THE SPINE APRIL 12, 2010
Almost before the celebrants at Barack Obama’s inauguration had gotten over their hangovers some 15 months ago, the president designated George Mitchell as his special envoy in the Middle East. I wrote then and several times since that he would be a flop, poor man. After all, it’s not the case that he had been a great success in any of his other high-minded missions, including the investigation into steroid use by baseball heroes. In his latest tussle with the now-almost-ancient struggle between Jews and Arabs over Palestine, he was also shackled by his boss’s stubbornly defective history of the region, which, of course, morphed into equally stubborn and defective formulae for fixing that history.
My guess is that this could be Mitchell’s final voyage to the Holy Land, and he may begin saying his goodbyes. Unless he is such a glutton for punishment that he can’t bear to leave. Senator, better take my advice. God bless and good riddance.
Maybe the Palestinian Authority will yet agree to participate in the “proximity talks” on which the president has staked so much. You need to keep in mind that it is the Palestinians--not the Israelis--who are rejecting these low-status negotiations. And not because they want higher-status talks. But because they want to extract concessions from Jerusalem as a precondition for participating even in this remote model for contact between the parties. Then, of course, they’ll try to extract more substantial concessions for attending direct talks. Maybe this is Obama’s plan as well.
But even he may be tiring of these prevaricative tactics. So, pushed by his (what should be) desolating failure even to get indirect contacts going, Obama may be tempted to spring his more-or-less detailed peace plan upon the world. As you surely have grasped, I am far from convinced that any such design will succeed. And it is not, as many in the media seem to assume, because Israel is intransigent. For that matter, I do not think one should blame the ongoing failures of diplomacy on the intransigence of the Palestinians, obstinate though they are. The real impediment to successful Israeli-Palestinians talks, even to unsuccessful talks, is that Palestine is a failed society.
In fact, it is really just another (and more inchoate) instance of other Arab societies stretching from the Maghreb to the borders of Iran. Palestinian factions are organized for pillage ... but pillage with ideological facades and theological tropes. It is true that there are refined and cultured elements in Palestinian society, elements with a normal range of political opinions and social habits. Many of these are inner exiles, as there were and are inner exiles in every public, however violent and corrupt its essences are. Among these inner exiles are men and women of great talent and subtle sensibilities. They will be the real victims of whatever kind of sovereignty and independence Palestine achieves. In a Gaza ruled by Hamas and smaller competing gangs of thugs, however, civil society has already come to an end. Whatever supplies Israel will be euchred into allowing past the blockade into the Strip (Egypt is permitted for raisons d’etat of its own to maintain an even more draconian closure) actually strengthens the rule of disorder, the parties of corruption (including UNRWA, another United Nations fraud, and other ideologically high strung NGOs) being the distributors of these supplies.
The outlines of Obama’s design for peace are known, and there are not likely to be many surprises. The armistice lines of 1949 (that’s what is meant by the “1967 borders”) are the template from which various deviations will be permitted. The big settlement blocs cleaving to these lines but not within them, will remain in Israel, as will the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem about which the administration has made such an enormous fuss. Yes, even Ramat Shlomo, which the Israeli government made into a disastrously impolitic controversy, for which the Obami seemed to have been waiting and planning, will be on the Israeli side of the map. There are a few areas of the West Bank that are of special significance to Jews, and, for these, other creative designs will be required. This is what you call ingenuity in a tight spot. Like the transfer of this or that to Israel for a bit of the Negev to Palestine.
We won’t really know, of course, until we know. And then will come the wrangling. After all, Obama’s design will not be accepted supinely by either the Palestinians or Israel. The symbolic lynchpin is Jerusalem.
Frankly, as a Jew and a Zionist, I would want as many Palestinians as possible living in their own Jerusalem. And as many Jewish Israelis in their own Jerusalem, too. But the hard facts on the ground wreak havoc with the lines that would be the abstract cartography of peace. If a “unified” Jerusalem will not be a peaceful city, so also will a divided Jerusalem not be a peaceful city. The city’s demographic spread is like interlaced fingers. There are no straight lines dividing the population. Just as Israelis move into Arab neighborhoods, Arabs move into Jewish neighborhoods. This is a tell-tale sign that many Palestinians--patriotic Palestinians and all that--do not under any circumstances want to live under Palestinian rule. In fact, they would rather live in a Jewish state than in an Arab state.
A great part of Palestinian hatred for Israel is that the Jewish state is actually more civilized than any imaginable Palestine. And, to be sure, more prosperous. One element of the infatuation with the “one-state solution” among some Arabs is that it would rapidly become a politically Arab state. But there is also the fantasy that the one-state solution would quickly solve the problem of Palestinian backwardness, that the Arabs would suddenly inherit the results of more than a century of Jewish imagination, toil, and courage. This prospect, as you might grasp, does not enchant the Israelis.
Since it’s a non-starter, it also doesn’t appeal to the United States. So America remains committed to a two-state solution. But, as everyone knows by now, you can’t just draw a map and assume that no one will cross its lines. Or that the pre-conditions and conditions of peace will axiomatically be honored. The lessons of the Gaza disengagement and the Lebanon withdrawal tell us just the opposite. In Gaza, the Palestinians sent rockets into Israel even before the Israeli settlers had found new beds in which to sleep. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been violating the terms of Security Council Resolution 170--patched together by Condoleezza Rice and Tzipi Livni--ever since it was passed by the Security Council. So much for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which has been an interim failure since 1978 and now appears to be the prototype for Obama’s design to keep the peace.
This actually means keeping the Jordan River as a barrier between the kingdom and Palestine. But most of Jordan’s population is Palestinian. If, for example, the monarchy is overthrown (it almost happened before until Israel rescued the king’s royal backside), you will have more than four million Palestinians on both sides of the river, agitated for reunion and for revenge. Revenge against whom? Israel, of course.
One doesn’t have to wait for turbulence in Amman to worry about turmoil from the West Bank. The president cannot assure that a Palestine of whatever dimensions will preserve the peace of its borders. Who will deny that, within a day or a week, rocket fire and missilery will be launched against the dense population centers of Israel, against its airport, against its industrial and scientific centers, against its military installations? Aren’t such acts the very pleasures of revenge, almost its incitement? Revenge is the lingua franca of the Palestinian nation.
Obama surely wouldn’t put any of this remotely in my terms. But he knows deep inside that Palestine will not be easily pacified. That is why he has the UNIFIL model in mind, the pathetically ineffective but internationally sanctioned keeper of the peace. All right, maybe it will be NATO or the European Union. And then what happens when there are casualties? When national budgets are tight? Will Spanish soldiers really defend Israel and Israelis? Or holier-than-thou Swedes? Or will German soldiers actually shoot at Israelis? And what about American soldiers?
The very premise of Zionism was that the safety of Jews would no longer rest with the good will of the gentiles, the caprice of the princes. Jewish history is written in the blood of their deceit. I do not believe that American servicemen and servicewomen should die or be in danger because of a threat to the life of Israel and the lives of Israelis. Al Qaeda has already made substantial gains in Gaza, in a Gaza altogether empty of Jews. The U.S. has Al Qaeda in its gunsights in Iraq and Yemen and various other homelands of the jihadist communion. Let Israel take care of its own enemies.