Alchemists of peace

For many of the peace utopians there is no god but the god of peace, and his promised harbinger is an independent Palestinian state, no matter how dysfunctional and destructive.

Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
For generations scores of keen minds – even that great genius Sir Isaac Newton – were obsessed with alchemy.
Their obsession resulted in a massive waste of time and resources, broken hearts and occasionally the deadly explosion.
Similarly with the Arab-Israeli peace process. Yet no amount of disappointment and frustration, not even several wars, can induce most of those obsessed with peace-processing to have second thoughts, to reexamine basic premises: to wit that Israeli withdrawal to the arbitrary, indefensible 1967 armistice line, the dismantling of settlements and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with all the trimmings are the way to peace.
Now that President Barack Obama is making a noble effort to resuscitate the regularly assassinated putative peace process, it may be a good occasion to rethink its basic premises and see how valid or relevant they still are.
In a highly charged appeal to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Ari Shavit, one of the country’s most respected journalists, recently urged the prime minister to “be a man” and show leadership by unilaterally “breaking the noose that is rapidly threatening to choke Israel to death” by getting it “mired in the toxic swamp of the occupation.” Shavit’s call was typical of a growing chorus of politicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals and pundits who are convinced that “occupation” is the original sin of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This although the conflict started about 50 years before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 defensive war; and even though the conflict lasted and even greatly intensified after the Oslo agreements, when Israel ceded much of the conquered territories to the Palestinian Authority, thus formally ending the occupation.
Click for Jpost coverage of the 2010 peace talks
Click for Jpost coverage of the 2010 peace talks
Click for
full Jpost coverage of the 2010 peace talks
THE CHORUS of true believers is led by people close to Obama. It includes generations of indefatigable State Department peacemakers, as well as many Jewish-American and European “intellectuals.” They pressure Israel to immediately withdraw from its putative “occupation” even if such a withdrawal would pose a serious threat to it security.
These “friends” of Israel insist that it must be forced to withdraw immediately because time works against it. They are certain, apparently, that time works in favor of the Arabs, though anyone contemplating the state of most Arab state might doubt this. They are also blind to the fact that the so-called moderate PA is anything but moderate, except if you compare it to Hamas. The PA is in effect a very unstable coalition of internally warring clan bosses, who dress up their violent political and economic oppression, kidnapping and plunder with jingoistic anti-Israel, anti- West rhetoric, “consolidating” their rule by terrorizing first their own citizens and then Israel.
The partisans of unilateral withdrawal also insist that the greatest “obstacles to peace” are the settlements. But they offer no evidence that this is so. The settlements occupy less than four percent of the West Bank. A peace-loving Palestinian state could easily accommodate them, the way Israel accommodates its significant Arab minority.
Significantly, the conflict raged for decades before a single settlement was established. Even more significantly, most Palestinian spokesmen make it clear that the conflict will continue until “settlements” like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem are obliterated. As historian Benny Morris reveals in his forthcoming book on the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Arabs declared the war against Israel a jihad designed to cleanse Muslim territory of invading heathens. The highest Muslim religious authority, the Cairo Al-Azhar conclave of Sunni scholars, issued a fatwa in 1948 commanding every Muslim to fight in the
war against the Jewish infidels and become a martyr if necessary.
What then makes our peace-processors so certain that additional withdrawals by Israel will advance peace, especially since all past withdrawals only aggravated the conflict by encouraging most Arabs to believe that the withdrawals will finally leave Israel defenseless, ripe for the taking? The myopia of these peace-processors is not really surprising if we consider that though boasting an utter devotion to human rights, they never apparently stop to think what consequences may arise from their fervent support (in the pursuit of peace, of course) for the demands of the oppressive dictatorship The Palestinian Authority, that shows only contempt for its own citizens’ human rights; or from their weakening of Israel – which despite all its faults, real and imagined, is still the only democracy in the Middle East protecting such rights.
“FOR 30 years, Mideast peace was my religion. I am not a believer now,” confessed Aaron David Miller, one of the most prominent and influential State Department peace-processors, in a recent Foreign Policy cover story.
In a 4,500-word essay questioning the basic paradigms of his “false religion,” Miller courageously calls them “a catechism we [peace-processors] could all recite by heart,” but never bothered to reexamine. Miller, no partisan of Israel (some say not even its friend), accused the US in the past of serving as “Israel’s lawyer.” But after the repeated failures of his “realist” attempts to gain favor with the Arabs at Israel’s expense, or to get the Arabs to move even an inch closer to peace, he said: “I am a product of the Camp David experience, and that is one of the reasons I have become so critical of the process.” What a pity it took so many years and so much bloodshed to induce this rude awakening.
THERE IS also the claim by peace advocates that settlements in the West Bank are illegal. The last legal dispensation of all the former Middle Eastern Ottoman territories was determined in the 1922 Sam Remo League of Nations peace conclave. The territories of what was to become Palestine (and which included what are now Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan) were allotted to Britain as a mandate, to establish in them a Jewish national home. The Arabs accepted this division eagerly, since by ceding their claim to less than 1% of former Ottoman territories (that became the British Mandate of Palestine), they were granted 99% of these territories in the Middle East and North Africa without lifting a finger.
