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Monday, January 3, 2011

[By Ira Sharkansky, via email.]

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is at least a century old, although it was not described clearly in its present terms before 1948, or perhaps 1967. It has had periods of sporadic violence, organized mayhem,and most recently a campaign of Palestinians and their friends to achieve politically what they could not obtain with violence. It is not clear if their motives are the complete destruction of Israel, or only what they say in the international languages about 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem, and the refugees' rights of return.

One must always be modest about predicting the future, but it may well be too late for any of what the Palestinians want.

Israel is a prominent creator and supplier of electronic innovations for civilian and military applications, and has discovered two extensive fields of natural gas. It is strong militarily as well as economically, and is far from being a helpless supplicant in international politics.

Part of Israel's strength is the weakness of the Palestinian case. Palestinians claim a monopoly of justice and suffering, but there is blood on their hands. They also have been unfortunate in their allies. Westernpoliticians are careful when talking about Islamic extremism, but 9-11 did not help the cause of Palestinians; neither did the wild allegations that Jews were responsible. A war on terror has taken over where the Cold War left off. "Terror" is at least as vile a word now as "Communist" was in the 1950s, and no matter how careful leaders are to explain, "terrorist" is close to being a synonym for Muslim or Arab.

Iran provides money and arms to those who claim to be allies of Palestine, but the madness of Holocaust denial and threats of Israel's destruction do not help their cause.

Given this setting, it is advisable for the Palestinian leadership to moderate its demands. Its West Bank version has renounced violence, but continues to demand what Israel has refused over the course of 40 years. On two separate occasions, Israeli leaders have offered boundaries close to those of 1967, a place for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, and a symbolic response about refugees. It has not been enough for West Bank leaders claiming to be moderate, and far from the demands of more extreme Palestinians of Gaza and the Palestinian diaspora.

It is not clear that the present Israeli government is as accommodating as those whose offers were rejected in 2000 and 2008. Rather than approaching Israel's position, Palestinians are demanding help from others. Latin American governments have provided symbolic recognitions of what the Palestinians cannot achieve, and the ceremonies may occur elsewhere as well.

How serious are the efforts of more important governments--the United States and Western Europe--to endorse a two-state solution, and pressure, tempt, or manipulate the Israeli government in that direction?

Israel has not been overly accommodating, and the Palestinians have not demonstrated any flexibility deserving the label. Europeans have not moved far beyond lip service. Americans have proven themselves clumsy enough to lose credibility with both Israelis and Arabs.

One hears projections of a demographic imperative that will favor the Palestinians, but that process, if it occurs, will happen on the other side of a wall that Israel is strong enough to preserve.

Thin majorities appear in surveys of Israeli Jews for concessions to the Palestinians, but not on the issue of refugees. A bit of Jerusalem may be possible, but the most recent poll of Israeli Jews is not any more encouraging on that point than the statements of government ministers.

Israel may be more flexible than the Palestinians. The outcomes of an election can produce a government willing to return to earlier offers, but the recent weakness of the left (Meretz and Labor) does not bode well for offering the Palestinians anything more than they have already rejected.

Flexibility is even further from the Palestinian reality. The prospect suffers from six decades investments in their narrative that promises the to those holding to the status of refugees. Flexibility is not in the lexicon of absolute rejectionists among Palestinians or their cheerleaders from Muslim governments.

What we have are moderate Palestinians holding to demands beyond the willingness of even moderate Israeli leaders, an Israel that is gaining strength economically, and the specter of Islamic extremism.

If anyone out there sees tea leaves pointing in the direction of a Palestinian state, let me know what I am missing.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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