The Region: Drowning in solutions

There's no resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in sight. Let's begin the discussion there.

1603-region.jpg (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Suppose that debate over the world's most obsessive issue were based on nonsense. That the policy options of governments, discourse of universities, and rivers of words in the media on the matter were clearly illogical. That thousands of diplomats, journalists and professors were racing down the wrong path, in which billions of dollars were tossed in vain. And worst of all, that these resources of time, money and energy were being diverted from pressing problems to which they could be profitably applied? That is basically the situation we face regarding the absurd belief that the Arab-Israeli, or more immediately, the Israeli-Palestinian, conflict can be resolved at this time. Let me say it again: despite the mountains of speeches, conferences, articles, committees, foundation grants, projects, currencies of every description and policies expended on it, there is no solution in sight for the conflict. It will continue for decades. Hamas is not about to become moderate. Even Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which few reporters can even mention without inserting the word moderate before their names, isn't anywhere near moderate enough to make peace. If you examine in detail the composition of the PA or Fatah, the nature of its leadership, the articles in its newspapers or the talking heads on its television shows, the slogans at its rallies, the contents of its textbooks, the themes of its officially appointed clerics' sermons - the combined inability and unwillingness to make peace could not possibly be more obvious. YET, NO, it is not obvious at all. For some it isn't obvious because they know nothing about the region, its history or politics. Others simply don't want to pay attention because their goal of peace is too precious to take facts into account. They have no shortage of explanations as to why they are repeatedly proven wrong, and no lack of solutions - a long list of things that are not going to happen. That list includes: believing in Hamas moderation; negotiating with Hamas; asking Jordan to step in to govern the West Bank; Egypt talking sense to the Palestinian leadership; extending Gaza into Sinai; back-channel dialogues (I've been to those - the Israelis apologize and the Palestinians blame Israel for everything); person-to-person contacts; making an agreement to sit on a shelf until there is an agreement; making an agreement in principle until there's an agreement; a one-state solution; a two-state solution; a three-state solution; changing the shape of the table; more concessions (on the part of Israel, that is; funny how you never hear about the Palestinians making concessions); economic development; and so on, ad infinitum. THE REAL point is that Hamas (along with Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah) doesn't want a solution (except that of total victory), and the Fatah/PA side is incompetent, disorganized and still too radical to accept one. Fatah and the PA prefer a deal with Hamas, not Israel. They are fostering an ethos which basically says, "Blessed is the suicide bomber, for he is a national hero." Their alternative solution is still the destruction of Israel, though many people in various Arab states know that's a disaster not for Israel but for the Arabs. Yet the idea of finding the solution, and a speedy one at that - the holy grail of policymakers - negates not only all of our previous experience but also any sensible analysis of the current situation. Why is this? Along with the ignorance factor, there is arrogance ("I will make peace"), and opportunism (there's a lot of money, fame, and career advancement in the peace industry). There is also a baffled rationalism - why wouldn't the Palestinian or Arab leaders make peace when it is so much in their interest? (Answer: they don't think peace is in their interest, and also believe it to be unnecessary and immoral.) Finally, there are just plain old good intentions, which have killed almost as many people in history as bad intentions. IT WOULD be better to devote ourselves and our government to real issues and policy alternatives. But the starting point must be one simple admission: There is no solution in sight and no gimmick that will bring such an outcome. Let's begin the discussion there. Don't worry. There's plenty to talk about and even more to do: the politics of Fatah/PA; the possibility of Hamas destroying them and how to prevent it; keeping Lebanon from being a state dominated by Hizbullah-Iran-Syria; the best strategy in Iraq; stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons; defeating Teheran's ambitions; promoting positive stability in Jordan and Egypt; keeping Islamism from destroying what's left of the region - and you can add another 20 issues to all these. Why, people could even figure out how they should support Israel, which has to deal with constant attack attempts by those who refuse peace and embrace extremism and violence - at least when they aren't being interviewed in English by the Western media. But as long as we spend a disproportionate amount of our time pretending there's some imminent Arab-Israeli solution (or attending to the ridiculous notion that the failure is Israel's fault), we won't give enough attention to the real threats, issues and options. And, yes sir, that's one of the reasons why the Middle East is such a mess, the Western attempt to deal with the region such a shambles, and the effort to understand the area generally such a disaster. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur, and the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria.