Magazine article Tikkun

Strategy of the Israeli Right: Keep the U.S. Out

Magazine article Tikkun

Strategy of the Israeli Right: Keep the U.S. Out

Article excerpt

The main locus of political struggle for Middle East peace is shifting to focus on the role of the United States; the peace movement will plead with the United States to take decisive steps to pressure Israel toward accepting a Palestinian state willing to live in peace with Israel, while the supporters of Occupation will push for the United States to stay outside the conflict and to let the parties involved decide for themselves.

Netanyahu and Arafat have argued so intensely over how much land should be returned to the Palestinians in Stage II of the process because both sides know that it is extremely unlikely that there will ever be any further Israeli withdrawals as long as the Israeli government is dominated by right-wing forces. If Netanyahu's claim that a withdrawal from 13 percent of the land would constitute a security threat to Israel is true, then that claim will be equally true and hence unacceptable whether or not we call the negotiations "Stage II" or "Final Settlement." Nor is Bibi lying-further withdrawals would be a security threat if you think "Israeli security" includes security for settlements set up in the West Bank for the sole purpose of blocking significant concessions of land for peace, filled with provocateurs who would be happy to die for the sake of maintaining their supposedly God-given right to possess the entire biblical Land of Israel. Such settlements are, of course, extremely vulnerable to Palestinian rage, precisely because of their goals and their flagrant land grabs. If we allow right-wing cabinet minister Ariel Sharon to define Israel's borders, as he explicitly said he was doing in the 1980s when he helped create these West Bank settlements, then we simultaneously give credibility to Israeli security worries.

Those Israelis who designed the Oslo accords are now saying publicly what they promised Arafat privately: that by this stage Palestinians were supposed to have had more than 50 percent of the disputed land under their control, and that the final settlement was to have given them almost all of the West Bank except for some small revision of boundaries to satisfy security concerns and to incorporate some of the settlements closest to the pre-1967 "Green line" (the rest would have either been dismantled or agreed to live in peace as a Jewish minority within a Palestinian state).

Arafat has shown considerable flexibility in accommodating U.S. demands that he shrink his request for Stage Two withdrawals from 30 percent to 13 percent, and he has complied with Israeli and U.S. demands for crackdowns on suspected terrorists (nothing amazing about the latter, since in doing so he also cracks down on domestic dissent, as Bassem Eid explained in TIKKUN May/June 1998).We have little sympathy for the authoritarian regime of Yassir Arafat, and even less for the terrorists of Hamas. We support instead the democratic forces among the Palestinians, forces most effectively represented by Azmi Bishara (whose words in this issue of TIKKUN and in our Nov./Dec. 1997 issue provide a very different kind of direction for the Palestinian people both inside and outside the Green line). But we also recognize that Arafat is in power, that his proposed Palestinian state will at least give the Palestinians the bare minimum of self-respect that they need, and hence will provide them with a genuine incentive to abandon terrorism. And Arafat's pragmatism is in sharp contrast to the arrogant rejectionism that motivates Netanyahu even as the latter goes through the motions of participating in a peace process.

Given Netanyahu's determination to prevent a Palestinian state from arising on the West Bank, his desire to enter final settlement talks without significant prior concessions is shrewd. Netanyahu knows he has a public relations "trump" card to offset any pressure on him to make significant concessions in those final talks: Jerusalem. Netanyahu will effectively use his refusal to negotiate even a symbolic presence for a Palestinian state in Jerusalem as his excuse for why a final settlement agreement can never be reached with the Palestinians. …

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