Rattling the Cage: Not one inch

Israel's stance is - first give us 100% peace, and then we'll decide how much land to give you.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
When Israelis say they're ready for peace but the Palestinians aren't, they're half right. The whole truth is that the Palestinians aren't ready and Israel isn't, either. The Palestinians are proving their unreadiness now in Gaza with the Kassams, which has been their response to disengagement, and they proved it with the intifada, which was their response to Ehud Barak's offer of statehood at Camp David. So the overwhelming majority of Israelis, myself included, are agreed that the Palestinians have shown their unwillingness to give up terror, which is their part of the land-for-peace deal. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of Israelis believes that Israel has shown its willingness to do its part - to give the Palestinians land. But this is not true at all. This is just Israelis flattering themselves. If Israel is prepared to give the Palestinians land, why do the settler outposts in the West Bank keep mushrooming? There are over 100 of them, and new ones are popping up all the time; I expect that 60 more will be established on Independence Day. These outposts are built on Palestinian-owned land, they've been declared illegal by every Israeli law enforcement authority plus two prime ministers. Israeli governments have been promising the Bush administration for years to get rid of them - and they just keep growing. They're not there for security. They don't protect anyone's life, just the opposite - they take up the IDF's manpower and resources to protect them. No, the illegal outposts are there for the same reason the 125 or so permanent West Bank settlements with their 250,000 residents are there - because Israel wants the land. Security asset or security burden, Israel wants the West Bank. If you judge this country by its deeds instead of its words, there is no other reasonable conclusion. For all his talk about peace and painful concessions, Olmert can't remove one single tiny settlement outpost because neither his government, nor the Knesset, nor the public will support him. The settlers and the right wing are too strong. Olmert managed to destroy one outpost, Amona, a couple of years ago, and the fury of the settlers and their supporters was so great that the government and the Israeli public were traumatized. They won't dare try that again. So the outposts are safe to go on growing, the permanent settlements are safe to go on growing, and that is Israel's true position on the peace process: Not one inch. All the rest is hasbara, spin. WE THINK we're so good, so well-meaning, we think our hand is always outstretched in peace but the Palestinians keep smacking it away. Again, half-right. Examine the 15 months of the Ehud Barak government prior to the start of the intifada: That was a laboratory experiment in Israel's readiness to trade land for peace, an experiment that failed. Barak took office in July 1999 with a huge government - 75 MKs, including the left, the center, the haredim, the Russians and the national religious. One year later, when he went to the Camp David peace talks with Arafat, he had only 32 MKs left. What happened? What happened in that year was that Barak talked more and more openly about trading land for peace, first with Syria, then with the Palestinians, and the upshot was that Israel - the public and its Knesset representatives - turned against him. The more Barak warmed to the idea of giving up occupied territory for peace, the more unpopular he became. The problem was not Palestinian terror. Those 15 months between the time Barak took office and the start of the intifada were about as peaceful as any 15 months in Israel's history. A total of three Israeli civilians were killed in terror attacks. Arafat and his men had finally cracked down on the Hamasniks - killing them, putting them in jail, shaving their beards, turning them over to the Shin Bet. The suicide bombings of the early years of Oslo were past; Israelis felt free again, unafraid. But despite what Israelis tell themselves and the world - that if the Palestinians ever show a true willingness to stop terror, Israel will be generous beyond anyone's expectations with territory - Israel in fact became less and less willing to part with land. Instead of giving the Palestinian Authority credit for bringing down terror, Israelis focused strictly on the few acts of terror that were still taking place. Instead of noticing how the PA was shutting down Hamas's operations, they noticed only the Hamasniks being let out of prison through the PA's infamous "revolving door." No matter how many terrorists the PA killed, arrested or handed over to Israel, the most any mainstream Israeli would say was, "That's a positive step, but it's not enough." During those 15 months, the popular Israeli interpretation of land-for-peace was: First give us 100% peace, and then we'll decide among ourselves how much land, or how little, to give you. During his term, Barak did not give the Palestinians one inch of land beyond what Netanyahu had signed away in the Wye Agreement. Barak was supposed to give them Abu Dis, but there was so much opposition that he stalled and stalled until a shooting occurred, not a fatal one as I recall, and then, of course, he couldn't give the Palestinians Abu Dis or anything else. The more peace the Palestinians delivered, the more Israelis demanded and the less they were prepared to deliver territory. So this is not a one-sided stalemate we're in. We all learned after Camp David and disengagement that the more we gave the Palestinians, the more they wanted. But the Palestinians learned the same lesson about dealing with Israelis during the 15 months before they launched the intifada. By the time Barak got to Camp David, he didn't have the authority or legitimacy to make painful concessions for peace. He didn't have the authority or legitimacy to change the wallpaper in the Prime Minister's Residence. The holy of holies of Israeli diplomacy is that we offered the Palestinians a state at Camp David, but they chose war instead. It's true, they did choose war. But who was this "we" that offered them a state? Not Israel. Not the people of Israel. "WE" at Camp David was an Israeli coalition government made up of 32 Knesset members. 32 out of 120. That's who Barak was representing. Rabin was blamed for making deals with Arafat when he only had a bare majority of 61 MKs in his government. What kind of deal could Barak have made with 32? The answer is none. If Arafat had accepted Barak's offer, there would have been chaos in Israel. With a pathetic joke of a government in this country, and a president a few months from the end of his tenure in the US, the chance of such a deal going through - of Israel uprooting tens of thousands of settlers and turning over all of Gaza, about 90% of the West Bank and part of Arab east Jerusalem to Arafat - would have been zero. No, I'm afraid that "we," meaning the Israeli body politic, were never ready to let the Palestinians have a state. "We," in the true sense of the term, were never even ready to let them have Abu Dis. Then how did we give them Gaza? By a fluke. Only an Israeli leader of historic power, popularity and cunning could have overpowered the settlers and their supporters to carry out the disengagement, and Israel was lucky enough to have such a leader at the time. Even then, everyone knew that only Sharon could do it, and this only becomes clearer today. Ask yourself: Could Olmert have actually carried out his "convergence plan" to uproot 70,000 settlers and hand over 90% of the West Bank to the Palestinians - even if the Kassams had stopped and there'd been no war in Lebanon? In the best of circumstances, he wouldn't have had a particle of a chance. There's not much terror to speak of in the West Bank today, yet Olmert can't remove a handful of teenagers making their second home in the settlements out of a bungalow and a generator. This prime minister and this government were going to remove Beit El? Ofra? Hebron? Another pathetic joke. No, the Palestinians are not ready for peace, and neither is Israel. That's the way it is and that's the way it was. This may be a heretical opinion around here, but I'm pretty sure it's the consensus in the rest of the world. The stalemate may break, or it may not. At any rate, it's not going to break anytime soon.