New York Times Guru Tom Friedman tells us that Middle East policy should avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable. The unmanageable, according to Guru Tom, is a war between Israel and its neighbors. Now he tells us! Where was Guru Tom in 1948 when all those Arab armies were invading? Surely he could have avoided that war! If only he would have warned us, we would no doubt have avoided war in 1967. As a matter of fact, considerable efforts were made in that direction, but Mr. Nasser would not agree.
As Friedman must be aware, two conditions are about to be be created, either of which could be sufficient to trigger the next Israel-Arab war, and both of which are very avoidable. Both involve the classic prelude to war: an agreement is flouted without any seeming immediate consequences, because the international community and the great power that should have enforced the agreement chose not to do so. The first is the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State, due in September. The state will be declared by the Palestinian Authority, which was supposedly created in order to negotiate a peace agreement and the creation of a state. One of the constituents of the Palestinian government is the Hamas. Since they have sworn to eliminate Israel by violence, their presence in the Palestinian Authority government is itself a violation of the Oslo accords. The United States and the United Nations have chosen to look the other way. A recent New York Times Op-Ed by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, pegged as a “moderate.” leaves no doubt as to viewpoint and intentions of the Palestinian leadership. They have learned nothing, forgotten nothing, and invented quite a few facts since 1948. The article leaves no doubt that Mr. Abbas considers his hometown of Safed, part of Palestine, for example, and has generated a narrative in which his family’s voluntary flight in 1948 was due to Israeli “ethnic cleansing.”
It is painfully apparent the Palestinian state will pursue an irredentist strategy with the goal of eliminating Israel. They will claim the “right of return” for the Palestinian refugees of 1948, and they will claim cities and land in the heart of Israel, as they did during the Nakba commemoration events. The Nakba myth itself was invented as a means of perpetuating irredentism.
Guru Tom’s advice on how Israel could possibly avoid war in that situation would be greatly appreciated.
The second looming event which will probably precipitate a war is the unilateral abrogation by Egypt of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. About 54% of Egyptians want to end the treat according to a PEW poll. Leading presidential candidate Amr Moussa is variously quoted as pledging to annul the treaty or to honor it. Egyptian Presidential candidate and rights activist Ayman Nour announced that the Camp David agreement is “over.” Of course if the Muslim Brotherhood eventually dominates the Egyptian government, they will annul the treaty. Truthfully, if I were an Egyptian, I might be in favor of annulling the treaty, since this move seemingly has no negative consequences. Egypt will get to keep the land returned in 1981, but will feel free to do all the Israel bashing it likes and resume its place as a leader of the Muslim countries. Of course, if there is no peace treaty, as there was not before 1981, there can be wars. Egypt did not fare well in her wars with Israel, and that impelled the signing of a peace treaty. Egyptians seem to have forgotten this history.
The first priority for those who worry about unmanageable wars, such as Guru Tom Friedman, should thus be to ensure that existing agreements are kept in letter and in spirit. This is also a priority for those who want to advance the peace process, especially those in the U.S. government.
The basis of the Israeli Arab peace process is the slogan “Land for peace.” If it becomes apparent that land concessions do not lead to peace, it will be politically impossible to get land concessions in Israel. The United States is a guarantor of the Egyptian peace treaty and of agreements with the Palestinians. But if those agreements can be violated with impunity, nobody will trust the guarantee of the United States and it will be impossible to propose any peace initiatives.
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