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RETHINKING THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM: BEYOND THE DOGMATIC CHANT (THE MEDIA LINE) By Malcolm Lowe 04/08/03)Source: http://www.themedialine.org/news/News_detail.asp?NewsID=1552 THE MEDIA LINE THE MEDIA LINE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 War II.

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 Palestinian people.

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 Israel.

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 resources?

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 question.

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, 2003.)

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 04/08/03)

Malcolm Lowe is a philosopher and biblical scholar, who moved to Israel from Wales 33 years ago.

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