The Palestinians at the Crossroads
A people’s rescue can never be a foreigner’s gift. The road that the Palestinians must now cross must be traversed by them alone.
In all history, no two mature democracies have ever made war upon one another – an historic truth that applies to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. President Bush has now recognized this fact and embraced its wisdom. He has shown the Palestinians the way to a better future.
But are they listening?
Mr. Bush may have set forth a vision for a new Palestinian future, but he has no magic wand with which he can exorcise the demons that plague Palestinian society. He now knows that the Israeli presence on the West Bank is not what’s bothering them. It’s the existence of the Jewish state itself. Unless that attitude changes, and the odds are against it, the future of the Palestinians will be as dismal as their past.
Arafat’s maps show a Palestinian state that accurately reflects the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Recent surveys undertaken by both the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center have shown that mainstream Palestinian society continues to believe that terrorism and continued violence will pay enormous dividends. The Ramallah study found that more than two-thirds of mainstream Palestinians support suicide attacks on Israel. The Jerusalem study found that more than half the respondents agreed that the goal of the current uprising is nothing short of Israel’s destruction and the restoration of “historic Palestine.”
Translated into votes, the prevalence of this attitude suggests that Arafat could become the first “democratically elected terrorist” in history. And there is a real possibility that Arafat may win. Having consolidated his popular base on a foundation of terror, poverty, corruption and fantasy, he can support both the wishes of mainstream Palestinian society and the policies of the Jihad terrorists without any apparent contradiction. The long-range goals of both groups are identical; only their tactics differ. The Palestinian Jihad groups seek the destruction of Israel over the short-term (without regard to international opinion); mainstream Palestinians seek Israel’s destruction over the long term (using international pressure to phase-in a Palestinian state as an initial step in “phasing-out” Israel).
Consequently, when the Europeans or the Americans introduce their new “peace initiatives” on the pretext that there is a distinction between the wishes of the Palestinian people and the ambitions of the Jihad terrorists, they are only deceiving themselves. The late Faisal Husseini, Arafat’s Jerusalem representative, a man who was cultured, sophisticated, and considered the most moderate of all Palestinians, shortly before his death on May 31, 2001, expressed his true feelings in an interview with the popular Egyptian newspaper el-Arav. Husseini said: “We must distinguish the strategies and long-term goals from the political-phased goals which we are compelled to accept due to international pressures.” But the “ultimate goal is the liberation of all of historical Palestine.” Explicitly, he said: “Oslo has to be viewed as a Trojan horse.”
To the West, the goal of a Palestinian state on the West Bank has always represented final closure of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a stable, peaceful Palestinian democracy contiguous to and working with Israel for the betterment of all peoples in the region. To the Palestinian mainsteam, however, the war continues, but on a different (state) level.
When the President initially spoke of creating a “political horizon for the Palestinians,” he failed to recognize that Palestinian terrorism is not just a fringe phenomenon, but the manifestation of a belief held by a majority of mainstream Palestinians that Israel can be destroyed by force of arms, either sooner or later. His Rose Garden speech suggests that he now knows better. Rather than encourage the Palestinians to slide further down this slippery slope of terrorism, the President has challenged Palestinian society to bury their past, not their children, as a pre-condition to statehood. It’s a gamble worth taking, but an uphill battle at best.
So long as the destruction of Israel remains their “political horizon,” the squalor in which they live will continue to be their lot. If the surveys are correct, and their attitudes remain unreformed, any sovereign Palestinian state would not represent closure of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but merely the continuation of their struggle at the state level. “West Bank statehood” is not on the minds of the Palestinians. Nor is it on the minds of those who strap 10 kilos of explosives to their waist, packed with nails dipped in rat poison, don a skull cap or Israeli army uniform, board a bus, and press a button in their belief that they will ascend to paradise. Based upon statements made by those who failed in their suicide bombing attempt, it seems that it wasn’t the promise of a new flag, a patriotic national anthem, or a Palestinian passport that motivated them. It was their overwhelming desire to kill the Jewish “infidels” and conquer their country.
Nor is “West Bank statehood” on the mind of Yasser Arafat. Better the fire of an insurrection than the risks of reconciling his people to a peace he had not prepared them for: this is Arafat’s way. Even accepting his revisionist interpretation of what the Palestinians say happened at Camp David and after that, at Tabah, the fact is that the Palestinians would have received more land, and faster, had they pursued the path of negotiation rather than recourse to terrorism. Had Arafat pursued diplomacy rather than violence over the past two years, Palestine would cover 97% of the West Bank, not the 40% that President Bush is considering. So why didn’t he take the offer? Because a “West Bank Palestine” is not what he has in mind unless Israel is weakened in the process. A complete “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” to Israel would have guaranteed a “third column” in Israel. Not being able to negotiate the issue to his satisfaction, Arafat turned to violence and terror to force the issue using the international community as his vehicle.
President Bush is right to demand democratic reforms, an independent judiciary, a responsible security apparatus and a proven commitment to end terrorism as a pre-condition to Palestinian statehood. But it is only the Palestinians who can deliver on the promise. Neither America nor Israel can save the Palestinians from themselves. As William Safire noted recently in the New York Times, statehood confers sovereignty, and sovereignty connotes control of borders, security services, an army, and the authority to import weapons and to establish military alliances with terrorist states like Iraq, Iran and Syria. Sovereignty also creates the possibility of a 9/11scenario roughly three minutes from the heart of Tel Aviv. Sovereignty would limit Israel’s ability to seek out bomb factories and terrorists. “What is now a tolerable sweep into disputed territory would be denounced in the UN as invasion pure and simple. That would trigger European economic boycotts and draw Arab allies into a wider war.”
You cannot fit a round “Arafat” peg into a square “peace process” hole, unless the objective is the destruction of Israel. America’s interests and those of the current Palestinian regime are incompatible. To create any form of Palestinian state (provisional or otherwise) on the West Bank, under its current leadership and with surveys showing the true intentions of mainstream Palestinians, would provide the terrorists with a new sovereign state from which to wage further war on Israel and destabilize the region. It would also create a new terrorist state that would ally itself with the enemies of America, and become just one more target on America’s radar screen.
Should Arafat win a democratically held election in January, many will argue that it is a consequence of failing to apply the Bush Doctrine to the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure from the very beginning – that a total military victory must precede any political solution – that is, the total military and psychological defeat of the Palestinians (to such an extent that they recognize that their goal of destroying Israel is futile) is a precondition to any true peace settlement.
But Bush’s vision for the Palestinians will remain a noble one nevertheless. To find their way into the world, the Palestinians will have to put forth leaders made of different political material. With a new leadership and a different ideology, perhaps they will have their state. But not now, and not until a sea-change occurs in the Palestinian mindset.
Democracy is not a gift to be given. It is a goal to be achieved.