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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

What Peace Process?

George W. Bush just finished his first visit to Israel as president, and restated his support for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian "peace process", also called the "road map". The trouble is, there is no ongoing peace process.

Almost 20 years ago, in his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem", Thomas Friedman wrote of the essential problem with Middle East negotiations. Whoever is in a strong position thinks "why do I need to compromise?" Whoever is in a weak position thinks "how can I afford to compromise?" And nobody compromises.

Right now, Israel is in the strong position. Tourism is up, the economy is booming, and the security barrier (called a "fence" by its supporters and a "wall" by its opponents — it's really some of both) has largely done its job. Terror strikes are rare and even car thefts are far less common than they used to be. Why compromise when you're up?

Mind you, most people do want peace, and are willing to give up most of the West Bank for it, just as they gave up Gaza a few years ago. Heck, they'd say "good riddance" to most of it — but not all of it. And not by giving it to a Palestinian Authority that seems neither able nor willing to fight terror. Israelis don't mind the idea of a Palestinian state next door, but nobody wants to live next door to Hamas-stan.

At the same time, a very vocal minority objects to any withdrawal, especially from established settlements. Without a sense of urgency, the majority is unwilling to confront this passionate minority, so the West Bank settlements continue to grow and grow.

The Palestinians, by contrast, are in the weak position, and help is needed urgently. Economically, the West Bank is poor, and the Gaza Strip is destitute. Everybody agrees that something must be done.

The trouble is, "something" usually means fighting. Occasionally fighting the Israelis, but more often fighting each other. Last summer, the Palestinians fought a brief civil war in the Gaza Strip, with Hamas taking control of the government there. Shops were looted, supporters of the rival Fatah movement were lynched, and Hamas proclaimed a great victory over Israel. (Never mind that Israel merely watched in horror, as did much of the world.) Meanwhile, Fatah kept control of the West Bank and cracked down on Hamas there. So now there are two Palestinian power centers, neither of which has any control over the other's territory, and neither of which will honor any agreements made by the other.

In this depressed and violent climate, where there are no tangible victories to be had, there's a huge premium on saving face. Hamas keeps lobbing rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. (More precisely, Hamas allows other radical groups, like Islamic Jihad, to do the lobbing.) These rarely do much damage, but they keep up the illusion that "resistance to the Zionist occupation" is continuing. Many Palestinians support a 2-state solution, but Palestinians of all stripes won't budge on the "right of return" — the idea that the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war should be allowed to reclaim their ancestral homes within Israel, thereby turning Israel into a majority-Arab state. In other words, destroying Israel. Never mind that this will never happen. Anybody who gives up on the impossible dream is branded a traitor or a collaborator, and risks being killed by a mob. (How can you compromise when you're down?)

A few years ago, Israel and Fatah (but not Hamas) agreed to a "road map" proposed by the US and Europe. Israel would halt settlement activity. The Palestinians would crack down on armed militias and terror groups and stop their incitements to violence. Israel would free some prisoners and release frozen funds, and so on. All of these were good ideas, and there were a few well-publicized one-time gestures, but the basic facts on the ground didn't change.

Hamas wasn't disarmed — it took over Gaza. The Palestinian school texts, Friday sermons, and TV remained as hate-filled as ever. Even children's programming celebrates suicide bombers. On the flip side, a few illegal Israeli settlements were dismantled, but others popped up almost as fast. The biggest Israeli settlements continued to grow, and the security barrier shut the West Bank off from the world. Israel's grip on the West Bank is as tight as ever.

I'm not saying that peace in impossible. Peace is possible, but only if determined and courageous people on both sides set out on a new path, preferably with the United States showing the way. It's possible if Israeli and Palestinian leaders confront the extremists on both sides and stare them down, confident that their negotiating partners are doing the same.

But a 2-day trip, filled with photo ops and platitudes, won't do the job. To the extent that the "road map" still exists, it's filled with nothing but dead ends.

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