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Return of the Bad Old Middle East By: Steven Plaut
JewishPress.com | Friday, January 02, 2009


For most of the past 16 years or so, a seemingly benign specter has been haunting the world - namely, the notion that there exists a New Middle East, one that plays by rules very different from those in the Bad Old Middle East.

Beginning with the first of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, Israel was launched by its own political leadership into a "peace process" whose main axiom was that the Old Middle East was dead and gone.

Oslo was based on the assumption that what was needed to resolve the conflict was a sincere willingness on Israel's part to reach an accommodation with the Arab world through unilateral concessions and especially through Israel's acknowledging the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for statehood.

But as we enter the year 2009, the conclusion is unavoidable that there is no such thing as a New Middle East. The Bad Old Middle East keeps reasserting itself - with a vengeance.

It is crucial at this point in history for all to abandon the campaign of peace through make-believe that has governed efforts at resolving the conflict since late 1992. No progress can be made until the world renews its acquaintance with Middle East reality and stares it straight in its unpleasant face. Unhappy truths and principles must again be understood and internalized. The most important ones follow.

I. Arab terrorism and military aggression are not caused by Israeli occupation but rather by the removal of Israeli occupation.

Since Oslo, the working hypothesis of the Israeli government, endorsed by nearly everyone on the planet, has been that the most urgent task at hand was to end the Israeli "occupation" and remove Israel from its position of control over the lives of Palestinian Arabs.

The Israeli Left and its amen chorus in the international media have been repeating for so many years that the ultimate cause of Palestinian terrorism and Arab grievances is the "occupation" of "Palestinian lands" by Israel that few are capable any longer of thinking about that assertion critically. It is wrong. The main cause of anti-Israel terrorism today is the removal of Israeli occupation from Palestinian Arabs.

This is so obvious that it is a major intellectual challenge to explain why so few people understand it. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in its entirety in 2004 and evicted all Jews who had been living there. The result was the massive ongoing rocket assaults launched from the Gaza Strip against Sderot, Ashkelon, and other towns in the south of Israel.

The Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon was unilaterally ended in the year 2000 by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. The direct result of that move was the launching of 4,000 Katyusha rockets from Lebanon against northern Israel in the summer of 2006 and several times that number now poised to strike Israel.

The worst waves of Palestinian suicide attacks were directly triggered by the early Oslo withdrawals - before which there were no suicide bombings.

The only possible exception to the rule that removal of Israeli occupation causes terrorism has been the Sinai Peninsula, which is largely empty. Yet given the role of the Sinai and its Egyptian-sponsored smuggling networks in providing a pipeline for rockets and explosives to Hamas in Gaza, it is not even clear that Israel's withdrawal from Sinai is an exception to this rule.

There can be no doubt that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and a return to pre-1967 borders would trigger a massive rocket and terror assault against the remaining rump areas of Israel, launched from the "liberated" lands in the West Bank. The same thing would result from relinquishing the Golan Heights to Syria.

There are worse things in the world than occupation, and the experiences of the past few years have demonstrated how much worse are the consequences that follow the removal of Israeli occupation. The inevitable consequence of a complete withdrawal by Israel to its 1967 borders would be a replay of 1967, when the Arab world hoped to achieve the military annihilation of Israel inside its Green Line borders. This time, though, the Arabs would be using 21st century military technology.

Academics can debate about whether animosity to Israel was itself initially stoked by the years of Palestinians living under occupation. But in fact there was more than sufficient Palestinian animosity and terrorism long before Israel occupied anything at all in the 1967 Six-Day War. Be that as it may, progress today can occur only if the starting point is the understanding that removal of Israeli occupation causes terror and violence.

II. Israeli goodwill concessions do not trigger goodwill among Arabs, they trigger Arab aggression and violence.

The Arabs interpret such goodwill measures as admission of weakness on Israel's part and as demonstrations of Israeli vulnerability and destructibility. More generally, the axiom that Israeli niceness toward Arabs can generate Arab moderation, reasonableness, and friendliness is also false. It cannot.

Attempts at buying Arab moderation through demonstrations of Jewish self-restraint and niceness go back decades and predate Israel's independence (back then it was termed havlaga). They have never worked. Present-day attempts to win over Arabs with niceness and restraint range from affirmative action programs that benefit Arabs, to turning a blind eye toward massive lawbreaking by Arabs, particularly regarding construction and squatting on public lands.

Niceness means never prosecuting Arab political leaders for treason and espionage or for endorsing terror, no matter how openly they do so. It means exempting Israeli Arabs from military conscription and even from civilian national service. It has even meant that families of Arabs killed while perpetrating terror atrocities against Jews were allowed to draw "survivor benefits" from Israel's social security system (the National Insurance Institute).

Outside the Green Line, niceness often consists of endless offers of cease-fires with the terrorists - cease-fires that consist of Palestinians shooting and Israelis not shooting back. It means delivering funds and sometimes weapons to the very groups engaged in terrorism, in an attempt to maintain the façade of an ongoing peace process.

None of these measures can assuage Arab bellicosity toward Israel and Jews; actually, each contributes toward its escalation. Should Israel ever nicely withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, the Arab world led by "Palestine" will launch a war against the remaining territory of the Jewish state. It is likely to do so in the name of the "oppressed" Arabs in the Negev and the Galilee supposedly suffering from "discrimination" in the Israeli "apartheid regime."

