Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some common sense on Israel and the Palestinians from Europe

The English edition of the German `Der Spiegel' has an outstanding piece by Henryk M. Broder that sets out the basics of the Palestinian Israeli conflict in a nutshell, simply and honestly. It's appropriately called The Ongoing War against Reality .

Thanks and a hat tip to Joshua's Army member Chana, in Jerusalem.

Here's the piece, in it's entirety:

" Many are treating the apparent recognition of Israel by Hamas as a sign of hope. It's not. Indeed, the Palestinians have no such intention -- and have left Israel with only military options.

Once again the Palestinians are in the process of shattering the Israeli dream of peace. The building of a tunnel under the border, the attack on an army post and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier haven't just served to stir things up in the stagnating Middle East war. The attack also served to bring the Israelis face to face with the limits of their power. And to provide the Palestinians with a short-lived though uplifting feeling of superiority. It's difficult, after all, to categorize an assault on an army unit as an act of terrorism.

Recent history has seen the Palestinians firing homemade, short-range Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel and Israel responding with "targeted assassinations" -- which have often resulted in civilian deaths. That was, though it may sound cynical, Middle East business as usual -- and also mirrored the situation in the north where Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon has hardly resulted in instant peace there.

All or nothing

Now, however, the conflict has reached a new level. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza last summer has more than anything motivated militant Palestinians to demonstrate to Israel that the conflict is not primarily about territory, the end of the occupation and the return to the 1967 borders. Rather, it's about all or nothing. It's about the control, not the division, of the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Were the Palestinians to invest only a tiny percentage of the energy they consume in internal conflict and resistance against Israelis into the reconstruction of the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank and Gaza would be much better off.

And the Israelis? Those who believed that unilateral action and the construction of a fence would result in the security that negotiations have been unable to provide are now being confronted with the bitter reality. Fences and walls cannot provide absolute security -- and no matter how high such barriers are, they can still be dug under. The question they are asking themselves is this: "What is cheaper: ending or continuing the occupation?" What's the point of military withdrawal when those Palestinians who want a peaceful resolution are unable to assert themselves -- and those Palestinians who want to continue fighting merely feel vindicated and encouraged?

As usual in such moments -- with the tunnel at the end of the light coming ever closer -- those who have a stake begin to clutch at whatever straw they can. The Europeans are once again trying to whitewash things. One hears a lot these days about the so-called "prisoners' document" -- that mysterious paper in which representatives from Hamas and Fatah have agreed on a common position on Israel. It is said to be nothing less than an "indirect recognition" of Israel.

Ignoring the rules of democracy

Leaving aside for a moment what exactly an "indirect recognition" means in practice -- no attacks within the 1967 Green Line? No attacks on Saturdays and holidays? No attacks on women and children? -- one salient fact is being forgotten. Israel and the PLO have already long since recognized each other in the Oslo Accords and all the agreements that have come since.

One of the basic rules in any democracy is that a new government accepts the treaties made by the old. Germany's Christian Democrats, for example, didn't annul the agreements struck by Social Democrat Chancellor Willy Brandt with East Bloc countries in the 1960s even if, when in opposition, they did everything in their power to torpedo the policy.

For Hamas, however, such rules don't seem to apply. The "prisoners' document" is a paper that is supposed to re-establish and solidify the "national unity" of the Palestinians. Inferring therein a recognition of Israel -- no matter how indirect or implicit it may be -- merely shows a tendency toward self-delusion. Nobody has yet seen the entire paper, but those bits that have been released are just as incoherent as they are explicit. And everything is discussed. Indeed, the only thing that doesn't appear is any mention of a recognition of Israel -- neither in pre nor in post 1967 borders. Only one conclusion can be drawn: Even after 40 years of occupation, the Palestinians have still not accepted reality and still dream of a return to the way things used to be.

Indeed, if there is a clear message provided by the paper, it is this: The Palestinians do indeed want a two-state solution. One in those regions -- the Gaza Strip and the West Bank -- occupied in 1967. And one in that region that is today known as Israel. One shouldn't forget that the PLO was founded in 1964 with the goal of freeing Palestine from the Zionists -- three years prior to the Six Day War when Gaza was still under Egyptian control and the West Bank was a part of Jordan.

Either complete victory or utter defeat

Back then, talking about the "Occupied Territories" meant Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva. And in this respect nothing has really changed to this day. The only difference between Hamas and Fatah -- which is overlooked by "the document" -- is the question of how Israel should be defeated: either militarily or through the implementation of a "right of return" policy. Israel therefore has the choice as to whether it is wiped from the map either in battle, or by peaceful means. Whoever hopes Israel will embrace these two alternatives is kidding themselves: there is no third possibility.

Israel has no other choice but to stand tough because every climb down and withdrawal is interpreted as weakness. Furthermore the word "compromise" is a foreign word in the Arab world. You either prevail or go down in a blaze of glory.

For this reason a "ceasefire" is the most Hamas is prepared to offer Israel, which the Europeans insist on misinterpreting as the first step towards recognition. Rather, it's merely a tactical pause in the war against Israel.

News about the new confrontation on the border between Gaza and Israel has largely displaced reports of the looming "humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza. It's also important to find out how a government that can't even provide for its own people is getting the means to assemble, clothe and arm a new 3,000 man force. And who is arming and paying the salaries of these masked, hyper-agile young men who are storming the streets wielding bazookas? Is that what a "humanitarian catastrophe" looks like?

Hamas, though a problem for Israel, is a catastrophe for the Palestinians. It's a difference that no document can set aside.

I would only add that Fatah is just as much a catastrophe. Not that it matters, This is a war to the finish, and the sooner Israel decides to act decisively and win it, the better for them.

No comments: