Some things never change
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 3, 2002
Everyone knows what the final result of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel will – must – be: two states, with the 1949 Armistice Lines (aka "the 1967 borders"), or something close to them, becoming Israel’s recognized international borders. And since that will be the final result, Israel might as well unilaterally withdraw to its ultimate borders. So runs the standard line of the ever dwindling Israeli Left.
The only problem with this solution is that it persists in viewing the parties to any international dispute as rational economic actors, who will recognize their self-interest in abiding by the results of some professor’s game theory models. As far as the Jews of Israel go that is probably fair enough. Polls show that the majority of Israelis would agree to return to the 1967 "borders" in return for "true peace."
The problem is that few Israelis any longer believe that peace of any kind would result in from such an arrangement. And the source of their doubts exposes the Achilles heel of the Left’s argument. All people are not rational economic actors seeking to maximize their material plenty.
Palestinian behavior since September 2000 has convinced most Israelis that the Palestinians do not subscribe to any known models of rationality or morality. We lack the imaginative capacity to understand the thought processes of someone who could look at a smiling five-year-old girl and shoot her through the eyes at point blank range, or who could walk into a crowd of mothers with infants in strollers and blow himself up.
Nor can any economic models make sense of Yasir Arafat’s decision to reject a state on a silver platter in favor of a war that has wreaked misery and destruction on the Palestinian population.
Those who would impose the results of game theory by fiat treat the intentions of the parties as irrelevant. All that matters for them is what is written agreements.Yet in real life, every sane person ignores the character of the contracting parties. None of us would enter into an agreement with someone we knew to have been convicted of mail fraud four times no matter how attractive the deal.
Yet that is just what Israel did time after time under the now defunct Oslo agreements. Ehud Barak was found of saying that he only cared about the content of agreements, as if the trustworthiness of the signatories were irrelevant. Thus he remained steadfastly deaf to the goal Arafat was proclaiming in Arabic: a unitary Palestinian state in all the area West of the Jordan.
One of the documents seized from Arafat’s compound bears the stamp of the Palestinian Authority, and is addressed to Israeli Arabs. Written on the first anniversary of the "Al-Aksa Intifada," the document describes the Palestinian aspiration for "one homeland" belonging to "one people" on all of Palestinian soil. Not a word of co-existence with Israel, the Oslo Accords, or the 1967 borders appears.
Apart from the die-hard Left, few Israelis still express any confidence in Yasir Arafat or the Palestinian Authority. They have finally opened their eyes to the frothy brew of hatred being served by the Palestinian media and educational system. And they have felt on their own flesh, the results of that non-stop incitement: more than 450 Jewish civilians killed by terrorists since September 29 2000.
No wonder 98% of Israeli Jews put no stock in Arafat’s condemnations of terror (especially when he has to be coerced into issuing them by Secretary of State Colin Powell), 90% do not trust him to keep any agreement, and 87% do not believe he is interested in peace of any kind.
THE approach of Israeli Left today is another example of the "rationalist folly" – the belief that all men seek to maximize their economic well-being – that formed the underpinning of the Oslo process. Other ghosts of Oslo resurfaced last week with a vengeance.
From the beginning, it was clear that Oslo was much more about process than peace. In order to preserve the illusion of progress, new agreements and further Israeli withdrawals were necessary. So the entire process became a continual series of tangible Israeli territorial concessions in return for the same worthless Palestinian promises to refrain from incitement and terror.
The engine keeping the process in motion was always American pressure on Israel for further territorial concessions regardless of Palestinian compliance with previous agreements. Since the Palestinians have no problem saying no to the Americans, pressure was always exerted on Israel, which finds it far more difficult not to bend to the will of its only ally in the world.
Former President Jimmy Carter provided a classic example of traditional American thinking last week. In a New York Times op-ed, he offered his novel solution to the Middle East crisis: Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders. It does not occur to Carter that the cherished Palestinian dream of conquering all of Israel, which has now been passed down to another generation through the PA school system and summer camps in terrorist techniques is not exactly the best foundation for a "two-state" solution.
