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Asking the Right Questions in the Middle East
By Daniel Rosa
We have been asking the wrong questions all along: Why isn't there peace in the Middle East? When will there be peace? Why can't the Jews and the Palestinians get along? All these questions miss the mark. They assume that peace can be a cease-fire, a cooling-off period, and a handshake away. But this is far from the case.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's greatest accomplishment (or his only accomplishment, as some critics would argue) as Israeli head of state was to call Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's bluff, to test Arafat's commitment to a lasting peace. Another former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, is remembered for having died for peace; Barak, too, martyred himself (in this case, his political career) to peace. The offer Barak made to Arafat at Camp David in the summer of 2000 far surpassed any previous offer made by Israel; Barak was willing to turn over all of Gaza and nearly all of Judea and Samaria, as well as reach a creative compromise on East Jerusalem and allow a limited number of Palestinians to immigrate to Israel proper. Arafat's rejection of this offer proves that the destruction of Israel is a prerequisite for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the cessation of violence. Arafat has always claimed, and continues to claim, that any final agreement must include the right of Palestinians to "return" to Israel proper.
Make no mistake about it: this provision is tantamount to the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. If millions of Palestinians immigrated to Israel, she would cease to be a Jewish state. In a time when the last Israeli prime minister offered to remove nearly every Jew from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, it is appalling that the Palestinians insist on denying the Jews the only land they have. The Palestinian position remains unchanged since 1948, when the Jews declared statehood. The Palestinians have always been, and continue to be, bent on the destruction of Israel. Not just Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and myriad other extremist groups that want to destroy Israel. Not just Arafat, who occasionally talks peace but has never made a compromise at the bargaining table. The average Palestinian wants to destroy Israel. In a recent poll, 76% of Palestinians surveyed in Judea and Samaria support suicide bombings against Israel.
The current partial cease-fire will end in one of two ways. Full-scale violence will break out again (although this would not be much different from the current situation) if either Israel or the PA decides to abandon the cease-fire, or if extremist Arab groups intensify their terrorist efforts. Also, Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are growing weary of a government that promised them a better life in the territories and now does little to protect them. If the settlers revolt or form militias, Israel will have no choice but to cancel the cease-fire in order to defend them from Palestinian counterattacks. The other possibility is that violence will cease to the satisfaction of both sides and they will begin to negotiate again. Pursuing this path is probably the best strategy for Israel to adopt, since it minimizes bloodshed in the short-term, but these negotiations are surely doomed to fail. Even if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has taken a sharp turn to the Left since taking office, is persuaded to revive Barak's offer, the Palestinians have indicated that Barak's offer is to be the Israeli starting point for future negotiations. To offer any more would be to sacrifice Israel itself to peace.
The Jews' greatest weakness is our love of peace, and the Palestinians know it. The more they attack, the harder they make Israelis' lives, the more Israel will thirst for a final settlement, a way out of the whole problem. Eventually, the Jews will want peace so badly that we will be willing to sacrifice Israel for it, according to the strategy of every Palestinian faction.
The right of a people to self-determination is central to solving the Mideast problem. Israel has come a long way toward respecting the right of Palestinians to autonomy. Even right-wing politicians currently accept the idea of a Palestinian state. However, the Palestinians insist on the destruction of the Jewish state. Therefore, it matters very little whether there is currently a cease-fire or whether negotiations begin again. We cannot hope for a solution until substantially less than 76% of Palestinians support suicide attacks and until the average Palestinian respects the right of Israel to exist. Goodwill between Palestinian and Jewish neighbors is surely too much to ask, at least at the present time, and perhaps so is respect for Israel's existence. What we can hope for is that the Palestinians will learn that Israel is here to stay, just as Israel accepted that it cannot and should not hold control over Palestinian areas. This was the long-term strategy that Israel employed with Egypt. Only after the Egyptians accepted that they could not destroy Israel were they willing to talk seriously about peace. With a mutual commitment to peace and self-determination, Israel was willing to cede Sinai, just as it must be willing to cede parts of Gaza , Judea and Samaria.
But Palestinian children are at this moment being taught in school that they must adopt armed struggle as a means to destroy the Zionist enemy in the name of Allah. What we can hope for is a gradual, yet fundamental, change in mentality. Over the course of at least one, but probably more, generations, the Palestinians might come to a similar realization as did the Egyptians. Besides, if a Palestinian youngster is raised to believe in the holiness of armed struggle against Israel, then lives a life of fear, unrealized hopes, and extreme economic hardship, he or she will be more likely to embrace peace and less likely to pass the burden of hatred and stubbornness to the next generation. Some time in the future, the Palestinians will come to the table with a willingness to negotiate. At least we hope they will, since the only other alternative is the destruction of Israel. In the meantime, Israel must do everything possible to move the Palestinians in this direction.
Will we have the courage to put aside our love of peace for the time being? Will we have the perseverance for an ideological struggle that could last generations? Will we be unwavering in our commitment to the right of self-determination? Finally, will we recognize that the existence of Israel is in grave danger, and will we fight to save her?
from the August 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine