Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why All the Excuses for Palestinian Intransigence Don’t Make Sense

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By Barry Rubin

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 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.

People think that when they've made these points it constitutes some kind of devastating, unanswerable rebuttal proving why there is no peace and why Israel is responsible. In fact, these statements are all either long outdated or simply beside the point.

In addition, many of the things said are factually wrong. Israel has neither constructed new settlements nor expanded their boundaries for fifteen years. But for the moment let’s leave aside the factual issues. It is easy to show that these claims are inaccurate but either ears are shut or the columns of the publications are closed to such responses.

Still, nothing could be simpler than to answer these claims.

Here’s the answer:

If the Palestinians are so miserable, they feel their situation  intolerable, and want to get rid of settlements, they have and have had a very simple solution. Drum roll, please:

Make peace as fast as possible in a way that settles almost all their ostensible claims.

Yet they have refused to do so on numerous occasions going back for decades. In fact, this is the thirtieth 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 U.S.-PLO dialogue of the 1980s, followed by the peace process of the 1990s, the Camp David 2 and President Bill Clinton offers of 2000, and most recently the offer of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was absolutely desperate for a deal in order to save his political career) and most recently the Israeli cabinet’s peace plan in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly agrees to accept a Palestinian state.

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, three or four percent of the West Bank’s territory 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 ever more irreversible.

The purpose of negotiations is to offer compromises in order to get things you want. It is suspicious for a side to say that they are the desperate, suffering underdog eager for peace to say: We won't even come to the table unless we know beforehand we'll get everything we want and we won't make peace unless we get 100 percent of our demands. 95 percent? We'd rather go on fighting for decades.

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 for their minds to resolve:

Why if the Palestinians are suffering so much won’t they make peace?

Here’s the answer: the Palestinian leadership wants total victory and Israel’s elimination. They are willing to go on letting their people suffer for a century in pursuit of that goal. They hope that the world will give them everything they want without their having to make any concessions. They realize that saying “no” and letting the conflict continue gives them more—not less—leverage internationally because they make Israel look like the guilty party and think, consequently, it is being punished in European policies and public opinion.

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 a compromise 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. The continued existence of settlements or of any Israeli military presence due to the Palestinian continuation of the conflict doesn’t prove anything to the contrary.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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