I’ve been following this last ditch attempt to make an Israeli/Palestinian peace. It’s pretty clear that the clock is running out. Barak barely has a government, Arafat is ill and probably doesn’t have very long, and Clinton is in the waning hours of his Presidency. If peace doesn’t happen now it’s probably not going to happen for another generation, if ever, and yet, all three are being reviled for their efforts.
Both Arafat and Barak appear to have the same marching orders from their supporters, their opponents and their people. They say to them: Go out and deal with the enemy even though we all know you can’t trust them and their word is meaningless and no matter what you agree to they’re probably going to screw us anyway. This is the list of what we want you to get and nothing less than the complete list is acceptable, so if you come back with less than 100 percent of our demands, you’ve failed and we won’t support you. You can negotiate with them, provided you don’t give up anything, because if you do, you’re a traitor, you’ve sold us out and we won’t support you. And most of all, whatever you do–make sure to come back with lots of money from the Americans.
Now, good, luck and try not to be the dirty rat we know you really are.
One would almost begin to believe that people must like conflict. There must be something very satisfying about it, because it appears to be so much a part of the human condition. It helps you define who the good guys are, and that of course is you. It also helps you to identify who the bad guys are, and that, of course, is them. The ambiguity of peace appears to be harder to live with the the clarity of war. Besides, in war, you don’t have to make any really tough moral choices.
What’s ultimately going to happen really boils down to a few things that are doable and a few that are not.
The Palestinians want the Israelis to take back some or all of the Palestinians that left Israeli during the variety of wars, the so-called “right of return.” That will never happen. No country the size of Israel could take back one million-plus people. It would make it a totally different country and certainly no longer a Jewish state. There could be some reparations or payment for land, but those people, in any large numbers, will never return, ever.
The Israelis want the Palestinians to hold off declaring statehood in September. It’s an Israeli pipe dream. The Palestinians should and will declare themselves an independent nation. In fact, Arafat has almost no choice about it at this point, and he certainly doesn’t have to ask the Israelis permission to do it. Nevertheless, after they become a state they will still need electric power from Israel, they will need water from Israel, their people will need to continue working in Israel and they will need lots and lots of money to make their nation work. The rule is simple. No deal equals no money, and probably less water, power and jobs in Israel. There are refugees all over Europe who would be happy to work in Israel, so the Palestinian labor card is certainly weaker.
No one wants to give up any part of Jerusalem because it’s everyone’s sacred grounds–so call it something else. Expand the borders of Jerusalem so there is an Arab part and an Israeli part. Jerusalem has been a divided city for several thousand years. Once you get beyond the noise there is nothing new to it.
The borders of the new country are going to have to reflect, to some extent, what exists on the ground, which means that some of the settlements on the West Bank will be part of Israel and some will have to be abandoned, with some compensation to those moved out. I imagine that the last thing either country needs is a continual tinderbox of the Israeli settlements in the new Palestinian country. It would be a source of constant confrontation and a constant flashpoint and a political nightmare for both.
What happens if they fail? Suppose the peace talks fall apart? Or, suppose they hammer out a deal and either the Israelis or the Palestinians turn it down. Then I fear we’ll see the ghost of Northern Ireland come to Israel. The Israelis have the power to starve the Palestinians out. The Palestinians have the power to keep the Israelis living in a terrorist hell.
It’s gone too far, I fear, to turn back. They’ve got to make a deal or it’s a mutual suicide pact.