A mist of verbiage arises from the reports on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s meetings with President Barack Obama and other officials in Washington. Stock words and phrases are used ritualistically that may have little connection to realities on the ground in Israel and the region. Among the more mindlessly repeated and least reality-linked are “two-state solution” and “regional peace.”
1. “Two-state solution.” At present, in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, three political entities already exist. One, Israel, is sovereign except for its partial or almost total relinquishment of sovereignty over the other parts of the territory. One, Gaza, is sovereign in all regards except that its borders are partially controlled by Israel and Egypt. One, the West Bank or Palestinian Authority, has a high degree of autonomy and even some of the elements of sovereignty, including its own president and prime minister, parliament, security services, education system, and so on.
Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank are increasingly separate, increasingly mutually hostile entities. On Monday, the latest in a series of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks in Cairo, aimed at forming a unity government, ended without results. On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas went ahead and swore in a new, Hamas-free government, headed by independent prime minister Salaam Fayad.
Both Hamas and Fatah announced that they were boycotting the new government. Hamas called it a “death certificate” for the reconciliation talks, and Fatah claims—although some of its members are among the government’s ministers—that it was not consulted as a party about the government’s formation, reflecting the deep rifts within Fatah let alone between Fatah and Hamas.
As Israeli commentator Avi Issacharoff wrote,
It’s hard not to be impressed by the optimism about the Middle East that the White House is radiating…[But] the composition of [the] new Palestinian cabinet…almost conclusively dashed any hope of Palestinian reconciliation, and with it, the possibility that the Hamas regime in Gaza can be ousted in the near future. The prospect of Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections is also getting more remote and unrealistic, while the rift between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is only getting wider. The two-state solution doesn’t look possible right now….
Beyond the intra-Palestinian problems, of course, the stock phrase “two-state solution” assumes that sufficient amity toward Israel exists among the Palestinians that the “two-state” situation could indeed constitute a “solution” in the near future—flying in the face of the actual, severe anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hatred cultivated in both Gaza and the West Bank.
And one might also mention a fourth entity—forgotten Jordan, existing in Eastern Palestine and with a 70 percent, majority-Palestinian population, yet almost systematically excluded from the discourse on a “solution” to the “problem.” Could that have something to do with the fact that a solution involving Jordan wouldn’t have to entail the truncation of Israel?
2. “Regional peace.” In the press conference after his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama spoke of a “wide-ranging, regional peace.” Obama recently met with Jordan’s King Abdullah, and will soon be meeting with Abbas, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and, on June 4, addressing the Muslim world from Cairo. Reports claim he’s planning a regional peace initiative that would not only include Israel and the Palestinians but also the surrounding Arab countries, or all the Arab countries, or even all the Muslim countries. Netanyahu is said to see merit in the idea because it would take some of the peacemaking onus off Israel.
The notion that the time is right for such an initiative is based on the common concern about Iran between Israel and Western-aligned Sunni countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and their covert cooperation in countering the threat. But is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” really a basis for solid friendship—or, regional peace?
Again, such notions ignore a major reality—in this case, the disposition toward Israel prevailing in these countries, a disposition inculcated by all the major institutions like the schools and mosques, as well as the media and the rhetoric of the regimes themselves. The 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Project, for instance, reported that “In the Muslim world, attitudes toward Jews remain starkly negative, including virtually unanimous unfavorable ratings of 98% in Jordan and 97% in Egypt.” Those are, of course, the two Arab countries that already have peace treaties with Israel. Note also that the animus is not just toward Israel or Israelis but toward Jews, meaning that Israeli policies are likely to be viewed negatively in any case and seen as arising from negative traits, of one kind or another, of Jews.
On Tuesday, Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s General Security Service, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “The Egyptians are making significant efforts in order to thwart [arms] smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, and recently it is even possible to discern an improvement in their achievements.” This good news, though, has to be tempered by the fact that previously, for about fifteen years, Egypt had turned a blind eye at best to the smuggling to Hamas and other deadly anti-Israeli terror groups in Gaza—despite a clause in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty stating that “each party undertakes to ensure that acts or threats of belligerency, hostility, or violence do not originate from…its territory….” The already-existing “regional peace” between Israel and Egypt, in other words, has been colder than cold.
Despite these realities, the pressure on Netanyahu to prove his peace credentials, his willingness for concessions even if he regards them as jeopardizing Israel, has been relentless. At best such hectoring arises from ignorance of both the Palestinian and regional realities. America is not at its best when it puts such pressure on a fellow democracy surrounded by terrorist organizations and hate-ridden dictatorships.