Murderous Overtime


Writing in London's The Guardian, the new Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, essentially spells out Hamas' vision of relations with Israel. What he says, combined with the Israeli decision to move toward unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank if peace talks don't progress within a decent timeframe, only confirms that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is beyond a negotiated resolution, a delay perhaps lasting for decades.

For Hamas, the conditions are these, as Haniyeh writes: "No plan will ever work without a guarantee, in exchange for an end to hostilities by both sides, of a total Israeli withdrawal from all the land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; the release of all our prisoners; the removal of all settlers from all settlements; and recognition of the right of all refugees to return."

Most of this is not much different from what Bill Clinton offered Yasser Arafat in late 2000 (and which Israel accepted), except for that bit about the return of refugees. Return to where, is the question? If it's a return to the cities, towns and villages from which they left or were expelled after 1948, then no resolution is likely, since the Israelis would regard such resettlement as a Palestinian demographic Trojan horse.

Israel, in turn, wants to create a mosaic of separated Palestinian areas in the West Bank, even as it seeks to break off Gaza from the Palestinian areas in the West Bank and effectively push its development westwards so it can link its fate to the Egyptian Sinai. In the West Bank Israel will finish its wall, behind which it hopes to hide.

On both sides, these objectives aren't the substance of peace plans at all, just guarantees that Israelis and Palestinians will fight on until another generation loses interest. Palestinians will soon change tack, because the two-state option is no longer viable, with their state one only in name. They will, instead, begin demanding a single bi-national state in all of geographical Palestine, much like the PLO once did. The Israelis, in turn, will have to find out how to manage a failed Palestinian state on their borders, which will gravitate toward more anti-Israeli violence as factions use this to vie for internal supremacy.

Ariel Sharon and now Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert have been hailed as geniuses, but the fact is that the unilateral disengagement they advocate makes long-term conflict only more inevitable. Oslo was the only chance both sides ever really had to avoid their deadly embrace, and they blew it: the Israelis never used it creatively to help push for a truly democratic state in the West Bank and Gaza, which could have helped guarantee Israel's security down the road; the Palestinians never understood that the right of return was a red line for the Israelis, and that what Clinton offered them in 2000 was the most they could expect at the time.