The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians finally agree on some thing: Neither side has any confidence that the current talks will bring about a resolution of their conflict.
The gaps between the two sides are so huge that even an optimist like President Bush is seeking not an overall agreement on a two-state solution but only an outline of a possible structure. If that could be accomplished, hard questions would remain. But even the outline of a deal has been made more difficult by the process that’s been followed so far. Instead of a special envoy doing the preparatory work first—to identify the real roadblocks and think of ways round them—we have had joint statements preceding negotiation in the full glare of the publicity that attends anything a president does.
But beyond all that, there is a fundamental reason to have little hope: All past negotiations have gone nowhere primarily because of the manifest Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The record is of almost a century of rejection, beginning with the 1917 Balfour Declaration of the right to a Jewish homeland in Palestine and continuing today. Even when Israel pulled out of Gaza in September 2005, removing its own citizens by force, the Palestinians did not get on with building their own society. They began rocket and mortar attacks on adjacent Jewish communities, to date killing 18 innocent civilians and wounding some 600. More killings and maimings are in prospect with more powerful, more accurate rockets. What incentive has Israel to withdraw from the West Bank when it could become a launching pad for rocket attacks on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Ben-Gurion Airport—a situation that would render Israel virtually uninhabitable? Israel has no margin of security. It is so small that on most globes you can’t find the name “Israel” on the land of Israel; the name has to be written in the sea.
West Bank hesitance. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair gets it. Appointed last summer as the new special envoy of the Mideast quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States, he has spent more time in the region and gained a much better understanding. "I understand more than when I was the prime minister the difficulties here," he says. "I would hesitate to cede the West Bank to the Palestinians after the nightmare Israel has faced since the Gaza withdrawal." He cuts through the fuzziness that envelops so much discussion and reporting: "Land for peace" in and of itself is not sufficient. No less important, he warns, is "the character of the Palestinian state. ... There won't be a Palestinian state unless it is coherently governed and run, and anyone who tells you different is misleading you."
Blair sees clearly what the Palestinian Authority party is as represented by Fatah: a busted flush of aging and corrupt cronies and local warlords who cannot even travel safely in their own cities. Fatah has failed to produce a generation of credible leaders and now is under explicit threat of being displaced by Hamas. Indeed, without the Israeli Defense Forces, Fatah would evaporate within weeks. It is too weak to enforce the rule of law against terrorists or to make compromises for fear of the radical Islamists. It is only a place card at the table for peace, not a partner.
Still, Israelis would have more confidence in the PA if it stopped preaching the elimination of Israel. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment pervade the Palestinian world, with a history of over a century of Arabs killing Jews through massacres and pogroms, well before there was a Jewish state. The highest aspiration of many Palestinian children, as taught to them by their educational, spiritual, and political leaders, is to murder Jews (and other infidels) and to die as a martyr. Will Palestinian moderates ever prevail?
The day after the Annapolis "peace" meeting, the official PA TV broadcast a map in which a Palestinian flag covered not only the West Bank and Gaza but all of Israel from the Jordan River to the sea, along with a drawing of a rifle. The PA's map symbolizes a world without Israel. Just last month it began rebroadcasting an inflammatory fictitious video that begins with a scene of a woman shot dead in the back by Israeli troops. She then ascends to an Islamic paradise to join the "72 virgins" who await any suicide bomber. Next, a young man swears to avenge the woman. He is killed in an attack on the Israelis, and he is then seen joining the group of young women for his eternal reward.