Sham Mideast Peace Talks: What It Really Means When They Say 'Contiguous'
This week the Israeli-Palestinian talks moved from Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai to Jerusalem, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell accompanying and participating.
Mitchell, asked in a press conference about the U.S. position on Israel’s calling on the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, replied:
We have said many times that our vision is for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish, democratic state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable, independent, sovereign, and contiguous state of Palestine. ... But of course, this is one of many sensitive issues that the parties will need to resolve themselves.
Apart from Mitchell’s refusal to take a stand on the issue -- after having stated quite unequivocally that Israel should cave to the Palestinians’ demand to extend Israel’s settlement moratorium after September 26 -- what stands out in the quote’s otherwise familiar verbiage is the word "contiguous."
Having started to crop up under the Bush administration, “contiguous” is taken to mean that the Palestinian state would have to be devoid of any Israeli civilian or military presence in its West Bank part. Also, the Palestinian state must be connected to its Gaza part with some sort of corridor that would crisscross Israel.
Note, then, that Mitchell’s platitude about the parties resolving the issues themselves does not jibe with the force of the word "contiguous." If he had said: “We believe Israel must maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank mountain ridge, but this is an issue for the parties to work out themselves,” the first rather than the latter part of the statement -- in this, unfortunately, wholly hypothetical case -- would have resonated much more loudly for the Palestinian side.
Mitchell, in other words, took a position inimical to Israel and disguised it in false neutrality.
Regarding the West Bank, “contiguous” implies the forced removal of tens of thousands of Israelis living there (for the Israeli public’s opposition to this, see here and here). It also implies the absence of any Israeli military or intelligence capabilities in the territory, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly emphasizes Israel’s crucial West Bank-related security concerns.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has released a report on Hamas’s summer camps for children. The report notes that this summer in Gaza, about 100,000 children and adolescents -- the same total as last year -- attended the camps:
[Hamas views the camps as] an important means for indoctrinating them with its radical Islamist ideology of jihad. ... In addition to indoctrination, Hamas operatives provided paramilitary training. Banners were hung on the walls with slogans extolling jihad and death for the sake of Allah. ... Other prominent motifs this year [included] manifestations of hatred for Israel and the Jews.
The report’s photos are even more dramatic than its words.
Even worse than the rain of rockets and mortars now falling on Israel from Gaza is the reality of these camps. The shelling of Israeli communities is an acute problem in the present. The camps promise continuing problems in the future -- far into the future.
If so, it is difficult to know what Mitchell and the administration he represents have in mind regarding their contiguous Palestinian state. Would Israel be obligated to provide “safe passage” to the West Bank, and back, for the teachers, students, and graduates of the summer camps? What would prevent the transfer back and forth of terror operatives, weapons, plans, and know-how?
When it comes to Hamas, the U.S. seems to want to have it both ways. It was the Bush administration that pressured Israel to allow the organization to participate in the 2006 Palestinian elections. When Hamas won, the U.S. was surprised -- but it was Israel that had to deal with the situation. Now -- four years, thousands of rocket attacks, a war, and tens of thousands of jihad-trained Palestinian children later -- the Obama administration still talks breezily about peace and contiguity.
Nor should the spotlight only be on Gaza and Hamas. A survey last month by the Palestinian polling agency AWRAD suggests that the two parts of the prospective Palestinian state would find much contiguity of ideology and purpose.
Conducted among both Gaza and West Bank Palestinians, the survey found 78 percent saying it was “essential” that “the final status of Palestine and Israel” consist of “Historic Palestine -- from the Jordan River to the sea as a national homeland for Palestinians.” The survey found that 87.5 percent rated the right of “refugees” to “return” to Israel (thereby liquidating it demographically) as “essential.” And 84 percent called it “essential” that “all of Jerusalem (East and West)” be part of the Palestinian state.
The situation is eerily familiar: the talk of peace, the meetings and handshakes, while Israelis are subjected to terror attacks; the studious ignoring of elephants in the room. It will continue, and get worse, until the practice of treating Israel and the Palestinians as morally equivalent players in a rational game ends.