In his latest effort to look busy on the Israeli-Palestinian front, President Bush has now proposed a regional conference to be chaired by Secretary of State Condi Rice, in which Israel would join its Arab neighbors at the table. But lest this sound like a peace conference, don’t be fooled. Its purpose, a U.S. official told Haaretz, will be “to review progress toward building Palestinian institutions, look for ways to support further reforms and support the effort going on right now between the parties together.” If that sounds mushy, that’s precisely the intention. It’s all about “looking busy” without actually doing anything; “bolstering” a new Palestinian regime whose purpose in Israeli and American eyes is simply to serve as a gendarmerie for Israel’s security.
Israel has no interest in discussing a final-status two-state solution with Abbas. It has made clear that it will confine itself to “confidence-building” measures, such as taking Fatah gunmen off Israel’s wanted list if the movement agrees to turn its weapons on Hamas. The latest gestures fall well within the approach recently explained to Jewish Republicans by Elliot Abrams, White House Middle East policy director. As the Jewish Daily Forward reported, Elliot reassured his audience that “lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is ‘just process’ — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries ‘on the team’ and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.” In other words, looking busy.
But if the Europeans and the Arab regimes and some of the U.S. media want to believe the fantasy that by pouring money and diplomatic support into an Abbas-regime shorn of any democratic legitimacy, while continuing to squeeze the life out of the population of Gaza for their temerity in voting for Hamas (actually, the West Bankers did too, but we’ll conveniently forget that for a moment, shall we…) is going to produce a solution to the conflict, the Palestinian voters have long since seen through it.
As Haaretz’s Danny Rubinstein put it, “It was not corruption and an absence of leadership that brought down the Fatah movement, and neither are they not what is causing it to fail now – but rather the fact that the political path of Abu Mazen and his friends has reached a dead end, and cannot be resurrected.” Rubinstein has reiterated what I’ve long believed — that the corruption in Fatah was a symptom of the organization’s political failure rather than its cause: For many Fatah leaders, it must have been abundantly clear that their strategy was going nowhere in terms of ending the occupation, and it became a kind of “every man for himself” vehicle for patronage.
Where is all this leading? Any Israeli who has occasion these days to meet often with Arabs from the West Bank, or speak by phone with Gaza residents, can increasingly hear comments such as: We can’t take it any more, we’re sick and tired of it. And the continuation: If only the days of full Israeli occupation would return. Occasionally one could think that these words are being said out of a desire to find favor with the Israeli listener. But the truth is that they are being said out of despair. When the hope of establishing a state within the territories, with Jerusalem as its capital, is lost, one can undertake to fight Israel to the finish, as Hamas proposes, or give up and say, under these circumstances, let there be occupation. In other words, make the State of Israel take full responsibility for the territories.
Sooner or later Hamas will fail in its war against Israel. But that does mean that there will then be a return to the days of Oslo and the two-state vision, which has withered and died since September 2000. Rather, there will be increasingly strong demands by Palestinian Arabs, who constitute almost half the inhabitants of this land, who will say: Under the present conditions we cannot establish a state of our own, and what remains for us is to demand civil rights in the country that is our homeland. They will adopt the slogans of the struggle of the Arabs who are Israeli citizens, who demand equality and the definition of Israel as a state of all its citizens. That won’t happen tomorrow morning, but there doesn’t seem to be any option to its happening eventually. If there aren’t two states for the two nations, in the end there will be one state.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the result of the 1967 war and Israel’s handling of its aftermath, was to obliterate the reality of a partitioned Palestine. Since the summer of 1967, there has been only one state between the Jordan River and the sea — an apartheid state. And the idea of dismantling it through separation into two distinct geographic entities may be an idea whose time has come — and gone.