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The Middle East: A Simple Truth

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If you don’t negotiate a peace, what you will get is war.

So said Juan Cole and, as usual, he hits the nail on the head. Tomorrow, we can look forward to another day of vast damage inflicted upon Lebanon and Gaza, and ever increasing damage on Israel, too. We can look forward to more deaths and more destruction. But it isn’t set in stone, nothing is. It is possible to end this now, if there is a strong enough desire to do so. It involves, unsurprisingly, negotiations. The idea of talking to the other side is not a novel one, it’s not some radical, hippy dream-haze. Other than the complete destruction of Lebanon/Gaza, a negotiated solution is the only way to end the violence.

Let’s take the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The first 20 years of the occupation passed relatively quietly – stones were thrown at tanks, there was occasional violent uprising – and what happened? Israel ignored them, started building its network of illegal settlements and started transferring Jews into occupied territory.

Desperate people became increasingly frustrated, until eventually, after a provocative trigger (Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa mosque), the Palestinians turned to violence. Now, when a state like Israel resorts to violence, it uses an army. We call this “aggression,” or “counter-terrorism,” or “defense,” depending on the situation. The Palestinians, an occupied people living in poverty, have no army, so they use the means they have. We call this “terrorism.”

And now, after several years of using terrorism against the occupier, the Palestinians are in a far better position than they would ever have been if they had stayed peaceful. Up to 1993, the death toll ratio was approximately 10:1. Since the start of the Second Intifada, that has shifted to roughly 3:1. As a result, when a final settlement is reached (and it will be, eventually), the Palestinians are in a much stronger negotiating position, and will get far more from it.

That is the sad truth. But what’s sadder is that Israel keeps following policies, even now, that push people to violence. When the Israelis “withdrew” from Gaza, they did so unilaterally, with no regard whatsoever for the needs of the Palestinians living there. There was no attempt to strengthen the government, or to try and set them up as a successful state. Instead, Israel retained complete military and economic control over Gaza, and still has more control over Palestinians' daily lives than the PA Interior Ministry. When the Palestinians held elections, Israel adopted a policy of aggression and consistent undermining of their chosen government.

What did they think would happen? They left Gaza unilaterally after decades of brutal occupation in an even worse state than if they had stayed — at least then Israel would have had a responsibility of care as an occupier. Did they think grateful Gazans would throng the barren streets in thanks to merciful Israel?

Olmert talks of the unilateral setting of ‘final’ borders in the West Bank — should negotiations fail. Of course, this threat immediately renders meaningless the offer of negotiations, and since Olmert won’t deal with Hamas, is actually an aggressive form of regime change.

What is this supposed to achieve? Olmert drawing a line on a map and saying ‘These are our borders’ doesn’t make it so; for borders to be final they have to be accepted by both sides. Otherwise, there is nothing more ‘final’ about them than Israel’s current borders. And so the violence will continue, until eventually, each side will have suffered enough to force a negotiated settlement to happen. Or, more accurately, the Israeli side will have suffered enough to force it, since it is Israel that has consistently blocked any attempt at serious negotiation.

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  • Clive

    I stopped reading when I reached the first mis-truth near the beginning of the article: “after a provocative trigger (Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa mosque)”.

    In reality, planning for the intifada began after Camp David in July 2000. Sharon’s visit just became a convenient excuse. Imad Falouji, the Palestinian Authority Communications Minister, said in March 2001, “Whoever thinks that this [war] started as a result of Sharon’s despicable visit to Al Aksa is in error. It was planned since Arafat’s return from Camp David [where he] firmly stood up to Clinton and rejected the U.S. terms.”

    The Heathlander’s distortion of the facts at the beggining of the article, don’t bode well for the objectivity and factual accuracy for the rest of the article.

    BEST TO AVOID THIS PIECE OF FICTION

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    Well, different people have different views on that – most likely is that the frustration felt by the Palestinians as they saw the failure of the peace talks to achieve anything built and built until, finally, the Sharon visit was one annoyance too many and it all kicked off. That’s why I said ‘trigger’ and not ’cause’.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Clive nailed it. Your piece reads well. It goes down like chocolate pudding – filled with Ex Lax. It is unfortunately, more fiction than fact. The Oslo peace trash you keep pushing died in July, 2000.

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    I most certainly do not push an ‘Oslo peace’, and even less a Camp David peace.

    I advocate *serious* negotiations, negotiations where Israel actually offers terms that a Palestinian government could find acceptable. So not Camp David, then.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    You don’t negotioate with someone who can’t be trusted, Jamie. If you can’t avoid dealing with him, you have to kill him. The Arabs have not stuck to a single line of the agreements they have signed. They have bombarded Jewish villages and pursued war, aided by a traitorous regime in Jerusalem.

    The closest Arab in power around here who can be trusted in the head of Hamas. He can be trusted to try to kill every Jew he can. So he too, has to be killed, so that we might live.