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.