Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romney Tells the Key Truth Needed to Comprehend the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

This article was published on PJMedia.

By Barry Rubin

So much has the debate been shifted “that what thirty years ago was a common-sense given is now considered a landmark breakthrough.” Victor Davis Hanson

You see, here’s what you have to do. You’ve got to take the most basic logical statements—the ones absolutely necessary to understand reality—and rule them out of bounds. For example, there’s nothing wrong with the economy. To say so is, well, racist. And there’s nothing wrong with a government policy that refuses to control the country’s borders. To say so is, well, racist. In fact, you can’t criticize this U.S. government at all because to do so is, well, racist.

And you can’t point out that America’s problem in the Middle East is not due to an obscure video on You-Tube but to a massive revolutionary Islamist movement determined to destroy American influence in the region, take over every country there, smash the Christians, subordinate the women, impose a dictatorship, and commit genocide against Israel. Yep, you got it! Racist again!

This brings us to the latest attack on presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It is impossible to understand the Arab-Israel, Israel-Palestinian conflict or Israel’s situation without comprehending that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want real peace and a real two state solution ending the conflict. If things were different, they could have had a Palestinian state in 1948 or on numerous occasions thereafter, notably including at the Camp David meeting and with President Bill Clinton’s proposal (based on an Israeli proposal) in 2000.

So Romney stated this basic, easily provable and highly demonstrable truth, without which the whole issue makes no sense whatsoever. Woe unto him, as he is portrayed as being ignorant, bigoted, and troublesome for stating the basic pro-Israel position that most Democratic politicians accepted a few years ago. It was precisely what Clinton learned when Yasir Arafat turned down his very serious offer in 2000.

The whole attack on Romney is rather humorous since media “revelations” about Romney's statements--"revelations” all of which I'd heard a week ago and seen a month ago in the media—now repeated in a Boca Raton, Florida, fund-raiser make perfect sense.

Romney said that one of the two ways he considered looking at the issue—a major qualification—is:

“That the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”

He then continued doing the most basic, responsible thing a statesman can do. Romney posited that a Palestinian state existed and then discussed how this might create terrible security dangers for Israel, including direct attack and the opening of Palestine’s territory to radical regimes’ armies. For the mean time, the only choice might be the status quo.

This is the kind of thing Israeli analysts, and many Americans, have been saying for decades and detailing. It is the basic framework of how any country must plan its survival, strategy, and national security.

What makes this even more ludicrous is that it is not so far from Obama’s own statements, though of course he has not said such things in so many years. The president admitted that he tried very hard to make progress and failed; noted that peacemaking was hard; grudgingly hinted that it wasn’t all Israel’s fault; and in practice put the issue on the back burner.

That behavior represents the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not ready to make peace. It seems quite reasonable to posit that Obama has reached the same conclusion as the one Romney articulated.

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To begin with, remember there are two Palestinian leaderships today. Hamas is openly against peace, though a surprising number of people seem to forget that periodically. The PA is genuinely relatively more moderate—a factor that has some benefits--and certainly far more subtle. But on this issue the bottom line is precisely the same.

Why doesn’t the PA want a real, lasting peace? For a lot of reasons. Much, not all but probably 90 percent, of the leadership still believes that they should and will take power in all of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.  Even though they know Israel is not likely to go away easily or even at all, but they hope that something will turn up. At any rate, as Palestinian leaders have often said, it is better not to make any concessions and to leave the issue open for possible total victory to the next generation.

Beyond that, they know that their colleagues and even rivals will use any sign of compromise—the kind of behavior needed to end the conflict in a treaty—as evidence of treason. Their career will be finished and their life might be in danger. Sure, PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas might tell a small meeting of Jews that Israel is here to say but when it leaks into the press and provokes great anger among the other leaders, he passionately denies it. He certainly isn’t going to embody it in a document that would be simultaneously peace treaty and his own death warrant.

Third, the Palestinian leaders know that they have inflamed their people for decades, spoken endlessly of the evil perfidy of the Jews and the inevitability of total victory. Palestinian public opinion won’t sustain real compromise and the acceptance of Israel as a neighbor. The PA’s own television, radio, newspapers, leaders’ speeches, schools, and mosque sermons by its appointed prayer leaders repeat the hardline every day, indeed every hour.

I have written hundreds of pages of books and articles on the details of this issue. Space is insufficient here, but please consider this one example. Barack Obama took office in January 2009 as the most pro-Palestinian president in U.S. history. He offered to give the Palestinians the most and Israel the least. It was a dream situation if the PA and Palestinians wanted to make peace on the best possible terms.

Yet what happened? The PA leadership shafted Obama. When Abbas arrived in Washington for their first meeting he made clear in a Washington Post interview that he had no intention of negotiating and reaching a deal. When Obama announced in late 2010 that he was about to launch intensive negotiations at Camp David, Abbas refused the invitation. And when Obama pressed Israel into an unprecedented nine-month-long construction freeze on the West Bank, the PA refused to talk at all only until just before the expiration of that period, and then only to demand an extension.

So, of course, Romney was correct in what he said. Indeed, he was merely stating the obvious. In the current upside-down era, telling the truth is heresy, or at least there are powerful establishment figures who try to make it seem so.

What’s most important here, though, is not just this specific statement or this particular issue but a basic principle absolutely vital to the survival of the United States: If we are barred from recognizing the nature of our problems we will surely find no solutions.

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 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.

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