Monday, February 1, 2010

Why Isn't There Peace? One Reason: Few People Know How Much is Being Offered

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By Barry Rubin

I’ve been having a dialogue through correspondence lately with someone describing himself as a moderate Palestinian who lives in the United States. What most impressed me in the exchanges--both from what my interlocutor said and how he described the views of other Palestinians--is the total lack of comprehension on their part—those who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with those who live elsewhere, both moderate and radical--about Israeli positions toward peacemaking that are easily available on the public record.

Among Palestinians, as more broadly with almost all of the public in the Muslim-majority world and a lot of the elite classes in Europe, there exists a mythical Israel, reminiscent of the fabricated antisemitic stereotypes of the past, that has little to do with reality. They believe Israel isn't interested in peace, doesn't offer the Palestinians anything, opposes any real Palestinian state, intends to keep the West Bank (until Israel's withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip they would have added that territory as well), and is led by intransigent hardliners. Such a conception was comprehensible--if not fully accurate--describing the situation in parts of the 1980s but has nothing to do with the last 20 years.

In 2010 they have no idea what Israel actually offered in the 1990s' peace process, or at the Camp David summit in 2000, or what President Bill Clinton offered with Israel's agreement in December 2000, or what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proffered in 2008, or what is in the current Israeli government’s peace offer in 2010. All proposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the first three in close to 100 percent and the last three as equivalent to 100 percent (with some small, equal land swaps) in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lacking any knowledge of these offers, or at least knowing only very distorted ones, they can maintain that Israel has offered “nothing” and that therefore the continuation of the conflict is not due to Palestinian intransigence but Israel’s alleged opposition to the creation of a real independent Palestinian state. This reminds me of how Mahmoud Abbas, today leader of the Palestinian Authority, responded to some reasonably accurate descriptions in the Palestinian media of what Israel offered in 2000 at Camp David. It is better, he said at the time, not to talk about these things at all, presumably lest some Palestinians might think that it was a reasonable deal.

Anyone who actually lives in Israel knows that--whether they like it or not--Israel is ready to make big conessions and take reasonable risks to achieve peace. They know, whether or not they agree, that the overwhelming majority is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state as long as it is willing to end the conflict and live side by side in peace.

Outside Israel, far fewer people than should do so understand this reality. And that includes journalists,academics, and politicians. If they address the issue at all, they presume that Israel is asking the Palestinians to make some huge or unreasonable concession. Often, as noted above, their understanding of Israeli views is more than 20 years out of date.

But the Palestinians especially and these Westerners generally know even less about Israel’s own demands, which is not surprising since they are never explained in the Arabic-language media and virtually never mentioned in the Western media. These include security guarantees, non-militarization of a Palestinian state, an end to the conflict, and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine. For an analysis of Israel's current peace plan, if you would like to see what is actually on the table,see here.

The above observations can produce a simple definition of the difference between moderates and radicals. The radicals, both among the Palestinians and their Western sympathizers, know—even if they pretend otherwise—that they want all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea along with Israel’s elimination. This is true whether they seek it through a two-stage process, the dispatch of a million or two Palestinians to Israel in a peace agreement, a one-state solution, or a temporary binational state.

A moderate is someone who actually thinks the Palestinians today want a two-state solution and is genuinely fooled by the ploys outlined above. Consequently, the moderates--few as they are among Palestinians, more numerous in the West--can have the facts explained to them. But the radicals know precisely what they are doing and don't care about any chance for compromise.

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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. 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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