July 18, 2006
by Meyrav Wurmser
As Israelis await news over the fate of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah respectively, and Israeli cities in the north and south are being rocketed, they wonder what future there is in their relations with Palestinians. Even after the crisis with Hezbollah is solved, Israelis will have a Hamas-controlled Palestinian entity next door. Given the current crisis's potential to ignite another all-out Arab-Israeli war, a reassessment of several assumptions underlining both American and Israeli policies toward the Palestinian Authority is both unavoidable and urgent.
Assumption 1: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas. His leadership must be strengthened by both Israel and the International community. Ever since Hamas was elected to head the Palestinian government, international hopes focused on trying to undermine it by strengthening the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, and his party - Fatah. The international community, including America, is passing aid money exclusively through Abu Mazen's office in order to cut off financial resources available to Hamas, which is bent on the destruction of Israel.
But Abu Mazen's positions on Israel have become more hard-line in recent months. He challenged Hamas to accept a paper called "the prisoners' document" outlining principles for a Palestinian national conciliation. If Hamas did not accept these principles, Abu Mazen threatened to call a national referendum. The international community widely misunderstood the prisoners' document as offering recognition and peace to Israel and complying with the quartet's road map. It does none of those things. In fact, the accord does not even recognize Israel's right to exist, or a two-state solution. It only calls for a Palestinian state "on all territories occupied in 1967," as a first step in a larger Palestinian plan of stages that includes Israel's destruction. The document advocates continuing terror against Israelis by calling for "resistance" although only explicitly directing it toward the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. It does not rule out terror attacks in the rest of Israel.
Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas' than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace.
Assumption 2: Disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank would increase Israeli security and reduce Palestinian grievances.
The ideas underlying disengagement from Gaza and Prime Minister's Olmert's "Convergence plan" were wrong. Disengagement turned Gaza into what former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon dubbed a "Hamastan, Hizballahstan and Al-Qaidastan." It was viewed by Palestinians as a sign of Israeli weakness and retreat, thus helping launch Hamas to power. While disengagement might alleviate Israel's demographic problems, it failed to create a new Israeli border behind which Israel could better defend itself. Although the military and financial burden of protecting isolated Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip is now removed, Israeli forces have already been forced back into Gaza city at equally great cost and sacrifice, not to mention the costs of having southern Israeli cities like Sderot and Ashkelon often paralyzed under the continuous threat of Qassem rockets (the ones on Ashkelon being fired from the evacuated settlement Eley Sinai). Disengagement moved the missiles and terrorism closer to Israel's inner core. Moving the border closer moved Hamas closer.
Assumption 3. The fence would answer threats to Israeli security and protect Israelis from Palestinian violence.
The recent attack on IDF positions during which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped, took place inside Israeli territory despite the security fence. The Palestinian attackers tunneled under the fence.
There is no question that the fence provides an obstacle for terror, and thus enhances security to Israeli positions and settlements. But it is not fool-proof. In an age of missiles, the security fence (which is not yet complete) is less than perfect.
Assumption 4. Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process.That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests.
From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.
Since 1994, rather than focus on creating out of the territories a system of increasing personal freedoms and stability, Israel sought to wash its hands of the Palestinian problem by creating an independent Palestinian status. That emerging entity has again become the vehicle for regional despots and extremists.
It is in this context that one should understand the significance of the January 2006 Palestinian elections. While corruption of the PLO played a major role, so too did the feeling among Palestinians that Iran and Hezbollah had finally found the magic formula that would confront and defeat the West and Israel. By voting Hamas, they chose to follow Iran and become its agent. Palestinian political society has apparently been so distorted by decades of PLO-directed internal upheaval and outside-driven propaganda that they have internalized their role as the subjects, rather than objects, of history. With freedom - which the January 2006 elections represented - comes responsibility. But the Palestinians chose to hook their national dream and enterprise to the most extreme regional forces of terror and instability. They chose to become the collective suicide bomber, serving the purveyors of bloody confrontation, over those who sought a more introverted, constructive and peaceful future.
As such, the goal of a Palestinian independent state should be either put on hold or even surrendered until the region's politics enter a calmer phase. The goal should now be the construction of Palestinian political structures. These should not be independent but instead operate under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium and be anchored to personal freedom and liberal values. This was implicit in the President's June 24 speech, where he conditioned his offer to the Palestinians to support their enterprise only if it exorcised the demons of terror and corruption. The sooner the illusion of independence at this stage is abandoned, the faster will the Palestinian issue cease being a constant source of regional violence.
This piece appeared in The New York Sun on July 17, 2006
Meyrav Wurmser was formerly a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute.