Among the Jerusalem Post’s blog posts, there is one today by Ira Sharkansky, a Hebrew University Political Science professor, called “Why the Stalemate.” Sharkansky also posts at Shark Blog. To explain why a high ranking US official has said that the “peace process” appears to be “at an impasse,” Sharkansky suggests the following reasons:
There is no free lunch in international relations
You screw us; we’ll screw you
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” may be a spiritual ideal, but the more popular norm in international politics is the simpler one of “Do unto others.”
Israel can live well enough without solving the problem of Palestine.
The Palestinians may pride themselves in their willingness to die for their national cause, but they have committed national suicide. There will be no Palestinian state as long as key factions persist with the dreams of turning back the clock to 1967, to 1947, or to the mid-19th century before Jews began coming to this area.
Sharkansky goes on to suggest that Hamas, the Goldstone Report and Iran stand in the way of any further progress and therefore while “Israel can live well enough without solving the problem of Palestine,” the Palestinians will not gain a state any time soon.
This strikes me as the type of thinking I hear from many Israelis, both in the center and the right of the political spectrum. The consensus appears to be that Israel can continue to grow and thrive while the Palestinians continue to dither and miss opportunities to build their state.
In order to agree with this premise, one has to believe the Palestinians seek a two state solution and their own state.
No, the Palestinians are stalling because they believe they have entered the endgame. They believe they are closer than ever to winning the decades-old war against Israel and are launching what they believe to be a new battle in their war. They appear to believe this stage of the war will last several years, maybe a decade, but this final battle is supposed to culminate in a victory that has the international community imposing and establishing a single state from the river to the sea. That alone will create a serious challenge to the notion of a Jewish state, but the Palestinians most likely believe demographics will complete their task.
Right now, by the Palestinian count, there are around 4 million Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria/West Bank and Gaza (a count which is disputed by some, but the international community as well as many Israelis accept this number). Another 1.1 million Israeli Arabs who are not Beduin or Druze reside inside the Green Line and have Israeli citizenship. In contrast, there are about 6 million Jews living inside Israel. The Israeli birthrate stands at around 20 births/thousand while the Palestinian birthrate was at 39/1000 in 2006 but is said to have dropped to 27/1000 last year. Critically, the percentage of young Palestinians (under 18) is very high so that even if parity in population (from the sea to the river) does not occur within the next decade, the following couple of decades will probably give them a decided advantage, especially if they can vote as a bloc.
Having numeric equality or superiority is useless if the election does not include one’s population. Achieving the right to vote in Israeli elections appears to be one of the goals set out by the Palestinians. As we learned in the recently held Sixth Congress held by Fatah, the party behind the Palestinian Authority, they intend to wage an international campaign against Israel that resembles the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. That struggle ended with a white minority giving equal civic rights to their black population after the world essentially boycotted South Africa to the point where it gave up.
Unlike whites in South Africa, Jewish Israelis are the majority and the Palestinians are the minority. Also, historic ties to Israel place the Jews there well before the Palestinians arrived. These facts don’t seem to matter, the Palestinians have already begun their apartheid-style anti-Israel campaign. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has received some major press coverage in recent months, including our coverage of one of the movement’s leaders, Omar Barghouti, who advocates for a boycott while studying at Tel Aviv University. One key success was the attack on the Toronto Film Festival (addressed on Jewlicious here), which may have failed to dissuade movie-goers from seeing the Israeli films being shown, but it managed to get coverage around the world for several days. The amount of publicity the BDS movement received was astounding, and most of that publicity involved equating Israel and its policies with apartheid South Africa. This is not an accident, it is a measured and well thought out strategy.
It is also not an accident that most of the signatories on the original letter to the Toronto Film Festival were either Jewish or gay with no Arabs among them. This is reminiscent of the OIC (Organiztion of Islamic Conference – the Islamic countries’ 57 nation coalition at the UN) guided UNHRC to appointing a Jewish rapporteur to report on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, Richard Falk, and a Jewish judge to head the commission investigating Cast Lead, Goldstone. Recently Mustafa Barghouti, an eloquent Palestinian politician and former PA leadership candidate, was joined by a Jewish woman on a visit to the Daily Show. Barghouti did not need her, but her role is obvious. On campuses, one sees the same developments. The Muslim Student Association on many campuses leads the attacks against Israel and its supporters, but it’s not unusual to see Jews in visible roles within the protests. At York University in Toronto, for example, a Jesse Zimmerman was allegedly a leader in the action taken against the students hiding in the Hillel office. On the internet, some of the leading anti-Israel sites are run by Jews – Mondoweiss, JVP, Muzzlewatch, etc.
