Interesting Times: Measuring success

Better a 'failure' that addresses the conflict's core than a 'success' that avoids it

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
The question of the day is: Will Annapolis fail? The more important question is: How should success in the peace process be measured? One way is in negative, or bottom-of-the-barrel terms. Success can always be defined as the fact of a meeting, especially one not followed by "violence" - the generic word for a renewal of the terrorist onslaught against Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George Bush are probably hoping for something they can point to as the beginning of a process - a sort of ceremonial transition from the "second intifada," which never really ended, to something akin to final-status talks. This is progress in the sense of Churchill's adage that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" - except for the fact that, as residents of Sderot and the IDF units fighting the terrorists daily will tell you, the Palestinian war-war has not stopped. What is missing from most of the Annapolis coverage is any sense about where peace really comes from, and how to know whether we are moving toward it. The first thing to understand is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a border dispute. It is not like the conflict between India and Pakistan, or the one in Northern Ireland, or even a struggle for independence, such as in Kosovo. While in some of these cases one party denies some aspects of the other's national claims, in none of them does one party deny the basic legitimacy of an existing state. To take the Kosovo case, it would be as if the Kosovars not only wanted independence for Kosovo, but claimed all of Serbia, denied the existence of a distinct Serbian people, and rejected Serbia's right to exist. SOME PEOPLE might react: So what do you expect, all this is linked to a Palestinian state, and will be taken care of in exchange for creating that state. What difference does the nature of the war make once the casus belli is removed? Herein, exactly, lies the rub: If the casus belli is the lack of a Palestinian state, then creating that state solves the problem; but if the real crux of the conflict is the rejection of Israel's existence, then creating "Palestine" could perpetuate that war. The nub on which the conflict turns is not between Palestine and no Palestine, but between Palestine and Greater Palestine. So long as the Palestinians and the Arab world do not give up the dream of a Greater Palestine that includes Israel, there can be no peace. The current international vision of peace, as presently expressed, ignores this distinction and pretends that the creation of a state in the West Bank and Gaza over what Palestinians argue is "22 percent of Palestine" automatically solves the problem. Whenever President Bush, for example, expresses his vision, it is of two states, as if this is, by definition, synonymous with peace. What no Western leader, and in fact no Israeli leader, will say is the obvious: The source of the war has always been the Arab desire to destroy Israel; the war will end when that goal is abandoned. The creation of a Palestinian state might be an opportunity to do this, but achieving this goal cannot be assumed if Western diplomacy is not built around an explicit international demand for the Arab world to accept Jewish national rights. THE INTERESTING thing about Annapolis is that it seems to be pivoting around exactly this issue. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is being warned within his own camp not to use the words "Jewish state" or soften Palestinian demands for a "right of return." And Olmert may be the first Israeli prime minister to say that he expects Palestinian recognition of the right to a Jewish state, not just of Israel's de-facto existence, in exchange for Israeli recognition of Palestinian rights. This position, in turn, has spurred some Israeli voices to object that Olmert is deliberately introducing a deal-breaker. The Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties, they warn, never included such a demand, and no Palestinian leader, certainly one as weak as Abbas, can agree to it at this stage of the game. THAT SAID, two well-known Israeli peace processors - Gilead Sher, a key negotiator for Ehud Barak at Camp David, and Dan Meridor, a respected moderate - have strongly endorsed Olmert's position. What these veterans seem to realize is that any deal that avoids the Palestinian demand for "return" and refusal to accept a Jewish state is a deal not worth making. It is not possible to sidestep the root cause of the conflict while claiming to make progress toward peace. The "new" Israeli demand that the Palestinians accept Jewish rights is not a dealbreaker, but a dealmaker - assuming everyone wants a deal that will lead to peace, not war. Palestinian leaders keep saying they want a timetable and deadlines for final-status talks. Israel should say fine, we can finish this in a few weeks once you show us that you accept our rights as much as you expect us to accept yours. This is far from the current Palestinian position, which is essentially: What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine too. As author Amos Oz wrote in an op-ed in 2001, "Peace will arise only when the two peoples face the reality: There is your house and your garden and here is my house and my garden. Now, however, the Palestinians are saying to us: You get up and leave my house (evacuate settlements) and I will also come and live in your house (the right of return)." Annapolis can be deemed a success only if some progress is made in cracking the real nut of the conflict. All the rest - launching further talks, or other Palestinian "concessions" - will be at best window dressing and at worst a harmful influence that encourages further Palestinian radicalization. A "failure" that accentuates the conflict's real core - and therefore the path to its resolution - is preferable to a "success" that continues to avoid that core. Israel's rhetoric and focus has finally shifted in the right direction on this. If Western leaders also chimed in to say that a two-state solution must be built on immediate Palestinian acceptance of Jewish national rights and the abandonment of the demand of "return," the prospects for real peace would be greatly strengthened. [email protected]

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