The latest fraud to be inflicted by what remains of the dwindling Israeli peace camp occurred recently with the so-called Geneva Accord between Palestinian and opposition Israeli negotiators. Never mind that the Israeli leftwing negotiators represented no one but themselves, and that they’d been overwhelmingly routed by the Israeli public in democratic elections. Never mind that they were negotiating during war with representatives of Yasser Arafat, who initiated the current terrorism after Israel offered to create a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital – becoming the first country in history to offer shared sovereignty over its own capital city.
Even more galling than those violations of basic democratic norms was the Israeli left’s infinite capacity to fool itself and create expectations for reconciliation, which the Palestinian side has no intention of fulfilling. No sooner had Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin announced that the Palestinians had renounced their the so-called “right of return” – the right, that is, to flood Israel with millions of embittered Palestinian refugees, thereby demographically destroying the Jewish state – then, surprise, Palestinian negotiators insisted they had done no such thing. No one can renounce the right of return, they insisted.
Well, had the Palestinians renounced the demand for refugee return or not? Neither, as it turns out, in classic, Oslo process, double-speak. The final document simply makes no mention of the right of return. That allows Israeli leftists to claim that the Palestinians had renounced the right of return, while allowing Palestinians to insist that they hadn’t. Explaining the Oslo-style semantic twists, one Palestinian negotiator rhetorically noted that Israel isn’t being expected to verbally renounce its claim to the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria. So why can’t the Palestinians continue dreaming of greater Palestine, just as Jews will continue dreaming of greater Israel?
The argument is absurd. In the event of withdrawal, Israel will be repudiating its claim to Judea and Samaria in the most tangible and dramatic way possible: by destroying dozens of “settlements” – that is, thriving towns and villages – and uprooting tens of thousands of people, turning them, in effect, into refugees in their own land. And in exchange for what? A Palestinian agreement to simply not refer to the demand of return in the peace treaty, an obvious loophole intended to reactivate that demand at the appropriate moment.
So while Israel repudiates its claim to the post-1967 borders of the West Bank in the most decisive way possible – through physical uprooting – the Palestinians won’t even verbally repudiate their claim to the pre-1967 Israeli borders.
Welcome back to the Middle East peace process
What the Israeli left still can’t acknowledge is that the reason there is no peace in the Middle East isn't because of Israel's policies but Israel's existence. Rather than terrorism being a frustrated response to occupation, the opposite has become true: The occupation now persists because of terrorism.
Not surprisingly, most Israelis aren’t buying the Geneva Accord. The last three years of unprecedented terrorist atrocity – initiated not by rouge terrorist bands but by the officially sanctioned leadership of the Palestinian people – have immunized most Israelis against the temptation of self-delusion. In effect, that means conceding that the peace process is over, that in fact there never was a peace process, if by that we mean a mutual process of reconciliation. „Land for peace“ wasn't an option because recognition of Israel's legitimacy was never being offered. The current war, then, isn't merely a glitch on the way to an inevitable comprehensive peace, but the end of the assumption that a comprehensive peace is possible, perhaps in our generation.
Oslo was, most Israelis today agree, a Palestinian ruse–or Trojan Horse, in the words of the late PLO leader Faisal Husseini. Oslo failed because it was meant to fail. If I say there is no possibility, at this point in history, of achieving peace, it isn't only because of the collapse of Oslo, but because of numerous conversations I've had over the years with Palestinians, from all levels of society. When I'd ask the question, „What will happen after the peace?“ the answers almost invariably focused on the next phase of repatriating Palestinian refugees and transforming Israel into a bi-national entity. When the war over Israel as a state ends, the war against Israel as a Jewish state will begin.
In truth, Israel has made a mistake in demonizing Arafat. Not that he isn't demonic; but because the problem is hardly Arafat alone, but the widespread Palestinian and Arab refusal to grant us genuine recognition. Gambling on Arafat wasn't just a miscalculation about his personality; it was symptomatic of the Israeli refusal, during the Oslo years, to recognize the depth of Arab rejection. The widespread resistance in the Arab world to granting legitimacy to Jewish history, from denying the existence of a Temple in Jerualem to denying the existence of the gas chambers, isn't a side-effect of the conflict. It is the conflict.
Many observers in Europe have blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for not offering more concessions to support the relatively moderate Palestinian leader, Abu Mazen, who recently resigned. But those criticisms fail to take into account that Abu Mazen couldn’t be saved, because he was the victim of a political targeted assassination by Arafat. (Abu Mazen’s successor, Abu Ala, is now also fixed in Arafat's sights.) But more than Arafat, it is Abu Mazen himself who is to blame for his failure. Though he quietly promised the Israelis and the Americans that he would dismantle the terrorist infrastructure–the road map's own defined prerequisite for jump-starting the peace process–Abu Mazen constantly reassured his own public that he had no intention of doing so. In fact, for us to have expected otherwise was to repeat the Oslo delusion that Fatah would control Hamas, or that there was any but a tactical difference between the two.
Still, I wish Sharon had uprooted those illegal settlements, though not because I believe that might have helped Abu Mazen. He should have done it because that would have preempted the inevitable blame-Sharon response. The only scandal, then, about Sharon's failure to help Abu Mazen is that Sharon allowed the Palestinians to again evade blame for their own failures.
The same is true for settlement-building. There is no massive construction going on in the settlements. The latest building, which made front-page news and attracted Collin Powell's concern, involves 600 apartments mostly in the West Bank towns of Maale Adumim and Efrat, both of which will almost certainly remain within Israel's borders, even in the event of a negotiated settlement.
Given that this generation of Palestinian leaders is incapable of accepting Israel's legitimacy, we need to rethink the goal of negotiations. If renewing the peace process is premised on an Israeli withdrawal to an approximation of the green line, then I personally don't want a peace process–not because I'm not willing, in principle, to make the concessions, but because I don't believe those will win us peace.
The issue now isn't how to resurrect a rejected peace but how to most effectively fight the war that's been imposed on us. Once the war is won, the peace can be negotiated.
I accept the inevitability of territorial withdrawal–if not land for peace, then land for an end to the demographic threat and the corruption of occupation, or land, perhaps, for limited non-belligerency, which could in time evolve into more land for genuine acceptance of a Jewish state. And I oppose a unilateral Israeli withdrawal and unilateral determination of our borders, as some Israelis now suggest, precisely because that would preclude the possibility of a future negotiated settlement.
Despite the gloom, there are potentially positive signs. The war against terror is no longer confined to Israel, but has expanded from Iraq to India. The Arab world is convulsing, and crisis could bring change. Precisely because this time is so delicate, Israel should avoid any irreversible action, whether renewing a false peace process or triggering regional war. Instead, Israel should persist with the status quo–fighting terror and building the fence that will separate the West Bank and its suicide bombers from Israeli cities and towns.
With the status quo, however painful, Israel continues to fight terrorism, with impressive daily successes, while avoiding drastic action like expelling Arafat, which could destroy America's efforts to stabilize Iraq. Israel's recent attack against a terrorist base in Syria, though, is a long-overdo recognition that the terrorist infrastructure is hardly confined to the Palestinian territories but extends from Iran to Saudi Arabia. The message of Israel's air strike to the Arab world is that we consider blowing up our buses and restaurants to be acts of aggression for which we hold responsible all those who actively support terror.
Meanwhile, construction of the fence separating Israel from the West Bank and its suicide bombers sends a message to the Palestinians that with the absence of a willingness to negotiate a compromise, settlement will eventually result in a unilaterally imposed border that will be less advantageous to the Palestinians than the offer they rejected at Camp David. The combined effect of military pressure and the fence could further weaken Palestinian resolve. The recent statement by former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan–that the Palestinians failed after September 11 to realize that the ground rules had changed and that terrorism would no longer work–is one more indication that waiting for the Palestinians to break remains a realistic strategy.
The author is the Israel correspondent for the Washington-based magazine, The New Republic. He is author of the book, published in 2001, “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.”