Sunday, May 31, 2009

Peace on the Borderline

By Barry Rubin
Bustan-Ha-Golan, Golan Heights

President Barack Obama has said that if Israel examines its long-term interests, it will realize that a two-state solution is in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

What he doesn’t understand is: that depends on what kind of two-state solution we are talking about.

Speaking more broadly about peace and negotiations, there’s nothing like standing next to the Israel-Syria ceasefire line for contemplating the meaning of peace, both real and fabled.

Before 1967, the Syrians sat atop the Golan Heights, like a balcony overlooking flat Israel below stretching straight to the Mediterranean coast. The Syrians periodically shelled the area and in the event of full-scale war initiated by a surprise attack could well have swept down like the wolf on the fold, as one of their predecessor states did in Biblical times.

Today, while the Israeli-ruled Golan Heights has army bases aplenty, it’s been transformed into tremendously productive use as wineries, orchards, artist colonies, and tourist destinations.

What would happen if there was “peace” with Syria as that country is at present? The Syrian army would return, declare the territory a closed military area, and again point weapons down at Israel. Would there be conciliation, cultural exchanges, any end to Syrian backing for Hamas and Hizballah, or a termination of attacks from Lebanon? Forget it.

But even this is won’t happen. As long as the current radical regime is in power in Damascus, there won’t be any negotiated peace even of the most superficial variety because the conflict is indispensible to the Syrian dictatorship. And the most probably type of change in Syria—though its likelihood is still low—to a radical Islamist regime would make any such peace even less likely.

Since Syria would give nothing in return for the return of the Golan Heights, what advantage would it give Israel for all intents and purposes to return to the pre-1967 situation with Syria?

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas met the potentially most pro-Palestinian president in U.S. history and threw away a great opportunity to win favor.

There’s no question that if any real solution might end the conflict, that would be a two-state solution. But that’s certainly not the same as saying that any two-state solution would meet that need.

That’s because despite ip-service toward Israel security needs, when a Western leader says “two-state solution” he’s not thinking very hard about what this would mean.

Partly, this is due to the Western conception of a successful end to the peace process. It goes, without much exaggeration, like this: the two sides sign an agreement, the conflict ends, and everybody lives pretty happily thereafter. Palestine exists in peace alongside Israel. The lion lies down with the lamb, except only the lion ever gets up again.

It is really pretty much a variation of a song called “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” in which papers are signed saying “They’d never fight again,” everyone dances, while swords, guns and uniforms are thrown away.

Now back to the real world. Here, Israel has to worry about:

--A radical Palestinian state ruled by Fatah, a Fatah-Hamas coalition, or taken over by Hamas which is tied to Iran and Syria.

--Creating a Palestine in which all schools, mosques, and media teach Palestinians that all Israel is theirs and they must conquer it, a Palestine full of incitement to violence inspiring hundreds to become terrorists, thousands to help them, and hundreds of thousands to support them. In some respects, this describes the Palestinian Authority (PA) today, despite its real efforts to limit cross-border attacks.

--In any of the above circumstances, extending the conflict another generation by using the state as base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel. While they would almost certainly fail, such an outcome would reduce the benefits of such a”peace” agreement for Israel to close to zero.
--Leaving the Gaza Strip in Hamas’s hands which means, in effect, a three-state solution. Short of a U.S.-led multinational invasion force—rather unlikely—there’s no way Gaza can be included in a peace agreement with Israel. Talking about a two-state solution while the PA doesn’t even control Gaza is unconnected to reality.

--Setting off a new cross-border war, with Palestine’s government and security forces either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creating a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or obtains missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

All of the above are very realistic assessments. The best-case outcome would be a Palestine in which a shaky regime held on, kept “moderate” by Israeli pressure and covert operations, Western management of aid funds, and some assistance by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to avoid new crises. Yet this is not a solution but a new day-to-day series of crises and sporadic bloodshed.

Even this is unlikely given the PA’s refusal to make the most minimal concessions, including agreeing to resettle Palestinian refugees in their “national homeland” of Palestine.

And we’re supposed to believe that what’s holding up the new golden age is that some settlers might decide to build another room onto their apartments or even a new building inside the perimeter fence of an existing settlement?

Get real.

A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace? I’m for it. But mindlessly repeating that slogan solves nothing. Answer these questions or don’t expect any progress:

--What incentives you’re offering Israel in exchange for more concessions and risks when all your past promises and claims have proven wrong.

--How you’re going to deal with the Hamas in Gaza problem.

--When will the PA agree that a two-state solution would permanently end the conflict and insist all refugees be resettled in Palestine?

--When will the PA agree in a diplomatic solution to recognize Israel as a Jewish state since the Palestine Israel’s being told to recognize is defined in its constitution as an Arab and Muslim state.

--Prove why anyone should possibly believe a stable solution would emerge from your plan.

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