The Region: Excuses, excuses

The Region Excuses, exc

The Arab-Israeli, or Israel-Palestinian, conflict is the most misrepresented subject in the entire world. The most basic facts are often distorted and the most fantastical of narratives provided, even in college classrooms, about what has actually happened. On the most single important issue in this framework - why isn't there peace, who wants and doesn't want peace and how can peace be achieved - there is a common set of arguments against Israel. It goes like this: How can the Palestinians make peace when they are suffering so much and when Israel builds settlements, or Israeli leaders make statements saying they want to keep some of the territory or won't give up east Jerusalem, or do a variety of other things? The idea that the Palestinians don't yearn for peace, are eagerly trying to make some kind of agreement, but are only stopped by Israeli intransigence seems completely self-evident to the point that any challenge of this idea is ridiculed, ignored or treated as some kind of dishonest manipulation. By the way, many of the things said are factually wrong. Israel has neither constructed new settlements nor expanded their boundaries for 15 years. But for the moment let's leave aside the factual issues. Nothing could be simpler than to answer these claims. If the Palestinians are miserable and want to get rid of settlements they have and have had a very simple solution: make peace. Their "interest," in the framework of these claims, would be to make a good deal for themselves as fast as possible. Yet they have refused to do so on numerous occasions going back decades. In fact, this is the 30th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel agreement at Camp David which first opened the door to a Palestinian state. Then there was the Reagan plan and US-PLO dialogue of the 1980s, followed by the peace process of the 1990s, the Camp David II and president Bill Clinton offers of 2000, and the offer of prime minister Ehud Olmert (who was absolutely desperate for a deal to save his political career) and most recently the Israeli cabinet's peace plan. If the Palestinians made a deal, they would get an independent state with its capital in east Jerusalem. They would enjoy tremendous sympathy in the West to help them get the best possible terms. What wouldn't they get? They'd have to swap, say, 3 percent or 4% of the West Bank in exchange for an equal amount of Israeli land and they wouldn't get all of east Jerusalem. That's about it. Oh, and they'd also get many billions of dollars in compensation. What else would they have to give up? They'd have to agree that a peace treaty ended the conflict, which makes sense. They'd have to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine, which also makes sense. They might well have to accept security guarantees for Israel and some limits on their own armaments. But, okay, they could bargain on that and get the best deal possible. Again, though, there would be no Jewish settlements on Palestinian state soil, though some would become part of Israel due to the land swaps. NOTE THAT right now the Palestinian Authority is refusing to negotiate at all, nominally because Israel is building a few apartments in Jerusalem. So what? That should be an incentive to negotiate faster so that the construction doesn't go on and on, becoming even more irreversible. Why is it so hard for people to understand these basic points? Of course, they have been misinformed and nobody's pointed these things out to them. To some extent, the demonization of Israel has distorted their comprehension. But the truly fundamental problem is that understanding that the solution for the Palestinians is to make a peace agreement - and that Israel isn't blocking this outcome - is that it leaves them with a paradox to resolve: Why, if the Palestinians are suffering so much, won't they make peace? The answer: The Palestinian leadership wants total victory and Israel's elimination. It is willing to go on letting its people suffer for a century in pursuit of that goal. It hopes that the world will give it everything it wants without having to make any concessions. It realizes that saying "no" and letting the conflict continue gives it more - not less - leverage internationally because this makes Israel look like the guilty party and, consequently, is punished through European policies. So the arguments being made by Westerners who think they are being sympathetic to a suffering people just don't make sense. In fact, they make things worse. Indeed, they are part of a Palestinian strategy to avoid making peace and encourage such intransigence. Again, the calculation goes something like this: The longer the Palestinians refuse to make peace, the more people will blame Israel, turn away from it and pressure it into unilateral concessions. This is a masochistic-based approach, a willingness to suffer in exchange for gain, and a gain that partly comes from many onlookers' inability to believe that anyone could use such tactics. And yet the truth is right out in the open. Don't like settlements? Don't like "occupation?" Then make peace and get rid of these things.