Monday, December 8, 2008

On becoming a peace partner

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations is a pleasurable blog to read. Not because of its contents, mind you, but because it's clearly and elegantly written, and us language professionals do appreciate good craftsmanship in the art of joining words together when we spot it.

Still, you can write good English and make wrong arguments. One idea that runs through much of Lozowick's writing is that Israel is prepared to make peace any time, only the Palestinians have failed to come up with a viable proposal. A recent post summarizes this thinking:

The pattern from Saadat onwards, including Netanyahu in 1996-9, has always been that when an Arab leader appears who is capable of delivering, his Israeli counterpart will rise to the challenge. Especially since the Israeli electorate will always back the move, and given we're such a pro-active electorate, that's the crucial consideration.

There is no scenario in which a Palestinian (or other Arab) leader makes a credible offer of peace and the Israeli electorate turns him down. But I don't see the opposite, either: no Israeli leader can make a real offer unless there's a real Palestinian (or other Arab) leader to make it too.

Actually, there's an Arab peace offer on the table -- the Arab Peace Initiative, which was formulated in 2002 and has not been withdrawn. The Israeli electorate has turned it down by not demanding from its leaders that they seriously consider the proposal. Since the offer provides for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and all Arab League countries (an unprecedented move of revolutionary consequences), one would expect an Israeli leader to "rise to the challenge," but it hasn't happened.

But even if no Arab offer were on the table -- would it mean Israel wants peace but has no one to negotiate with?

Those who think so appear to believe that a peace process begins when a peace offer is made. Not so. A big -- a fundamental -- step towards peace is to remove the obstacles to that peace that may exist.

In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one major obstacle are the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. It may not be the most important obstacle, but it's a major one, and it's in Israel's power to remove it. It's not like the Palestinian Authority can any time it wishes go with bulldozers and tear down the settlers' illegal outposts.

What can Israel do about the settlers? Ideally, it should jail them when they go on rampages, assaulting Palestinians, burning fields and trees, smashing cars and desecrating cemeteries. This would involve, of course, massive arrests in Kiriat Arba and Hebron proper, Tapuah, Susia, Maon and elsewhere, but then Israel has some experience in wholesale detentions. But it hasn't happened and it won't happen. Some point to the practical difficulty of such law enforcement, but the fact that justice is not easy to do is no excuse not to do it.

If Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers, however, it could at least not back them. Experience shows, however, that Israeli governments have thrown the full State support behind the settlers. Every time the settlers set up an outpost on private Palestinian land, the State rushes to provide it with electric power, clean water, phone lines and, most important of all, military protection. In fact, the Sassoon report found that even the trailers for the outposts were provided by the State.

But even if Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers and is not prepared to stop providing material support to them either, it could at the very least not accord official status to new settlements. But even in this symbolic field Israel is failing. Earlier this year, at the same time that Prime Minister Olmert was busy denouncing the settlers, Defense Minister Barak approved a new civilian settlement in Maskiyot, the first one in a decade, where only military facilities had been allowed before.

In sum, Israel could, proactively, remove obstacles its own citizens have created, so as to pave the way for negotiations when a credible Arab leader arises; but it has failed to do so. Pardon my antisemitism, but I just can't see any hint of Palestinian responsibility there.

It may well be that Israel has no credible partner for peace; we haven't even gotten into that in this post. But one thing is clear: it has a long way to go before it itself becomes one.

1 comment:

Dr. Health said...

In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one major obstacle are the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.