Under international law, the Arabs have relinquished any claim to the territories included in the British Mandate. The 1947 UN recommendation to divide the Mandate territory between a Jewish and an Arab state was just that, a “recommendation” dependent on acceptance by the two parties, Israel and the Arabs. Once the Arabs rejected it categorically, the recommendation became null and void and the territories resumed their mandatory legal status, as territories on which a Jewish state was to be established. Hence by international law Jewish settlements in the disputed areas of former Palestine are perfectly legal, even if some may consider them politically unhelpful.
One must also remember that despite the oft-repeated false Arab claim that they are fighting to regain former “Palestinian lands,” no “Palestinian” lands ever existed. The lands in dispute belonged for centuries to the Ottomans and were later allotted by the League of Nations to the British. “Palestinian” Arabs considered themselves until recently Syrians. Their separate “Palestinian” identity is a recent political invention, a reaction to Zionism.
As importantly, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank also do not violate any private Palestinian Arab property rights. To date over 94% of the territories in dispute are government owned land. Most Jewish settlements were established on such deserted “government lands", to which no private claim was ever made because they were so desolate and useless for private cultivation.
The fair-minded Shavit concedes that “what is now clear to everyone was clear from the start: There is no Palestinian partner for true peace. There is not even a reliable Palestinian partner for partitioning the land.” But he strangely concludes that “since we are the ones sinking in the mud, we are the ones who must do something,” even if “doing something” may, in the absence of a partner for peace, lead to extremely grave consequences, for the Palestinians probably even more so than for the Israelis.
The advocates of withdrawal at whatever cost never seem to care what is likely to happen if Israel relinquishes its ability to militarily control the West Bank by keeping the settlement blocks (practically, their evacuation is anyhow a nonstarter) and what if the Palestinians, against all odds, manage to form a “state” of sorts? Is there not the near certainty that such a state will immediately be taken over by Hamas, and that Hamas will proceed to rain missiles on Israel’s center, launching a bloody war that Israel could not ignore? A major attack on its population centers will force Israel to re-conquer the West Bank, and this time, really occupy it. At present, despite all the charges against the “occupation,” the West bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not really occupied territory.
It should not be difficult to imagine, after the bloody operation in Gaza, how deadly a battle in a densely populated area can be. If Israel is forced to reoccupy the West Bank, tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis may lose their lives. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians may have to flee to Jordan – all because for so many of the peace utopians there is no god (in this godless world) but the god of peace, and his promised harbinger is an independent Palestinian state, no matter how dysfunctional and destructive.
IS the lack of peace dangerous? Of course! The threat of a nuclear Iran is only the tip of a greater threat to Western existence by virulent Islamic radicalism. It will not be appeased until it vanquishes, and then subjugates, Christianity, the Great Satan and then also Judaism, the Little Satan.
The great threat the world faces from Islamic fundamentalism, is chiefly from Iran’s determination to possess atomic weapons and then impose its control on the flow and price of oil. It is a real and present danger.
Once Iran succeeds in controlling the price of oil, it can gradually raise its price (as the shah did in 1973) and, by thus initiating a huge transfer of wealth, force Europe and then America into economic and political subjugation (Iran already partially determines the price of oil by using its proxies, Hizbullah and Hamas to foment terrorism every time oil is in decline).
Viewed from this wider strategic perspective, the Arab- Israeli conflict is merely a neighborhood brawl. The Iranians exploit this conflict to rile up Sunni Muslims and recruit their masses to a Shi’ite-led jihad. They also use it to mask their plans to take over Mecca and Medina and overturn Sunni dominance of Islam. The Iranians plan to dominate the Islamic world as a prelude to a wider campaign of world domination.
This is why it serves Iranian interests to foment panic around the Arab-Israel conflict and to have well-intentioned peace-processors keep the conflict inflamed by pressuring Israel to make ever-bigger concessions.
We must not fall for their ploy. We must not devote all our energies to bringing about the immediate fulfillment of messianic yearnings for peace now. We should rest content if, under the present circumstances, we can reach a cessation of hostilities and then encourage fast economic growth and the gradual formation among the Arabs of a civil society with a true stake in peace.
Such a true economic “peace process” has happened before, until the first Intifada and Oslo’s obsession with a final political settlement ruined a never-recognized but true economic peace process that lasted for two decades. Under wise guidance it could happen again.
The present threats, including the recent renewal of terrorism, seem to elicit in some otherwise thoughtful people a desperation, paroxysms of irrationality that lead them to wildly grab at straws in the most stormy seas.
Alchemy is no more, but as Aaron David Miller confirms, the human proclivity to indulge in delusive thinking by covering it up with a veneer of rationality marches on. Just speak to any true believer in peace now, including many in the entourage of President Obama and in the State department and see how they go into denial when facing the somber realities of the Middle East.
The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress