Yasser Arafat is dead. His posterity is divided in two. Some believe he bears some sort of cosmic responsibility for refusing a state when it was offered to him four years ago. Others believe that, with Arafat's death, Israel has lost its historic chance to make peace with the Palestinians. The last view is based on Arafat the legitimate. Only Arafat had so much support in his own people that he could have sold a peace deal, according to this theory.
Both are true. The Camp David Accords, and later the Taba negotiations, gave the Palestinians everything they could dare to hope for. This does not mean that the agreement was good. Not that it was bad either. Only that the Palestinians will never get as much, or more, out of future negotiations. To say no to Camp David was to say no to a common, negotiated peace. In practice, it put the negotiating card dead, and it was a decision made by Arafat the authoritarian – not by the Palestinian people.
Equally right is that Israel has no party to talk now that Arafat is gone. Of course, they can negotiate with Mahmud Abbas, but he is unable to negotiate a deal. Or they could have negotiated with the real enemy of greater legitimacy, namely Hamas. But that's unthinkable. Thus, all potential conversations in the wake of the deaths of the century become just a game for the gallery. It fits Israel well.
At the bottom of the totally entrenched and deeply perverted conflict in the Middle East lies a fact that has only grown stronger over the last ten years: Israel needs no peace with the Palestinians. And now less than ever.
Decades of negotiations
A lot can be said about Arafat's faltering and quite catastrophic walk through Palestinian history. Paradoxically, Arafat is not the biggest problem, because after all, Palestinian terror groups, in their perverse way, managed to put the Middle East question on the international agenda.
Neither is the exile conductor the problem. From his exile in Tunis, Arafat in 1988 did what he perceived to be realpolitical necessity; he acknowledged the state of Israel's right to exist and renounced all use of terror.
No, Arafat's role as a destructive force in the Palestinian liberation struggle began as late as the 90s. The 90s were the decade of opportunity in the inflamed and deadlocked conflict. This was partly due to a general euphoria over the fall of communism. But just as much, it was due to a kind of logical progression in the struggle itself. Funds and goals had changed, and there was really only one card left: negotiations.
From 1948 to 1973, the goal of the Arab states was to crush Israel by military force. It failed. At the same time, pan-Arabism came to the fore as the prevailing ideology. After the Yom Kippur War, it was clear to everyone that the Zionist state had come to stay. The military card was used up.
Like many other desperate liberation groups in this world, the Palestinians also sought refuge in terror. It was a negative strategy rooted in the absence of other legitimate methods and a lack of allies. But it was also a strategy that discredited the PLO. After a few years, this card was also used up.
It was the home front that took over intifadaen in the 80s. But stone-throwing Palestinian youths also failed to liberate any part of Palestine. What they managed, however, was to bring the conflict to an international level. In 1991, the Madrid negotiations came in the wake of the first Iraq war.
There were conversations between three parties; Jordan, Israel and the home front, with the Americans as monitors and facilitators. But the PLO was not involved, and neither was Arafat. It was too much for a leader who already showed signs of megalomania. He cut off the negotiations and entered into a dialogue with Oslo instead. Thus, he threw the United States out of the conflict.
By putting his name under the Oslo agreement, Arafat made the strategic blunder that he pushed the question of settlements into the future. All other major issues were also exposed, such as Jerusalem, refugees and the final status of the territory. But it was the settlements that mattered to the future state. It has always been, and still is, the settlements that create the facts on the ground that make the state impossible.
Bantustans and the like-state
The Oslo agreement reflected the actual balance of power between the two parties, and has subsequently been sabotaged by all actors and understanders in this conflict – except here at home. The Israelis demanded flawless implementation of the interim period before the negotiations were continued – and got it. Thus, in practice, they gained a veto over both the process and the end result. It was a strategy they would repeat under the roadmap for peace many years later, when terror became the card the Israelis used to torpedo the dream of a Palestinian state.
Under the Oslo Accords, Palestine was divided into a number of Bantustans with varying and confusing degrees of autonomy. One had to be a Norwegian (and reasonably incompetent) diplomat to discern the state that the architects behind this house of cards thought they were creating. But Arafat had got his like-state. He did not content himself with a more symbolic presidency in respect of the efforts of the local leadership. Instead, they became the leaders of the home front; skilled, intelligent Palestinians with the competence to carry out nation-building, put on the sidelines. There should be no one above, and no one beside Arafat. Ideally, there should be no one right below either.
There was a fatal lack of leadership qualities. He had been given the shell of a possible future state, and could fill it with whatever he wanted. There were facades instead of real infrastructure. There were corrupt lackeys instead of clarified hierarchy and fixed rules for the succession. The fact that the Palestinians today have no leader with legitimacy is solely Arafat's fault. His state became a poor copy of the Soviet nomenclature system: no one in permanent positions for too long, no free elections, no transfer of power to parliament and government, and no unified command of the security forces.
It was a state doomed to defeat; because of the Israeli occupation, of course, but also because Arafat failed the transition from revolutionary leader to serious nation-builder. It created a vacuum. And it was this vacuum that Hamas went in and filled.
Nevertheless. Four years ago, new negotiations took place. The Oslo process was in ruins, and President Bill Clinton decided to make one last attempt. The result was the Camp David agreement. Men Arafat so to.
In retrospect, there has been much debate about whether the Palestinian president should have accepted what he was offered at Camp David. Arafat's supporters claim it was a bad deal, and it certainly was. His critics focus more on the violent consequences of this no on the Israeli side.
To this one can say the following: it was without a doubt that Arafat's gut feeling in relation to public opinion was completely correct. The Palestinians would not have accepted this agreement. But in order to create greater legitimacy for the refusal, the Palestinian people themselves should have had a say. Instead, it was Arafat who, in the usual style, made the decision entirely on his own.
