Interesting Times: Expose stealth rejectionism

The Arab world's problem is the gap between its stated and real positions has become more obvious.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in her recent interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz, said something worth contemplating. "Anyone who lives in the Middle East and has his feet on the ground cannot permit himself to be optimistic. But I see a type of opportunity. On the one hand, we're surrounded by a growing threat and extremism and zealotry. But on the other hand, precisely because of this threat, moderate countries... in the region understand today that their problem is not Israel." For the Arab states, Israel (and the Islamist threat) has always been the enemy that can be used to distract from their own corrupt and oppressive regimes. But it is also possible for a real enemy to arise that renders the fomenting of anti-Israel fervor counterproductive. At the same time, recent events have exposed a fundamental weakness in the Arab strategy: It is hard to pretend you want peace with a country that you are trying to wipe off the map. Before 1967, the Arab states did not pretend they were in favor of a two-state solution. They did nothing to create a Palestinian state when the West Bank and Gaza were in their hands. Their open objective was one state, built on Israel's ashes. IN THE decades after the Six Day War, the Arabs' strategy slowly changed. They noticed that they could not convince a single non-Arab state that Israel had no right to exist, but they could convince almost the entire international community that a Palestinian state should be created in the West Bank and Gaza. Stealth rejectionism was born. The Arabs, in other words, adopted the long view: First create a state in some of Palestine, while continuing to aim for the whole ball of wax. This was the famous "phased plan" adopted by the PLO in 1974, now openly embraced by Hamas. Fatah takes the slightly more subtle, if contradictory, position that it favors a two-state solution, but also favors the "right of return," which aims to eliminate Israel demographically by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. The Arab world's problem is that the gap between its stated and real positions has become more obvious. The rise of Hamas puts the "destroy Israel" position front and center, so much so that it is coming to be recognized as the mainstream Palestinian objective. Hamas is also not bothering to hide the fact that Iran is becoming its principal patron, as illustrated by the suitcases of money Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh returned with from his recent trip to Teheran. These ties, including Hizbullah's payments to Palestinians to shoot rockets at Israel, increasingly identify the Palestinians with Iran's "wipe Israel off the map" line. At the same time, the other half of the Arab equation, namely that Israeli obstinacy is the obstacle to peace, has also been severely undermined. Many things can be said about Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza and Ehud Olmert's still-simmering desire to continue on this path, but one conclusion is indisputable: Israel has not only dropped its opposition to a Palestinian state, it almost desperately wants to create one. As Livni put it in the same interview: "The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a keg of gunpowder... Time is working against a solution of two nation-states... My vision says that the principle of two nation-states is not only an Israeli gift to the Palestinians, but a promotion of Israel's interests." The old equation was "Palestinians want state, Israelis resist." The evolving new equation is, "Israelis want two states, Palestinians and Islamist front want to destroy Israel as part of their jihad against the West." THAT THIS new equation is slowly sinking in was illustrated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from this summer's Lebanon war. Though the resolution is largely turning into a dead letter, it clearly blamed Hizbullah for starting the war and, ineffectually but in principle, took Israel's side on all the main points: Hizbullah should be disarmed, the Lebanese army should move south, and an embargo should be imposed on the rearming of Hizbullah. This marked departure from the UN's usual blame-and-restrain-Israel approach is the result of the realization that this was not about Israel and the Palestinians, but whether the international community would back what was essentially an Iranian and Syrian bid to attack Israel and redominate Lebanon. The almost total failure to enforce the resolution demonstrates Western weakness, but does not negate this paradigm shift. Similarly, Italian premier Romano Prodi and outgoing UN chief Kofi Annan both recently hinted that the Palestinians need to give up the "right of return" because it is inconsistent with Israel's right to exist. This too is a sign that it is becoming harder to deny that the obstacle to peace is the Arab/Islamist refusal to accept Israel, not Israel's supposed refusal to relinquish land. The importance of the shift toward placing blame for the conflict where it properly belongs cannot be overemphasized. Our weakness, Lebanon notwithstanding, lies not in the military arena but in international legitimacy. For decades, we have been blamed for being under attack. We are so used to this that we cannot conceive of any other reality. Yet we must not only conceive of a better reality but work to bring it about. Our leaders seem to think that the only way to do this is the Sharon way: continuing to dramatize our active desire for a Palestinian state. But blame for the conflict can't hang in midair: We will never shift it off our shoulders until the world recognizes the shoulders on which that blame belongs. Accordingly, the thrust of our policy should not be to unveil new peace plans, but to press more Western leaders to speak out against Arab and Iranian rejectionism, and demand active support for peace from the Arab world. If Israel is not exposing stealth rejectionism while concretely outlining how those responsible for the conflict must contribute to ending it, how can we expect other nations to do so?

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11