Mon, Feb 09, 2009
OPINION: Israelis are fed up with the Palestinians' inability to take Yes for an answer, writes EDWIN BENNATAN.
THE RENOWNED physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colourful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking, was once asked for his opinion of a paper written by a young student. "This is not right," declared Pauli. "It's not even wrong."
Some arguments are so blatantly flawed that they do not even deserve being called wrong. Such is Lara Marlowe's simplistic view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict (Opinion and Analysis, February 3rd) in which she proposes that the US and the EU impose a solution on the two sides. "The UN should flood the Gaza Strip with blue helmets," she suggests, "who would prevent Hamas firing rockets."
She continues: "The most maddening thing about the conflict is that there is such an obvious solution, as there was in Northern Ireland."
First, the Middle East is not Northern Ireland. Cambridge historians John Bew and Martyn Frampton have stated in a recent report that although it has become "fashionable to look to the lessons of the peace process in Northern Ireland as holding insights for other areas of conflict, simplistic comparisons may be unhelpful".
While the aims of the IRA posed no "existential threat" to the British, they argue, "the objectives of Hamas require the destruction of the state of Israel". The researchers also maintain that while the IRA's political goals were local, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is part of a global Islamist movement.
Second, Israel has already experienced the impotence of UN forces when, in 1967, UN peacekeepers were swiftly removed from the Egypt-Israel border in response to the first demand from Egypt's president Gamal Abdul Nasser, who then proceeded to mass his army on the border, which led to the Six Day War. Israel has no reason to believe that the UN would act differently today.
And as for the notion that the US and the EU should impose a solution to the conflict, Marlowe seems to have a mental picture of two brawling children whose parents need to send them off to bed with no supper until they learn to behave.
Israel is not the 30th or 20th strongest force in the world; it is one of the most powerful forces (which it needed to become to survive in a tough neighbourhood), and it will never accept an imposed arrangement that it believes would imperil its very existence. Israel is not facing just Hamas, or even just the Palestinians. The situation in the Middle East is more complex than that.
As Bew and Frampton have noted, Israel is facing a global Islamist movement in which Iran plays a leading role, and which also includes Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood who are fighting to overthrow the relatively moderate pro-western governments in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Marlowe needs to understand this before she offers her simplistic proposals.
Marlowe is also apparently unaware that the Palestinians have been offered a two-state solution, which they have repeatedly rejected. As far back as 1947, the Palestinians rejected UN Resolution 181 on the partitioning of British Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab (the Jews of Palestine accepted the UN partition plan).
More recently, the Palestinians rejected US president Bill Clinton's proposal in 2000 at Camp David for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which included the removal of Jewish settlements. Amin al-Mahdy reported in the Arabic daily newspaper Al-Hayathow Yasser Arafat, in an interview two years later, lamented his mistake in rejecting the peace offer.
Al-Mahdy wrote: "Arafat has admitted his mistake in refusing Clinton's proposals. But what he should have explained was why he refused, why it was wrong, and why it took him two years to realise it. Now the situation has deteriorated to a degree that goes beyond the mistake of rejecting the Clinton peace plan. That rejection was part of a tragic cycle of mistakes that involved resorting to violence and a direct alliance with the Islamic political groups before the negotiations.
"This tragic cycle of mistakes overthrew the idea of peaceful negotiations and did a lot to bring down the Israeli left and the peace movement."
Six years after the Palestinians rejected Clinton's proposals the Israeli peace camp regained its ground and returned to power in the 2006 elections. Peace negotiations with the Palestinians resumed, and additional details of the peace deal were ironed out (Palestinian control of Arab east Jerusalem, compensation for Palestinian refugees, and land swaps of territory in Israel proper in exchange for 4 per cent of the West Bank adjacent to the Israel border).
But again the Palestinian leadership rejected the deal that their negotiating team had worked out with the Israelis, and which offered them virtually everything they had been demanding (other than the destruction of Israel).
The latest barrages of cross-border rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, and the war that followed, have all but ended the current attempts at peace. To be blunt, the Israeli public is fed up with the Palestinians' inability to take Yes for an answer, and is expected once again to shift to the right at tomorrow's elections.
With a right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, it is highly unlikely that the current peace deal will remain on the table or that meaningful negotiations will be resumed anytime soon.
So where does this leave Lara Marlowe's analysis? She is clearly unaware of the history of this long and sad conflict, and seems to be preoccupied with baseless rumours and innuendos that serve no useful purpose.
But Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak got it right a few days ago in his address in honour of Egypt's national police force day. It is the responsibility of the Palestinian people, he said, to settle the score with Hamas for the pain and the destruction it has caused them.
If the Palestinians took Mubarak's advice that would be a welcome step towards peace.
© 2009 The Irish Times