March 2009

As Abba Eban once said, “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  He’s again right, this time about the Palestinians.  At a time when Israel is taking a hard right turn, becoming evermore resolute to withhold from the Palestinian people their basic right to statehood and freedom, rather than unite to pose a formidable resistance and opposition, the West Bank and Gaza are growing further apart.  And rather than putting a halt to any dialogue with the same Israel that refuses to recognize the first free and democratic election results in the Arab world, Mahmoud Abbas continues to court even the new Lieberman government in Jerusalem. But, it is not all too late.

Following the Oslo Accords in the early 90’s, it seemed that most Israelis were ready to end their 3-decade long occupation and subjugation of millions of Palestinians, and to begin a new chapter in the history of our two people, a history that has known more bloodshed than joy.  It seemed, back then, that Israelis were ready to give up on grander dreams of an Israel “from the river to the sea”.  But today, things look very different.  As each government, from Left, to Center-Left, to Right, continues to disobey Supreme Court rulings to dismantle illegal settlements, and indeed authorizes the continued expansion and buildup of new settlements in the West Bank, Israel is de facto destroying any possibility for a two-state solution.

It is quite incomprehensible that the same Israelis who fear a non-Jewish majority in Israel would ever elect to power precisely those who are leading us down that road, but that’s reality.  Perhaps there’s some bizarre fantasy amongst most, that if only we make the Arabs’ lives more miserable, eventually they’ll get up, pack up their bags, and board the first KLM flight out of here.  That goes for the 20% Arab population in Israel, and of course for the 4 million Palestinians under Israeli rule.  Who said Apartheid can’t end in massive “voluntary” transfer?

But with the assumption that no one in his right mind would ever allow Israel to ethnically cleanse the entire West Bank and Gaza of millions of people, what we’re left with is still 4 million-and-growing population, without a nation.  And these people are under Israeli rule, for bad and for worse.  One day, when enough Jewish settlements surround Arab towns and villages, even a Bantustan-solution will no longer be viable, and the world will have to decide whether it accepts a one-state Apartheid rule, or not.  So far, the world has been lulled to sleep by various Israeli governments pretending to opt for a two-state solution.  Europe, especially, has been extra-numb when it comes to Israel, perhaps out of last-remaining feelings of guilt going back some 70 years.

But the day will come, when the U.S., Europe, Russia, China, and other significant world powers will wake up.  And when they do, they will ask Israel to make its choice – continue to rule as an Apartheid and pariah state, and suffer the consequences, or incorporate all the Palestinians in free and democratic fashion into the U.N.-recognized State of Israel.  De facto and de jure, that would mean 4 million new Israeli citizens, and the end to Jewish majority in Israel.

So now the question is, why are the Palestinians still putting up a fight?  Why is Hamas still trying to “liberate” all of Palestine?  Or even lands occupied after 1967?  Why is Abu Mazen still intent on achieving a two-state solution?  Can’t Hamas and Fatah see that neither is possible?  Why not change both the tactics and, more importantly, the strategy?

What if tomorrow evening, right at prime-time, Abu Mazen made a televised appearance that could go down in history as “The beginning of the non-violent end to the Jewish State”?  What if Abu Mazen would shock the world, by informing his viewers that the Palestinian Authority, on behalf of the Palestinian people, has decided to part with its separate national aspirations and, instead, is hereby declaring its loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel?  Furthermore, Abbas will announce the dismantling of all Palestinian governing bodies effective immediately, including the legislative, judicial, and executive branches.  For all practical purposes, Abbas will “hand the keys over” to Israel.  

What will Israel do?  Could it ignore this shutdown of all command and control mechanisms in the West Bank?  Could the Israeli army remain outside of Palestinian towns, if no Palestinian police is there to provide minimal security both to its own citizens, as well as to the Jewish settlers?  Chances are, Israel would have to re-conquer the entire territory once more.  It would have to establish its own governing bodies, as it did for nearly 3 decades.  It would once more become solely responsible for the Palestinian people.

And to top it all off, Mahmoud Abbas will present a new motion to the U.N. General Assembly, asking it to recognize the current Palestinian territories as part-and-parcel of the State of Israel.  Recognizing that two viable states could no longer be formed, Abbas would say, the Palestinian people have chosen to accept their “ruler” as their own.  

