When discussing the Middle East, people often let their emotions cloud their view of the reality on the ground. Just for the length of this article, set aside your beliefs about who�s right and who�s wrong and let�s look objectively at the situation.
Since 1948, many Palestinians have lived their lives in wretched UN run refugee camps. These Palestinians are not allowed to become citizens of any Arab State other than Jordan ostensibly because they will one day return to Israel. In the disputed territories, children are taught virulent anti-Semitism and the virtues of violent resistance from their childhood on. That’s hardly surprising when you consider that terrorist groups like Hamas have become quasi-governmental agencies that run schools, hospitals, day care centers, and mosques. Hamas has been able to do these things because Yasser Arafat’s government is so hopelessly corrupt and inefficient that it�s not capable of meeting the basic needs of the Palestinian people.
Arafat has spent the last five decades fighting Israel in one capacity or the other. That combined with the numerous terrorist attacks on Israel by organizations under his control, the Karine A, documents connecting him to terrorism, his calls for Palestinians to �martyr� themselves, and his refusal to make any serious attempt to stop terrorist attacks against Israel has destroyed his credibility with Israel and the United States while cementing his position with his own people.
That leaves Arafat in an impossible position. His history suggests that he wants to destroy Israel but he doesn�t possess the means to do so. Taking that into consideration, it seems that the rational decision for Arafat to make would be to negotiate. But, his credibility with Israel has been so shattered that they consider negotiating with him pointless. Even if somehow, some way, Arafat convinced the Israelis that he was serious, his own people would scuttle the peace process. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would attempt to stop any negotiations because successful peace talks would mean an end to their existence. A serious attempt by Arafat to crush these groups would probably result in a Palestinian civil war or at least attempts on Arafat�s life. Furthermore, the general populace would turn against Arafat if he negotiated a settlement that did not adequately address the fate of the Palestinian refugees. Since Israel would not under any circumstances accept these refugees into their territory, it’s doubtful that Arafat could find a way to satisfy his people on this issue. Because of all these factors, Arafat would have to risk his life and his position to reach a meaningful deal with the Israelis and absolutely nothing in his background indicates that he�d be willing to do that.
That has led some people to call for other �Palestinian leaders to step forward.� That approach is doomed to failure for two reasons. One, any �Palestinian leader� of significance who spoke out against Arafat and forcefully argued for a peaceful settlement would be called a collaborator and strung up from a lamp post shortly afterwards. Even if that didn�t happen, Arafat would tolerate no challenge to his leadership and would eliminate anyone who avoided being tortured to death by a Palestinian mob. Even if Arafat were to be expelled to a foreign country, the conventional wisdom seems to be that he would just be replaced with another terrorist who would be even less likely (if that�s possible), to negotiate a peace with Israel.
While Israel and the Palestinians have radically different political situations, the Israelis are no more able to make peace than the Palestinians under the current conditions. While there is a large peace movement in Israel led by the Labor party, almost a decade of fruitless negotiations with the Palestinians and the countless terrorist attacks suffered by the Israeli people have sapped their strength. Furthermore, the attitudes of the Israeli people are getting harder almost by the day. How bad is it getting? A recent poll done by the Jaffe center showed that 46% of the Israeli people actually favor �transferring� the Palestinians out of the disputed territories. At one time, that was considered a fringe position in Israel, but it may soon be the majority view.
Therein lies the dilemma for Ariel Sharon. His people are willing to try almost anything to end the violence, but what are Sharon�s options? As has already been detailed, negotiating with Arafat is futile. Yet, the United States publicly opposes making any sort of move to get rid of Arafat. While Israel and the US are not joined at the hip policy wise, Sharon is naturally reluctant to defy a super power that seems to be the only nation in the world that fervently supports his country. That has led to Sharon�s ineffective tit for tat strikes against the Palestinians. While Sharon did make a larger, much more effective strike against the Palestinians after the Passover massacre, the United States again forced Israel to pull back before they were ready to do so. So Sharon can�t negotiate and he seems unwilling to take advantage of Israel�s overwhelming military superiority because of pressure from the United States.
Worse yet for Sharon, his own Likud party tried to take away the only real negotiating tool he has by voting against establishing a Palestinian State last weekend. Moreover, Benjamin Netanyahu is significantly more popular than Sharon amongst Likud members and is running on a platform of expelling Arafat, eliminating all weapons and terrorists from the disputed territories, eliminating the Palestinian authority, and setting up a buffer zone between Israel and the disputed territories. That strategy is going to look better and better to the Israeli public as time goes on unless Sharon can somehow stop the violence. But without offering a Palestinian State, what can Sharon propose that the Palestinians would be interested in? It�s actually ironic that Sharon is considered a fire-breathing warmonger by much of the world when his stance is actually moderate compared to the man who would likely replace him if he loses in the next election.
After reading this, it should be obvious that there isn�t going to be a peacefully negotiated settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The attitudes of both sides have become far too radicalized for any sort of peace conference to paper over. Eventually, either Netanyahu will get elected or there will be a terrorist attack that forces Sharon�s hand. Then for good or ill, Netanyahu�s agenda will be carried out whether he�s in office or not. When that happens, look for a level of outrage from the �Arab Street� and Europe that will dwarf anything that was seen during �Operation Defensive Shield.� Will the upcoming Israeli offensive bring peace, regional war, or is it just an prelude to a possible �transfer� of the Palestinians? No one knows the answer to those questions yet. But, we can now foresee that the happy ending so many people have long envisioned, with peace talks leading to two States living beside of each other in harmony, aren�t going to come to fruition.