Quite a few readers of my blog have asked me to comment on the failure of the latest round of ‘peace talks’. “What’s going to happen now?” they’re asking, with worried faces. “Is there still a chance for peace?”
So far, I have abstained from commenting. It was necessary to wait, to see whether the latest Palestinian Authority move – forming a ‘national unity government’ with Hamas – was just another exercise in brinkmanship, aimed at extracting additional concessions. It is now clear that it wasn’t: PA President Mahmoud Abbas has now sworn in that ‘unity government’.
Needless to say, there can be no ‘unity’ between the PA and Hamas – any more than it can be between Egypt’s ‘secular’ dictators and Muslim Brotherhood. The trumpeted Palestinian elections will either be manipulated or ignored– if they’ll ever be held at all. This is not about either ‘unity’ or ‘democracy’; Hamas and the Palestinian Authority care very little about such lofty concepts – but they pay them lip service, ‘unity’ for the benefit of their Palestinian audience, ‘elections’ for Western ears. Hamas’s motivations for the ‘unity’ deal are crystal clear: hemmed in in Gaza, with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on the run and the new dictatorship in Cairo bitterly resentful, Hamas had to ‘make nice’ with the PLO, in a desperate attempt to regain some relevancy on the larger Arab and Muslim scene. But what does Mahmoud Abbas stand to gain from this ‘unity’?
To a large proportion of their constituency (insofar as the term ‘constituency’ applies to dictators) both Abbas and Hamas are guilty of ‘fitna’ – the Qur’anic term denoting internal dissension among Muslims, which weakens Islam and emboldens the infidels. That’s why, at least twice in the past, Abbas agreed to similar deals with Hamas. But on both previous occasions, there was no intention of implementing the agreement; Abbas just went through the motions long enough to be able to claim that he tried – and blame Hamas for the failure. This time, however, it’s different; this time it is not just about ‘fitna’. Quite simply, the ‘unity’ is Abbas’s emergency exit route from the negotiations process. Towards the end of the US-mediated indirect negotiations, both sides (Israel and the Palestinian Authority) came under immense pressure to agree – not on a final peace agreement, but on a framework for such treaty. From the Palestinian Authority’s point of view, that meant agreeing to a formula – however vague – that would have recognised the right of Jews to their own independent state. For Abbas and his ‘moderate’ colleagues, that is a very thick, very prominent red line – one they have no intention of crossing. The deal with Hamas was the perfect plot, certain to present the Americans with an insoluble conundrum: on one hand, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with an organisation calling for the extermination of Jews; on the other hand, the current US Administration is also reluctant to be seen as promoting ‘fitna’ and opposing ‘Palestinian unity’. Abbas got ‘off the hook’, for the small price of installing a ‘government’ that is – from his point of view – only slightly different from the previous one. With the rug so deftly pulled from under their feet, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry were left with just one option: to jump off it, trying not to look too foolish in the process.
The upshot of all that is that ‘peace negotiations’ are hopeless, at least for the foreseeable future. And the truth is – they were hopeless all along. Because for years now, dear readers, you’ve been lied to; you’ve been taken for a ride. Wily politicians and superficial journalists have repeatedly told you that ‘all that Palestinian want’ was ‘a state of their own’ in the West Bank and Gaza; that ‘the majority of Palestinians support a two-state solution’. To persuade you, they’ve deployed ‘evidence’ such as politicised ‘opinion polls’, carefully selected quotes and fanciful interpretations, while dishonestly sweeping under the carpet anything that did not fit the predetermined conclusion. Unfortunately, that’s all bull. The truth, the only piece of irrefutable evidence, is that the only time they had something approaching free elections, a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem voted for Hamas – an organisation fundamentally opposed to the two states solution. I know, I know: that’s an uncomfortable truth, which is why so many people would rather not hear it; but it’s still the truth. A large majority of Palestinians don’t want ‘a Palestinian Arab state living in peace and security alongside the Jewish State’; they don’t want ‘two states’ and they don’t want ‘one state’, they want no state – no Jewish State. And why would they want anything else? For decades, they have been told that ‘the Jews’ have no rights whatsoever in ‘Palestine’ – they just ‘stole’ it; ‘the Jews’ are nothing but colonialists, racists, practically demons. All this has been drummed into every Palestinian Arab incessantly, from infancy to grave, by teachers and educators, by religious and political leaders. And that demonising seed found a ground fertilised by old religious prejudice.
But that’s not all: on top of everything, most Palestinians have been led to believe that intransigence will eventually pay off: since ‘the Jews’ are 100% in the wrong, ‘the world’ cannot fail to eventually ‘wake up’ and ‘restore justice’ by magically turning the clock of history 100 years back, to an idealised ‘past’ that never was.
Weak leaders manufacture support by inciting against some external enemy and by promising triumphs ‘sometime soon’. Lacking any real legitimacy, the ‘Palestinian leadership’ (excuse the oxymoron) has done exactly that: fanned the flames of hatred and promised redemption in the form of a deus-ex-machina; someone – the ‘international community’, the UN, the International Court of Justice, etc., will ‘soon’ deliver Israel’s head on a silver platter. Meanwhile, be patient and do as you’re told.
In short, for negotiations to have a chance of success – any chance at all – something fundamental needs to first change within the Palestinian Arab society; something that would reboot the public discourse, break the taboos and question the accepted conventions. I am positive that it will happen; but, unfortunately, it won’t be anytime soon; and I can’t see peace coming before that.
So let’s go back to the question that started this article: “What’s going to happen now?” Well, it’s simple: the opposite of ‘peace’ is ‘war’. It may not be an all-out type of military conflict, á la 1948, 1967 or 1973 (though in the Middle East, even that possibility should never be completely discounted); in all probability, it will ‘just’ be the by-now-usual combination of terrorism and political assault. Which still constitutes war, of course, because the aims are the same as they were in 1948, 1967 and 1973.
Peace, needless to say, is infinitely better than war. But when war simply cannot be avoided, it needs to be won. Israel will win this war, just as she won the previous ones. The terrorism will be kept down to a painful but bearable level through a combination of checkpoints, security barriers, anti-missile measures, intelligence and deterrence. As for the political assault, that too will be contained. I’m not saying that it will be easy – it never was. In its current embodiment, that assault includes calls for ‘BDS’, political and economic blackmail, threats with jihad, the lot. Israel’s enemies will continue to deploy their entire ‘arsenal’: they’ll play the victim, the ‘weaker side’, even while enjoying knee-jerk support from the entire Muslim world; they will try to re-write history, distort information or simply lie; they will attempt to exploit the hidden, obstinate and insidious anti-Jewish prejudice that so many in the world still harbour; they’ll use as many Western ‘useful idiots’ as they can get. No, defeating all that won’t be easy. It will require effort, it will require mobilisation of the entire Jewish people, in Israel and the Diaspora. Ultimately, however, the Jewish people will win this battle, because of its talents and ingenuity but also, crucially, because it never walks alone: throughout its history, Jews have been cursed with lots of bitter, dishonest and often berserk enemies; but they’ve also been blessed with great friends – righteous people with big hearts and uncompromising moral compass.
Yes, it’s war – or rather ‘still war’. But, hey, what else is new? It’s been war – and much worse than this – all along. Yet Israel thrives. So stop wringing your hands – and let’s go to work.