Is Peace Possible in the Middle East?
The Middle East “peace process,” as in Macbeth’s great soliloquy, “creeps on this petty pace from day to day,” depleting its innumerable tomorrows and leading to nothing but misery and despair. It has only “lighted fools/The way to dusty death” and to failure after failure, being quite definitely “a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” Of course, the bitter and mephitic Scots laird is speaking of the futility of life while we, on the other hand, are considering the total senselessness of a quixotic and fugitive political enterprise that is heading nowhere except endless stalemate or renewed conflict.
Surely, it has become obvious by this time, after sixty-plus years of tractionless discussions and bloody confrontations, that the current negotiating paradigm of Israeli concessions for Palestinian recalcitrance, that is, land for no peace and a raft of further demands, is simply not working, nor is it going to work. Why the Israeli leadership ever embarked on so fruitless a project is beyond rational explanation. In matters of life and death, unanchored hope is no substitute for hard-headed assaying and a grounding in history. For peace to have even an unhouseled ghost of a chance, several correlative concessions on the part of the Palestinians would be absolutely mandatory. For example:
- The Palestinians would have to agree that a Palestinian state would be no more Judenrein than Israel would be, let’s say, Muslimrein; there are one and half million Arabs resident in Israel, most of whom will not surrender their Israeli citizenship. Why then should 300,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria be evicted from their homes?
- The Palestinians would have to realize that their insistence on the “right of return” to Israel of seven million so-called “refugees” is a complete nonstarter, and must be dropped from their negotiating position. Israel is not about to commit demographic suicide.
- They will be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
- They will have to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Ramallah as the capital of Palestine.
- They will need to be reminded that the “green line” is not an officially ratified international border but merely a temporary armistice line, allowing for adjustments that ensure Israel’s retention of strategic depth. For the Palestinian Authority to assume that its proposed or unilaterally declared state would abut the pre-1967 borders is a violation of UN Resolution 242. Moreover, Clause 5(2) of the Rhodes Armistice Agreement of 1949 stipulates that “In no sense are the ceasefire lines to be interpreted as political or territorial borders” and that they do not affect “the final disposition of the Palestine question.”
- They will consent to cease promulgating anti-Jewish hatred in media and mosque and to erase anti-Israeli incitement from textbook and classroom.
- Given Israel’s meager territorial scale and the volatility and inherent violence in the region, especially the aggressive meddling of Iran in local affairs, the smuggling of rockets and other armaments threatening Israel, and the inroads made by al-Qaeda and its offshoots, the Palestinian Authority will be compelled to permit a defensive Israeli presence in the adjacent hill country.
The likelihood of the Palestinian Authority agreeing to even one of these conditions is virtually nil. But in order for a viable peace to take root, all of these conditions would need to be implemented. Further, none of the desiderata I have listed resolves the dilemma of a Hamas terrorist government solidly entrenched in the Gaza Strip and committed to the destruction of Israel. Neither do these terms take into account a bellicose Hezbollah, equipped with 40,000 Iranian and Syrian supplied rockets, camped on Israel’s northern border. The creation of a Palestinian state would do nothing to defuse the tensions in the area and would conceivably only serve to exacerbate them. For even should the above provisions be settled upon, there is no guarantee that the new Palestine would not join the Islamic axis. Ultimately, as Jonathan Spyer cogently argues in The Transforming Fire, the conflict is not really about borders per se. It is simply one aspect of a world-historical clash between a Hydra-headed Islamic collective and a half-dormant Western world, with Israel in the immediate firing line.
Whither, then, peace? A realistic assessment of the situation would indicate that peace, a harmonious resolution of competing agendas, will always recede the closer we seem to be approaching it via road maps, Quartets, direct or indirect negotiations, interim agreements, or any of the diplomatic sedatives currently on offer. According to recent polls, the bottom-up approach adopted by the Israeli government, stoking the Palestinian economy and building its productive base, has not materially altered the fierce anti-Israeli consensus among the populace. As Jonathan Rosenblum writes, “There can be no peace at present — and perhaps ever — because the Palestinians have pursued not a two-state solution, but a two-stage solution, of which the second stage is inevitably the establishment of a unitary Palestinian rule from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Even those Palestinians who profess to support a two-state solution, make clear to pollsters that they do not see it as a final solution, but merely as a stage to a takeover of the Jewish state, which they will never, in any event, recognize as such.”
Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.
But there is another possibility, which is to give up entirely on a “peace process” that, thanks to Palestinian intransigence and Islamic Jew-hatred, is doomed to bankruptcy. An unsentimental view of life would conclude that there are some problems in this world for which there are no good solutions, only modes of containment. Iran is a problem with a solution; Israel/Palestine is not. The modus operandi in the Holy Land, such as it is, involves accepting the necessity of an armed truce, punctuated by occasional pre-emptive strikes and local flare-ups, on the model of managing an incurable disease. For if a disease is incurable, it is utter folly to imagine that it can be made to disappear courtesy of some miraculous cure. And the Middle East disease is, frankly, incurable.
As I wrote in The Big Lie, what I am suggesting is, after all, not something that we regard as unacceptable or morally objectionable in everyday life. We understand that it would be perilous to succumb to unfounded aspirations and pious notions by dismissing facts and embracing unrealistic choices. If we discover that we are suffering from diabetes, there is no point in believing that the disease can be made to reconsider. Rather, we must rely on daily treatment, however irksome it may be.