Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Palestinian Paradox

Jerusalem Post 1-15-10 ZVI MAZEL

In spite of Israel's ongoing dialogue with the United States to search for the right formula for the resumption of talks, the position taken by the Obama administration, and the unfair pressure exerted by the European Union, have brought down the fragile structure which had previously made negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians possible.

Though these negotiations did not bring about the desired peace, they did constitute an agreed channel for discussions between the two parties and brought about, for instance, the Olmert government's agreement to an American proposal to train Palestinian forces in Jordan under the supervision of Gen. Keith Dayton, thus paving the way for the creation of a regular Palestinian fighting force trained with Western methods.

This was a major concession and a risky one. This force is intended to keep order in Judea and Samaria, but who is to say that it would not turn against Israel under different circumstances? Israel has shown a greater willingness in the past year to meet the Palestinians halfway, as exemplified by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech recognizing the two-state principle.

Then there was the 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements.

HOWEVER, BUOYED by US President Barack Obama's intense wooing of the Muslim world, the Palestinian Authority has chosen the opposite course, refusing to come back to the negotiation table and launching an all-out diplomatic, media and legal war against the Jewish state. The EU is ratcheting up the pressure, and has issued a declaration calling for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and for Jerusalem to become the capital of both countries. This would, in effect, render negotiations useless by determining their outcome from the outset.

It is as if the world has forgotten that Israel already made the most extraordinary concessions at Camp David and in Taba. Yasser Arafat not only turned down the Israeli proposals, he did not make any counter-proposition. The same scenario played out at Annapolis in 2008. According to a lengthy Al-Jazeera interview with Saeb Erekat on March 27, prime minister Ehud Olmert made even greater concessions, but that was not enough for PA President Mahmoud Abbas: He walked out when Olmert suggested a joint administration of the Temple Mount.

Erekat also said that when US president Bill Clinton told Arafat at Camp David that he would be the first president of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, but that he had to recognize the fact that vestiges of the Temple were buried under the Aksa Mosque and there would have to be joint administration of the Temple Mount, Arafat put an end to the negotiations.

THERE WAS no Israeli denial following these revelations, and recent interviews by Abbas and Olmert support Erekat's version - though the latest round of negotiations carried out by Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni enjoyed a degree of secrecy rarely seen here. As such, the extent of the concessions the two leaders had been ready to make was kept under wraps - perhaps for fear of the impact on the coming elections.

That was a colossal miscalculation. The Knesset, the country and the world should have been told that the extremely generous terms offered to the Palestinians had been turned down, putting the blame squarely on Abbas. Such a step would have gone a long way to defuse the situation with Obama and his advisers. It seems that the new government led by Netanyahu had not been fully conversant with the details of the failed negotiations and was thus ill prepared to deal with the accusations leveled against it.

Then came the Goldstone Report. The main message there is not so much the totally unfounded accusations of war crimes but an attempt to limit the extent to which Israel is "allowed" to use force to defend itself against terrorist organizations. Such a move was not totally unexpected coming from the UN, especially from the Committee on Human Rights, where Islamic and Arab countries have a decisive voice.

What was not expected was that it would lead, for instance, to the White House asking for "clarifications" following a recent operation in Nablus. (In a confrontation with Israeli security forces, three terrorists who had murdered a father of seven were killed.) This demand, made at the request of the Palestinian Authority, constitutes a dangerous precedent. Coupled with the Goldstone Report, it tends to present a difficult dilemma to the government and to the security forces when contemplating military intervention.

AT THE same time, terrorist organizations, at the behest of some Arab countries, will be able to keep attacking our citizens while sheltering behind their civilians, in hospitals, in schools and in mosques. Hamas and Hizbullah proclaim on every available channel that they will never recognize Israel and will fight until it has disappeared - without causing an international furor. In fact, Arab organizations, supported by leftist Western groups, are busy getting arrest warrants issued in European countries having relevant legislation against Israeli leaders and army officers for "war crimes," calling for boycotting Israeli products and demonstrating their support for Gaza.

In each and every successive confrontation, Arab states and Palestinian movements have been defeated. Now they are seeking other ways to harass Israel. They are waging an all-out media war to blacken its image and ultimately delegitimize its very existence. They are helped in this endeavor by hundreds of leftist organizations and civil society movements in the West. For them Israel is a neo-colonial power, as is the US. But Israel is easier prey because of its size and isolation.

Anti-Semitism is also at work here. Palestinian and Arab media, with the full support of the Islamic establishment in Arab countries, use every anti-Semitic cliché in the book, and some of that leached into the West where it led to a renewal of classic European anti-Semitism.

Reviled, isolated, the Jewish state is thus facing what is rapidly becoming a strategic threat on its very legitimacy and existence.

Here lies the Palestinian paradox: While Israel has made great efforts to move toward a solution, Palestinian leaders, riding the crest of favorable public opinion in the West, are becoming more and more intransigent - and it is Israel which takes the blame.

The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden

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