III. The Arab-Israeli war is not about land, and it cannot be resolved by Israel's relinquishing land.

The Arab world already controls territory nearly twice that of the United States (including Alaska), whereas all of Israel cannot be seen on most world maps. When Israel was occupying nothing outside of its pre-1967 borders, the Arab world refused to come to terms with its existence and is no more willing to do so today, even if Israel were to return to those same borders.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is not about Israel refusing to share land and resources with Palestinians but about the absolute refusal of the Arab world to acquiesce in the existence of any Jewish-majority political entity within any set of borders in the Middle East.

This misrepresentation of the conflict serves to prolong it, precisely because it misleads. The Arab world insists that Israel trade land for peace not because it is prepared to in turn offer Israel peace for the land it vacates, but because a smaller Israel will be that much easier to destroy. And even if Israel consisted of nothing more than downtown Tel Aviv, the Arab world would consider it to be an imperialist affront sitting on stolen Arab land - an illegal "settlement."

IV. Education and economic progress do not produce political moderation or a desire for peace in the Arab world.

To the contrary, there is reason to believe that wealth and education are negatively correlated with moderation, meaning that wealthier and better-educated Arabs are more likely to support terrorism and extremist political ideas. Arab students in European and American universities have been regular recruits for terrorist groups, and most of the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the 9/11 atrocities had been students.

Suicide bombers in Israel often are university students or graduates of Palestinian universities. Some have been highly educated professionals, such as the lawyer who blew herself up in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, killing 21 people on the spot. Public opinion polls among Arabs often show greater support for violence among the better educated.

More generally, in the Middle East poverty and political oppression do not produce terrorism. Anti-Israel terrorism was sparked by the imposition of an enlightened regime on Palestinians by Israel - a regime in which basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and the right to vote in local elections, were enjoyed.

Terrorism escalated with each concession by Israel, especially after it agreed to allow Palestinians political autonomy and then statehood. It escalated after Israel removed its administrative control of the Arab population in most of the "Palestinian territories."

V. "Talks" cannot produce peace in the Middle East and in fact have harmful effects.

There is a Western obsession with the idea that all world problems can be resolved through talking. But how many international conflicts can be said to have been resolved strictly through talking? Especially in the Middle East, there can be no doubt that talking does not resolve hostilities. It makes them worse.

The Arab-Israeli war is not a marital spat where bringing together the parties to sit around a table and socialize reduces anger, misunderstanding and tension. The conflict is not about hurt feelings but about the refusal of the Arab world to come to terms with Israel's existence, period, in any set of borders and regardless of whether Jerusalem remains under Israeli control.

VI. There is no "two-state solution" or "one-state solution" to the Arab Israeli conflict.

The latter solution is particularly popular on the left. Under that scenario, Israel is enfolded into a larger "secular democratic Arab state" with an Arab Muslim majority. It is in fact little more than a prescription for a Rwanda-style genocide of Jews. This is little doubt that a significant number of those proposing such a solution would really like to see this happen.

More important, there is no "two-state solution" to the Middle East conflict. Those speaking about a two-state solution really mean a 24-state solution, meaning the Arabs retain the 22 states they already have, adding a 23rd state of "Palestine" in parts of the West Bank and Gaza and pre-1967 Israeli territories, with Israel remaining the Jewish state - the 24th state in the plan - for the moment.

That such a solution will not end the conflict but only signal the commencement of its next stage has long been the quasi-official position of virtually all Palestinian groups, which have long insisted that any two-state solution is but a stage in a plan of stages, after which will come additional steps ultimately ending Israel's existence as a Jewish state.

The original partition plan of the United Nations had proposed that an Arab Palestinian state arise alongside Israel in 1948. The Arab world rejected this plan altogether. It had no interest in adding one more Arab Islamic state to its portfolio. It went to war to prevent the creation of any Jewish state.

The two-state solution is no more realistic an option today than it was in 1948. It is ultimately as much of an existential threat to Jewish survival in the Middle East as the one-state solution. Creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel would be a major step in the escalation of the Arab war against Israel's existence, even if that war is delayed for a time while the world celebrates the outbreak of peace in the Middle East thanks to the end of Israeli "occupation."

VII. Israeli Arabs form a potential fifth column, displaying massive animosity and disloyalty to the state in which they have lived for 60 years and openly identifying with the enemies of that state.

Sixty years of living under the only democratic government in the Middle East has had surprisingly little impact on the feelings and loyalties of Israeli Arabs, who are by and large hostile to the very existence of the state. They are no more resigned to living as a minority within a majority-Jewish state today than they were in 1948.

Their animosity toward Israel is apparent in their voting behavior: the bulk of Israeli Arabs vote for pro-terror Arab nationalist parties with strong fascist tendencies or for the Stalinist HADASH party.

When the opportunity presents itself - for example, during the riots in the fall of 2000 or earlier this year on Yom Kippur in Acre - Israeli Arab enmity toward Jews is candidly manifested, and not just in words.

Education and prosperity offer little hope of changing this reality. One proof is the behavior of Arab college students in Israel. Despite being beneficiaries of affirmative action preferences in college admissions and access to scarce dormitory space, Arab students are almost uniformly anti-Israel and pro-jihad.

Israeli Arabs have long played a Sudeten-like role in the conflict. In any new outbreak of hostilities with neighboring Arab countries, there is a clear and present danger that they will take to the streets in attempts to cripple the country from within. The Arab lynch mobs of the Galilee that operated in October 2000 may have been a small foretaste.

For too long the world, led by Israel's own deluded leaders, has been attempting to create peace via the pretense that war is over, misrepresenting the façade of negotiations as actual resolution of conflict.

It has been a sham, of course, and any short-lived lulls in the fighting have served only to weaken the resolve of Israelis, whose leaders have repeatedly presented them with a Potemkin peace based on the substitution of wish-making for statecraft.

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book "The Scout" is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.


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