Rattling the Cage: If not now, when?

I'm extremely pessimistic about the Annapolis summit, just like everyone else.

By LARRY DERFNER
October 10, 2007 21:10
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

I think Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has to take some chances for peace with the Palestinians at next month's summit in Annapolis. I think he has to remove several army checkpoints in the West Bank and begin handing over territory to the security control of the Palestinian Authority police. He ought to release large numbers of Palestinian prisoners - the eldest and longest-serving among them, those who were accessories to terror but not direct perpetrators, i.e. those considered the least likely to return to violence. He should also agree that if these measures pass safely, he will take down additional checkpoints, relinquish more territory to the PA police and release more prisoners. He should make it clear that if this experiment fails - if the gradual Israeli military pullbacks are followed by an outburst of Palestinian terror - then the checkpoints and soldiers will will go back to where they'd been, and any freed prisoners who'd return to terrorism will become marked men. But Olmert should also make it clear that if, in the six months or so after the summit, the PA does about as good a job as the IDF has done in holding down terror, he will ask Israel to endorse a full withdrawal from the West Bank, including Arab east Jerusalem. The deal is the familiar one: It would include land exchanges so that Israel could retain the populous settlement blocs near the Green Line, and allow no more than a symbolic resettlement of Palestinian refugees inside Israel. If Abu Mazen and the Palestinians were to accept this agreement, Olmert would take it to the cabinet and Knesset for approval, and if it failed there, he would take it to the public in new elections. That's what I think the Israeli leader should offer the Palestinian leader at Annapolis. Yet even as I write this, I realize that the chances of such a plan leading to peace are not terribly strong. The PA may not be willing or able to control terror. The Palestinian body politic may not accept the deal. The Israeli body politic may not, either. This is why I'm extremely pessimistic about the Annapolis summit, just like everyone else. But at the same time I have a feeling of urgency about it, even desperation, because I know the current conditions for peacemaking are as good as they're likely to ever get. If Israel cannot make a breakthrough with the Palestinians next month, then it becomes delusional to think that Israel will find its way out of the West Bank anytime in the future. IF WE CAN'T begin to end the occupation now, there is absolutely no reason to think we'll ever be able to do it. If Annapolis fails to point a clear, concise, mutually accepted way to peace, it is inconceivable that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can do anything but deteriorate. Better it's certainly not going to get. With the exception of Sderot, Israel is a much safer country now than it's been since the intifada began. In the last year, 11 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks. If we're waiting for terror to disappear completely before we're ready to take security risks for peace, we'll be waiting forever, and terror, instead of disappearing, will sooner or later rise again. Never in its history has Israel dealt with a more moderate Palestinian leadership than President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad. Currently, the only viable alternative leadership, from the Palestinians' point of view, is Hamas. Or maybe Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned intifada warlord. The only prominent Palestinian who spoke against intifada violence from the beginning - earning Yasser Arafat's enmity in the process - was Abbas. As weak as they are, it is only reasonable to say that Abbas and former World Bank economist Fayad are Israel's last, best hope. Strengthening them is a long-shot strategy, but what other strategy does Israel have if it ever wants to leave the West Bank, as most Israelis do? Finally, the civil war between Hamas and Fatah is a godsend for us. The PA has been cracking down brutally on Hamas in the West Bank. According to the Middle East adage that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," the PA now grudgingly sees Israel as its friend. It certainly sees the US as its friend. American military advisers are arming and training the PA police to take over security in the West Bank, and Hamas has been feeling the effects. SO WHAT are we waiting for? For Abbas to fail yet again to improve life for his people so his people make Hamas the king not only of Gaza but of the West Bank as well? Can anybody see any other outcome if the Annapolis summit lives down to its expectations? Will Israelis be safer with Hamas in charge in Ramallah? The reason, I think, that Israelis are scared to make a move in the West Bank is because they've become convinced that Israel's recent peace efforts have failed - and that is just not true. The disengagement from Gaza did not deliver the quiet on that border that most people anticipated, but it's still a fact that Palestinians in Gaza are killing a small fraction of the number of Israelis they killed when thousands of soldiers and settlers in the Strip were their targets. Disengagement didn't solve the problem of Gazan terror, but it diminished the problem tremendously. I call that success. And on the northern border, we've now had a year of quiet since the war with Hizbullah. It's a return to the situation that held on the border for six years after the IDF's pullout from Lebanon, except that now Hizbullah has the bitter experience of having provoked a war with Israel, an experience neither the guerrillas nor their countrymen want to relive. The army's pullout from Lebanon didn't bring the solid security on the northern border that Israelis hoped for, but considering the last seven years together, they've been much better than the 18 years in which Hizbullah was shooting and bombing Israelis on both sides of the border day after day. But if we are waiting for perfect calm and quiet on the Lebanese and Gazan borders before we'll budge in the West Bank - if we're waiting for Hizbullah and Hamas to become not only much tamer than they were under Israeli occupation, but to become demilitarized, unarmed - then we will never budge in the West Bank. I REALIZE that eternal occupation may be the best of all possible Israeli futures, that the only alternative may be eternal intifada. Because of the ultimate failure of the Oslo peace process and the four years of runaway Palestinian terror that followed, I'm no longer as confident of the chances for peace as I once was. I think the chances of Israel's ever ending the occupation peacefully are not good. But I also know that even if eternal occupation is the best possible Israeli future, the safest one, it is still a dangerous, miserable future. It promises that our national life, the Israeli identity, will revolve around fear and aggression toward Arabs forever. So however small the chance for a breakthrough at Annapolis, we have to take it. With conditions as ripe as they're going to get, and with time working so obviously against us, we have to take some measured risks. The majority of Israelis, starting with Olmert, have to ask themselves: If not now, when?


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