Why Middle East Peace Is So Elusive

The two-state solution is too important to fail, though it seems too complex to succeed.


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The lawlessness and the chaos that prevail today in Gaza since Israel's withdrawal is a good indicator of what would happen in the West Bank if Israel withdrew entirely. Israel is only nine miles wide at its waist. Were Arab radicals to occupy what little strategic depth Israel has between the Jordan River and its populated coast, they wouldn't even need missiles to make it uninhabitable. Artillery and mortars would suffice.

The security in the whole region is a nightmare. Syria is breaking up, Egypt is now under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Authority is weaker than ever, Jordan is frozen in time, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States operate under the fear of a nuclear Iran. Is it any surprise that the Israeli prime minister is unshakably convinced that any final accord must include an Israeli security presence on the Jordan River? Without that, arms would be smuggled from Jordan into the West Bank on exactly the same lines and with the same ill intentions as the smuggling of weaponry that Israel has endured from Sinai into Gaza and from Syria to Hezbollah and Lebanon.

International forces? Forget it. They have proven ineffective in places where they have to deal with ongoing hostility. The only forces with a consistent record of preventing the smuggling of arms to terrorists have been Israeli.

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Nor can Israel forget its history, a history that is perceived differently in the Arab world. There Zionism is portrayed as an alien force, as a hyperaggressive variant of colonialism. It is not seen for what it truly is, the response to hundreds of years of anti-Semitism documented in the book A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, which traces the history of a persecuted people driven from their homeland and pursued by vicious stereotypes and evil fabrications, culminating in the Holocaust. The historical fact that belies the vengeful Arab stereotypes is that the majority of Jews came to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the wretched of the earth in search of respite from ceaseless discrimination.

They were young, poor, and desperate. Palestine was then a sparsely populated wild and bleak land. As Winston Churchill, then the British colonial secretary, pointed out, the land was not taken away from the Arabs; the Arabs sold land to Jews only if they chose to do so.

Israelis cannot ever fail to remember, as so many outsiders do, what happened in 1948 after Israel was formally recognized by the United Nations. The local Palestinian militias combined with the armies of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and tried but failed to snuff out the Jewish state. It was during that 1948 War of Independence that Jordan seized control of Judea and Samaria (now known as the West Bank) and sections of Jerusalem that had long been a part of Palestine. Jordanian sovereignty over these areas was never legally recognized by the international community. After the Six Day War in 1967, when the Arab nations tried again to wipe Israel off the map, the country achieved a stunning victory and found itself once again back in control of the rest of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, as well as Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights.

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Jordan had seized the land of the West Bank by blatant and unprovoked aggression against a fledgling state in the war of 1948. Its right to that area was never recognized by the British mandate. In 1988 it ceded its claims to the West Bank to the PLO. The Israelis not only consider the West Bank a critical defensive shield, but also they remember that Samaria and Judea are part of the cradle of Jewish civilization dating back to the biblical era.

The hope that the Arabs would accept Israel as a neighbor died aborning. From the outset, a Jewish presence of any kind in the region was anathema to them. Indeed, their ingrained anti-Semitism was merely expanded into an attack on the idea of Israel and then on the state itself. Much forgotten is the bitter irony that the Arabs now blame Israel for the Palestinians becoming refugees, even though they were rendered homeless in the first place by the Arab decision not to accept partition and to make war, not peace. And after that reckless act, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan did nothing to resettle the refugees in their own lands.