Tactically, of course, Arafat should have made sure that it was the Israelis who knelt Camp David, something they would have done. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, had made it abundantly clear before, during and after the talks that such an agreement would never be approved there. In retrospect, one must be able to summarize that it would have been a great advantage if the world's anger over the collapse had been directed at the Israelis.
The second most dramatic consequence was that the United States, for the second time, was thrown out of the peace process, by the same Arafat who had shown them the finger in 1991. The most dramatic consequence was that the Palestinians had put the negotiating card dead.
“The great trek”
All this is relevant because it so clearly shows that the logical progression of the conflict has come to an end. Three Arab-Israeli wars, decades of terror, two intifadas and at least three major rounds of negotiations have yielded no results. All the cards are used up. There is no more to pick up.
To use a picture, one can say that the conflict has worked its way up a steep slope, via war, terror, intifada and negotiations and then to bend over the edge and disappear. For can one at all imagine that the Israelis are willing to give as much as they did four years ago, not to mention more?
In parallel with a kind of historical and vertical shift, there has been a geographical and territorial shift. It is about something as simple as the fact that the Israelis have never had such wide and heavy control over the former Mandate Palestine as now.
The long historical perspective is this: In November 1947, the UN divided the British Mandate-Palestine between the Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants. Following the decision, the Israelis began a brutal ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians inside, but also outside, the borders of the new Israel. The war and the ensuing ceasefire gave Israel more territory than they had received the year before. The Six Day War gave them even more.
From 1967 until today, Israel has annexed Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, sent settlers into the West Bank and Gaza, and built a wall. From having half the country in 1947 to 80 percent of half in 1948, to about 70 percent of 80 percent in 1972 (when the settlers already owned 28 percent of the West Bank) and up to the Oslo agreement with autonomy in about twenty percent of the 80 percent , alternatively: 58 percent of 80 percent in 2000, when the settlers owned as much as 42 percent.
Before the wall came and ate a bit more.
In the four years following the Oslo Accords, from 1992 to 1996, the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin injected $ 46 million into new settlements. The number of settlers in 1992 was 144.000 people. Four years later, the number had more than doubled.
Today there are eleven Israeli settlements on the short journey between Jerusalem and Hebron. These are settlements located outside the main route of the wall; in other words, on the “Palestinian” side. It's not going to stay that way. The gemstone in this chain of settlements is Kirjat Arba. Sooner or later, it will be swallowed up by Israel's expansionist policies.
One move has been stuck on the Israeli side from the very beginning; namely, that Israel should have the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. This is how it will be too. The next few decades will see a slow but relentless expulsion of the Palestinians to the east. In fifty years, the Palestinians in the West Bank will live in (an expanded?) Jordan, while Gaza will belong to Egypt. One hundred years of bloody history will end in what Transjordan's King Abdullah and the Zionists negotiated as early as the 1920s.
A horrible realization
Could Arafat have stopped Israel's brutal "great trek" eastward by saying yes to Camp David four years ago? In that case, one must think along the following lines:
In the 1990s, Israel woke up to the painful and horrific realization that a common state was growing out of the two entities on both sides of the Green Line. And not only that: this de facto common state would have an Arab majority in 2010.
The conclusion was separation. This separation could either take place bilaterally by the Palestinians and the Israelis negotiating a solution with two states. Or it could happen unilaterally by the Israelis getting rid of the Palestinians.
At the bottom was a realization that there would soon be so many settlers living in the West Bank that the separation became impossible. The wall came both as a safeguard against terrorism, and as a buffer against a development where there would be nothing to separate.
It was in this room that the negotiations were conducted in the United States. And it was the possibility of a bilateral solution that was shattered when Arafat said no.
Thus remained the unilateral "peace." In the first instance, it is a matter of getting rid of one million Palestinians in Gaza. Then it is about taking as much of the West Bank as possible without getting too many Arabs involved in the purchase. The Israelis are obsessed with the Jewish character of the state. It is this obsession that defines the historically conditioned means of power at all times. At times, these means of power are about ethnic cleansing, massacres and war. In other periods, it may be a matter of stopping the advance if it serves the Jewish state in the long run.
As always, the conflict is defined from the point of view of the Israelis. Moral objections, justice or empathy never become part of the equation. It is all about the survival of the Jewish state. At times, the pigeons may be open. But the hawks always return.
This hawkish mentality today coincides with, and is reinforced by, a third historical shift: from the secular to the irreconcilable religious in both societies. In Israel, this radicalization leads to action, in the form of religiously distorted settlers in spearhead operations in the West Bank. In Palestine, it is due to a reaction to the brutalization of the whole conflict and the betrayal of its own national leadership.
The Palestinians have never had leaders who have been at the height of the historic conflict. The Israelis, on the other hand, have had brilliant leaders with tactical expertise and strategically defined goals. The Zionists were always willing to take the stone they received from the international community, and then use it to break loose more stones for the construction of the Promised Land. In 1947, they got a far too bad "deal" – they thought themselves. But they accepted, and it was this breaking rod that made it possible for them to take the rest.
It has made them the strongest party. This strongest party has sometimes allowed itself – reluctantly – to get involved in negotiations with its hated counterpart. But parts of Israeli society have also had a real hope that an exchange of land for peace would lead to relaxed coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis.
Land against peace, however, is no longer an option. Israel will not have peace even if it withdraws from land. Hamas and other militant groups have made this abundantly clear.
The only thing Israel gets in exchange for peace with the Palestinians now is an apocalyptic civil war between settlers and the government army, as well as as many terrorist attacks as before. These are the actual results of a renegotiated peace these days. Therefore, there will be no peace. And therefore there will be no Palestinian state either.