By Barry Rubin
The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3000 apartments.
In 1993, Israel signed an agreement with the PLO to make peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The accord, known as the Oslo agreement, included the following passage in Article 31:
“Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”
By essentially unilaterally declaring the existence of an Arab Palestine, the world has abrogated that agreement.
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What is shocking is not just that this has happened but there has been no discussion much less hesitation by dozens of countries to destroy an agreement that they hitherto supported. Indeed, a study of the history of this agreement shows clearly that the Palestinian side prevented the accord from succeeding, most obviously by permitting and carrying out continuing terrorism and rejecting Israeli offers for a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem both in the 2000 Camp David summit and in the ensuing offer conveyed by President Bill Clinton at the end of that year.
Now there are certain implications of this move. I am completely aware that virtually no one in a position of power in the Western world cares about these implications but it is necessary to remind them and others of just what they have done. And at least the Western public should know how this all looks from an Israeli perspective, information often denied it altogether or distorted by the mass media.
- They have rewarded the party that refused to make peace.
- They have rewarded the side that rejected the offer of a state and pursued violence instead, cheering the murder of Israeli civilians.
- They have removed the framework on the basis of which Israel made numerous risky concessions including letting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip; establish a government; obtain billions of dollars of money; created military organizations that have been used to attack Israel; establish schools and other institutions which call and teach for Israel’s destruction; and a long list of other things.
As a result of these concessions, terrorists were able to strike into Israel. Today, Hamas and its allies can fire thousands of rockets into Israel. Israel has paid for the 1993 deal; the Palestinian Authority has only taken what it has wanted.
Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, was one of many who stated that the Oslo Accords have now ceased to exist. What then governs the situation and Israel-Palestinian (Palestine?) relations?
There is, for example, no standing for any claim that the Palestinian side has recognized—much less accepted—Israel’s existence. Indeed, a “one-state solution” is daily advocated by Palestinian leaders.
Yet the world’s outrage is reserved for Israel’s announcement that 3000 apartments will be constructed on land claimed by Israel on the West Bank, all built on settlements whose existence until a bilateral agreement was reached was accepted by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Incidentally, repeatedly decisions of Israeli zoning boards that permit construction in future provoke global hysteria about the bulldozers moving in next week. Perhaps if the Palestinian Authority would make peace those buildings would never get built in a few years.
Whether or not the announcement of this construction was a good idea, the fact is that it is hardly the biggest outrage in what has just happened. The decision is a signal that if the Palestinian side, or indeed the world, isn’t going to recognize what was in effect a treaty—contrary to international practice—and in favor of the side that violated the treaty—even more contrary to international practice—Israel is not going to be bound by the interpretation of that document by those who have torn it up.
Again, what’s important here is not to complain about the unfairness of international life, the hypocrisy of those involved, and the double standards applied against Israel. This is the reality of the situation and must be the starting point for considering what to do.
And what’s important is to do that which is necessary to preserve Israel’s national security and to ignore to the greatest possible extent anything that subverts it.
What has experience taught us? Very simply this: The Palestinian leadership’s priority is not on getting a state of their own–they have missed many opportunities to do so–but to gain total victory. No matter how much you might think it is rational for them to seek to have a country living peacefully alongside Israel forever as it develops its economy and culture and resettles refugees out of the camps they do not think so. And that’s all that’s important.
Taking a state of that kind is only acceptable to the PA, and even more to the Hamas, leadership if it serves to promote that goal. Even if moderation provides material rewards they prefer militancy. But after all, suffering–even if self-inflicted–brings massive political gains for them.
What has the world’s behavior taught us? Very simply this: Nothing we can do will suffice. If Israel were to accept unconditionally a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with its capital in east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority would then demand that all Palestinians who so wished and had an ancestor living there before 1948 must be admitted to Israel with full voting and all other rights. And then what would the UN do?
What has diplomacy taught us? That the other side will not keep commitments and those guaranteeing those commitments will not keep their word to do so. And then they will complain that Israel doesn’t take more risks, give more concessions, and defend itself too vigorously.
Well, that’s the way things are and in some ways they’ve been like that for decades; from a Jewish standpoint, for centuries. So what else is new?
Of course, all the proper statements will be made and the diplomatic options pursued by Israel. They will not make any difference on the rhetorical dynamics but their point is to limit the material effects.
That is not a pessimistic assessment at all. Basically, this process has now been going on for about 40 years. It will continue to go on, partly because the West has been and will continue to be content with purely symbolic anti-Israel measures so it can reap some public relations’ benefits without any costs. The quality of existence is more important than the quality of the ability to justify one’s existence.
By coincidence, several surveys have just been published which pertain to Israel’s achievements in the face of such obstacles as small size, lack of resources, international hostility, and war waged against it by neighbors.
In its November 21, 2012, issue, The Economist Intelligence Unit, a respected research group which is part of The Economist (which has been bitterly anti-Israel in recent years) published a study—“The lottery of life: Where to be born in 2013””– of the best places for a baby to be born in 2013 and subsequently live its life. Israel was rated at number 20, just behind the United States (20, incidentally down from being number 1 in the 1980s!) and ahead of Italy (21), France (26), and Britain (27).
In the World Happiness Report, Israel rated 14th and in health it was in the 6th position, ahead of the United States, Germany, Britain, and France.
Living well, as the saying goes, is the best revenge. Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbors don’t get criticized by the UN—many of them get elected to the Human Rights Council despite their records—but are sinking into violence, disaster, and new dictatorships.
So which fate is preferable? To win the wars forced on you, to develop high living standards, to enjoy real democratic life, or to writhe under the torture of dictators, terrorists, and totalitarian ideologies?
Israel’s fate includes to be slandered, its actions and society so often distorted by those responsible for conveying accurate information to their own societies. And that also means to be attacked violently by its neighbors, though it can minimize the effectiveness of that violence. Like our ancestors we have to deal with this bizarre situation, this mistreatment that others don’t even understand still exists.
But we cannot let this nonsensical excuse for reality drive us mad or make us mad.
There are only three ways, which must be combined, to survive: to believe truthful things, do constructive things, and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
For such a set of alternatives to exist–the fictional world of hypocritical and misinformed Israel-bashing or the real world –is ridiculous, empowered by the behavior of the world and especially by the West.
But that’s what does exist in this early twenty-first century era.
Truly, as the Israeli saying puts it and as the story of the Oslo agreement so vividly proves, en breira, there’s no choice. Fortunately, the real-life alternative available is a good one. Go ahead; do what’s necessary; reconcile everyone possible; but don’t let that stand in the way of survival.
And, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, Time will tell just who fell and who’s been left behind. When you go your way and I go mine.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.