President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian children during a visit to the Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, March 22, 2013. (ATEF SAFADI-POOL/GETTY IMAGES)
Lebanese Kurds wave the Kurdish flag and a flag picturing Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during Persian New Year, or Noruz, celebrations in Beirut, March 21, 2013. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lipid (c) with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned his position after being indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, at the Feb. 5 swearing in of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli soldiers take pictures of each other in front of Israel’s illegal apartheid wall near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah, March 30, 2013. Israeli troops earlier had clashed with Palestinian demonstrators commemorating the 37th anniversary of “Land Day.” (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Clay, Babylon, Mesopotamia, after 539 BCE D x H: 7.8-10 x 21.9-22.8 cm British Museum, London, ME 90920 Photo: ©The Trustees of the British Museum
Prosthetic legs for wounded American soldiers at the Center for Intrepid rehabilitation gym at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Aug. 7, 2012. (JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES)
July/August 1995, pgs. 26-28
The Outcome of the Peace Talks—Two Views
Israelis Aren't Serious—But for Their Own Survival They Should Be
By Curtis F. Jones
Mass-media assessments of the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks tend to smother objective fact under a blanket of platitude ranging from the banal to the utterly unrealistic. Official commentators are obliged to take their governments' assurances at face value. Many private analysts are constrained by the party line of the publication, institution, or interest group with which they are affiliated.
For the detached observer, construction of a likely outcome from the blur of managed opinion is highly problematic—but not beyond the realm of possibility. By assembling the givens and eliminating the extraneous, an impartial observer should be able to isolate the long-term trends.
Given Number One: The determination of every Israeli government, backed by an overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis, to use all means in its power to insure the survival of their state. Three corollaries ensue: 1) maintenance of a military establishment superior to any conceivable combination of Arab armies; 2) unremitting opposition to the emergence of a rival Arab power, such as an amalgamated Iraq and Kuwait; 3) preservation of Israeli hegemony over territory extensive enough to maximize economic and military self-sufficiency.
That third corollary is a judgment call—a perennial subject of bitter debate in Israel. The record of Israeli actions, however, suggests a powerful consensus for retaining ultimate control over the headwaters of the Jordan River (south Lebanon and southwest Syria) and the entire territory between the Mediterranean and the river. Israel has already annexed, to its own satisfaction at least, the Golan. It controls Lebanese territory up to the Litani. While it has been inhibited by international opinion and an onerous Palestinian presence from formally annexing the West Bank, it has ostensibly annexed a highly inflated East Jerusalem, and its actions have consistently belied every profession of amenability to territorial concession in the rest of that territory.
The spirit of the Declaration of Principles of Sept. 13, 1993, has been massively eroded by the continued expansion of Jewish settlements. The highway system now under construction will enmesh the entire territory in a strategic web, consistent with the continued confiscation of Arab lands for Jewish occupation and Israel's traditional insistence on maintaining a chain of bases along the Jordan border.
Justice can never be nullifed for all time.
Against this looming background, the current tergiversation about Palestinian autonomy, Palestinian assumption of municipal functions, and eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace talks takes on the aspect of window dressing designed to conceal from the public eye a deal of desperation between Labor and the PLO.
Both parties went to Oslo and Washington, DC with urgent problems at home. While Rabin is adamant against a Palestinian state and refugee repatriation and assimilation of Palestinian subjects, his immediate problem was to stanch the political and moral consequences of Israeli teenagers shooting down Palestinian teenagers in the streets. His concessions, tenuous at best, sufficed to make the intifada stop.
Arafat's authority had been so marginalized by age, impoverishment, and isolation (1,100 miles from Gaza to Tunis) that he chose to accept terms many of his associates distrusted. The Oslo Accord afforded both Arafat and Rabin a longer lease on political life.
Perhaps the lightning of capricious fate will strike and anneal the formless clay of the DOP into a durable peace agreement. Unhappy experience suggests it is doomed—not so much by hard-line opposition on either side (a convenient pretext for Israel to drag its feet) as by the incapacity of a Jewish state to incorporate aliens into its economic and political structure. The Palestinian leadership that cannot offer its constituents the promise of true self-determination has no lasting relevance. As for Rabin, the Likud is expected to take over some time in 1996 and abort this latest phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Unencumbered by liberal allies in the Knesset, tacitly emboldened by a spineless Middle East policy in Washington, DC, the Likud can presumably get on with the business of absorbing all of Palestine into the Israeli state—with the likely exception of the Arab-held two-thirds of the Gaza Strip, where the concentration of Palestinians may have reached unmanageable proportions. The Likud may step up the ancillary process of inciting Palestinian emigration and flight by the various means that have been in effect since before the founding of Israel.
However, justice has a force of its own. It can be obstructed but never be nullified for all time. The Palestinians have the advantages of demography and global awareness of their situation. Already, for every four Jews in Greater Israel, there are two Arabs (Gaza excluded). As long as Palestinians are under alien rule, they will agitate for a voice in their own future. More remote, but perhaps more implacable in the long run, is the challenge posed to Israel by its geopolitical environment.
Western policies in the Middle East, headed by the implantation of a Jewish state, have been facilitated by Arab disunity. While Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are preoccupied with a threat from Iraq or Iran, they are incapable of building an effective front against Israeli expansion or for Palestinian rights. But in the fullness of history, Arab disunity is an aberration. Connected by common culture, common economic interests, and common residence in a single land mass, the people of the area can better their situation only by unifying their policies and, eventually, their government. The area has been united many times before. It will be again.
Israel can continue to exploit the Middle Easterners' dynastic squabbles for now, but refusal to adapt to its geopolitical environment can lead only to eventual evanescence. As the most technologically advanced and most nearly democratic state in the area, Israel would do far better to build on these advantages to become the nucleus of a modernized, liberalized Middle East.
The place to start is at home. Expand Arab participation in government; crack the door to Israeli citizenship for Arabs from the territories; put professions of democracy into practice. Democracy is the only hope for Arab-Jewish assimilation. Assimilation, however long it takes, is the only hope for avoiding the devastation inflicted on so many unfortunates elsewhere in the world.
Curtis F. Jones is a retired U.S. career foreign service officer.