The Arab-Israeli conflict is over 100 years old. From the day the Zionist movement â€“ the national liberation movement of the Jewish people â€“ was launched, to serve as a vehicle for the return of persecuted Jews to the national homeland of the Jewish people, the Arabs of the Middle East opposed this movement and tried to prevent the establishment of the State of Israel; and, once established, it never ceased to be a target for annihilation.
During the first 100 years of the conflict, it appeared to be a struggle between two national movements. Recently, however, it has become increasingly clear that what we are dealing with here is yet another symptom of the â€œclash of civilizationsâ€ postulated by Samuel Huntington. The rise to power in the Palestinian Authority of Hamas, a radical, jihad-oriented Muslim movement, calls for a re-examination of the basic assumptions that have led the peace-seekers in the West to support the â€œtwo states for two peoplesâ€ solution, and that, in particular, led the United States, for the first time, to support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River as part of President Bushâ€™s vision for a resolution of the conflict â€“ a vision that has taken shape in a political plan known as the â€œRoad Mapâ€.
The Failed Path of Partition
When you have two national entities fighting for the same piece of land, the logical and virtually self-evident solution would appear to be the division of that piece of land between the two peoples. That, indeed, was the rationale behind countless proposals for the division of Eretz Yisrael (or Palestine, as it was called then) between Jews and Arabs. When in 1920, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the areas of Palestine/Eretz Yisrael on both banks of the Jordan River, the League based its decision on the declared intention of the British Government to do so, as this intention found expression in the 1917 declaration of British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour. The Leagueâ€™s 1920 mandate resolution also cited â€œthe historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestineâ€.
The Arabs, however, refused to accept the plan and exercised heavy political pressure in an effort to have it annulled, underscoring their efforts with a series of terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in 1921. The British response was swift and decisive: The Churchill White Paper, issued in 1922, severed some three-fourths of the mandated area of Palestine/Eretz Yisrael â€“ namely, the portion located east of the Jordan River â€“ and handed it over to the Emir Abdullah, who then set up an Arab state there that came to be known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (later Jordan).
However, this first partition of the Land of Israel â€“ like the one by the UN that was to follow 25 years later â€“ did not lead to peace. The Arab terrorist onslaught was renewed in 1929 and again during the years 1936-1939. Each new series of attacks brought to the region another international commission that would propose new lines of partition, none of which were acceptable to the Arab leadership. The same fate awaited the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947, that called for the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state. While the leaders of the Jewish community accepted the proposal, it was turned down flat by the Arab states, whose armies invaded Israel on the very next day following the proclamation of Israelâ€™s statehood on May 14, 1948. Thus was launched Israelâ€™s War of Independence.
The Arab invasion was repulsed, and, in a series of agreements signed at Rhodes in 1949 between Israel and the neighboring Arab nations, armistice lines were demarcated, allotting the areas designated by the UN for the Arab Palestinian state to Jordan and Egypt. But these partition agreements also failed to produce peace, and Israel, from its very inception, was subjected to ongoing terrorist assaults, with full-scale warfare erupting in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982.
Oslo â€“ Road Map â€“ Hamas
The most recent attempt to partition the Land came after Israel in 1993 recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and signed the Oslo Agreements that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The Arab terror campaign, however, did not stop. On the contrary, it resumed with redoubled vigor and, over the past decade, has caused the deaths of 1,500 Israelis and thousands of Palestinian Arabs; and that is not counting the thousands more who were wounded or maimed for life.
Following the failure of the Oslo experiment, and when it became clear to the Western world that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat really had no intention of embarking on a peace process, preferring, rather, the conquest of all of Palestine, President Bush designated his new plan as a â€œRoad Map for the Solution of the Conflictâ€. This Road Map included the notion of an independent Arab-Palestinian state west of the Jordan River â€“ but conditioned US consent to such a state on the dissolution of the Arab terrorist organizations and on far-reaching governmental reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
Needless to say, the terrorist activity against Israel did not stop for a moment â€“ but the â€œgovernmental reformsâ€ arrived with a vengeance soon after Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and from northern Samaria: The Palestinians catapulted the Hamas party to power in elections to the legislature of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is the extremist terrorist organization that promotes jihad (â€œholy warâ€) as its principal tool and has repeatedly asserted that it would never recognize Israel because, under Islamic religious law, there can be no compromise over the land occupied today by Israel, which is sacred Islamic soil. Moreover, Islamic religious law commands the killing of all the Jews, â€œincluding those who try to hide or surrenderâ€. These aims and objectives are clearly spelled out in Hamasâ€™ charter, a document that exposes the true character of this organization, its self-definition and the basic tenets of faith by which it charts its course. When it comes to assessing the true intentions and the policies of this organization, the Hamas charter is a far better barometer than the declarations of its leaders, which sometimes are formulated to please Western ears.
From the moment the Palestinian Arabs chose this organization, in democratic elections, to represent them and to carry on their national struggle â€“ the Arab-Israeli conflict can no longer be considered to be a clash between two national movements. When the principal motivating force of the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael is a religious mandate that, as they understand it, precludes any territorial compromise with the infidel, it is no longer feasible to draw â€œroad mapsâ€ for the solution of this conflict â€“ in precisely the same way that it is not feasible to draw such a map in an attempt to resolve the conflict between Osama bin Laden and the United States.
Americaâ€™s total opposition to Hamas rule and to the ideology it represents in the Palestinian Authority found expression in President Bushâ€™s announcement that he would have no contact with the Palestinian Authority so long as Hamas (1) did not recognize Israel; (2) did not abandon terrorism; and (3) did not dismantle its armed groups. The US Congress backed this declaration with appropriate legislation, and American financial aid to the PA was suspended. The countries of the European Union took a similar stand.
