A skewed process

Pretending Israelis, Palestinians are equally to blame for the lack of peace actively harms the cause.

Abbas rice talk 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas rice talk 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel is reportedly bracing for a "skewed" report from Lt.-Gen. William Fraser on Israeli and Palestinian implementation of their road map obligations. What is likely "skewed," however, is not just one report, but the whole US approach to achieving Arab-Israeli peace. Since the government recently announced it would expand a settlement inside the security barrier near Jerusalem, Israel expects to be criticized in the Fraser report. Meanwhile, though the Palestinian leadership in Gaza has been openly orchestrating the bombardment of Israeli cities, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not being held responsible for this, so US criticism of the Palestinians is expected to be muted. The micro problem with this approach is that there is no symmetry between settlements and terrorism, on either the moral or strategic levels. It is a moral travesty that building homes is compared to murdering innocents. But even if settlement expansion can be seen as problematic, it makes little sense to treat all settlements equally, as if there were no difference between expanding existing towns that are contiguous with Israel and inside the security barrier, and settlements situated amidst the Palestinian population. While the US seems to pretend that there is no line between "good" and "bad" settlements, a clear distinction should be made between settlements that are entirely consistent with a two-state solution and those designed to block such an eventuality. But all this is trivial compared to the macro problem, which is that the US makes no distinction between the respective distances Israel and the Palestinians are from making the two-state approach work, and instead looks for ways to criticize both sides no matter what, in an attempt to appear "evenhanded." Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli public and political system have moved dramatically from a consensus that a Palestinian state would be an anathema, to an equally broad consensus that regards it as acceptable, even a necessity. At the same time, the Palestinians have if anything become more radicalized since 1993, and have not begun to prepare themselves for a two-state approach, let alone embrace it. The lack of movement on the Palestinian side is illustrated not just by the complete rejection of Israel by Hamas, but by the nonexistence of a Palestinian peace camp that accepts Israel's basic legitimacy. While Yasser Arafat, and now Mahmoud Abbas, claimed to have accepted Israel's "right to exist," both continued to champion the "right of return," an obvious back-door method to achieve Israel's destruction. Almost no Palestinian will accept that the Jewish people have any national or historical rights to a state alongside Palestine; almost no Israeli will reject the right of Palestinians to build a peaceful and democratic state alongside Israel. This gargantuan gap is what prevents peace. Pretending that Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the lack of peace is not just misleading and unfair, it is actively harmful to the cause of peace, because it lets those who are obstructing peace off the hook. Nor is this "skewing" limited to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. Another major impediment to peace is the free ride given to the non-radical Arab states. These states are considered to be doing their part because they are not directly helping Hamas (though much of Hamas's funding comes from these countries, and Egypt refuses to stop the weapons flow to Gaza), and because they have a standing offer to make peace once Israel has settled with the Palestinians. The Arab stance that they are patiently waiting for peace, however, should not wash. These states could, if they led the way rather than insisted on following, quickly tip the current Palestinian trend from radicalization to moderation. The non-radical Arab states do not lift a finger to encourage and exemplify normalization with Israel partly because the international community - including Israel - does not demand it of them, and does not blame them for perpetuating the conflict. The other reason these states do not help is because they are afraid that Iran will succeed in becoming a nuclear power, and that in such a world it would be very dangerous to take a step that seems to support the US or Israel. In short, while the US is busy counting outposts and settlements, and acting as if Israel is holding up the works, the real obstacles to peace lie elsewhere. So long as these real obstacles do not become the focus of Western policy, the "peace process" will continue to be a dismal failure.