The Palestinians, however, are not only counting on the fight for establishing an international boycott of Israeli products and culture. Simultaneously, they are maintaining severe international pressure on the diplomatic front. The Goldstone Commission could not have happened without diplomatic support. In fact, the Secretary General of the OIC has bragged to Al Jazeera that they were responsible for having the Goldstone Commission appointed. Many countries in the EU are placing their relationships with the Arab world far ahead of their relationship with Israel, and both Russia and China are also keeping their toes moist in the Muslim/Arab oil wells. Similarly, on the legal front, the Palestinians continue to try to trip Israel in Europe by attempting to have Israeli officers and leading politicians arrested. It is only a matter of time before an Israeli leader gets arrested on such a visit, opening the door to a media storm, especially if he loses the case.
Demography, apartheid, diplomatic aggression, campus activism and international law are the ingredients, and time is the sauce. Time enables the Palestinians to grow in number, achieve successes on the BDS front, score diplomatic victories, put Israel in the dock, put Israeli leaders on trial, establish the idea of Israeli “apartheid” in the public’s mind and plan for the future.
The last is a key clue to what the Palestinians are doing. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian PM, has established a two year plan for creating the infrastructure of a Palestinian state. This has been described by the Palestinians as a proactive measure intended to lay the groundwork for peace. However, they have also made it clear that if no “peace” is forthcoming, then they will take their preparations and declare a state unilaterally. While it’s doubtful they would do so, the point of the exercise is to be ready and to function like a proper government in the view of the world’s western nations. It is also, of course to place pressure on Israel because Israel would end up losing a great deal of negotiating leverage if the world accepts a new Palestinian state. Also, becoming a high contracting party gives the Palestinians some advantages they do not currently enjoy on the diplomatic and other fronts.
Along the same lines, is it no accident that Palestinian violence has diminished greatly in the West Bank and is on hold in Gaza. Certainly, Israel’s security measures have achieved success, and Cast Lead hit Hamas hard. However, it seems the Palestinians are satisfied playing the nonviolence game for a while. They consider their efforts at Bilin to be successful – sufficiently large to make a media impact and to tarnish Israel’s image, but not so large that they have to convince a large number of Palestinians to make this effort. In fact, while dozens of activists show up at Bilin, thousands of Palestinians are being trained by the Americans to fight like a proper army. Twenty five thousand Palestinian soldiers, so far. Of course, once those are trained, they will train others. Weapons are being provided by Israel and the US to help the cause.
In the meantime, Iran is arming and preparing the other Palestinians…Hamas… for future rounds against both Fatah and Israel. They are also preparing Hizbullah for a future war. Both armies have rockets that can hit Israeli civilian centers and have now tested and proven that their fighting tactics may not win the battle on the ground, but certainly win the war once the world watches the news. Obviously, arming and preparation requires time. This seems to contradict what Fatah, in the guise of the PA, is trying to do to Israel as I describe above, but it actually plays right into their goals. Both the US and Israel are so concerned about Iran’s influence and Hamas conquering the West Bank, that they fully back the training, arming and diplomatic support that Fatah receives in abundance. The more time passes, the more resources the PA gains in terms of soldiering and arms.
Time matters. Time IS the strategy and buying it is the most critical issue for the Palestinians. They know full well that there is a peace agreement on the table, first put there by Barak and then by Olmert. Their job, as they see it, is to acknowledge it, criticize it as insufficient and wait. Now they are blaming settlements, but last year when Olmert offered everything that was offered at Taba plus an international Jerusalem, they were talking to Israel while settlements were being built. Then they said “no.” Why did they refuse a very generous offer that would have established the first ever Palestinian state? According to Abbas, the “gaps were too wide,” but considering that Olmert offered over the limit of what Israel will ever offer again, this was just an excuse. The “gaps” weren’t the problem. The problem was that a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria/West Bank and Gaza is not the Palestinians’ endgame. To the same ends, we now have friction at the Temple Mount. This is not accidental and it is certainly not happening because of Israel. From the Palestinians’ point of view, some tension that pits the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians is good for publicity and for finding excuses not to discuss peace.
All this is in the hope that their other endeavors will coalesce over the next few years as Israel is pushed up against the ropes, eventually to be forced by external forces and circumstances to yield to a one state solution.
And that’s why they are stalling.
There are now two follow up posts:
(Dear readers, the comments below include some interesting criticisms of this post and even many choice insults directed at yours truly. I think my responses expand on this thesis so please read on…)