The New Middle East Peace Process
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 24, 2002
President George W. Bush’s major policy address on the Middle East last month upset virtually every one of the cherished assumptions upon which Middle East peacemaking has been built for the past decade. Predictably, it outraged all those who have marched under the slogan of Oslo or Bust for the last nine years: Israeli doves, the European Community, the Arabists at the State Department, and the prestige press.
Not one major commentator predicted in advance the dramatic change in tack that the President would take. For weeks it had been taken as a given that the President would declare his support for a ``provisional Palestinian state," and most newspaper commentary centered on what such an entity might entail.
Yet even the dramatic turnabout signaled by the President’s speech does not capture the full measure of its impact. That has only become evident over the following month.
The Oslo process has generally been summarized the pithy formula: Land for Peace. The order is significant. The architects of Oslo always assumed that as the stronger of the two parties, it was incumbent upon Israel to make the first concrete concessions in the form of ceding control of territory to the Palestinian Authority. In return, Israel received from the Palestinians promises to renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, and end incitement against Israel and Jews.
As it turned out, Israel was not only to make the first concrete concessions, but the only ones. At every stage, Israel was pressured, often willingly, to make further territorial concessions, in exchange for the same Palestinian promises previously received. Those promises turned out to be infinitely recyclable.
Between 1993 and the beginning of the current warfare, over 98% of the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza came under Palestinian Authority self-rule. Over the same period of time, the vast majority of Israelis reconciled themselves both to the concessions already made, as well as to the need for further concessions. The Likud position today closely resembles that of Peace Now in 1993.
The Palestinians meanwhile did not budge from a single position over that period. They continued to insist on the right of return for millions of Palestinian ``refugees" (many of them third or fourth generation descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948, largely at the urging of their leaders.)
The ``peace process" became a fetish. New evidence was constantly required that the process still lived in the form of new written agreements. Little attention was paid, however, to the value of the undertakings made in those agreements. At every stage, the Palestinians failure to fulfill the same undertakings in the past was ignored. As long as new agreements were forthcoming, Oslo supporters were happy. In short, it did not matter that there was a total disconnect between the process and the peace to which it was supposed to lead.
PRESIDENT BUSH has now bid adieu to this entire depressing scenario by placing the onus for going forward squarely on the Palestinians. Former State Department Middle East hand Richard Murphy can complain all he wants that President Bush is demanding too much from the Palestinians and too little from Israel. The President recognizes the extent of Israeli concessions to date. Now it is the Palestinians’ turn.
For too long, Oslo has been viewed as if its only purpose was to create a Palestinian state. President Bush reminded the world that Oslo was supposed to provide Israelis with peace and security as well. While the Palestinians were offered their state on a silver platter at Camp David, Oslo has manifestly not provided Israelis with peace or security. The angry Moloch of the `peace process" has already claimed over 800 Jewish lives and thousands maimed for life.
Bush made clear that a Palestinian state is no longer inevitable; it must be earned. The prestigious American press – Oslo’s long-time cheerleaders – missed the point with its uniform criticism of the President for failing to provide the Palestinians with a timetable for a state. There can be no timetable. Only the Palestinians can determine by their actions if and when statehood is achieved.
First and foremost, the Palestinians must end terrorism, not merely promise to do so. The President recognized clearly that the Palestinian Authority and its leader Yasser Arafat, whom he did not deign to mention by name, are not part of the solution to Palestinian terror but part of the problem. Since the end of Operation Defensive Shield, Israel has intercepted over thirty suicide bombers and destroyed over 80 explosives laboratories. The comparable numbers for the Palestinian Authority, despite its much greater intelligence-gathering capacity, are zero and zero. President Bush has now drawn the obvious inferences from these facts, as well as the clear proof of Arafat’s direct support for the terror network furnished by Israel.
Today the Palestinian street is in the throes of a euphoric belief that terror has advanced the Palestinian cause. Two-thirds of Palestinians, according to a recent poll, view the last 21 months of violence as bringing them closer to their goals. And those goals are ever escalating. A majority of Palestinians now admit that their goal is the destruction of Israel. President Bush sought to pour cold water on the Palestinians’ manic expectations by declaring, ``A Palestinian state will never be created by terror."
Most dramatically, the President called upon the Palestinians to show themselves capable of statehood by creating the institutions of a democratic society. That means not only elections, but a separation of powers, an independent judiciary, financial transparency and accountability, and freedom of speech and religion.
In demanding a Palestinian democracy as a precondition to statehood, Bush reversed another one of the cherished assumptions of Oslo: that an Arafat, as Yitzchak Rabin put it, unrestrained by human rights activists or a supreme court, would be the best guarantee of Israel’s security. The last nine years have clearly established the contrary. Dictators, particularly ones such as Arafat who have failed to relieve their people’s misery, must create an external demon to distract their people from their own failures. It is thus no accident that over the nine years of Oslo, Arafat has whipped the Palestinians into a frenzy of hatred perhaps without precedent in human history.
Israeli doves who criticized the President for placing unreasonable demands on the Palestinians may be right that the Palestinians will never create a democracy, but if so they will never be capable of peaceful coexistence either.
THOUGH the Europeans continue to whine that Arafat is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people and to ridicule President Bush’s cowboy diplomacy, the remarkable thing is how great the impact of the speech has already been. The President’s call for freedom for Palestinians has emboldened Palestinians themselves to speak out against the kleptocracy to which they have been subject for the last nine years. The Europeans notwithstanding, it is clear that even Arafat’s erstwhile sponsors in the Arab world will not extend him a helping hand in his hour of need and that he now rules on borrowed time.
For the first time, revelations of Palestinian Authority corruption are appearing every day, not just in the Western press, but in the Arabic press as well.
Much else has changed as well. Now that the White House has clearly acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority in knee-deep in terror against Israeli civilians there is no longer any basis for questioning Israel’s right to act to extirpate the terror infrastructure. As a consequence, the current Operation Determined Path is being conducted in a slow, methodical fashion, not constantly under the gun of American pressure to withdraw, as was the case in Operation Defensive Shield. As a result, Israel has been able to act in ways that entail far less danger to Israeli troops, but also reduce the likelihood of Palestinian civilian casualties.
For months, the United States State Department accepted the Arab line that ``progress" towards a political resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – i.e., further Israeli concessions – is a necessary precondition for an American attack on Saddam Hussein.
According to this line, only America can pressure the parties – i.e., Israel – into a settlement, and America bears responsibility for the carnage that results from its failure to do so.
The view that a lack of American involvement explains the escalating violence has been clearly refuted empirically. Indeed the exact opposite turns out to have been the case. The most intensive American involvement ever at Camp David triggered the most intense wave of Palestinian terrorism yet seen in the region. The more that Israel seemed susceptible to American pressure the more convinced the Palestinians became that terror served their cause. Every visit to the region by top American emissaries has resulted in an outbreak of suicide bombings.
President Bush has now signaled that he has no desire to recapitulate the failures of the Clinton Middle East peacemaking. Nor will he let the war on Saddam Hussein be held hostage by the Palestinians. Planning for an all-out effort to replace Hussein proceeds apace quite independent of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
That too is just one more reason to be grateful for Israel’s best friend ever in the White House.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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