It’s Palestinian Politics That Prevent the Possibility of Peace


The real reason why there isn't Israeli-Palestinian peace has little to do with Israeli or American policies but rather relates to that most neglected of all regional issues: Palestinian politics and ideology.

The basic problem is that the Palestinian movement has not truly reconciled itself to a two-state solution. Rather, it persists in believing that total victory, with Israel's disappearance and replacement by an Arab (i.e., Palestinian Authority, Fatah) or Islamist (i.e., Hamas and Islamic Jihad) state is not only preferable but also possible.

The fact that this is not a realistic expectation isn't important since most Palestinians believe otherwise. They believe there are two ways such total victory can be achieved. First, persistent Palestinian warfare could wear down Israel, leading to an internal collapse of the country.

Second, clever maneuvering and propaganda might lead the West to abandon Israel and the world to deliver that country to a peace agreement. Such an agreement would leave the door open for a second stage in which a Palestinian state could — with the help of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians allowed to live in Israel — bring down the Jewish state.

Again, these are unreasonable expectations and these things won't happen. But they are the bedrock of Palestinian politics.

The movement's leaders hold three different but overlapping views. Some know they can't win total victory but also understand that for them to say so publicly and follow a truly moderate course would be political suicide.

A far larger group cynically uses militancy to seek and hold power, ready to bash rivals for even the smallest detour from the hard-line stance. Still others, especially Hamas but also some in Fatah, truly believe that total victory is possible. They argue that the Palestinian movement did not succeed in the past simply because they didn't fight hard enough and made too many compromises.

It is unpleasant for many in the West, including Jews, to hear this analysis for several reasons.

First, people want peace and would like to believe that it is attainable. Second, many Israelis and Jews in the West find it comforting to think that if they only say or do the right things — which usually means more concessions — everything will turn out all right.

Third, and this is ironic in this age of "political correctness," there is an underlying, unconscious sense of superiority toward Third World peoples, especially among those on the left, which denies them their existence as conscious human beings who have their own beliefs and make their own decisions. Understanding that the Palestinian movement is the barrier to peace has nothing to do with personal political views: It is a question of facts and evidence.

The failed peace process of the 1990s is the best but not the only example of how Palestinians have proven to be the barrier to peace.

This does not, however, mean that nothing can be done. A proper strategy needs to include: defeating Hamas; ensuring that Hamas does not take over the West Bank; strengthening Israel; working with the P.A. to maximize Palestinian living standards and minimize violence. Perhaps the day will come when the Palestinian leadership comes to the conclusion that total victory is impossible and the people no longer accept this goal. Maybe the world will some day give the Palestinians a choice between making a compromise peace and getting international support. They can't have both.

Barry Rubin is director of the Tel Aviv-based Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. He will be speaking locally next week at the Middle East Forum and the Foreign Policy Research Institute.


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