Thursday, February 05, 2009

There may be the will but not necessarily the way

From The Australian, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor February 05, 2009:

BARACK Obama will not bring peace to the Middle East. He will not end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

... Within Israel there is a broad consensus on what a peace agreement would look like. Palestine gets all the land of the West Bank and Gaza except for the large Jewish settlement blocks that are effectively suburbs of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. These house 80 per cent of the Jewish settlers on 5 per cent of the disputed land. The new Palestinian state would get land from Israel proper to make up for this 5 per cent.

But Israel cannot do that deal unless a credible Palestinian leadership can put an end to serious terrorism, especially cross-border rocket launches, and will accept that such a settlement is the end of Palestinian territorial claims, and unless the Arab world recognises Israel and makes peace with it as a Jewish state.

These conditions cannot be met...

.... Hamas knew what the rockets would bring ...why did Hamas want such an Israeli response in the first place?

The answer is to have Israel painted again as the international villain. It also wanted to inflame Islamic opinion. In this it has succeeded. Even in moderate Islamic majority states such as Indonesia and Malaysia, Israel has been demonised in recent weeks.

In the Arab world it is much worse. It is true that the leaders of key Arab nations, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, fear the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a branch, and fear Iran, which sponsors Hamas, much more than they hate Israel. Therefore their response to Israel's action was moderate. But this was only possible because there is no democracy in the Arab Middle East. In democratic Turkey the Prime Minister had to engineer a public confrontation with Shimon Peres. A number of the smaller Gulf states have been awash with virulent anti-Israel hatred. This all has something like the effect Hamas wants.

Hamas's goals and motivation are theological and filled with sectarian hatred and anti-Semitism. If you doubt this just google the Hamas charter and read gems such as: "The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: 'The (end of days) will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!"'

Hamas has engaged in countless atrocities against Palestinians it doesn't like. It has murdered many Fatah men, but the media subjects this behaviour to very little scrutiny. Hamas is somehow accepted as just a force of nature, not held morally responsible for its actions.

Even if Hamas has been partly discredited by this conflict, the wider ideology of Islamist jihad, under various brands, has currency in the Palestinian population, and among the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

So Hamas has absolutely no desire to negotiate a peaceful Palestinian state living in neighbourly quiet next to Israel. Hamas, and many Palestinians, have effectively abandoned the two-state solution. They instead have a long-term demographic strategy. In 1950, there were 240,000 Gazans, Now there are 1.5 million. By 2040 there will be three million. Eventually, they believe, they will swamp Israel with sheer numbers. And they will never let Israel be free of responsibility for them, either by an association with Egypt, which is what Israel tried to achieve by its withdrawal in 2005, or by becoming an independent state at peace.

At the other end of the spectrum, I believe many moderate Palestinians don't really want two states either. If you were an Arab East Jerusalemite, would you really want to leave Israel, with its modern economy, world class hospitals etc, to be ruled either by the corrupt kleptomaniacs of Fatah or the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas?

To all this, Obama can bring prestige, goodwill and new energy. It won't be enough. Bill Clinton brought all this to the situation in 2000, with a less Islamised and polarised Palestinian population, and a less bitter Israeli public opinion. Clinton failed. So will Obama.

Instead of a solution, we should look for Israel to manage the situation at the lowest level of violence possible, while encouraging any normalisation that can take place. It's not much, but at least it's possible.
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