Time to get rid of the Oslo mindset
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 30, 2003
Writing in the May issue of Commentary magazine, Abraham D. Sofaer, former chief legal advisor of the State Department, makes the following trenchant observation concerning the Quartet Roadmap: "The problem is that this road map, like many plans for Middle East peace, expects to bring an end to Palestinian violence against Israel without addressing the reasons why the Palestinians have deliberately and repeatedly chosen that path."
The Palestinians have continually chosen the path of war and terror because they continue to nurture dreams of regaining all of Palestine and evicting the Jews. American Middle East peacemaking over the years has done too little to discourage those dreams, and has in many cases actually encouraged them.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed a reprise of the worst aspects of the Oslo process. Roadmap negotiations have become increasingly centered on the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel even though the Roadmap makes no mention of any prisoner release or exchange.
Over that period of time, there has already been a substantial erosion in the Israeli position. President Bush remarked, with a common sense rare in Middle East peacemaking, after meeting last weekend with Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazzen, that he would never ask any country to free terrorists bent on killing its citizens. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has obviously been under a great deal of pressure on this issue.
The number of prisoners to be released by Israel has already grown by nearly 200, and Israel’s initial refusal to release members of Palestinian rejectionist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has been abandoned. The next area where Israel can expect to be pressured is over the definition of prisoners "with blood on their hands." \
The formulation "blood on their hands" is an unfortunate one. First, it suggests that the direct perpetrators of terrorist acts are worse than those who plan the attacks and provide the perpetrators with the explosives and training they need. In point of fact, the latter represent the greater danger to Israel, as they often possess specialized expertise that is not easily replaced. The actual perpetrators usually participate in only one attack while those who plan and train them may be the brains behind many such terrorist attacks.
Second, the description "blood on their hands" would seem, on its face, to apply only to successful perpetrators, not those who failed. The latter, however, represent no less great a future threat, and therefore equally poor candidates for early release.
The prisoner releases, we are told, are necessary in order to strengthen the position of Abu Mazzen. This is an old tune. Israel is pressured to overlook failures of compliance on the Palestinian side or to be forthcoming with new concessions in order to firm up the position of the Palestinian leadership. Once Israel was called upon to protect Arafat’s position, and today Abu Mazzen’s.
And why do the Palestinian leaders constantly requiring such shoring up? Because peace is such a tough sell to the Palestinian populace. The logic of the process runs: The peace process requires Palestinian leaders. But the Palestinian people are very suspicious of peace with Israel; indeed they continue to dream of the destruction of Israel and to their return to all of Palestine. Therefore to protect the leaders who will bring about peace, a blind-eye must be continually turned to the failure of those leaders to live up to their obligations under various peace treaties. Somehow this sensitivity to the Palestinians resistance to peace will lead one day to peace. Go figure.
What the Palestinians learn is that there are tangible benefits from the "peace process." But that is a very different thing from learning that there are real benefits from peace itself. As long as the process continues, Israel is vulnerable to American pressure. The Palestinians see that Israel is the only party constantly retreating from its announced positions. During the entire Oslo process, it is impossible to think of a single instance in which the Palestinians conceded on any of their demands.
The most fundamental Palestinian obligation under the Roadmap is the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure. Yet Abu Mazzen has repeatedly made clear -- most recently at last weekend’s meeting with President Bush -- that he will do nothing to confront any of the rejectionist groups lest he trigger a Palestinian civil war. As under Oslo, there have been no adverse consequences from that refusal to comply with his own undertakings. Rather Israel is called upon to strengthen Abu Mazzen’s position.
American pressure is never brought to bear on other players in the region. Egypt, for instance, receives two billion dollars of American aid annually. Yet the semi-official media, in which nothing is published without the consent of the government, continues to publish the most vile anti-American caricatures without Egypt suffering any adverse consequences. Nor has Washington ever turned the screws on Egypt to return its ambassador to Israel or to release Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Druse convicted of spying for Israel on trumped up charges.
So the Palestinians have been shown a clear benefit from stringing along the so-called peace process. What they need to be shown, however, is a benefit from peace itself. An excellent place to start in this regard would be the dismantling of the Palestinian refugee camps. When he was State Department legal advisor, Professor Sofaer recommended that the United States cease supporting those programs of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that foster the radical Palestinian agenda. Foggy Bottom arose as one to oppose the suggestion. Dismantling the refugee camps would have to follow peace, Sofaer was told.
What the Middle East specialists refused to contemplate was that the refugee camps, in which the terrorist networks fester, are themselves one of the biggest barriers to peace. The granting of refugee status to generations of descendants of those who left their homes in 1948 has no parallel anywhere else in the world. With the exception of Jordan, no other Arab state will grant citizenship to Palestinians. Moreover, the Arab states, which make only the most token contributions to UNRWA, have sought to maintain the refugees in the worst possible conditions. Permanent refugee status and economic misery are designed to ensure that the Palestinians never abandon their hopes of returning to Israel and that their hatred of Israel is always maintained at a boil.
Dismantling the refugee camps and providing their inhabitants with permanent housing would accomplish two purposes at once. It would encourage the residents to abandon their dreams of returning to their parents’ and grandparents’ former homes. And secondly, it would demonstrate that peace itself pays a dividend.
The latter is something Arafat never wanted to do. He rejected many Israeli offers of joint economic projects that would have increased the Palestinian standard of living, just as he had earlier rejected American offers to improve the lot of the "refugees." Peace, he feared, would make it impossible for him to continue distracting Palestinians from their own wretched leadership.
Finally, it is time for the United States to pressure the Palestinians to make peace, not just participate in something called the peace process, with a life and logic all its own. The irreducible first step is an end to incitement against Israel. There will never be peace, writes Sofaer, "as long as Palestinians convey to their children that Israel is unacceptable and that terrorism against it is a noble undertaking?" Yet that is precisely the message of the Palestinian Authority summer camps and sports camps named after homicide bombers.
Two weeks ago, Palestinian TV broadcast a high school graduation ceremony in which the students danced and chanted for ten minutes, "The sound of the submachine gun . . . we will live and die, only that our homeland should return to us. I am a Palestinian. My weapon is the stone and the knife. . . Palestine will soon be restored." Among the cities to which they promised to return are Haifa, Jaffa, and Ramle.
To this day, not one Palestinian textbook shows Israel on the map or makes mentions of the contents of the Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinians recognized Israel.
The war in Iraq provided a sharp dose of reality for many failed Arab regimes. It is time for American to apply a similar dose of reality to the Palestinian leadership rather than encouraging them to think that they can achieve their goals through the peace process without ever making peace.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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