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comment | posted April 17, 2008 (May 5, 2008 issue)
Tough Love for Israel
We now have word that Tony Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to organize yet another peace conference, this time in Berlin in June. It is hard to believe that after the long string of failed peace initiatives, stretching back at least to the Madrid conference of 1991, diplomats are recycling these failures without seemingly having a clue as to why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more hopeless today than before these peace exercises first got under way.
The scandal of the international community's impotence in resolving one of history's longest bloodlettings is that it knows what the problem is but does not have the courage to speak the truth, much less deal with it. The peace conference in Germany will suffer from the same gutlessness that has marked all previous efforts. It will deal with everything except the problem primarily responsible for the impasse. That problem is that for all the sins attributable to the Palestinians--and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of rejectionist groups--there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never had the intention of allowing such a state to come into being.
It would be one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain security concerns had been dealt with. But no government serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued, without letup, the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands, which even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible.
Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel's claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail.
As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible.
There can be no greater delusion on the part of Western countries weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jews seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people.
John Vinocur of the New York Times recently suggested that the virtually unqualified declarations of support for Israel by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are "at a minimum an attempt to seek Israeli moderation by means of public assurances with this tacit subtext: these days, the European Union is not, or is no longer, its reflexive antagonist." But the expectation that uncritical Western support of Israel would lead to greater Israeli moderation and greater willingness to take risks for peace is blatantly contradicted by the conflict's history.
Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior. Indeed, soon after Sarkozy's and Merkel's expressions of eternal solidarity, Israel's Ehud Olmert approved massive new construction in East Jerusalem--authorizing housing projects that had been frozen for years by previous governments because of their destructive impact on the possibility of a peace agreement--as well as continued expansion of Israel's settlements. And Olmert's defense minister, Ehud Barak, declared shortly after Merkel's departure that he will remove only a token number of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has repeatedly promised, and just as repeatedly failed, to dismantle. That announcement shattered whatever hope Palestinians may have had for recovery of their economy, as a consequence of $7 billion in new aid promised by international donors in December. In these circumstances, the international donor community will not pour good money after bad, as they so often have in the past.
What is required of statesmen is not more peace conferences or clever adjustments to previous peace formulations but the moral and political courage to end their collaboration with the massive hoax the peace process has been turned into. Of course, Palestinian violence must be condemned and stopped, particularly when it targets civilians. But is it not utterly disingenuous to pretend that Israel's occupation--maintained by IDF-manned checkpoints and barricades, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, targeted assassinations and military incursions, not to speak of the massive theft of Palestinian lands--is not an exercise in continuous and unrelenting violence against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians? If Israel were to renounce violence, could the occupation last even one day?
Israel's designs on the West Bank are not much different from the designs of the Arab forces that attacked the Jewish state in 1948--the nullification of the international community's partition resolution of 1947. Short of addressing the problem by its right name--something that is of an entirely different order than hollow statements that "settlements do not advance peace"--and taking effective collective action to end a colonial enterprise that disgraces what began as a noble Jewish national liberation struggle, further peace conferences, no matter how well intentioned, make their participants accessories to one of the longest and cruelest deceptions in the annals of international diplomacy.
Henry Siegman, director of the US/Middle East Project in New York, is a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.