Peace in the Middle East?

Land for Peace. This is the basic premise from which Sadat and Begin worked out the return of the Sinai, and it is also the premise upon which the Oslo Accords were settled. This is how it is supposed to go. Yassir Arafat, or any leader of the Palestinians, Syrians, or Lebanese, will make a sincere and sustained effort at squashing terrorist activity originating from their respective states — suicide bombs, or Katusha rockets etc., – and Israel will withdraw from the territories, just as it did in 1979. It should be a relatively easy, uncomplicated give-and-take relationship. For individuals, it entails no pro-active role; all one must do is not kill. For the Palestinian leadership, it is a pill difficult to swallow but definitely feasible and worthwhile. The Palestinians get what they want, a sovereign legitimized state, and the Israelis get what they want, security.

Israel’s Precarious Situation

Israel is a very self-conscious state. It possesses, however, very sober reasons for being “security paranoid” as some put it. Surrounded by 20 states who (except for Turkey, Morocco and Jordan, only recently) wish it destroyed, it has been in constant danger from its neighbors throughout its short existence.

In 1948, on the evening of May 19, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence. On the following morning, a combined Arab force of Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian armies invaded the infant state.

Four subsequent wars – followed, including permanent Declarations of War — and economic boycotts were instituted by most Arab states. Even today such hostility continues. Israel does not appear in most Arab textbooks — though it will soon appear in Jordanian books – nor does not appear on maps. Essentially, in the eyes of many Arab states, it does not exist except as an evil entity and a pariah.

Israel’s most populous strip of land, from the port city of Haifa to the other port city of Ashkalon is about 150 miles long and 9-15 miles wide. Five million people reside in that plot of land one-sixth the size of Rhode Island. In fact, so geo-strategically tenuous is the state, that one large Chemical warhead would devastate the region and one serious dousing of Anthrax would terminate its existence. The loss of the West Bank of the Golan Heights – though a necessary ordeal – could jeopardize Israeli security, by giving up precious minutes in response time in case of an attack.

What Israel needs

Nonetheless, 57.8 percent of Israeli Jews think that the government should implement the second pullback under Oslo, according to Peacepulse, a non-partisan Middle East Peace polling organization. What they have is Oslo, which is only a contract.

What they need is a guarantee. They need to be assured that it will be safe to ride Jerusalem buses without being blown to pieces, they need to know it is safe to sit in Tel Aviv Cafes, or farm in the Galiliee without Katyusha rockets raining down on them from Lebanon. They want to live without worrying about gas masks or Anthrax inoculations, or living in sealed bombshelters during raids.

If Assad can guarantee a serious attempt at thwarting the Iranian backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon and in the Golan heights; if Arafat can keep terrorists in jail for terms longer than six months, then Israel will withdraw from southern Lebanon, and continue to redeploy from the West Bank.

After the exuberance of the Oslo accords was shattered by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist, and suicide bombs repeatedly ripped through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the citizens of Israel, both Jew and Muslim, realized that “a leap of faith would only plunge [them] into chaos,” as Natan Sharansky, the Minister of Industry and Trade and former inmate of the Gulag, stated. The process of building a working peace entails full national consensus. The election of Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated the Israeli caution and wariness of the electrically fast peace process. Through the apparatus of an election, they decided that the peace process must be a slow deliberated one of trust-building on both sides.

Peace only through trust

Israelis must live with a little added insecurity, and a large loss of land. The Palestinians must learn to be peaceful and accept Israel as a state, and must learn to trust their former territorial occupier. Trust can only be established by fulfillment of requirements. Netanyahu – though obviously more hesitant and difficult than Yitzhak Rabin – has ratified, fulfilled and redeployed under the Hebron protocol. This was difficult considering two factors; the Netanyahu coalition relied upon the religious right, and the fact that Hebron is the resting place of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Netanyahu has also released women prisoners, and given control to the Palestinian National Authority of over 98 percent of the Palestinian population. It is important to note, however, that much of the less populated land is still under Israeli supervision and Palestinian use. Mr. Arafat has not done a spectacular job assuaging Israeli fears. He has yet to remove the charter that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, one of the key articles in the Oslo agreement and a great source of anxiety for the Israelis. Trust cannot be cemented when one group still vows the death of another. Mr. Arafat has failed to extradite terrorists to Israel for indictment. Instead the Palestinian National Authority tends to stage ten minute trials and convict the terrorists for damaging PNA interests, not for the murder of civilians. Arafat has in no way made a “total, sustained and comprehensive effort to pre-empt terrorism,” as U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright called it.

Furthermore, Israelis cannot consider recent public demonstrations in February filled with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli rhetoric as heartening. “Hey Saddam, our dear, we love you, use your chemicals on Tel Aviv,” they chanted. (The fact that Palestinians were simultaneously receiving gas masks in case of an attack demonstrates the precariousness of both group’s positions, for if Mr. Hussein used chemicals on Tel Aviv, thousands would die in the West Bank and Gaza from those same chemicals that killed Israelis). In addition, Mr. Arafat failed to establish a viable government that is anything but corrupt. In a Peacepulse poll of last November, 81percent of Palestinians believed that the PNA was corrupt.

The Palestinian Role

What is happening is that too many factions within the PNA are vying for power. There is the PLO (Arafat), the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Hamas. Mr. Arafat balances the factions with skill, but at the cost of Israeli security and thus the peace process. The result is that the PNA essentially bribes prisoners with shorter sentences so that they shift their alliances.

Thus, there are too many instances of prisoners being freed prematurely before sentences are served. A main tactic for inclusion of factions is the integration of leaders into the now 35,500-strong Police force. In fact, the Palestinian Police commissioner for Gaza and the West Bank, Ghazi Jabali, who heads a 12,000 man police force, is suspected of organizing individual terror cells and terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

Not all of these prisoners join the Police; some are refiltered into the system or get brainwashed like , Maowiya Jarara, Bashar Salawah and Tawfiq Yassin, who blew themselves up in the September 1997 Ben-Yahuda mall attack.

Mr. Arafat is always beholden to factions to maintain power. The essential problem is that the common fellow does not trust the corrupt government and is forced to join factions in order to belong. Without the support of these factions, Mr. Arafat cannot control the territories. That is why Mr. Arafat cannot fully restrain all of the Palestinians, because if he attempted such a thing, he would be ejected from power. Natan Sharansky put it well in a Wall Street Journal article, “Nothing would enhance Israel’s security more than the Palestinians governing themselves by the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and a free press.”

Can Peace be made?

Peace is workable. According to the World Bank, since the 70’s, trade with Israel constituted 80-90 percent of West Bank and Gaza trade. Furthermore, over one-third of employment in 1993 was accounted for by work in Israel. So, when violence occurs and Israeli borders close to Palestinians, both group’s productivity is affected. Israel has pledged $25 million in loans and $50 million in grants to the PNA, the eighth-highest pledge total to the Palestinians in the world- according to the Palestinian Development Infonet. Joint Industrial projects are in the making as well as other cooperative projects. In sum, the Palestinians deserve a viable sustainable state, the Israeli’s peace. Progress is slow, but inevitable. In examining the peace process it is vital to note that Oslo is not a peace treaty but an interim agreement to work towards establishing a final and permanent peace settlement. It is not the goal; it is a path. War can start overnight but peace takes years to be found.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *