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Back during the Bill Clinton administration, there was a chance — a very good chance — that Israel and its West bank enemies would settle their differences. Those differences were deep and hard, but a compromise was offered by Israel prime minister Ehud Barak. Then West Bank leader Yasser Arafat did not accept.
More about that decision later. Let me now talk about the current state of things in the land called “holy” and the prospects going forward.
One of Mr. Trump’s few successes as President was the campaign to bring Israel and its Gulf Arab neighbors into full accord. The UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia all opened diplomatic and economic relation s with Israel, an opening which has now become an established reality. Israelis visit Dubai all the time now; flights between Israel and the according states take place daily.
Granted, that the impetus for these embraces came from outside: the imperial aspirations of Shi’ite Iran, whose fanatical leaders have fomented war and terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and, occasionally, in the Gulf States. As Israel wields the region’s most powerful and combat-ready military force, what better for the Gulf States than to fall in under Israel’s shield ?
So far, so good : Israel has now become as normal a Middle East entity as its neighbors have long been. Like them, its enemy is Iran and Iran’s proxy militias in Syria and Lebanon. So here’s the deal : the Gulf States oppose Iran, Israel fights Iran’s proxies. This is a sensible apportionment of force.
Now that Israel’s external security is settled (we hope), one can revisit the internal matter at hand : what to do about the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, who call themselves Palestinians and who have never accepted Israel’s right to exist ?
Yes: what about them ? They number about 2 million people; Gaza has another million.) Seventy years ago, about 40 percent were Christian — 98 percent in Bethlehem — but constant persecution of West Bank Christians by the Sunni Muslim cadres of Fatah, occasionally violent, has reduced Christian numbers to little more than five percent. As Fatah cadres have done to their Christian neighbors, so much the more violence have they wreaked against Israelis. You might forget what happened at the 1972 Olympics, or at Uganda’s Enteppe airport; you might set aside numerous terrorist attacks and individual murders on Jerusalem buses or of the occupants of cars on highways near the West Bank border; five wars with the terrorists of Gaza, and four battles with Iran’s Hezbollah proxies in South Lebanon, but Israel cannot forget these. Deaths caused thereby are a family hurt for almost every family in Israel.
Meanwhile, West Bankers will tell you about the Israeli military’s often high-handed occupation of West Bank cities. I find it understandable, however, that Israeli soldiers, having seen their own and their neighbors executed, might often not be kind to people whom they suspect of harboring, even encouraging, such murders. Recall that even today, West Bank children are taught that Israel has no right to exist. Granted that soldiers as well disciplined as the IDF (Israel Defence Force) should never give way to feelings of anger, it happens, and the bad feelings perpetuated add to the unlikelihood of any two-state agreement such as might have happened in 1999.
Fact is, that Arafat did not accept Ehud Barak’s offer — to make Jerusalem an open city with shared governance — because he knew that if he did accept, he would be assassinated by his own Fatah militias. He had seen Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by an Israeli irreconcilable, and he knew of the murder of Michael Collins by IRA fanatics back in 1922 after Collins had accepted a compromise agreement with Great Britain. Assassination is the way of fanatics everywhere, but that was and remains the point. Though West Bank negotiators may in good faith wan t to live in peace with Israel, and though most Israelis would like to settle their 75 year battle with the West Bankers, fanatics hardened by 75 years of zero-sum battle won’t let it happen.
My prediction : there will not be, ever, a “two state” peace between Israel and its West Bank neighbors.
No Arab nation wants anything to do with the grievances of West Bankers, much less the thuggery wreaked upon the hapless citizens of Gaza by the rapacious gang that calls itself “Hamas” that controls Gaza while subjecting itself — and its captive civilians — to Iranian militias because no one else will have anything to do with them. Life for Gaza’s million residents isn’t pleasant, but rescue isn’t coming, not from Egypt nor from Israel.
In which case, where does Israel go from here ? Whence the West Bank ? Perhaps it is time for West Bank leaders to accept Israel’s right to exist and to blend its economy with the Israeli economy so that its people can at least live and prosper despite a political vacuum. Worse outcomes could certainly happen. They already have. Why not try economic agreement ? It works much more readily than political agreement and more often.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere