January/February 2001
Western Wall

The Making of a Terrorist State

By Gerald M. Steinberg
January, 05 2001

(January 5) - The myths of Middle East peacemaking have finally unraveled, exposing the illusion that the creation of a Palestinian state would bring peace and stability. Such a state, it was widely assumed, would become a "normal" country, and live in stability and peace with its neighbors, including Israel.

This seemed logical, based on the assumption that if the Palestinians win respect and a seat at the table of nations, they would not risk these accomplishments by continued terrorism and violence.

According to this script, a Palestinian state would also develop a "normal" policy of economic development, and the energies used for war would be transferred to productive and cooperative ventures. Industrial parks and joint ventures between Israelis and Palestinians would create jobs and mutual dependencies that would overcome the generations of hatred. Palestine would become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, and the first Arab democracy.

This naive approach was behind Jimmy Carter's concept of peacemaking (based on the Brookings Commission report published shortly before his election), and the European Union's Venice declaration of 1980. The Bush-Baker-Clinton teams adopted this model, and then Israeli politicians, led by Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, created the Oslo process, with fantasies of a "New Middle East."

Seven years after this experiment began with the creation of the Palestinian Authority, under Yasser Arafat's control, the outcome is absolutely clear. Instead of cooperation and stability, Israeli concessions and the transfer of territory have produced greater terrorism and violence. Palestinian schools (with texts financed by the European Union) and official media have paved the way, providing a steady flow of shrill hatred and incitement to would-be martyrs eager to earn their way to paradise by killing Jews.

Billions of dollars in foreign assistance to the Palestinians have disappeared into secret bank accounts and villas for the elite members of the "kleptocracy." Instead of serving as models of cooperation and conciliation, the industrial parks and joint enterprises built along the borders between Palestinian and Israeli territory were destroyed by the Palestinians in their war against Israel and the West. The Palestinians were not ready for functionalist economic development.

The Palestinian army (originally disguised as an innocent gendarmerie for keeping public order, and trained by the CIA and its European counterparts) has joined with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other militias in terrorist attacks in Israeli cities and roads. Not to be left out, the radical Islamic regime in Iran and Saddam Hussein have also made their contributions in turning the Palestinian Authority into a haven for terrorism and war.

Instead of bringing peace, the Oslo process served as a vehicle for expanding violence, and up until the last minute, Arafat and the Palestinian leadership had expected to acquire additional territory in the "interim process." Ehud Barak's initial insistence on resolving the permanent-status issues (Jerusalem, boundaries, refugee claims, etc.) before relinquishing more land forced Arafat to play his hand early, but not before considerable damage had been done.

In this context, the charade of talks and summits on creative ways to divide Jerusalem, flooding Israel with Palestinians who claim a "right of return," or a return to the porous boundaries of the 1948 have run their course.

Rather, the essential issue now is to prevent the creation of another terrorist state. Although the major mistakes of the Oslo process cannot be reversed, it is still possible to limit the damage before Palestine joins Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

Indeed, around the world, some supporters of Palestinian sovereignty are beginning to reexamine their premises and conceptions, as well as their own national interests in preventing increased terrorism. In the US, the incoming Bush administration has the opportunity to reverse course, and to work with Europe, Canada, Australia, and the other democracies in developing alternatives.

At the same time, it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to protect its citizens from terrorism, regardless of the political status of the Palestinian-controlled territories. This does not require a reoccupation of Gaza or Palestinian cities, except perhaps for very short periods to destroy terrorist infrastructure.

Rather, unilateral separation remains an essential element, wherever possible. This means closing isolated settlements with no strategic or historic importance, particularly in the middle of Gaza, while concentrating resources on protecting key assets. Within these parameters, areas of Palestinian contiguity should be created, limiting checkpoints and contact with Israeli soldiers. No separation plan is going to be absolute, but the friction and points of contact can be minimized, thereby reducing the opportunities for terrorist attacks.

Gradually, a "normal" Palestinian society may still evolve, and once terrorism is no longer endemic, the scope of autonomy can be extended. In this context, Jordan might be persuaded to return to its historic role an intermediary between the Palestinians and Israel.

Old myths die hard, but the mask of Palestinian victimization has finally been blown apart and the face of terror has been revealed again. Until the Palestinians demonstrate that they are capable of fulfilling basic responsibilities, they are not entitled to the privileges of sovereignty.

(The writer is director of the Program on Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University.)

©Jerusalem Post

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