Could the world now demand of Israel to annex the entire territory under its control, and to fully incorporate the entire Palestinian people into this newly-formed State of Israel?  What choice would the world have?  What choice would Israel have?  We would have no choice.  We would have to either provide 4 million Palestinians with new Israeli citizenship (with all its freedoms and rights), or officially become a full-fledged Apartheid state.

I’m beginning to believe that for the Palestinians, this somewhat-crazy idea is actually not so crazy at all.  Even at the risk of allowing the Israeli army to again control all Palestinian towns and villages, and to further embed its corresponding Apartheid rule, the likelihood for the world to soon demand a one-state solution is far greater than attempting to achieve it any other way.

Let every Palestinian mother and child wave the blue-and-white flag of Israel, up high and proud.  Let all resistance movements hand-in their weapons.  Let the Palestinian dream of a Palestine end.  And let it be replaced by the acceptance of Israel as the only state possible “from the river to the sea”.

What could we honestly do about it?

The past few days have been particularly depressing for me. Not only has there been absolutely nothing good on the news (besides the assured safety of the International Space Station crew, who were spared collision with orange-sized debris from an ancient rocket that was still orbiting the earth), but negotiations over Gilad Shalit and Palestinian prisoners collapsed yet again, while Kadima and Labor continued meeting with Netanyahu, despite promising their constituents to serve in Opposition.

In recent weeks and months, we began seeing a renewed effort on behalf of real of pseudo Mideast-analysts to explain, to the Obama administration and anyone else willing to listen, what has to happen in the region. Lengthy reports and articles covered Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and, of course, Israel and Palestine. On Iran, some suggested the Mullah regime already has enough material to create a bomb, while others claimed there’s still a window-of-opportunity (for both diplomatic and non-diplomatic options, presumably). On Palestine, expert opinions varied from “Only Two-State” to “Death of the Two-State” solutions. But everyone seemed to be in general agreement over one thing – the region is more unstable and more dangerous today, than ever before.

The nice thing about the Right in Israel, is that it believes time is on our side. They’re genuinely not worried. It is the sort of spiritual calm that makes liberal leftists jealous. And now, the Left has no influence whatsoever over the future – it has lost all control of the political reality in Israel. The two leftist (zionist) parties, Labor and Meretz, have barely 13% combined seats in Knesset (16 out of 120). The Left has never in the history of Israel become so insignificant. It has failed not only itself, but indeed all of Israel.

But this is also the beauty of democracy. When one side fails, another can replace it the next time around. The people of Israel have spoken, and have decided to give the Right a chance. A chance at what? At eliminating the Iranian threat, at saving our economy, and at changing our election system. That’s it. Those are “the issues”, according to the Likud, its various MK’s, and its leader Netanyahu. Palestine? No problem – no two-states (no one-state either), only “economic peace” (whatever the hell that means). Syria? No problem – no withdrawal from the Golan, maybe from one or two Druze villages, in return for Syria “flipping”, leaving Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and maybe Latakia and Tartous as well. Hamas? No problem – very likely Netanyahu will have to go back into Gaza and “finish the job” (their words, not mine).

And as for Iran, quite clearly the new Israeli administration is not considering diplomatic options, but rather the “other” option. And who’s going to stop Israel? A brand-new Obama administration, that already sent a clear message to the Palestinians (Fatah), suggesting 900 million dollars are conditional upon recognition of Israel!? What U.S. admiral can stand up to the charming-yet-not Israeli COGS, Gabi Ashkenazi? The same admiral that’s already neck-deep in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan? When political and military leaders use terminology and language such as “we are concerned“, rather than “we are opposed“, any interpretation goes. That’s not policy – that’s a carte blanche for anything, including war.

So where is all this leading us? Do we know? Does it matter? Well, I think it does. I think we do need to ask ourselves where do non-policies lead us. I think we do have to ask when and what will stop this bullet-train we’re on, headed straight for the abyss. And if the questions are tough (and they are), then the answers are likely to be as difficult. But they must also be clear, and loud, and not open to interpretation.

