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Monday, August 07, 2006

It's not about borders - it's about existence

I don't know where the Washington Post finds these people.

Today's edition features an op-ed column by John Waterbury, the President of the American University in Beirut. Waterbury decries what he refers to as the 'status quo' in the Middle East. He lists reasons why nearly every actor in the region has preferred the status quo since his not-so-randomly chosen starting point of 1967:
Israel has had a distinct preference for the status quo, founded on conventional military superiority over all its neighbors and some strategic depth through its retaining the occupied territories.

While the Cold War continued, the United States was not entirely comfortable with the status quo as it offered the Soviet Union a restive back yard in which to meddle, but the situation was manageable until 1973.

In 1973 Egypt's Anwar Sadat resorted to a limited war against Israel to dislodge it from the Suez Canal and to draw the United States into an active role of mediation. It is doubtful that Sadat anticipated even the limited military success his forces attained. He did anticipate an international crisis. Moscow obligingly threatened intervention, and Henry Kissinger began his famous shuttle diplomacy. Israel gave up the occupied Sinai Peninsula but not the essential ingredients of the status quo: military superiority, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights. This modification of the status quo was embodied in the Camp David accords of 1979.

From then on, and up to 1989, the Arab states, led by Egypt (and with the exception of Iraq), pretty much abandoned the military option against Israel. Even Iraq was more intent on using its military power against Iran and Kuwait than against Israel. Nor, after 1973, did any of the Arab oil producers, with the exception of Iraq, do anything to drive up prices or interdict oil supply.

Arab authoritarians tacitly accepted the status quo in exchange for tacit acceptance of their rule by Washington. Arab governmental, financial and military support for the Palestinians dwindled. Action spoke volumes more than words.

With the end of the Cold War, Washington's alignment with Israel and the status quo in the Arab-Israeli theater become more solid than ever. If Israel seemed willing to move, as under Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, Washington moved, too. If Israel was unwilling to move, as under Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, Washington asked few questions. Two intifadas shook but did not break the status quo.
There are several flaws with Waterbury's argument. The first is his choice of starting date - 1967. Waterbury's choice of 1967 implies that the Arab-Islamist bloc has nothing against Israel other than Israel's having won a war that it did not start. That war left Israel holding strategic assets consisting of territory, water resources, and until 1982, oil supplies. But Waterbury's implication is far from the truth. The Arab-Islamist bloc's dispute with Israel is not over Israel's borders, but over Israel's existence.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded by the Arab League in 1964 before Israel ever had Judea and Samaria (what the world calls the 'West Bank') and Gaza in its possession. The organization's emblem - which has never changed - shows a 'Palestinian' flag above an image of 'Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea,' including all of present-day Israel. The PLO's goal was and remains the destruction of the State of Israel through armed struggle, and replacing it with an "independent Palestinian state" between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. More recently, the PLO purported to adopt a 'two-state solution,' with Israel and 'Palestine' living side by side, as its goal.

The PLO claims that 'Palestinian' Arabs are entitled to a right of 'self-determination' and sovereignty in their own land, and are also entitled to a 'right of return.' The 'right of self-determination' pre-supposes the existence of a separate 'Palestinian' Arab ethnic identity, which itself is highly questionable. The 'right of return,' on the other hand, is a euphemism for destroying the Jewish character of the State of Israel through massive demographic change (the influx of 'refugees' whose forebears left the area up to sixty years ago) and making the country uninhabitable for its Jews. In other words, Waterbury's statements to the contrary, it is not the 1967 war whose results much of the Arab and Islamic world are trying to reverse, but the 1948 war, in which the fledgling Jewish state defended its existence against the onslaught of five Arab armies. The so-called 'two-state solution' and the 'right of return' are just modern weapons with which to continue the 1948 battle in a manner that the world finds more palatable than 'throwing the Jews into the sea.'

The proof that the issue is the 1948 war's results - and not the 1967 war's results - lies in one of the events that Waterbury glosses over; Israel's unilateral surrender of the Gaza Strip one year ago to the 'Palestinian Authority,' the quasi-government that is the spiritual successor to the PLO.

When the armistice was declared in 1949, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip was confirmed by the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, signed on February 24 of that year. The main points were:
  • The armistice line was drawn along the international border (dating back to 1906) for the most part, except near the Mediterranean Sea, where Egypt remained in control of a strip of land along the coast, which became known as the Gaza Strip.
  • The Egyptian forces besieged in the Faluja Pocket were allowed to return to Egypt with their weapons, and the area was handed over to Israel.
  • A zone on both sides of the border around Uja al-Hafeer (Nitzana) was to be demilitarized, and became the seat of the bilateral armistice committee.
On June 5, 1967, weeks after Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran and cut off Israeli shipping, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Egypt, beginning the Six Day War. It rapidly defeated the surrounding Arab states and took control of, among other areas, the Gaza Strip.

