“Only those can afford peace who can no longer afford war.”
~ Friedrich Duerenmatt
Yassir Arafat’s death has already brought about much unrealistic speculation about the prospects for a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Unrealistic as to a workable timeframe and unrealistic as to the resolution of the underlying strategic issues. If Canada is proceeding on the road to asymmetrical federalism we may reasonably say that the Middle East is mired in asymmetrical polarization.
The brutal terrorism of the Intifada cannot be viewed in the narrow context of two combatants fighting for narrow strips of land. Nor in the decades old rivalry of two leaders. The death of Arafat does not eliminate the fundamental factors feeding the aggression and destabilization.
The aims of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, Hezbollah and a half dozen others, many backed not by frontline participants to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but by Iran, are not merely to sow death and destruction, but also to extend the conflict and embroil other states. The lust by Islamists for worldwide hegemony is reflected regionally in the fanaticism of these groups drive for total domination from the waters of the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It is not at all clear that any Palestinian leadership has control, or influence, over their purposes or passions.
Having suffered through the havoc of some 9,000 terror attacks over the past few years alone that resulted in several thousand dead and tens of thousands injured ,not to mention surviving four wars of aggression by its frontline “neighbours”, any final settlement leading toward a Palestinian state must allow Israel to exploit to the utmost its “responsibility to protect” its citizens and defend its national interests. A doctrine of responsibility advocated by the International Commission on State Sovereignty and Intervention that Canada itself helped create.
The antagonisms toward Israel are evident in the theocratic tyrannies of the Arab world. But what may be less well-known is that these antagonisms are fuelled daily in the areas under the control of the Palestinian authority. Not only in the public pronouncements by politicians and religious diatribes by Imams, but by the teachers and in the textbooks of the young and impressionable.
Over forty percent of the Palestinian population is below the age of fifteen. The inhibition and eradication of the propagation of the demonization of Israel and the Jews will be a generational process. It cannot be accomplished by the end of the mourning period for Arafat. And through this process the ranks of the killer gangs will continue to swell before cresting at their tide.
The imperative to survive will continue to be the primary concern on the agenda of Israels’ leaders. As it must be for the leadership of any nation. Even the United Nations recognized this reality.
It is no coincidence that the wording of Security Council Resolution 242 that brought the Six-Day War to an end, and upon which all peace talks are based, recognizes the need to provide Israel with “…secure and recognized borders…” Implicit in those words was the recognition that the pre-1967 borders failed in this respect. It is also no coincidence that the resolution does not speak about Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories it captured nor even from the territories. It speaks only of withdrawal from territories. As American U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, a former Supreme Court Justice, put it “There have never been secure or recognized boundaries in the area. Neither the Armistice Lines of 1949, nor the Cease-Fire Lines of 1967, have answered that description.”
Notwithstanding, Israel has offered to withdraw more than once. From the first week following its victory in 1967, through Oslo and Madrid, and then all the way to Camp David in 1999. All it wanted in return was peace and recognition. Israel’s first offer was met with the infamous Khartoum Resolution. The Arab frontline states’ three no’s. “No negotiation! No recognition! No peace!” The last, where Arafat was offered 99% of the territories, was also rejected. As Henry Kissinger once remarked, Arafat “…never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity…”
Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian statehood must be predicated on one overriding consideration. What Yigal Allon once termed the “…essential minimums of security…” The current status quo does not meet that criteria. Israel’s supply lines are stretched and the manpower required for its expanded standing army is compromising its military budgets and economic stability.
Most of the territories are without any topographical security value and more importantly fail to protect Israel’s strategic depth. Maybe no lines ever can. There are those who would argue that in an era of modern technological arms such matters are of no concern. But in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict precisely the opposite is true.
Israeli blood is being spilled by conventional arms delivered by the most conventional of means…the human body. The sophisticated Scuds of the first Gulf War never even came close to approximating the current carnage. With all the damage that warheads and missile systems can inflict, they alone cannot be decisive.
The German air “blitz” did not knock England out of World War II nor did the allied bombardments bring Germany to its knees. That only happened when the last bunker in Berlin fell. Massive American air power was no more successful against the North Vietnamese. And even the Gulf, Afghan and Iraq Wars required troops on the ground to finish the job.
This basic truth remains. In conventional war, those without weapons of mass destruction, an attack by ground forces, conventional, guerrilla or terrorist, is necessary for a conflict to be decisive. Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not require the former American-Soviet concept of M.A.D., mutually assured destruction. It does require a new M.A.D. however. Mutually agreed doctrines.
The final status agreements can never be based on any guarantees from foreign powers assuring Israel’s security. No nation can make its very existence dependant upon such assurances in this ever changing world. The last century is littered with the betrayed hopes of trusting states. From France, to Czechoslovakia, to Poland to Hungary. And in Israel’s case it has already witnessed the international community foster unlimited delusions in the minds of Palestinian leaders.
Both sides will have to agree to radically pragmatic compromise. This will be the real test of the new “moderate” Palestinian leadership as well as of Israel’s ability to control its rejectionist right. The Camp David offer will never come again. That is not the starting point. But in return for Israel giving up the overwhelming majority of lands in Judea, Samaria and Gaza the Palestinians would have to concede to strategic security zones particularly needed to protect Israel’s densely populated and vulnerable “neck” along the coastal plain which is only 10-15 miles wide at various points.
The area required would cover approximately 350 square miles almost completely devoid of population. A corridor under Palestinian sovereignty would be delineated permitting uninterrupted access on the Ramallah-Jericho axis. To connect Gaza to the West Bank a land route, not a corridor, would be made available but this route would be under full Israeli administration. The arrangement could be similar to that connecting the United States to Alaska through Canada.
The overriding security issue will be the necessity to demilitarize the new Palestinian entity given the appalling record of the Palestinian Authority’s complicity at worst, and impotence at best, in dealing with Islamic terrorists. Apart from civilian police needed to maintain internal order, the new state would have to be devoid of offensive forces and heavy arms. Any final agreement must be based on a Palestine shorn of all aggressive potential. The platitudes of Palestinian leaders have proved so empty and so hollow too spectacularly and too often.
It is a wide chasm from conflict to conciliation. But a chasm that can be bridged. A bridge built on the foundational recognition that, in the words of President Kennedy, “…civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof…” A proof that the faith, by both sides, of preserving peace has been forged so strongly that it outweighs the fear, by both sides, of appeasing hate.