Why the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Is Doomed
by Barry Rubin, Middle East Review of International Affairs, June, 2012
(Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from a longer piece, "Is the Peace Process Dead?" which is worth reading in its entirety: Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 2.)
THE REALITY OF PALESTINIAN POLITICS
The claim that a "peace process" exists and might actually result in a diplomatic solution assumes that the Palestinian leadership desires a negotiated two-state agreement that would permanently end the conflict. This assumption actually has no real basis in fact, demonstrated precisely by the events since the 1993 Oslo agreement and the 2000 breakdown in that process due to Yasir Arafat's rejection of any frame for negotiation except a total capitulation to all Palestinian demands.
If one examines every article in the Palestinian media over that 20-year period, every textbook, every radio and television program, every mosque sermon, and every speech of leaders in Arabic directed at their own people, it is virtually impossible to find a single one that calls for conciliation, compromise, or even a long-term acceptance of Israel's existence.
There is virtually not a single example of a statement accepting the idea of negotiating a permanent end of the conflict, granting Israel's existence any legitimacy and indeed viewing it as anything other than temporary, or accepting–what one would expect from a nationalist movement–the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the state of Palestine.
In all analyses of the "peace process," there is hardly ever any examination of Palestinian politics: the nature of the leadership and the state of the debate. For example, if one looks at the Fatah Central Committee, there are virtually no moderates. Once one gets beyond Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and, albeit using that term very loosely, "President" Mahmoud Abbas, it is almost impossible to discover someone who could be called "moderate" at all.
Palestinians, thus, have no "peace party" but merely a choice between two problematic leaderships: one that refuses in practice to make peace; the other that outspokenly declares its rejection of peace. While the former is nationalist (Fatah) and the latter is (Islamist), the basic arguments they use are quite similar.
Here are the basic themes of current Palestinian thinking, none of which is even under significant attack in the internal debate:
- Israel is completely unjust and can never be accepted. Total victory is necessary since any outcome that involves Israel's continued existence is against Islam and the needs of the Arab nation.
- Israel is an impossibility since Jews are not a real nation. Therefore, it must eventually collapse.
- Total victory is possible and indeed inevitable. Eventually, proper rule, mobilization, and population growth will allow Arabs/Muslims to wipe out Israel. Consequently, a compromise that locks them into a permanent peace and reduces their ability to stage a "second round" to eliminate Israel is treasonous. Even if the current generation cannot win, it has no right to take away the chance of future generations to do so.
- Consequently, compromise with Israel is treason. Anyone who gives up an inch of Palestinian land is a traitor. Anyone who shows empathy for Israel is a traitor. Anyone who ties the hands of Palestinians in seeking future total victory is a traitor.
These are overwhelmingly dominant concepts in Palestinian politics, and virtually not a single person will speak against them. The public will not accept compromise or concessions, because it has been conditioned by years of political and religious indoctrination. Contrary to Western expectations, a politician cannot launch a "pragmatic" policy, as would happen in other polities, saying: "Let's end the suffering, make peace, get a state, and raise living standards."
Consequently, to advocate speedy negotiations, a flexible bargaining position, compromises, and a true two-state solution along with conciliation between the two nation-states is political suicide due to the beliefs of Palestinian leaders, public opinion, the willingness of rivals to outbid moderates, and the threat of destruction to one's political career or even death.
The above points discourage any Palestinian leader from wanting to make peace with Israel or feeling that any conceivable compromise peace is possible to implement. Indeed, it makes more logical a PA/Fatah preference for such things as refusing to negotiate, slowing negotiations, raising more preconditions, and seeking unilateral independence through the UN and other international agencies.
One can add to all that the extremely high likelihood that any negotiated solution, even if it were to be implemented against all of these odds, would quickly break down in the face of interference by Islamist forces; other regional countries; public opinion; political rivalry; a revolution or coup sooner or later; and the inevitability of cross-border terrorism against Israel, which a Palestinian government would be unable and/or unwilling to curb.
THE AGE OF ISLAMISM
In addition to all of these factors, is the reality that one has now entered an era in which hardline revolutionary Islamism has become the hegemonic ideology in the region. As a result, any peace process faces three other obstacles:
- The Palestinian Authority and Fatah now confront a situation even more antagonistic to negotiation or peace with Israel. To go in that direction would lead to a confrontation with a stronger Hamas rival that now enjoys considerable support from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. For its part, Fatah does not have a single regional ally.
- A weakened United States either will not or cannot put pressure on the PA to move toward peace with Israel. Even if the PA wanted to follow U.S. preferences, Washington can offer it little or no protection for doing so.
- Hamas is much stronger, therefore constituting a far more formidable rival or a more attractive ally. By choosing the path of alliance with Hamas–no matter how shaky or haunted by mistrust that relationship is–Fatah and the PA have chosen to reject any peace process with Israel.
The Islamist factor places more nails in an already hyper-sealed peace-process coffin.