Martin Peretz

NATO is no peace panacea

American soldiers manning checkpoints in the West Bank won't make a Palestinian state any more plausible -- and they'll spell disaster for Israel and the US

Last month, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, told a meeting of Arab ambassadors in Tokyo that NATO troops should be used to ensure Israel’s security after it withdraws from the West Bank.

Poor Abbas: he’ll go anywhere to raise the droopy flag of Palestine, except to a room where Bibi Netanyahu waits to begin the real business of peacemaking, which, at best, would be arduous and exasperating. An independent Palestine will not simply emerge and be. So Abbas’s statement can be read as the first sign that he may recognize this reality. Even so, his epiphany did not get much press. As far as I can tell, it was reported only by Ma’an, a tiny news agency headquartered in Bethlehem and Gaza, and through it in this very web site, plus the very charming Angry Arab News Service, run by professor As’ad Abu Khalil out of California State University in Stanislaus.

Coming soon to a roadblock near you? NATO troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan (photo credit: CC BY-ND Minnesota National Guard, Flickr)
Coming soon to a roadblock near you? NATO troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan (photo credit: CC BY-ND Minnesota National Guard, Flickr)

It is a relief that NATO as peace panacea received little media attention, because it would surely have been taken up enthusiastically as a serious guarantee against the inevitable violence arising from Palestinian independence. There is, first, the matter of intra-Palestinian fury, the competition among various Arab groups and grouplets as to which militants can kill more Jews. (This rage certainly animated the rivalry among the Palestinians during the second intifada.) Moreover, as can be seen by the competitive rocket frenzy from Gaza, Jerusalem will no longer leave anything to luck. That was Ariel Sharon’s conceit when he withdrew 8,000 Israeli settlers from the Strip in 2005. Now a more sober Israel will not agree to either the hard cartography or the vaguer political terms to which it had consented in the past. History, it turns out, was not on the side of the Palestinians after they rejected what almost everyone else then saw as reasonable.

Palestine may some day be plausible. But, alas, it is not now. There are, after all, two Palestines, Fatah’s and Hamas’s — a two-state solution! — between the river and the sea, and there is no fraternity between them, the recent paltry and desperate efforts at reconciliation notwithstanding. Surely, Israel cannot be expected to sign treaties with both or, for that matter, with one but not the other, when neither is likely to honor them. What’s more, the monarch who reigns on the other side of the Jordan is also now stirring its waters, revoking the citizenship of many Palestinians and reminding others that they are only guests in his kingdom: do not get any ideas!

The so-called “one state solution” is obviously no solution at all, even if it is increasingly the slogan of “progressives” and “occupiers.” But there is no forum from which the Palestinians could muster real one-state power any more than such an authority could vest it with power in the West Bank. One of the lessons of the bloodshed over the last 16 months in the Middle East is that no one can stop it, neither the 19-member League of Arab States, a phony disunion of various politically illegitimate authorities, nor the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 card carriers, give or take the few who either have not paid their dues or have otherwise been disciplined for some form of heresy.

In fact, the other authorities that blow hot and cold over Israel and Palestine — the European Union, for instance — also cannot rearrange the relationships between the Jews and the Arabs, however much Baroness Ashton chastises the principals (mostly the Jewish principals). If the EU can’t settle the economic relationships of the union’s own members, how can it arrange for the disposition of a bloody conflict among armed foreigners going back more than 100 years?

This stasis brings me no joy. But better a deadlock than a solution that brings many more dead. The armed projectiles from Gaza — today off, tomorrow on — have become a steady feature of the environment, and it will not take long before they reach Tel Aviv. Hamas and Islamic Jihad know exactly what they are doing. It used to be that Egypt could put constraints on them. But the regime that rules from Cairo will have neither the will nor the capacity to determine the warfare emanating from the thin sleeve of the desert. It is Israel that will have to shut it down.

Catherine Ashton examines the remains of a Kassam rocket during a visit to Sderot in 2010. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Catherine Ashton examines the remains of a Kassam rocket during a visit to Sderot in 2010. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

But it is in the West Bank and Jerusalem where the present vision of the two-state solution falls apart. One should admit that Israeli construction in the biblical territories and at the the sacred places has complicated the topography of peace. But the hallowed 1967 lines — actually the 1949 lines, which marked nothing more nor less than where the armies stopped in their happenstance tracks at the moment of the cease fire — are no more conducive to peace than the present proprietary geography. In fact, by insisting on the 1949 demarcations, the Arabs and the hapless president of the United States are trying to pretend that the Six-Day War never happened. But it did happen, and its Arab war aims were to push Israel into the sea. That may seem far-fetched from the remoteness of 45 years. And Israel’s perils in the West Bank and around Jerusalem are, if anything, starker now than they have ever been.

The dangers do not come from armies. The dangers arise from armed irregulars and terrorists and jihadists. Israel and whatever will ultimately be Palestine are situated in a small thicket filled with people with guns and bombs and wild ideas about their destiny. How will anybody guarantee that a rocket will not be aimed from a small Arab village near Ben Gurion Airport at it? But it is not just the big targets that are at stake. Let’s be frank: Without Israeli intelligence and Israeli police in the West Bank, without Palestinian informers, every place in Israel is vulnerable to the sly mechanics of murder and destruction and to the more subtle forms of sabotage. After all, modern societies are particularly vulnerable to deliberate havoc. Some of the settlers have made themselves expert in these tactics. But their reach is short, and the law will constrain them. Not so the Palestinians. From their side I foresee an epidemic of rampage and ruin which no one will be able to stop.

They will certainly not be stopped by NATO, which a critical internal report just sidelined from any further activity in the Arab world. The report was designed, of course, to deflect demands for NATO intervention in Syria. The US won’t intervene in Syria either. So should its forces, or the forces of its alliance, keep an Israeli-Palestinian peace? You must be kidding. Anyway, Israel would resist. Not because of a perfectly justified mistrust of Obama, but because Zionism means the negation of Jewish dependency on others. Israel asks for a great deal of American military materiel, but it does not ask any American to die in its defense. In this sense it is supremely self-reliant. No Americans should die in the quagmire of Palestine.

About the Author
Martin Peretz was editor-in-chief of The New Republic from 1974 to 2011