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The Palestinian Tragedy

It is a sour irony that there were no Palestinians around to claim the Arab state that the United Nations had bestowed on them at the end of the 30 year process of making separate polities from what once was the Ottoman Empire. As it happens, Palestinian nationalism (such as it was, and it wasn't much) was not a contender for the land at all. Of course, the Zionists accepted their postage stamp of a state and reluctantly agreed to an internationalized Jerusalem, even though it deprived them of most of the territories west of the Jordan river which had been committed in a binding document to the Jewish national home at San Remo in the summer of 1920.

The kingdom of Jordan had been allotted the land east of the river, and grabbed all it could to the west, including the whole of the old city, especially the "holy basin." Egypt made war for whatever it could of the rest of Palestine but what it had in hand at the end of the fighting was the Gaza Strip, a conquest it surely regretted. Syria fought for northern Palestine and gained none of it. Tiens!

And what about the Arabs of Palestine for whose benefit the Partition Plan map had so dexterously been drawn? Well, really nothing. Except that some peasant locals fought and died for the three Arab governments which cared squat for them. The liberation of Palestine only became a cause after the 1967 war during which Israel displaced Amman's rule in the West Bank and Cairo's in Gaza.

We are now talking of much smaller territory than the Arabs of Palestine could have made their own at the end of the British Mandate in 1948. Their putative state, like the real State of Israel, would have been fully 62 years old. They not only had forsaken many birthdays but a concrete and practical state besides.

At the end of August 1967, the eminences of 13 Arab League states met in Khartoum with such leaders as the Palestinians possessed and issued a response to the Israeli expectation that talks would follow the war. The Khartoum Declaration made it clear that there would by "no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel." Within weeks the Soviet Union dispatched more than 200 MiG fighter jets to Egypt and Syria. Omens Israel could not ignore.

Forty-three years have passed. The territory that the Arabs of Palestine had ignored in 1947 is once again on the international agenda. Some of it is part of Israel, incontestable and irrevocable. Small segments of the initial 1947 Arab turf--some around Jerusalem, some clinging to the old armistice lines elsewhere, a few bolder intrusions in various other locals--only the most perfervid Palestinians can imagine will ever be theirs. History teaches us: you forfeit some places you forfeit them forever.

Yet there is land with which the government of Israel wishes to part. It includes every single one of the big towns and cities in the West Bank minus a small and awkward slice of Hebron: if there is any place other than Jerusalem that is truly sacred it is this, the site of the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. (The Jews of this community are notably nasty, notably aggressive and notably dogmatic. I pity the Israel soldiers who guard them.) Ninety-five percent of the West Bank falls in the category of unnecessary, dispensable for the Israelis. Without this territory there can be no Palestine.

That's not insignificant agreement. Israel is even willing to compensate the Palestinians with other territory to bring the total to 100 percent. Of course, Abu Mazen has already rejected that compromise many times. According to the Jerusalem Post, he did it again on Tuesday.

The most substantial cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is barely noticed. It is that there are already five Palestinian battalions deployed in the West Bank, and a sixth will be commissioned in November. All with concurrence from Jerusalem. Which leaves a seventh and an eighth (and so forth) to be trained, and to be trained, like all the others, in Jordan and by United States military. Yaakov Katz reports on this almost stealth development in the Jerusalem Post. The arrangement is overseen by the United States Security Coordinator--now Lt.-Gen. Michael Moeller--who is responsible for troop training and such reforms as are possible in the P.A. security apparatus now. As a result Israeli forces have simply withdrawn from Arab areas, including the most significant Arab cities. Cooperation between the P.A. and the I.D.F. on these highly concrete matters is widely seen as more than satisfactory. So is the rate of economic progress.

All this would have been seen as providential advance had President Obama not begun his administration with millenarian intentions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This conflict is surely not the most resonant in the world. And neither is it the most contagious. But Palestine was one of Obama's spiritual obsessions, firing his delusions of making harmony with Islam, which cares little about his delusions, and bridging the divide between his, after all, American presidency and the international ideological left for whom Israel has outflanked the U.S. as its prime adversary. He failed in this paralogia, as he has failed in virtually every foreign initiative he has undertaken.

One has to be fair, however: the president has finally admitted that the land the Romans called Palestine is the "historical homeland of the Jewish people." This simple truism was hard to drag out of him, despite all the Jews around the Oval Office. Some say that it won't really amount to much, given his fancy obeisance on Palestine to the autocracies and to the "much worse, yet" of the Arab world whom he consistently courts. But there it is in own words and off his own tongue.

John Bolton is even more apprehensive than I am. Yes, I know he would be apprehensive. And, of course, he raises the thoughtless hackles of reflexive liberals more even than George W. Bush. Still, I think he was a sensible and utterly undeluded ambassador to the United Nations. (Moreover, he is not a Tea Partier.) This is what he had to say in the Wall Street Journal about the new diplomacy of Palestine. The Palestinians are going to the Security Council to get it to arrange a state for them. Of course, they can't. But they can go through the motions.

This would not be the first time that the Palestinians have announced a state. They now have embassies in, maybe, 100 world capitals and they sit in the General Assembly behind a desk labeled "Palestine." It is all a joke, save for the six real Palestinian battalions in the West Bank, gráce á Medinat Yisroel.

The failure of the peace talks was easily foreseen. Obama encumbered them with his ingenious prerequisite: that Israel stop building in the settlements. Never before had such a condition been put forth. The Israelis finally conceded the point with a ten-month moratorium. The American president is, after all, the American president. For nine months the Israelis did no construction. And for the same nine months the Palestinians did no talking. The tenth month was spent haggling.

Israel is eager to talk. Bibi Netanyahu will have enough trouble from the right wing of his cabinet (some of whom I think of as neo-fascists) in any negotiations. He simply cannot bring his simply reactionary colleagues to heel on another period of no work in the settlements without some substantial exchange. There is an illuminating article by Gil Hoffman in this morning's Jerusalem Post which points out how much more open to compromise with the Palestinians Bibi is than Yitzhak Rabin was. Frankly, I am altogether persuaded. But, then, I am also convinced that Rabin, having been betrayed by the Palestinians after the handshakes on the White House lawn, would not have stood with those who kindle his memory to very squishy ends. The last days have marked the fifteenth anniversary of Rabin's assassination. His memory has been sullied by the anti-peace right and captured the unrealistic left.

Back to Obama. Bolton is apprehensive lest the president blame the failure of his diplomatic initiatives on Israel. With a resolution before the Security Council "establishing" or "recognizing" a Palestinian state, Obama "may well be moved to punish Israel or at least fashion a teachable moment out of his diplomatic failure."

It will not come before November 2. But a bit later, who knows?

I wouldn't be a bit surprised.