RETHINKING THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM: BEYOND THE DOGMATIC CHANT (THE MEDIA LINE) By Malcolm Lowe 04/08/03)
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In recent years, millions of words have been uttered and written
about the Palestinian problem, billions of dollars have been spent in
attempts to solve it. The result is thousands of dead, tens of
thousands of wounded, ruin of the Palestinian economy, severe damage
to Israel´s, and the worst worldwide wave of antisemitism since World
One can expect that the lavishing of more words and money on the
problem, without a fundamental rethinking, will again prove to be an
enormous waste of resources devoted to making a problem much worse.
Oddly enough, the concepts required for a rethinking are simple and
the conclusions to be drawn are evident. More likely, alas, there
will be no rethinking and the "Road Map" will be only the latest in a
series of wrong-headed initiatives.
1. The Essential Difficulty
The Palestinian problem is usually seen as a complex of difficult
issues that need to be resolved: borders, Jerusalem, terrorism, etc.
It is a mistake, however, to treat these difficulties as if they were
of comparable magnitude. Instead, one must distinguish between
essential and inessential difficulties.
DEFINITION: With regard to the Palestinian problem, a difficulty is
essential if, and only if, it entails the disappearance of the State
of Israel or of the Palestinian people.
Apparently, all the commonly mentioned difficulties are inessential
except one. The Jewish settlements are not an essential difficulty,
since their total removal would intensify the threats to the State of
Israel, but not entail its destruction. Conversely, apart from a
handful of small settlements in the heart of populated Palestinian
areas, the settlements present no obstacle to the creation of a
Palestinian state, let alone a threat to the existence of the
Jerusalem is not essential in the sense defined: Israel could survive
even if the whole city, including all the Jewish areas, were
abandoned to the Palestinians. Vice versa, even if the whole city
remains in Israeli hands, the Palestinians could create a viable
state without it. For both parties, Jerusalem is a matter of pride
and prestige, but not of survival. Terrorism, too, causes endless
tragedies and misery, but it has never endangered the existence of
The one essential difficulty is this: that all the Palestinian
factions, from the most secular to the most Islamic, from the most
democratic to the most corrupt, demand the return of the Palestinian
refugees, and of all their millions of descendants, to those places
in Israel where the said refugees were living in 1948. Satisfying
this demand would quickly create an Arab majority in Israel.
Nor can this essential difficulty be removed by granting a "right of
return" simply in principle, but with all kinds of qualifications, in
a signed accord between Israel and Palestinian representatives. On
the contrary, any agreement by Israel to recognize such a right, even
in principle, will constitute, for the Palestinians, the validation
of eternal struggle against the State of Israel, with all the
consequent bloodshed and destruction.
2. The Fundamental Question
About the creation of a Palestinian state, too, millions of words
have been expended by politicians and journalists. All kinds of
questions are raised about secondary issues: borders,
demilitarization, etc. But the most fundamental question of all is
rarely even formulated, let alone answered.
FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION: Do the Palestinians want a state in order (a)
to make peace with Israel or (b) to pursue their struggle against
Israel from a more advantageous starting point and with greater
Those who have ears to hear now have the answer. It comes not merely
in unison from all the individual Palestinian factions. The draft
constitution for the Palestinian state includes a clause conferring
upon all the refugees the permanent right to demand return. Through
this clause, the Palestinian state is defined as the means of
permanent struggle against the existence of the State of Israel.
3. The Dogmatic Chant
Now we come to a most painful topic. All the millions of words about
the Palestinians coming from the "international community" are, upon
closer examination, no more than endless variations upon one dogmatic
chant. That is, the same basic idea is chanted in unison by everyone
and its truth is unquestioned.
TYPICAL QUOTATION NO. 1: "I would have told the Palestinians that
until they stop suicide bombing, we´re not dealing with them, but I
would also have told the Israelis that every new or expanded
settlement they built would cost them $100 million in U.S. aid..." -
Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, March 2, 2003
This is the theme of countless speeches and articles by the
politicians and intellectuals all round the world: end settlements
and end terrorism, and peace can come. That includes major speeches
by Bush and Blair, by Straw and Powell, by all and sundry.
TYPICAL QUOTATION NO. 2: "The European Council last week called for
the early implementation of the ´Road Map.´ Terror and violence must
end. So must settlement activity." - Tony Blair, February 25, 2003
TYPICAL QUOTATION NO. 3: "A Palestinian state must be a reformed and
peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror... For its
part, the new government of Israel... will be expected to support the
creation of a Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible
toward a final status agreement... As progress is made toward peace,
settlement activities in the occupied territories must end." - George
W. Bush, February 26, 2003
TYPICAL QUOTATION NO. 4: "The international community today shares
our vision for a lasting settlement as set out in a series of
Security Council resolutions for a viable Palestinian state based on
the 1967 boundaries and an Israeli state free from terror, secure
within its borders, recognized by the Arab world." - Jack Straw,
March 10, 2003
And so on, and so on. Underlying all such speeches and articles is
the same dogmatic chant, constituting the meager sum of all thought
devoted to the problem.
