“Insanity,” Albert Einstein advised us, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Rarely has this quote been more apt than now, as Barack Obama attempts to do what his predecessor, George Bush, attempted to do and could not, following the failed attempts of his predecessor, Bill Clinton.
To wit: his attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a “two state solution” that would establish a Jewish state and a Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security,” bringing stability to the area and joy to all concerned parties. Obama is going to fall on his face with regard to this effort, but he has the potential to cause a certain amount of damage before he does.
Of course, as Obama’s level of self-certainty reaches unprecedented heights, he is not going to be deterred by the failures of previous presidents. That is why last Tuesday he made an announcement about needing to see the involved parties take “concrete steps” under his watch. But it is not for lack of effort that the “two-state solution” has failed to date.
The reason there has not been a “two state solution” is clearly understood by those ready to see it: The Palestinians haven’t wanted it. Had they embraced this as their primary goal – rather then the goal of weakening Israel, with ultimate intent to destroy the Jewish state – they could have had it long ago. For, over the last several years, the Palestinians have had repeated opportunity to deal with Israeli administrations eager for a settlement and ready to make major (and what would have been most regrettable) concessions. This was especially true of Ehud Barak in 2000 and again with Ehud Olmert in 2008.
A major marker for the Palestinians’ lack of serious intent with regard to peace is their continuing incitement. The Palestinian population has never been prepared for peace. To this day the Palestinian Authority promotes veneration of the shahid, the martyr for Jihad. Thus Palestinian leaders congratulated Samir Kuntar – who had smashed an Israeli child’s head on a rock after forcing her to witness her father’s murder – on his release from Israeli prison. And they have repeatedly celebrated assassinated arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, referring to him, as Palestinian Media Watch reports, as an "extraordinary hero...a beacon of light."
Even more pervasive is the incitement found in PA-produced textbooks. Palestinian fifth-grade students, for example, reading on page 32 of the textbook Our Beautiful Language, are told: “The martyrs kiss it [the Palestinian flag] with their blood.” Eighth grade students opening to page 16 of a book called Reading and Texts, are presented with an excerpt from “The Heroes Oration” that reads, “Your enemies seek life and you seek death….These drops of blood that flow from your bodies will be transformed into red fiery shooting stars that will come down on the heads of your enemies.” They are instructed to “read and enjoy.”
Does Obama know about these texts? Would he care to understand their implication?
Does he, for that matter, grasp the broader implications of current political dynamics in Israel and Palestinian areas?
Israelis certainly do. In Israel, the electorate has woken up and, weary of foolish and destructive concessions, cast their votes to the right in February elections. Even with his embrace of the Labor party within his coalition, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to stand strong. He is calling for reciprocity in his dealings with the Palestinians and making the long-overdue stipulation that any agreement include recognition that Israel is the Jewish state – something that the Palestinians are loathe to offer. He has not referred to a “Palestinian state,” but only to some limited arrangement whereby the Palestinians might rule themselves without endangering Israel.
With all of this, however, what truly renders Obama’s stab at “peace-making” an exercise in futility is the enormous complexity of the current Palestinian political situation. For there is no one body politic, no single address for all Palestinians: There is Hamas and there is the PA, a fact that generates confusion regarding precisely whom Israel would be making a deal with in any event.
Previous American administrations have run into the same problem. In 2008, President Bush promoted the fiction that Fatah and the PA had to be strengthened against Hamas, which had forcefully taken Gaza in June 2007, and that they could enter negotiations independently. This proposal ignored an inconvenient reality: Even though Fatah is ostensibly in control in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza, the reality is more complicated.
Hamas, which had won the PA parliamentary elections in 2006, claims, with some justification, to be the legitimate authority in the PA. What is more, as the result of the Mecca agreement of early 2007, which forged a very temporary unity government, Fatah to this day honors connections to Hamas. It is little known that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (appointed by PA president Mahmoud Abbas in place of Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh) has continued to funnel PA funds into Gaza, where they help to support Hamas.
Since the Mecca agreement, Hamas has set the political agenda, forcing Fatah to radicalize under this influence. Moderation and readiness to make concessions have become more and more a political liability, as concepts of martyrdom and Jihad rule the day. Whatever Abbas says for Western consumption, it is understood that were he to compromise on a peace deal with Israel his life would be endangered.
Nor is this the end of the complications. Since Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in early 2009, there has been an international push to see a merger of Fatah and Hamas so that there would be one authority for overseeing Gaza reconstruction. This meant reversing the message that had been previously sent to Fatah. But in spite of the best efforts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, this merger has not been accomplished. In fact, there are Arabists who maintain that the population of Gaza and the Arab population of Judea and Samaria are culturally different (having been separate from 1949 to 1967, one under Jordanian control and the other under Egyptian administration) and do not constitute one people at all. In other words, there is no such thing as a unified “Palestinian people.”
To be sure, a fragile and temporary union between Fatah and Hamas may yet be forged for purely pragmatic reasons. The message sent to Hamas by Fatah leaders, who were eager for that merger, was that while Hamas would then belong to a political entity that recognized Israel’s existence (albeit not specifically as a Jewish state) and honored all previous PLO agreements, Hamas itself as a constituent party of that entity would not be expected to recognize either Israel or previous agreements.
So tenuous is all of this that a source tells me that US General Jim Jones, who has had responsibility for overseeing training of PA security forces and is now National Security Adviser, is uneasy. And no wonder: After all, to whom would the trained Palestinian forces answer? The specter is raised of troops with honed military skills who will be controlled by a political entity whose major member party still embraces terrorism.
Should no Hamas-Fatah merger take place, then, essentially what is being asked of Israel is to permit not one but two Palestinian Arab states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. One might assume that any intelligent person familiar with these enormous complications would know better than to attempt to forge a “peace deal” now. It should be understood that the Palestinians have a long, long way to go, to get their act together, before there could even be talk of responsible and peaceable statehood.
Whether out of ignorance or arrogance, President Obama seems bent on repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. Albert Einstein would have recognized the phenomenon.