However, the hope that economic strangulation would break the Palestinians proved groundless. The Palestinian Arabs have demonstrated in the past that they are ready to tighten their belts and to suffer shortages. They are not likely to buckle under economic pressure â€“ particularly when they view such pressure and their resistance to it as the long-touted struggle between â€œthe Great Satanâ€ and â€œthe Little Satanâ€ (the USA and Israel), on the one hand, and Muslim believers, on the other. It may be recalled, in this context, that economic sanctions alone were not enough to topple Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime in Iraq either.
Besides, even those who advocate the suspension of financial contributions to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority would probably not want to starve the population in the process. And, after that population will have been duly supplied with food, medications, energy and continued assistance to the refugee population, there is not likely to remain enough effective economic leverage to cause the Palestinians to replace Hamas with a different regime. Hamas has also been the beneficiary of unconcealed Iranian largesse, in the form of funds, weaponry and ideological training.
Conclusion: Terror Pays!
Given recent developments in our area, it should come as no surprise to anyone that terrorism is perceived, on the Arab street, as an eminently successful tactic in the pursuit of Arab political objectives. Thus, one after another, public opinion polls show that some 80% of the Palestinian population assert that it was only â€œarmed resistanceâ€ that caused Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria last year. The Arab terrorist organizations are therefore perceived as having brought distinct political benefits to the Palestinians â€“ and, by the same token, that the terrorist tool will ultimately lead to the â€œtotal liberation of the homelandâ€. Now that the Palestinians have designated a radical religious movement as representing their aspirations, any future negotiation will be regarded solely as a temporary tactic for the achievement of their goal. It may be recalled that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was fond of recalling, in this context, Muhammadâ€™s seventh century Hudaybiyah â€œpeaceâ€ agreement â€“ which lasted just long enough to allow the prophetâ€™s forces to become sufficiently strong to be able to attack and annihilate his infidel opponents â€“ including the Jewish tribes inhabiting the Arabian peninsula at that time.
Hamasâ€™s rise to power obliges the United States to reassess its foreign policy â€“ and the continuing validity of the Road Map as a plan having any chance of ending the conflict and bringing peace to the Middle East. Ranged against Israel today are Iran and its frontline proxies: Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. All of these represent the jihadist Islamist ideology that regards itself at war with Western civilization everywhere.
The notion that Israeli territorial withdrawals will lead to a resolution of the conflict is based on wishful thinking; it seeks to apply Western political logic to a region where that logic is not recognized. As a matter of fact, would anyone suggest that the West should try to resolve its conflict with Osama bin Laden and his Al Qai`dah by dividing the world between itself and radical Islam? By the same token, the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be resolved by dividing the Land of Israel between the State of Israel and an irredentist Muslim force that proclaims â€“ openly and unabashedly, at last â€“ its intention of replacing the Jewish state.
Hamas came to power as a direct result of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. Anyone who does not understand this is liable to support further Israeli withdrawals in Judea and Samaria. Such withdrawals, however, will not bring about the longed-for peace. On the contrary, they will merely prove to radical Islam that terror pays, and that Islamâ€™s ultimate triumph is assured. A similar conclusion is bound to be drawn by Al Qai`dahâ€™s ideologists and strategists if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq under terrorist pressure before the process of democratization will have been completed and the terror stamped out.
There is no easy solution â€“ in either of these situations.
So far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, The â€œmagic solutionsâ€ that have been tried in the past â€“ calling for a territorial partition and the establishment of two states, a Jewish one and an Arab one, west of the Jordan River â€“ have all failed and have resulted only in bolstering the radical forces in the Arab world. The problem of the Arab refugees of 1948 can be resolved only through their resettlement in the Arab countries â€“ that is to say, in the same way that virtually all of the refugee problems the world over have been resolved since the end of the Second World War a half-century ago.
In the case of the Arab refugees, the natural place for their resettlement would be Jordan, some 75% of whose inhabitants are Palestinians from west of the Jordan River. Historically, too, Jordan is the only Arab country that has fully integrated these Palestinians in its society and even its government. It can thus be considered a Palestinian country in the full sense of the term â€“ both by virtue of this demographic phenomenon and by virtue of the fact that its area was an integral part of what was once known as Palestine.
In point of fact, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was carved out of the area originally mandated to Britain by the League of Nations for the purpose of re-establishing there the Jewish national home â€“ when in 1922, Britain partitioned Palestine-Eretz Yisrael into two segments: a Jewish one west of the Jordan River, and an Arab one east of the river. This may prove to be the key to the solution: Large-scale development of vast uninhabited areas in Jordan; a canal bringing fresh water from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea â€“ utilizing the altitude differential to generate hydroelectric power; other power projects; and serious investment in creating homes and job opportunities would make possible the migration and resettlement of millions of Arabs now living, under miserable conditions, in refugee camps in other parts of the Arab world.
These refugees have been exploited to fuel the ongoing animosity that has kept this conflict alive for over half a century. Their resettlement in vastly improved living conditions, over the next few years, would be the real key to the pacification of the Middle East. So long as the Arabs nurture in their hearts the hope of setting up an independent state west of the Jordan River, as a first step on the road to the eradication of the State of Israel, there will be no peace in this region.
As for the Road Map: Under the circumstances created by recent developments, it is not a prescription for a solution of the conflict but, rather, a tool for its perpetuation.
(Translated by Moshe Aumann)