With all signs pointing to a new war between the Israelis and the Moslem terrorist Hamas in Gaza, now supported despite their Sunni-Shia differences by Tehran’s mullahs, one lesson seems not to have been learned by Washington. That is that whatever opportunities there are for a Jewish-Moslem, Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in the region, they are not through the old suggestion of “land for peace”
The unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Strip in 2005, had been proposed in 2003 by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, adopted by the Government in June 2004, approved by the Knesset [Israeli parliament] in February 2005 and enacted in August 2005. Sharon saw it as a step, the first step, in an accomodation with the Palestinians and their Arab allies after Israel’s blitkfrieg in the June 1967 Six-Day War. The Israelis had demonstrated they were the primary regional military power and could, again, however reluctantly, take on all comers.
What neither Sharon nor the Talking Heads anticipated was that free elections would turn up a plurality of the 1.6 million Gazans for Hamas, an Islamicist opposition to the secularist Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] of Yasser Arafat. Arafat and his PLO had had a virtual monopoly as the only spokesmen for growing Palestinian nationalism.
Hamas proceeded to try to literally eliminate the PLO in Gaza, including throwing PLO supporters off roofs. Arafat’s successors have continued to maintain their hold on the 2.5 million West Bank Arabs [despite a quarter of a million Jews in “settlements” there] and the 200,000 Arabs and Jews in East Jerusalem. These areas were held by Jordan after the 1947 declaration of an Israeli state and what the Jews call their war for independence, but its Husseini rulers were pushed back across the Jordan in 1967.
However, there have been major changes in what had seemed a long stalemate.
Hamas, only opposed by terrorist organizations even more violent, not only maintains its grip on Gaza but probably would win an election in what is generally called the West Bank. A stronger Israel now increasingly argues that while it hosted a major Arab, largely Moslem, minority, after independence, its claims to Judea and Samaria, traditional names for the West Bank, must be honored. Predictions that Israel’s Arab [and Druse] minority would be a quarter of its total population by 2050 [now just over eight million] are now being revised. In the always difficult estimates of fertility and population increase, the Israeli Arab population – those in the pre-1967 state – has fallen behind the now more rapid increase among the Jews.
Another and perhaps the most complicating factor is that Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem are the sites of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms, finally suppressed by the Romans with the dispersal of the Jews. The urban and agricultural developments which the Zionists have achieved with enormous success in such areas as Tel Aviv and Haifa were never the heart of the Jewish homelands which the current Israeli state attempts to restore. Yet most observers believe that were free elections now held Hamas might well win elections there too With no widely recognized successor to seventy-nine -year-old Mohammed Abbas who now heads the PLO/Palestinian “state” the Israeli argument that they have no negotiating partner has substance..
A militant, threatening Hamas-dominated state on the West Bank would be an existentialist threat to Israel’s existence, as the PLO always threatened pre-1967. Pres. Barak Obama’s public statements suggesting that pre-1967 borders be the basis for new negotiations has not only infuriated the Israelis, but is an obvious non-starter. Those boundaries included, for example, only a slender corridor connecting Tel Aviv and the Israeli plains with Western Jerusalem that target would be the object of any militarized Arab state on the West Bank.
In theory, both Israel and the U.S. accept the possibility of two states, one Israeli, Jewish, “within secure borders”, and another which recognizes Palestinian yearnings. But no Palestinian group, from so-called “moderates” to Hamas, has been willing to make even a nominal formal pledge to accept the Jews’ right to a state in the region.
That, unfortunately, is where the Israel-Palestinian problem awaits the next president of the United States if he is to make a major contribution to Mideast peace and stability.