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.