Odd and unprecedented things are happening in Israel and vicinity. These include the bombing yesterday of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Gaza, and the drafting of an unofficial "final peace agreement" between Israelis and Palestinians in Jordan. Let me start by mentioning something fairly obvious that was overlooked in all the numerous media accounts I saw of yesterday's Gaza bombing.
If the reader has ever tried to plant a bomb in the middle of a public roadway, he will have noticed the problem of witnesses. This is especially the case when your bomb is a remote-control device, that requires not only some excavation, but correct wiring to a switch at another location. In a normal society, people may ask what you are doing. Or, if they are too shy to ask, will call the police and then the police will come to ask.
There is nothing normal, however, about Palestinian society.
I mention this because North American readers may not fully grasp the nature of the Palestinian intifada or its relationship with Palestinian terrorism. The two have become, and really always were, indistinguishable. And while the great majority of Palestinian people are bystanders, they have been deprived, over time, of their claim to be innocent bystanders.
To be fair to them, this is not necessarily because they approve of acts of violence such as blowing up buses full of Jewish women and children and old men, or now, a carload of U.S. diplomats. While it is true that polls show upwards of 70% of them say they approve, the polls do not necessarily represent the true situation. For most have been subjected to a lifetime of intimidation, and through the decade since Yasser Arafat and his terror cells took over the civil administration, to very public and constant and shrill propaganda exalting suicide bombers and the like. Moreover, with the frequent, semi-official public lynching of fellow Palestinians for "collaboration with Israel," they know better than to intervene, or even interest themselves, in the laying of a bomb.
This is Arafat's remarkable achievement, the one that will outlive him. (There are plausible reports that he is gravely ill.) The whole Palestinian society has been made complicit in terrorism. Yet this is not Arafat's achievement alone, for he built on the legacy of the Mufti of Jerusalem from the generation before him; and has depended throughout his career on generous international support.
It takes time and effort to reduce a society to what "Palestine" has become. It takes tireless organization, and physical force. This is what Arafat has supplied.
The response to it has been -- from Israel, from the surrounding Arab countries, and increasingly from the Palestinians themselves -- initiatives that will quarantine the whole Palestinian society. We have the Israelis building a security fence; the perpetuation of Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab countries; and now the Palestinians themselves participating in a Swiss- and European-sponsored meeting with leftist Israeli politicians in Jordan, at which a draft "final peace agreement" was agreed on the weekend.
I believe, but cannot prove, that the U.S. State Department was also quietly pushing this strange and irregular conference, along with Jordan's King Abdullah, as a way to end run the hopelessly quagmired "road map" arrangements and sneak what the State Department considers to be the inevitable final agreement on to the table. For example, "final" borders around Palestine following roughly the Camp David lines; and cut the Gordian knot of the Palestinian refugee problem (the survivors among the 700,000 who left Israel in 1948, and their more than three million descendants) by conceding that Israel won't have to take them. Instead they will be resettled in Palestine, or where they are, or wherever someone will take them, chiefly courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
The Israeli delegation was led by Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister; the Palestinian by Yasir Abed Rabbo, a former information minister -- on both sides, big names, and persons whose own allies are loath to trust them. The conference and its agreement were immediately denounced by Israel's Sharon government, and then, naturally, accepted by Arafat on the usual condition that Israel must accept first. (He has never failed to accept anything the Israelis won't accept, changing his mind only if they accept it.)
Now, the funny thing is, as I've written before, the "final agreement" is the easy part of the Palestinian-Israeli problem. It almost writes itself from the positions occupied by Jews and Arabs, on the ground, once we overlay the need for contiguous territories. Jerusalem will become once again a divided city, and isolated Israeli settlements will be abandoned, swapping a corridor between West Bank and Gaza for the settlements just over the old Green Line that Israel retains. It goes without saying aloud that a wall then rises between the two polities. A wall that is in fact already going up, with or without a final agreement, as Israel tries to seal the West Bank the way it formerly and successfully sealed Gaza.
The U.S. seeks to impose such a final agreement on both sides, but can do so only if it can get the terrorist violence against Israel reduced to levels which would make the agreement seem plausible. It cannot be done, however. And from the blast yesterday, the American public may begin to understand why.
©2003 - Ottawa Citizen