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Jewish World Review
Jan. 5, 2006
/5 Teves, 5766
Peace after Sharon
"The only thing that's going to solve this," Steven Spielberg told Time magazine, "is rational minds, a lot of sitting and talking until you're blue in the gills." This, I suppose, is what goes for heavy thinking in Hollywood.
Imagine Dreamworks negotiating with Paramount if the latter were continually shooting up the former. So maybe before the Israelis and Palestinians sit down with each other as they've done innumerable times over the years, at Camp David and Oslo and secret hideouts for very long periods, even producing hopes that many credulous folk took for real the Palestinians should sit down just with one another and decide whether they truly are a nation and what that nation promises its people. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd have been a pushcart.
The fact is that, as no-nonsense Golda said many years ago, the Arabs of Palestine don't behave like a nation. No, this doesn't mean they shouldn't have a state. All kinds of rumps have states, and just about every one of these states is represented at the United Nations where many of them cover for each other over the mortal crimes they inflict on their own populations, like Libya for Sudan, or, for that matter, China for virtually every violator of human rights on the planet.
Actually, a fictive Palestine has already been counted as a virtual member state for decades, and this has given first Arafat and now his successors the standing to hijack the proceedings of the General Assembly so that much of its business has been devoted to how awfully the Jews treat the Arabs. And, in any case, haven't the Palestinians already declared their independence at least twice?
Now, it's not as if the Palestinians agree as to who represents them, not by a long shot. A significant percentage believes there is nothing to talk about anyway, except possibly the practical details of Israel's dissolution. Of course, the Israeli government negotiates with the Palestinian Authority, mostly under the auspices of Washington, although for some reason Russia, the European Union, and even the United Nations are occasionally made to feel that they are also playing hostess. But the P.A. has very little authority, and it seems sometimes to revel in its helplessness, likely as an explanation of why it can't enforce the few arrangements to which it has agreed. It's not surprising that, in such a circumstance, the peace-process interlopers are always looking for someone else to jump start the process.
For years, the liberal professoriat in America had anointed Edward Said in the role. But he turned out to be a yarn spinner: His much retailed personal history of exile was intricately fabricated. Then there was Hanan Ashrawi who has plumb disappeared, more or less, with the death of Peter Jennings and the disappearance of Ted Koppel.
All through this period, there was also the truly upright personage of Sari Nusseibeh, made to compete with these two unguent-incendiaries. Nusseibeh is, after all, a serious intellectual (B.A. from Christ Church, Oxford; PhD from Harvard) and a genuinely moderate man. He shows up at whatever meeting is convened to advance the peace process with Israel. Alas, he carries little weight among his own. He knows this himself, the point having been amply made when he was beaten up at his own Bir Zeit University during the first intifada.
So, in the year when the Palestinians were finally sorting out what happens after Yasir Arafat, Nusseibeh was my neighbor in Cambridge crafting a memoir with some trusted scribe at the Radcliffe Institute. His alleged sins are not all his own. His family was widely respected through the ages, which is why its members have been custodians of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since the twelfth century. They were especially trusted by the British and the Jordanians, in itself transgressions according to the other dominant locals, especially the Husseinis from which tree both Arafat and Haj Amin, the notorious Hitler ally installed by the Crown's ever-accommodating Jewish High Commissioner as the first "Grand" Mufti of Jerusalem, hailed. The Husseinis still carry enormous weight among the clans and tribes of Palestine, sort of capo de capo.
You don't hear much about these bewildering social formations until a long-festering inter-family (or intra-family) feud suddenly erupts and blood is shed, as it has recently with special regularity in Gaza. Journalists and academics somehow think it patronizing to recognize these antiquarian kinship groups with their raw emotions as political actors when their rhetoric strains so pompously to modernity. It would be especially insulting since their Jewish antagonists are the quintessential carriers of progress in the Middle East, those damned Zionists with their advanced science-based economy, independent judiciary, free press, hi-tech military in which individual soldiers still take responsibility and command respect, and promotion in the ranks by competence and ingenuity in the defense activities of the state.
But political allegiances among the Palestinians are cemented by just those more primitive which is to say, primal ties. G-d only knows why you can talk about these with regard to Sicily but not when it comes to Palestine. In any case, the truth is that Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa, the Popular Resistance Committee, and other armed gangs and ganglets of the national movement, such as it is, are each defined partly by ideology, partly by bloodlines. A whole village may vote for the headman's pick, which until he tells you is anyone's guess.
