Fayyad’s toy gun

If Arafat did not dare divide the land, will a technocrat bereft of charisma and leadership take such an audacious step?

Ehud Barak and Salam Fayyad 311 ap (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ehud Barak and Salam Fayyad 311 ap
(photo credit: Associated Press)
With the Oslo wind in his sails reanimating his international legitimacy even after he had become a political corpse – and with his Israeli partners anxious to prove that Oslo, despite endless murderous terror, was not a fatal mistake – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced that on May 4, 1999 he would unilaterally declare the establishment of a Palestinian state. The political world was in turmoil. Except for the United States and its European allies, there was a supportive anticipation that Arafat would make good on his vision/threat and realize the dream of generations of Palestinians. Israel was bewildered.
So excited was the international political scene that its most veteran research institute decided to alleviate the tension by holding a simulation exercise: Will he or will he not declare independence? Participants arrived from all over the globe. All eyes were on the Palestinian delegates, none of whom moved (even though every participant represented only himself) without consulting Arafat who reportedly attached tremendous importance to the outcome.
Most of the Israeli and non-Arab observers believed Arafat would not dare declare independence, fearing Israeli military pressure and Israel’s withdrawal from the Oslo process, since he would be violating one of Oslo’s fundamental rules: No side would take unilateral measures.
I also believed Arafat would not make the declaration, but for an entirely different reason. His threat was directed at an objective that I don’t fully understand, I said, but was definitely not the realization of the dream of generations. The Palestinians, I argued at that simulation and believe to this day, do not want a state of their own alongside Israel. Accordingly, Arafat would make a show of yielding to the counsel of the Arab states and avoid declaring independence. And so it was, even though few if any agreed then with my thinking.
Arafat’s retreat was at the time considered a triumph of reason – so deep was the faith of the media and the Left that he was a true partner for peace (and so deep the need to justify the fatal adventure of Oslo). Yet the truth, then as now, is that had the Palestinians really wanted a two-state solution, their state would now be at least 10 years old and would be based on Israeli concessions of the Yossi Beilin variety. In fact, they do not want to divide the land; they want a single Arab state – not “a state of all its citizens” – between the river and the sea. And they believe they will eventually get there – hence all the delaying tactics, then and now.
IF ARAFAT did not dare divide the land based on an historic Arab concession, and agreement to a Jewish state, a national home for the Jewish people, then will Salam Fayyad, a technocrat bereft of charisma and leadership, dare take such an audacious step? He won’t dare to defy the vast majority of his people, who reject compromise, territorial or otherwise.
Still, for the sake of argument, let’s assume he does declare a state unilaterally and wins the support of his people, and that the international community overwhelmingly recognizes the new state. The territory it comprises, areas A and B, constitutes less than 50 percent of Judea and Samaria – all told some 2,500 square kilometers. In Gaza they’ll breathe easy: Now the Hamas “state” can claim parallel legitimacy. And the world? The Arab states? They will get used to a state within these borders – a state that has to worry about education, security, economy and transportation; a state that can no longer complain that all its failures are due to the absence of the instruments of state.
Nor will or should Israel’s settlers shed a tear over this course of events. Israeli public opinion will understand that if the pragmatic Fayyad – the man hosted in every important Israeli salon and even at the Herzliya Conference – pulled off this stunt, then there really is no Palestinian partner. The government, confronted with this provocation, will annul the road map – under the circumstances, the US will be unable to prevent such a step – accelerate the pace of settlement in Area C and, under pressure from the settlers, launch preparations to annex it.
The current Israeli response to Fayyad’s threat is a counterthreat. But if the country’s rulers were well-versed in subterfuge, they would find devious ways to encourage Fayyad’s folly. After all, today, in the absence of a Palestinian state, the entire world, including an influential minority of Israelis, is pushing to establish one more or less along the 1967 lines. But the moment such a state is functioning within areas A and B, both it and the rest of the world will get used to this new reality. Certainly Israel will, with Area C in its hands.
Of course Fayyad won’t fall into this trap. Hence all those who takehis threat seriously, or even treat it as an exercise in Middle Eastbazaar diplomacy, are actually revealing that they don’t understandeither Fayyad’s capabilities or the real Palestinian objective ofeliminating the Jewish-Zionist entity.
One way or another, Fayyad’s gun is empty. In fact, it’s only a toygun. And like a child playing with a toy, he doesn’t always know eitherthe purpose of the game or its outcome.
The writer heads the Institute forZionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column inHaaretz. He founded the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samariaand the Gaza Strip and headed it for 15 years. This article was firstpublished on www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.