There’s something afoot in the West Bank which is going widely unreported in the media.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been widely reported as either rejecting or being equivocal about a two-state solution and he is therefore depicted as being an impediment to progress on any “Peace Plan”.
The view of the new government is that previous attempts at peace have only lead to Israeli concessions and Palestinian violence. The Netanyahu plan for the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank is an amelioration of restrictions, increased economic co-operation, removal of settlements deemed illegal by the Israeli courts and a strategy of raising Palestinian living standards.
All this is tempered by an insistence on the right to expand existing settlements which is widely regarded as being an infraction of the Road Map and decidely frowned upon by the Obama adminstration which sees settlement freeze as a first step towards a “peace plan” and bringing the Arab countries on side.
But look at what is actually happening in the West Bank which is hardly reported and which the Israelis appear to be coy about or at least showing their usual woeful inability to win any propaganda battle.
The IDF today revealed the following:
Yesterday, June 2nd, 2009, the Rimonim and Bir Zeit roadblocks located in the Binyamin region, near Ramallah were removed. This step was taken following a meeting between [various IDF chiefs] and the Head of the Palestinian Security Forces in charge of civilian affairs in the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, Hassin el-Sheik.
… it was decided, in accordance with decisions made by the Israeli government, to take various steps which would significantly improve the daily life of Palestinian civilians in the Judea and Samaria region. A number of security coordination meetings have taken place this year, resulting in a range of steps designed to widen Palestinian free movement, to strengthen the Palestinian Security Forces and the Palestinian economy.
The Rimonim roadblock, located east of Ramallah was completely removed yesterday, allowing free passage from the city to the Jordan Valley area. The Bir Zeit roadblock, located north of Ramallah, which was also removed yesterday, now allowing quick passage from the city to the villages to the north.
Furthermore, Atzira A-Shamalia, a central checkpoint located near Nablus, will now operate 24 hours a day, easing movement in the area.
These steps were taken to widen the free movement of the Palestinian population and are in addition to the 145 roadblocks which were removed in the past year.
During the meeting, it was also decided to finalize the process granting Palestinian businessmen permits to pass through Israeli crossings into Israel. This will allow the businessman and public figures who play an important role in the Palestinian economy greater freedom to conduct their business.
So it’s no wonder that Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post
“in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”
The IDF still operates in the West Bank. It has to to protect Israeli citizens and to thwart terror attacks. But increasingly the Palestinian Authority police, many of whom are trained in the US, are managing to control Hamas and even cooperate on security with Israel.
The situation is always complex; there have been PA inspired attacks and even clashes with the IDF, but it is an improving situation.
So this is the Netanyahu peace plan: if you improve a people’s standard of life and their daily conditions, they will be less inclined to hate, less inclined to lose what they have by continued aggression, more inclined to live side by side.
This is not a final settlement. It delays it. But what are the Israelis to do? Whilst Obama remains obsessed with settlements the PA has already admitting rejecting former President Ehud Olmert’s offer of 97% of the West Bank without any serious attempt at negotiation. Whilst all Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, remain maximalist and look forward to the destruction of Israel there can be no meaningful negotiation because there is no sincerity from the Palestinians, merely political manipulation to move ever-closer to their maximalist goal of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea”.
And what does King Abdullah of Jordan mean when he says:
“If we delay our peace negotiations, then there is going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months.”
What does he have in mind? How much more than Ehud Olmert, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak have previously offered is required for peace. How much of Israel is to be dismantled or destroyed for the sake of this peace?
The answer to that queston appears to be: all of Jerusalem, all of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and allowing up to four million “refugees” into Israel. This is not a recipe for peace but for an escalation in the conflict, pushing the Israelis further to the Right.
But even that is only a first step, not for Hamas who refuse to recognise Israel and want to kill all Jews, not for Hizbullah who refuse to recognise and want to kill all Jews, but for the Palestinian Authority run by Fatah who have never given up their goal of destroying Israel; they have just changed tactics.
This is the reality that is brushed under the carpet by everyone except the Netanyahu government. This is why he sees Iran as the pressing problem and not gesture politics with duplicitous peace partners.
The Saudi Plan vaunted by King Abdullah of Jordan which would normalise relations between Israel and the Arab/Muslim world is attractive, but not at any price. It was Lord Carendon, the UK’s UN ambassador in 1967 who said of Abba Eban’s offer of reconciliation with the Arab states: “Never in the history of warfare did the victor sue for peace, and the vanquished refuse”. Now we have the vanquished setting the terms of that peace.
After forty years of refusals from one side and unilateral concessions from the other it is, as always, Israel who is being cast as the impediment to peace and the Arabs as the dovish peace-makers.
And President Obama is encouraging this perception in what may prove to be a misguided attempt to reduce tensions by pursuing rapprochement between the US and the Muslim, especially the Arab, world.