To achieve his goal, Carter writes that America, backed by the international community, should make "demands" on both sides so eminently reasonable that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would recognize them as such. If such recognition is not forthcoming, however, Carter is willing to use pressure.
Interestingly, however, the only pressure Mr. Carter mentions is pressure on Israel, which would take two forms: a military embargo and economic sanctions. Of course, to hear Carter tell it, only one side is really worthy of pressure. The Palestinians, you see, are headed by Yasir Arafat, who was elected in 1996 in a "well-organized, open, and fair election." Israel, by contrast, is led by Ariel Sharon, the proverbial bull in the china shop, who has rejected all peace agreements including Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, invaded Lebanon, visited the Temple Mount, and has destroyed Palestinian villages and homes, while defying President Bush’s demand that he comply with international law.
(In point of fact, President Bush never accused Israel of violating international law. If international law does not allow Israel to act against suicide bombers, then "the law is a donkey," to quote Mr. Brumble.)
It’s Arafat the democrat versus Sharon the warmonger. But that juxtaposition is completely asymmetrical. Compare instead the Palestinian Authority and Israel as democracies? The Palestinian Authority sentences people to death in closed trials lasting a few moments, imprisons ornery journalists and closes critical newspapers, and decided that more than one election was an unnecessary luxury. Israeli prime ministers can envy Arafat his freedom from any democratic constraints.
Nor has Arafat exactly shown a greater commitment to peace. Organizations under his direct authority have carried out half of the terrorist operations over the last fifteen months and dispatched half the suicide bombers since February. Documents seized in Ramallah show him authorizing payments to known terrorists and the purchase of explosives for terrorist attacks. Palestinian Authority schools and media have given birth to a Palestinian Children’s Crusade – kids not even in their teens eager to blow themselves up.
Mr. Carter notes that the Palestinians have not yet received the state that they were expecting at the start of Oslo. Well, Israelis also expected something from Oslo, namely peace, and that has been denied them. Since the beginning of Oslo, more than 750 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists. That is greater than the number of those who fell in the Yom Kippur War, and, to put the matter in perspective, the equivalent of 37,000 Americans.
If the Palestinians do not have a state today, that is only because they turned down the one offered by Ehud Barak, on roughly the terms outlined by Carter. As Dennis Ross, the chief American Mideast negotiator under three presidents, has noted, Arafat was not interested in a state, and all the mundane duties that go with running it, like providing health care and collecting the garbage. His goal is to conquer Israel.
Carter, thankfully, is an ex-president, and his piece is no more dangerous than the rest of the daily drivel of The New York Times op-ed page. Of far greater concern, should be the rumblings from the State Department. According to last Friday’s Washington Post, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his State Department henchmen are feeling very frustrated these days that they have not received administration backing to put the screws on Israel, with the goal of bringing about a Palestinian state.
Apparently Powell does not view the seething cauldron of Palestinian hatred and the Palestinians’ determination to establish a state on all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean as barriers to statehood. Yet without changing the attitudes of the Palestinian population, any "peace treaty" will only establish the starting line for the next war.
Powell returned from his failed Middle East mission frustrated that his plans for additional pressure on Israel are being thwarted of late by the Defense Department. But the battle between State and Defense over Middle East policy has been an ongoing one from the outset of the Bush presidency. And whatever brake Secretary of Defense Daniel Rumsfeld and Vice-President Cheney are now exercising on old State Department hands eager to revive the failed diplomacy of the Clinton years, there is no reason to rest secure that they will continue to do so.
On this score, the personal pressure exerted by President Bush on Israel this week to put its imprimatur on the Palestinian show trials of the murders of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and to release Arafat from confinement will likely prove a harbinger of things to come. Every successful exercise of pressure encourages more of the same. In which case, Israel can expect a lot more where that came from.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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