The withdrawal from Gaza by Israel was supposed to be a test. OK, not of everything but of something. Take your pick. That the hudna (ceasefire) would hold. It didn't. Islamic Jihad hadn't even signed on to the contract. It carried out several successful terrorist attacks and day in, day out launched rockets from Gaza deeper and deeper into pre-1967 Israel. But, in a way, even more serious is the fact that the most protracted war by Qassam projectiles was waged by armed elements of Fatah, the P.A. president's own political party.
What about security undertakings with regard to Gaza's border with Egypt?
Again a failure.
Weapons and terrorists have surged, not seeped, through the frontier that is also "guaranteed" by various European well-wishers. Is there elemental public order on the streets?
Not at all.
What about the assumption that there would be sufficient pressure from the Palestinian public for the P.A. to feel obliged to take control of the streets? Not enough pressure or not enough will to take control. The P.A. is still the most heavily armed force in Gaza. No matter: Militias battle police, police battle other police, gangs brawl with other gangs; there are revenge killings, aimless killings, kidnappings, bombings, clubbings, mutilations, some pointless, some unmistakably pointed. Chaos rules in Gaza, utter mayhem. "It appears as if Gaza has degenerated into anarchy," explains CNN.
There has been a steady outflow of pro-Palestinian NGO personnel from the Strip, some out of panic, some from a realization that the Palestinian revolution, so called, is animated by bloodlust. According to The Times of London, one British aid worker who was recently held hostage by gunmen for three days told her kidnappers, "I came to work with these people and I feel like I've been stabbed in the back." Is this the future of Palestine?
The present P.A. seems desperately to want to find an excuse for postponing parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank. It may have found a pretext in Israel's stated refusal to allow voting to take place in Jerusalem since Hamas, which fundamentally rejects the existence of Israel, would be on the ballot. But the real reason is that the Abbas crowd fears that it will be utterly upended by Hamas.
Another reason is that, even if Fatah wins, the habitually corrupt present leadership will be demoted by the younger (not so young, actually) cadres who forced their way on to the party's slate by threatening to run their own if they were not given favored spots. At the head of their list is Marwan Barghouti, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for as many acts of mass murder.
How has all this registered in Israel? The fact is that almost no one any longer believes in a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. Not because sensible and humane Israelis can't imagine a fair divide of the land between the river and the sea. But because Gaza has truly shown them that there are let's be perfectly frank no Palestinians with whom to treat. Oh, Israel will bargain on this point and that, so far as George Bush insists and pushes Jerusalem. So, even when Palestinian rockets slam into Israeli towns and villages and army bases, the Sharon government will agree to some formula for Palestinian travel between Gaza and the West Bank, as it is about to do. But the government knows that, whatever security assurances are given for this unprecedented passage, they will not hold as not a single security assurance from the Palestinians has ever held. There is no dispute: This is the record.
The unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was a wager on the sanity of the Palestinian polity. The betters lost. I still believe that it was a wise move, but for purely Israeli reasons. Still, Israel may find that its forces will have to re-enter Gaza to deliver punishing blows to the Palestinians who cannot win but hold their own population hostage to their bellicosity. It even may be that Israel will decide to pit the local inhabitants against their captors, which it could do by turning off for an hour or many hours a day the electricity it has continued to provide to Gaza despite unrelenting provocation. It is remarkable that Israel has resisted so long taking what must be a very tempting step.
All this has consequences for the West Bank. Sooner or later, and particularly if there is a withdrawal from the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, rockets and missiles will be as common there as they are in Gaza and Lebanon. Already, Al Qaeda has claimed (and Israeli intelligence has confirmed) that it was responsible for at least one rocket attack on Israel proper. The Hezbollah tie to Iran, with its imminent nuclear designs and delirious president, only exacerbates a very precarious situation. In any case, those who casually promote the notion that Israel should disengage from here, there, nearly everywhere close to the 1949 lines are proposing that the Jewish state commit suicide. Virtually the entire country, including Ben Gurion Airport, would be vulnerable to even simple weaponry. I'm afraid that sitting and talking until you're blue in the gills won't quite do.
Fortunately, the Israeli population is as undeceived as its present government and its future one, too.
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JWR contributor Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief of The New Republic. Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, Martin Peretz