To do this he has to write his new world order as a palimpsest of Middle East history. But that very history may yet leech through his attempts to obliterate it.
The current world media, and indeed the Palestinian and left-wing Israel narrative about Israel’s activities on the West Bank tells of road-blocks, a so called “apartheid” wall, unwarranted restrictions on movement of Palestinians and general emiseration of life.
But here’s a funny thing. Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas has just been to Washington. In an interview with the Washington Post he made (albeit translated) the following astonishing statement:
“I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”
Normal life! Good reality! If everything is so dandy, what’s the beef?
The truth is that whatever the aspirations and long-term goals of the PA things have got a lot better recently. I’m not saying there is normality as that would be untrue. But Abbas sees new possibilities with Obama. Abbas can wait to achieve his goals whilst the US, Europe and, ironically, Israel pour billions of dollars into the development of the West Bank and what would be a future Palestinian state. Yes. He can wait.
Abbas also revealed what former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him, and this says it all about Abbas, Obama’s policy, the possibility of peace and the PA’s true intentions:
Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank — though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees — something no previous Israeli prime minister had done — and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.
Abbas turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” he said.
What!!! He turned it down? Just like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat at Camp David and Taba in 2000/2001 who was made a similar offer, rejected it and began the Second Intifada. Why does the world say it is Israel that is the main stumbling block to peace? Each time Israel offers more, not less (as would be the case in any other conflict where the answer to peace negotiations is violence not a counter-offer). “The gaps were wide”. What does Abbas want for heaven’s sake? Well we know what he wants: the right of return for 4 million Palestinians and ALL of the Old City of Jerusalem (he does not reveal waht Olmert offered there but Barak in 2000 offered to divide the city). In other words he will settle for nothing less than the destruction of Israel demographically.
Now, perhaps, we can see why the Netanyahu government sees no point to further negotiations with the PA. What more is there to discuss at the moment? What will Israel get in return for freezing settlement expansion or dismantling settlements? It’s a stand-off. It’s a bit like the final scene in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with each side circling round the other and waiting for someone to blink.
Obama to Netanyahu: stop settlement expansion and we’ll talk about Iran
Netanyahu to Obama: do something about Iran or we’ll continue with (existing) settlement expansion
Obama to Abbas: stop saying horrible things about Israelis (you can’t use the words “vile anti-Semitic propaganda” in the even-handed world of Obama). Make nice with Hamas.
Abbas to Obama: I can wait. Get rid of Netanyahu or get him to unequivocally accept a two-state solution. I’m not playing ball with George Mitchell until you do that, so no talks with moderate Arab states to help the process. I can wait for Hamas.
Abbas to Netanyahu: (silence)
Netanyahu to Abbas: (silence)
As the Post concludes:
What’s interesting about Abbas’s hardline position, however, is what it says about the message that Obama’s first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel.
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. “The Americans are the leaders of the world,” Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. “They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, ‘You have to comply with the conditions.’ “
So all is quiet in the world of Abbas. He knows that Netanyahu’s options are limited. The next Israeli government might offer even more. Iran might do the job he always dreamed of. Hamas can stew in Gaza because why should he do anything that wil make life for Israel easier. He can squeeze Hamas on the West Bank and take them out when necessary. In fact, by doing so, as the Jerusalem Post reports, he is putting pressure on Israel:
In March 2007, a car carrying over 100 kilograms of explosives succeeded in infiltrating downtown Tel Aviv from the West Bank town of Kalkilya. The terrorists’ plan was to detonate the car on Seder night.
The existence of this cell, which was the target of the Palestinian clashes in Kalkilya on Sunday, had been the IDF’s excuse for refusing to scale back its operations in the West Bank city and implement there and in Tulkarm what is being called the “Jenin model.”
Under the Jenin model, the IDF has scaled back operations in that city, removed checkpoints in the area, permitted the deployment of US-trained Palestinian forces and allowed Israeli Arabs into the city to boost the local economy.
The more effective the PA police are in confronting Hamas and thwarting attacks on Israel, the less reason there is for the Israeli Army to be operating there. This, in turn, reduce tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and increases Abbas’s prestige at home and in the world. But, crucially, Israel’s ability to preempt terrorism emanating from the West Bank would be reduced.
And this is really the true nature of the Pax Palestina on the West Bank. They are rapidly approaching de facto statehood with improving social conditions and security; they are working with Israel on a number of projects to improve living conditions; checkpoints are reducing; Israel is acting against settlements that even they deem illegal.
For Abbas it is just a stage on the road to the destruction of Israel. He still cherishes that hope. He still wants 4 million refugees to flood Israel and create a third Palestinian state in the region; he still wants all of Jerusalem; he still tells his people that Jews have no historic connections or claim to the Holy Land; he still tells his people that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; he still allows daily incitement against Israelis and Jews; he still allows lies and vicious Jew-hatred to be inculcated into Palestinian children from the earliest age.
Abbas can afford to wait.