to peace.
Weapon of Terror: The Kassam Rocket – Margaret Weiss
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Kassams and other rockets have transformed the strategic balance between Israel and the Palestinians, giving terrorist groups an alternative means of attacking Israeli civilians and raising the level of fear among a large fraction of the Israeli population. In the long term, the presence of these rockets will force all parties to rethink the security arrangements for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement, since this threat did not exist during previous peacemaking efforts at Camp David and Taba.