DOGMATIC CHANT: The Palestinians must end terrorism, the Israelis
must totally freeze settlement activities, then there can quickly
arise a Palestinian state whose borders will approximate the 1967
lines and the Middle East will know peace at last!
How many thousands of times have we heard this chant and even joined
in chanting it? But note: the chant mentions only a pair of
inessential difficulties, settlements and terrorism. It totally
overlooks the essential difficulty and it disregards the fundamental
4. The Irrelevance of All Recent International Peace Initiatives
All the peace initiatives that have been proposed, with massive
international backing, in recent years are themselves also merely
elaborations of the dogmatic chant. That is why all have failed. So
also the "Road Map" of the "Quartet," the most heavily backed of all
initiatives, both totally ignores the one essential difficulty and
takes for granted the false answer to the fundamental question.
So the Road Map will lead to one of two destinations. Either its
implementation will break down, and the Palestinian-Israeli war will
restart (from front lines closer to the Israeli population centers).
Or, even worse, its implementation will be completed, creating a
Palestinian state committed to eternal struggle with Israel (with a
front line drawn through the center of Jerusalem).
5. The Criterion of Any Solution
The above analysis also provides a criterion by which any future
international initiatives can be tested. More specifically, it
provides both a broad and a narrow criterion.
BROAD CRITERION: Any initiative to solve the Palestinian problem must
ensure answer (a) to the fundamental question by obliging the
Palestinians to eliminate the essential difficulty.
Besides that general abstract formulation, it is possible to define a
narrow criterion that anyone can grasp even without the finer details
of analysis. This is because of a simple fact that stares everyone in
the eyes, yet nobody sees it. For ten years, there have been over a
million Palestinians living in refugee camps under the jurisdiction
of the Palestinian Authority itself! Not one of them has been
rehabilitated by the PA, since it is PA policy that they will all
stay there until the day when they can march into Israel. Regardless
of whether a Palestinian state is created.
Thus there can be no peace until the Palestinians reverse this
policy. Moreover, the policy has to be reversed BEFORE the creation
of a Palestinian state, so as to leave no ambiguity about the purpose
of creating such a state.
NARROW CRITERION: Any initiative to solve the Palestinian problem
must oblige the Palestinian Authority to begin rehabilitating, in
permanent housing, all the Palestinian refugees under its
jurisdiction; to make substantial progress in this regard already
before the creation of a Palestinian state; as well as to omit any
mention of a "right of return" in the constitution of such a state.
6. A More Likely Scenario
Admitting that "we were all wrong" is not easy. More likely, the
international community will march on to the strains of the dogmatic
chant. So now let us see where the current version of the Road Map is
likely to lead.
In the speech just quoted, Jack Straw also expressed warm
appreciation for the newly nominated Palestinian prime
minister. "Those who know Abu Mazen know he has a fine track record
in peace negotiations with Israel and will lead the Palestinians very
well..." This bold assertion is evidence that Mr. Straw himself knows
too little about Abu Mazen. At any rate, one hopes that Mr. Straw
spoke in ignorance of two significant facts. (See Khaled Abu Toameh
on "Arafat´s new prime minister" in the Jerusalem Post, March 10,
FACT NO. 1: Mahmoud Abbas, alias Abu Mazen, is the author of a book
in Arabic entitled "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship between
Nazism and Zionism." The book seeks to refute "the Zionist fantasy,
the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed." According to
Abu Mazen´s findings, Hitler killed "only 890,000 Jews, as part of a
joint plot with the Zionist movement."
So much for Abu Mazen´s "fine track record," pace Mr. Straw. Where is
he likely to "lead the Palestinians very well"? We might ask: Where
might Britain be led if the "international community" had pressed for
the appointment of David Irving as prime minister? We would be even
sorrier for Britain if David Irving were regarded as the most
moderate British politician available. But perhaps we should not risk
maligning Mr. Irving; in the realm of Holocaust denial, Irving is
indeed moderate compared to Abu Mazen.
FACT NO. 2: Arafat nominated Abu Mazen to become prime minister only
after the two agreed that responsibility for the Palestinian security
services will continue to remain entirely in Arafat´s hands.
So the appointment of Abu Mazen makes no difference whatsoever in the
area of Palestinian terrorism. Most likely, therefore, terrorists
will start wreaking havoc in Israeli cities as soon as the Israel
Defense Forces withdraw from the Palestinian population centers, as
demanded by the Road Map. And that is where the Road Map will
collapse, like all its predecessors.
But let us consider the more disastrous scenario: the Road Map is
carried out to completion. In two years, there is supposed to arise a
Palestinian state committed to the "right of return." As soon as that
state is created, all the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be
told by the Lebanese government to go to Palestine. Not only will the
current PA refugee camps become permanent. Palestinian policy is to
dump the refugees coming from Lebanon predominantly in Jerusalem, so
as to pressure Jews to leave.
There will be firing not just from Beit Jala upon Gilo (separation:
one kilometer) but from the roofs of Jerusalem´s Christian Quarter
upon the Jewish municipality (separation: one hundred meters). And
when Israeli forces retaliate... Once more, a massive international
investment in making matters worse. (Copyright © The Media Line, Ltd
Malcolm Lowe is a philosopher and biblical scholar, who moved to
Israel from Wales 33 years ago.
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