Rushing into peace

A reckless peace, just like a reckless war, will benefit neither party

By Nathan Bloom

Why is it that the same people who blame President Bush for cramming democracy down the throats of Iraqis are so often the same people who encourage his successor to cram peace down the throats of Israelis and Palestinians? Perhaps this realist/idealist schizophrenia can be explained as follows: They won’t support a reckless war, but they will support a reckless peace.

A disclaimer: I support the creation of a Palestinian state encompassing almost all of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. But just as rushing into a war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a foolish mistake despite the nobility of its goal—the creation of a free Iraqi state—so too is rushing into a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. There are some who say that “time is running out” for a two-state solution to the conflict, among them Ehud Olmert, Israel’s current prime minister, and Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister and successor to Olmert as head of the centrist Kadima Party. Don’t listen to them. Remember Saddam Hussein, the ticking time bomb, who absolutely needed to be deposed before things got even worse in the Middle East?

Needless to say, Bush and his pro-war backers did not listen when told that Iraq’s social fabric was so badly mutilated that it would hardly sustain a secure and well functioning democracy, at least not before a monstrous bloodbath. To the Bush faction, the feasibility of the objective seemed to increase in direct proportion to its desirability.

Those who look forward to the next “Mission Accomplished” banner can take heart in the knowledge that a reckless peace between Israelis and Palestinians is certainly feasible, however difficult it would be to implement. The onus for such a peace is squarely on Israel. Everyone already knows what it would look like: Israel would somehow find the resolve to expel tens of thousands of its citizens from most of the West Bank, maintain the populous settlements close to the Green Line while exchanging an equivalent amount of land to the Palestinians from its pre-1967 territory, withdraw its military completely from the West Bank, cede East Jerusalem, and wait for the Palestinians to establish a new state without the Palestinians having first offered any credible commitments to long-term peace in return.

Like the “shock and awe” phase of the Iraq War, this peace would feel good for a short while. Then reality would kick in. Hamas, the most popular and effective Palestinian political party, will not abruptly drop its sacrosanct belief that the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state is a duty incumbent upon all capable Muslims. Hamas warriors, who have spent their lives intoxicated by the joy of war, will not suddenly find personal fulfillment in changing diapers. They will continue the fight against Israel, only this time the result will not be an intifada—it will be a war between two sovereign states.

Or perhaps the moderates will win the day? Moderates like Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who wrote in his doctoral dissertation that the Nazis murdered only a few hundred thousand Jews during World War II and that these were the victims of Nazi–Zionist collaboration, but claimed recently that Israeli security operations in Gaza constituted a “holocaust.” Moderates such as those of the Fatah faction, on whose television station appeared a map of all Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank under the single heading of “Palestine.” Moderates like the majority of Palestinians, 84 percent of whom supported a March 2008 terrorist attack in which a gunman entered a Jewish religious seminary in Jerusalem and, with a machine gun, systematically butchered students he knew to be noncombatants.

Liberal idealists tacitly admit that the climate won’t be right for a meaningful peace anytime soon when they pretend that timing is everything in negotiations and that, as peace activist Daniel Levy argues, “Closing the details of an Israeli–Palestinian deal cannot be left to the parties themselves—the emotional baggage weighs too heavily.” Out of desperation, they delude themselves into thinking that the diplomatic acrobatics of the peace process will enable the two factions to permanently set aside their disagreements—on the one day of the week that they don’t hate each other’s guts.

But as Jerusalem Post columnist Liat Collins has pointed out, “How can you make real peace while holding a stopwatch?” Like democracy, peace between parties with irreconcilable differences takes a great deal of time to flower. It requires generations of slow changes and difficult adjustments. On the bright side, American policymakers are beginning to recognize this, building peace from the ground up by promoting efforts to develop the Palestinian economy and working with Jordan to train Palestinian security forces that have now restored order to what was once the gang-ridden West Bank city of Jenin. In large part because of these efforts, the Palestinian economy expanded by more than three percent this year in spite of the global recession. Because the newly trained security forces have been so successful in Jenin, burnishing Palestinians’ dignity and self-confidence in the process, look for them soon in cities throughout the West Bank. Next up: Hebron.