In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, which brought an 'official end' to the strife between them. The second part of the accords was a framework for the establishment of an autonomous regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Egypt thus signaled an end to any ambitions to control the Gaza Strip itself; from then on, the Gaza Strip's status would be discussed as part of the more general issue of proposals for 'Palestinian self-government.'

In August 2005, Israeli 'unilaterally withdrew' its army and civilians from the Gaza Strip, expelling about 9000 Jewish residents and destroying twenty-one Jewish communities. Israel also dismantled numerous military installations and gave over control of the border area with Egypt to the Egyptians, 'Palestinians' and European 'observers.'

Since 2002, the 'Palestinians' have been shooting Kassam (or Qassam) rockets into Israel from Gaza. The Kassam rocket is a simple home-made steel rocket filled with explosives, produced by the Palestinian Hamas movement. Three models have been used. Although they are sometimes referred to as missiles, they are free-flight artillery rockets lacking any guidance system. The most frequent targets of the Kassam rockets are civilians.

The Gaza Strip, from which most of the Kassams have been launched, is surrounded by a 'security barrier' and has been free of Israeli soldiers since September 2005. The Kassam is intended to travel over the barrier and strike Israeli civilian targets outside the strip.

The Israeli center believed that Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would lead to an end to the Kassams being shot into Israel - as should have been the case if the issue between Israel and the 'Palestinians' relates to land and borders and derives from the 1967 war. The Israeli right warned that this was not the case, and that Israel's fight was not with the 'Palestinians' but with the entire Arab-Islamist world, which does not accept Israel's existence. The center sided with the left (which believes that ruling over people who do not accept your government is morally wrong in all circumstances) in bringing about the Gaza 'withdrawal.' But the continual and increasing rain of Kassam rockets onto southern Israel from the Gaza Strip since the Israeli withdrawal has proven that the right was correct. The issue isn't borders. It's Israel's existence.

It is in the 1948 context that the current fighting between Israel and Hezbullah can also be understood - and only in that context. While Lebanon does have a substantial number of 'Palestinian refugees,' no claim has been made that Hezbullah is a 'Palestinian' organization or that it is fighting for the 'Palestinians.' In fact, most of the 'Palestinians' (including Hamas) are Sunni and many of them are secular. Hezbullah is a fanatically religious Shiite organization. But what Hezbullah has in common with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is that it too is fighting the 1948 war. The 1948 war is not a war over territory but a war over Israel's existence - a lone Jewish democracy in a sea of despotic Arab countries. The 1948 war is a jihad against the 'sons of apes and pigs,' the 'infidel Jews.' As such, the 1948 war is the vanguard of the global jihad that the Islamic world is fighting against the west today.

The premise of Mr. Waterbury's calling the current situation a 'bad status quo,' is that the roots of the conflict lie in fixing Israel's borders. But the roots of the 'mideast conflict' lie not in Israel's borders but in Israel's very existence. In that context, 'resolving' the 'border issues' by granting land to the 'Palestinians' to establish a 'state' will not resolve the conflict; it will exacerbate the conflict by leaving Israel with indefensible borders, and by feeding the Arab-Islamist belief that eventually Israel will be defeated and the Jewish state will be eviscerated. Make no mistake about it - Israel's defeat would be the West's defeat. After defeating Israel, the Arab-Islamic bloc would seek to destroy Europe and the United States.

Since most Israelis are not willing to just pick up and leave to other countries, and since the Arab-Islamic bloc gives no indication of accepting Israel's permanent existence during our lifetimes, a status quo leaving the basic problems unresolved is the only solution that may currently be viable.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger YMedad said...

Right on the mark.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

From you, that's a real compliment. Thanks.

At 9:22 PM, Blogger Bret said...

carl wrote: "Since most Israelis are not willing to just pick up and leave to other countries..."

Why not? Why not all move to the United States? It's really a great place to be Jewish and there's lots of us here already.

I just don't see how Israel can survive over the next few centuries. The Islamists only need to get lucky once.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


I grew up in the United States. It's a great country and if I couldn't live in Israel, I would live there. But I can live in Israel. So why would I give that up?

There is no better place in the world to be Jewish or to raise Jewish children.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Walid said...

If you have two neighbors, one of whom opposes your presence in the neighborhood, and one of whom doesn not care, would you firebmob the house of the one who does not care in order to "teach a lesson" to the one who wants you to move out? Of course not. But if you wanted to and your wife and kids thought this was a stupid thing to do, would you not tell the wife and kids that "actually, both neigbors want us out, thy're just playing good-cop-bad-cop"?

And then when one of the neighbors questions the wisdom of what you are doing, you go and say "Where do they find these people!" We're actually everywhere, if only you'd look.


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