On November 26, 2009, Bibi Netanyahu announced that his government was enforcing a ten-month moratorium on building in the disputed territories of the West Bank. He called these areas “Judea” and “Samaria,” which is what they are. But the nomenclature emphasizes how spiritually difficult it was for Israel to put up for grabs the original Biblical lands of Jewish history. Moreover, the razor thin parliamentary discipline that supports Bibi’s cabinet could hardly be more strained than by this decision. I don’t think commentators have appreciated the difficulty entailed in the move.
As the Obama administration was expected to negotiate the Palestinian response to this initiative one would have begun direct talks on the morrow of the Jerusalem declaration. Alas, the president, Secretary Clinton and the regional special envoy, George Mitchell, permitted “proxy talks” to go on and on until nine months (of the stipulated ten) had eclipsed without anything substantial having been negotiated. That’s what happens in indirect negotiations. Please do not think that Palestinian Authority chairman Abbas didn’t know that all he was doing was wasting time.
And now it’s almost October: members of the Jerusalem government and the Ramallah rump have actually seen each other in the face, both on the disputed turf and in Washington. But the moratorium which was expected to bring some progress in the envisioned peace early on is about to expire. Oops, it expired last night!
The Israeli prime minister has demonstrated his intentions, and they are quite generous towards the Palestinians. But they do not come close to what Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat ten years ago. This is the fate of Palestine. Its leaders have never, never grasped what the present offers them.
Still, the fact is that, for all of the shouting, Palestine gets weaker and weaker all the time. Take a look at an Al-Jazeera photo of Abbas addressing the nearly vacant General Assembly auditorium. Read the article which accompanies it and the quote from Hussein Ibish, a seasoned expert on Palestine: The Palestinians cannot walk away from the talks. And they can’t afford to disappoint the Americans.
I hope that the self-righteous and often brutal settlers, who really want to prevent any negotiations, will be forced by circumstance to hold off their construction intentions. If they don’t they will ultimately force Bibi to make a parliamentary coalition with the centrist Kadimah party which, in the first go-around after the last election, made outrageous demands impossible to accept.
Yet the truth is that the Israeli body politic fully understands what it must forfeit for peace. A small fraction of the territories will become parts of Israel, a little more, a little less. The question is whether the Arabs of Palestine can grasp that the other side of the forfeiture of land is an absolutely reliable and fail-safe mechanism to make certain that rockets and missiles will not rain on the very heart of Israel. The population of this heart lives within a few kilometers of the West Bank. That is the real reason why Israel has been reluctant to forego these territories.
Frankly, nothing has been suggested satisfying the requirements that armed missives from any corner of the new Palestine would not be allowed to attack and enter Israel. There is nothing in these talks, for example, that would require Hamas-governed Gaza to abide by this restraint. So Palestine, the second of the two states in the two-state solution, cannot pledge anything that binds the regime in Gaza.
But the fact is that Abbas and his comrades have not yet entertained the mechanics of protecting Israel from the gangs and ganglets of the West Bank. These forces will become ever stronger if and when the Israel Defense Forces depart the territories -as they did when they left Gaza.
The American-trained constabulary of Palestinians (this training supported wholeheartedly by Israel) is not to be vouchsafed cementing the peace of the Holy Land. Then there are the usual nominees: some United Nations detachment (as have operated the feckless UNIFIL brigades in Lebanon since 1978); maybe some version of the NATO troops in Afghanistan, many of these units departing during these very days. U.S. troops would be a disaster for America and for Israel. Imagine one American soldier dying as he disarms a bomb aimed at Israel.
We are told in yesterday’s Times that the administration has sent emissaries to Lebanon and Syria to enlist them in good will negotiations. Perhaps President Assad will encourage Fatah to stay in the talks. Fat chance. Apparently, the Obamei still fail to grasp that Syria does not want peace and it won’t encourage negotiations that fail to deal with the Golan Heights, a more intricate matter than the details of future Palestine.