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New Thinking on the Palestinians By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 12, 2008

“We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine. For that to become a reality, the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law. We call on Arab governments throughout the region to help advance that goal.”

Back in 2004 President Bush had those words introduced into the GOP platform. A source informs me that this year one delegate proposed striking those words from the platform, but the attempt got nowhere.

It’s unfortunate because, while some recent Israeli governments have indeed embraced that vision, it’s by no means a consensus Israeli position. One Israeli who has now published a piece questioning the two-state principle is former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, who is close to opposition leader and former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and thought likely to receive a post if Netanyahu forms another government.

Given Israel’s current political turmoil, that could happen sometime this year or next year. Yaalon’s ideas are important, then, both because of his leadership potential and because he’s a particularly deep thinker on these issues.

To begin with, Yaalon points out, the notion of a “two-state solution” assumes that a state on part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is a Palestinian goal—when the whole historical record bears witness that it isn’t. “Instead, from the dawn of Zionism to the present day, the Palestinian leadership has rejected every partition plan proposed, and has reacted violently to all political initiatives seeking a settlement along those lines.” It happened most recently in 2000 when an Israeli-U.S. offer of a state to Yasser Arafat led, along with other factors, to the savage violence of the Second Intifada.

The reason is not hard to find: “the rejection of Israel forms an integral part of the Palestinian ethos,” and the real goal is not a state beside Israel but one in place of it—as abundantly expressed to this day in every Palestinian medium from mosque sermons to TV shows to schoolbooks to newspaper articles and cartoons. In Yaalon’s view, Arafat’s failure to create stable political institutions during his decade as president of the Palestinian Authority was not inevitable but, rather, deliberate, serving his objective of maintaining a condition of chaos that enabled his ongoing terror war against Israel.

Likewise, Yaalon sees Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas’s widely perceived “weakness” also as a deliberate strategy “designed to avoid the daunting task of Palestinian nation-building.” Meanwhile many in the international community see the problem as economic and keep showering the PA with aid—even though “the Palestinians can[not] be forced to enjoy an improved economy and the fruits of prosperity while their own priorities remain entirely elsewhere.” So, even though the PA has kept raking in billions of dollars in assistance since its creation in 1994, the Palestinian economic situation has sharply deteriorated in that time.

Some of the costs, then, of blindly pursuing the two-state vision while ignoring the Palestinian reality emerge, and they’re heavy costs. They include creating an entity with paramilitary forces that have murdered and maimed thousands of Israelis, and that has also soaked up huge amounts of wasted aid money while severely impoverishing its residents after the steady improvement they had experienced under Israeli “occupation.” They also include the inculcation of a virulent, anti-Israeli, jihadist mentality in a whole generation of Palestinians.

Still another cost stemmed from the Bush administration’s pursuit of the “democracy” part of the vision, with its strong championing of PA elections leading to Hamas’s win in January 2006 and eventual consolidation of its power in Gaza. Although the Fatah stream represented by Arafat and Abbas is no less committed to Israel’s destruction, Hamas at present is more unified and energetic, and more closely tied to the world Islamist movement including especially the Iranian government.

What could be done instead? Yaalon says the current “top-down strategy,” where “we aimed to reach a…final settlement…with the Palestinian leadership, hoping that political reform among Palestinians would follow,” needs to be replaced with a “bottom-up strategy” where “the PA first proves its ability to govern.” That would entail “educational, law and order, security, economic and political reforms,” with educational reform—meaning particularly an end to the anti-Israeli hate-education—as the key to all the others.

Yaalon’s suggested reform process “would not be dependent on any issue related to a final settlement,” and during it “the IDF must continue to operate in the area in order to foil attacks against Israelis.” The point would be to “see if the Palestinians are able to manage the autonomy that they [now] have,” to “run their civil affairs and to govern themselves.” Only if that worked out, first, could a “regional settlement” emerge that would “satisfy both parties.”

Yaalon’s alternative vision is also optimistic in presuming that any autonomous Muslim-Arab society living in such close proximity to Israel could become peacefully disposed toward it. He also seems deliberately vague about what a “regional settlement” means and the Palestinians’ ultimate political disposition. But Yaalon at least gets the order right and at last puts the onus on the Palestinians instead of their being, as he puts it earlier in the article, the “cause celebre of the international community” even as they conduct themselves barbarically.

And what Yaalon says is a dose of fresh, reality-attendant thinking at a time when political establishments both in Israel and the U.S. have trouble seeing past tired formulas that have actually fostered only ruin and mayhem.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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