There is an old Yiddish proverb ” Beware of still water, a still dog and a still enemy”. That is an adage Benjamin Netanyahu’s peace delegation might take to heart as it prepares for peace talks in Washington this Thursday. For months the Palestinian Authority has been claiming that it has finally exerted control over its extremist elements, making it a fit partner for a peace talks and respectable to enough be taken seriously by the international community.
But that claim was put to the lie last night as an Israeli family of four was gunned down in cold blood on the outskirts of Hebron. The murder, by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, should make everyone understand that seeming Palestinian quietude is often a mask for the execution of the next terrorist strike.
On the surface, these times may indeed seem propitious for final negotiations. The Palestinian economy is booming, Israelis are desperate to find a passage out of their current diplomatic isolation and the Obama Administration seems fully engaged, eager to end a nettlesome problem which stands in the way of a broader compact with the Arab world.
But lets get real. The Palestinian delegation arriving in Washington this week is nothing more than a rump party, representing barely a third of Palestinian population and less than a quarter of domestic opinion ( which remains avowedly opposed to the recognition of Israel) ; Its leadership has not foresworn the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper ( a deal killer for any Israeli government – of either right or left) and Palestinian school books still preach the value and benefit of murdering Jews.
Not exactly the ideal nest for hatching a peace egg, now is it? .
Beyond even this uncomfortable reality is the specter of of the 800 pound gorilla that everyone conveniently ignores. Hamas is not party to these talks, nor does it wish to be. It is doing just fine, thank you very much, garnering global sympathy as a victim of Israeli intransigence while gleefully opening its Get Well mail sent by the world following the Flotilla incident of late May. Yet Hamas represents nearly one and a half million Palestinians and is still, by all accounts, very much in control of its tiny territory. Its willingness to defy the local superpower has transformed its image among ordinary Palestinians ( not to mention the broader Arab world) from one of spoiler to that of gladiator. The Palestinians in the West Bank have little to offer as comparable symbols of Muslim manhood.
The failure to recognize that the Palestinian people as irredeemably splintered and wracked by internecine feuds and tribal hatreds – and that is has never had any real incentive to make progress in peace negotiations, has bedeviled almost all peace negotiations since 1991 and will doom these ones as well. No one seems to remember today that the vast majority of Palestinians killed in the first Intifada ( 1987-91) perished at the hand of other Palestinians. Or that hundreds of Palestinians died during Yasser Arafat’s reign in the West Bank, merely for supporting the notion of peace with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, a weak leader whose chief ability appears to be his skill in evading assassination, has none of the charisma or confidence of Yasser Arafat ( nor consummate skill at duping Western leaders) and for years has appeared more than content to sit on his hands and do nothing.
For good reason. A peace agreement does not serve his nor, to his mind at least, Palestinian interests. The Palestinian leadership gains nothing from statehood ( and the implicit expectation that it recognize its neighbor’s right to exist), except death warrants from groups such as the Qassam Brigade and the possible loss of the nepotistic monopolies that they control in their territories. The Palestinian people are also doing fine as inveterate wards of the West, the recipients of more aid per capita than any other people on Earth.
Given this reality there is another Yiddish proverb the Netanyahu folks might wish to recall: “If things are not as you wish, then wish them as they are”. This an apt second guide for all the parties to the peace negotiations. Taken seriously, it may just awaken the peace dreamers to the reality that the Palestinians might actually fight ( as Arafat once did) to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The result could be a renewed Intifada far more desperate and catastrophic than any that has come before it.