Out of date and out of touch

Many in the Muslim world, including the Palestinians, and in the West still have a distorted knowledge of Israeli positions toward peace-making.

By BY BARRY RUBIN
February 21, 2010 22:51
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Whenever I deal with Palestinians, Arabs, or those describing themselves as supporters of these groups, whether in the Middle East or in the West, what makes the greatest impression is their total lack of knowledge about Israeli positions toward peace-making.

Among Palestinians, and more broadly with most of the public in the Muslim world and many of those in the elite classes in Europe, there exists a mythical Israel, reminiscent of the fabricated anti-Semitic stereotypes of the past and which has little to do with reality. They believe Israel isn't interested in peace, doesn't offer the Palestinians anything, opposes any real Palestinian state, intends to keep the West Bank (until Israel's withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip in 2005, they would have added that territory as well), and is led by intransigent hardliners. Such a concept was comprehensible - if not fully accurate - and describes the situation in parts of the 1980s but has nothing to do with the two decades.

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In 2010, they have no idea what Israel actually offered during the 1990s peace process, or at the Camp David summit in 2000, or what former president Bill Clinton offered with Israel's agreement in December 2000, or what former prime minister Ehud Olmert proffered in 2008, or what is in the current Israeli government's peace offer. All proposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the first three in close to 100 percent and the last three as equivalent to 100 percent (with some small, equal land swaps) in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lacking any knowledge of these offers, or at least knowing only very distorted versions, they can maintain that Israel has offered "nothing" and that therefore the continuation of the conflict is not due to Palestinian intransigence but Israel's alleged opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. This reminds me of how Mahmoud Abbas, today the leader of the Palestinian Authority, responded to some reasonably accurate descriptions in the Palestinian media of what Israel offered in 2000 at Camp David. It is better, he said at the time, not to talk about these things at all, presumably lest some Palestinians might think that it was a reasonable deal.

INDEED, THERE are a surprising number of people who have not absorbed the changes made since 1994, when the Palestinian Authority began to take control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After all, it has governed these territories for more than 15 years and certainly has responsibility for what has happened there. And even while Israel has real ability to restrict travel, control access for trade, and is able to send in troops at times - along with the continued existence of settlements - these powers are only exercised in response to high levels of terrorist attacks from these places.

Equally, many don't seem to realize that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 - that's almost five years ago - and that if Hamas didn't persist in attacking Israel or openly planning for future attempts to destroy it, Israel would leave that area alone entirely.

Anyone who actually lives in Israel knows - whether they like it or not - that Israel is ready to make big concessions and take reasonable risks to achieve peace. They know, whether or not they agree, that the overwhelming majority is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state as long as it is willing to end the conflict and live side by side in peace.



Outside Israel, far fewer people understand this reality. And that includes journalists, academics, and politicians. If they address the issue at all, they presume that Israel is asking the Palestinians to make some huge or unreasonable concession. Often, as noted above, their understanding of Israeli views is more than 20 years out of date.

But the Palestinians especially and Westerners generally know even less about Israel's own demands, which is not surprising since they are never explained in the Arabic-language media and virtually never mentioned in the Western media. These include security guarantees, non-militarization of a Palestinian state, an end to the conflict, and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine.

The above observations can produce a simple definition of the difference between moderates and radicals. The radicals, both among the Palestinians and their Western sympathizers, know - even if they pretend otherwise - that they want all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea along with Israel's elimination.


This is true whether they seek it through a two-stage process, the dispatch of a million or two Palestinians to Israel in a peace agreement, a one-state solution, or a temporary binational state. Consequently they are indifferent to what Israel actually offers except to distort it for propaganda purposes.

A moderate is someone who actually thinks the Palestinians today want a two-state solution and is genuinely fooled by the ploys outlined above. Consequently, the moderates - few as they are among Palestinians, more numerous in the West - can have the facts explained to them. But the radicals know precisely what they are doing and don't care about any chance for compromise.

The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report http://rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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