Political scientists reviewing this period in history in the future will be puzzled by a phenomenon. While diplomacy speeded toward a rapid resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, facts on the ground pulled the conflict in the opposite direction. Drawn by two opposing forces, of equal strength, the result was therefore not movement but stasis. The region, it might be recorded, descended into its worst outbreak of violence in over three decades at the very moment peacemakers found themselves proclaiming a final historic breakthrough .
Bad intentions are rarely the cause of failed diplomacy. But when the diplomats fail to examine – or even care to examine – the true situation on the ground, diplomacy is doomed. This is certainly the case with the current attempts to graft a new peace process onto the Middle East. There remain, between Israelis and Palestinians, four insuperable problems that the road map fails entirely to address:
1. There can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians without the elimination of fanatical anti-Semitism in the Arab world.
The root cause of the Middle East conflict is not settlements, occupation or refugees but the unwillingness of every Arab government in the region to abide the presence of a Jewish state in their midst. Anti-Semitism in newspapers, in journals, in academic institutions and on television – all supported or controlled by a central Arab government – provide the fuel that keeps the Arab-Israeli conflict crackling in the heart of Arab society. All Arab governments must be pressured to cease the incitement before long-term prospects of peace can be realized.
2. There can be no peace between Arabs and Israelis without a fundamental re-orientation of the Palestinian people toward acceptance of the Jewish people’s historical and spiritual ties to the land.
For nearly 10 years, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, in violation of the Oslo Accords and in contempt of its own public avowals of peace, has fostered a venomous campaign of hatred toward Israel and a denial of Israel’s legitimacy. Most egregious was Arafat’s claim, at Camp David in July 2000, that Judaism’s most revered site, the Temple Mount, never housed either the First or Second Temples (which denies any claim of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and by association, to the land of Israel itself).
Even as the diplomats meet to discuss the outlines of a would-be peace, the Palestinian media continue to issue a steady torrent of invective against Israel’s supposed colonialism and usurpation.
3. There can be no peace without a Palestinian disavowal of the right of return.
The Camp David talks in the summer of 2000 foundered on it and all future talks between the sides will as well. The Palestinian expectation that 3 million Palestinians or their descendants will have the right to return to their homes in pre-1948 Israel is tantamount to declaring that a pre-condition for peace is the dismantlement of the modern state of Israel.
No Israeli government – even one of the far left – would accept such an absurd proposition. It will take a pragmatic Palestinian leadership to appreciate that failure to abort this platform will lead to the collapse of all future talks. It is not yet clear if such pragmatism resides in the consciousness of any significant Palestinian leader.
4. There can be no peace in the Middle East without the death of Yasser Arafat.
There is one man who now stands in the way of any serious commitment of the Palestinian leadership to meaningful peace negotiations. Although the United States has taken great pains to isolate Yasser Arafat – insisting on the elimination of his political influence as a precondition to negotiations, the Palestinian chairman still clings tenaciously to power.
Even if removed from the political scene, Arafat alive will remain a revolutionary symbol and father figure whose iron grip on the Palestinian imagination will not be easily dislodged. In exile he will remain a force to contend with, interfering through his proxies in the decisions and direction of his successors. The Palestinians’ true liberation will only begin when he is dead. How this may eventuate rests in the hands of the Palestinians themselves. But without its occurrence, the Middle East is fated to travel the grinding road of violence, not peace.
Many have claimed that all of the obstacles listed above will be overcome once the Israelis provide Palestinians with the confidence of eventual statehood. But this is a chimera. The fundamental problems of the Middle East have little to do with such practical matters as territory or nationalistic ambitions. They are ruled by emotion – vengeance, hatred and hubris.
It is only when this salient point seeps into diplomatic consciousness that Middle East mediation, even if well meaning, will have any lasting impact on Arab-Israeli relations. Until then the much reputed road map is likely to operate only as a repository for clever journalistic puns and almost certainly as just another forgotten document in the already bulging archive of failed Middle East diplomacy.
Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and the senior editorial columnist for the online magazine Jewsweek.