If the U.S. believes in a two-state solution, it needs to clearly define the two sides – is it merely Fatah and Israel, or the Palestinian People and Israel?  Are the two states Bantustan and Israel, or a viable Palestine and Israel.?  If the U.S. believes in diplomacy rather than force, then it needs to make perfectly (and publicly) clear its rejection of any attack upon Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran. If the U.S. believes in Syria’s right to the Golan, it needs to say so, loud and clear.

Because if things are not clear, then leaders and people on all sides can continue to fool and be fooled.  Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas can continue to tell their people that the U.S. blindly supports Israel.  And Netanyahu can continue to think that no Israeli settlements need to be dismantled.  Hamas can continue firing missiles from Gaza, believing no one gives a damn or plans to do anything about the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians.  And Ashkenazi can continue readying his pilots for attack on Iranian nuclear installations.

But then again, which is better? Is clarity enough?  If the U.S. and Europe do nothing to end the suffering of so many in the region, to influence the leaders and the people that cause and bear its consequences, then what good is passive “clarity”?  Perhaps we need a very active kind of clarity – indeed a sort of “rude awakening”.  And the one I have in mind, of course, is war.

What else will force upon us a moment of pause?  What else will cause us to reconsider everything we thought was true, all our perceptions and misperceptions? What else will cause us to reexamine our false sense of invincibility?  To recognize the other’s frustrations, and rights?  To acknowledge our contribution to the suffering of so many?  To finally understand the price for belligerency?  To think more about our children’s future, than about our own?  If not through death and suffering, how else can we learn, and change?

It seems that perhaps in our region, there is no other way.  Maybe indeed it is time for war.  Maybe we need it, far more than we’re willing to admit.

(Shai’s Note:  No doubt the notion that war could be a good thing, is highly controversial.  We must come to recognize that like fear, quite often the lack-of-fear is just as debilitating.  If we do not visit upon certain possibilities, they may well visit us.)

How many times have we seen the title “Assad:  Syria ready to talk peace with any Israeli government” in Ha’aretz articles, in various Gulf newspapers, on BBC interviews, on CNN…? Here’s the latest one:

So why isn’t Israel jumping at the endless opportunities over the years?  Surely Syria’s normal “enemy behavior”, as supporter of Israel’s other enemies (Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran) can’t be enough of a reason.  After all, everyone knows you make peace with enemies, not with your buddies, right?  So what’s the real reason – why are we continuously ignoring Syria?

Not long ago Dr. Alon Liel, former Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, career diplomat, and current head of the Israel-Syria Peace Society, told me that it has never been Israeli policy to turn down an offer to talk peace.  “In our cadet school training,” said Alon, “each week they reminded us that if any Arab state is ready to talk to us, we must jump at the opportunity.” (Shai: This was even before Egypt and Israel began their own peace talks.)  So what has been going on over the past few years?

While pondering this question, I naturally found some “quick answers”.  These included the Bush administration and its destructive influence in Jerusalem, the lack of Israeli leadership on the scale of Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Rabin, as well as reasons echoed by many a hawks, who suggest that Israelis simply aren’t ready to give back the Golan to a “terror-supporting regime”. But these seemed too simple to me, and therefore not sufficiently convincing.

And then it came to me.  Perhaps Syria is trying too hard!  Could it be that when Assad says “Syria is ready to talk peace with any Israeli government”, while in the same breath saying “The right kills Arabs and the left kills Arabs…”, he is sending a message that, to some in Israel, may seem as near-desperation?  And if Syria is perceived to be so “desperate”, then what’s the hurry?

I couldn’t help thinking of the similarity between such messages, and endless attempts made by a particular boy in class to woo a girl he likes, who inevitably rejects him because of his perceived desperate state.  Is it possible that Syria is trying too hard?  After all, if a relationship is to succeed, shouldn’t the courting stage be more balanced?  In practical terms, shouldn’t Syria expect Israel to show more initiative and readiness on its own?  Shouldn’t we see more articles titled “Israel is ready to talk peace with any Syrian government…”?  (Or, of course, “… with any Palestinian government!”)

In the meantime, I’m not sure Syria isn’t marketing its strategic decision in such way, that is encouraging Israelis to think “So what if Syria wants peace…”