Some things simply can't be done
Published on Sunday, January 04, 2009
There's this problem with things that can't be done. It turns out that you can't do them. Bringing peace to Palestine is one of those things.
Since Coke tried to teach the world to sing, American presidents have been trying to broker a settlement between the nation of Israel and her Arab neighbors. The result of all those decades of earnest negotiations and Rose Garden photos is now on display.
Israel has launched military action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Think of it as a belated Christmas gift to President-elect Barack Obama.
It's not that peace negotiations never achieved anything. Jimmy Carter did achieve a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, for which he genuinely deserved his Nobel Prize. Carter is an intelligent man, and he worked hard to master the details of the conflict. But he succeeded only because the ingredients for success were there.
You had two coherent governments, each wanting something from the other, and each able to deliver it. Israel wanted peace with Egypt and was willing to give up the Sinai Peninsula, which it occupied, to get it. Egypt wanted the Sinai Peninsula, and was willing to give up hostilities to get it back.
By contrast, a peace agreement between Israel and Syria is not in the cards. This is because Israel has nothing comparable to the Sinai that Syria wants. But one can imagine such an agreement.
If someone could offer Syria something it did want badly enough, the Syrian government would at least be able to hold up its end of the bargain.
Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is difficult even to imagine. At present, the Gaza Strip, at Israel's southwest corner, is under Palestinian control.
The Hamas faction followed up its legitimate election victory by launching a civil war against Fatah, the remnants of Yasser Arafat's party. But Hamas has turned Gaza into a military platform from which to launch a constant barrage of missiles into Israel.
It's not that Hamas is doing all the launching, or even most of it. It just “allows” the attacks to go on. It would be hard pressed to bring all the splinter factions under control if it should genuinely want to pursue peace with Israel.
Meanwhile Fatah, under Mahmoud Abbas, controls the West Bank territory. With whom do the Israelis negotiate: Hamas or Fatah?
Neither has developed coherent institutions with which to govern its own territory and people, so neither could be counted on to hold up its end of any deal.
The bigger problem is that Hamas doesn't want a deal with Israel; it wants the death of Israel. It's hard to see how you negotiate with someone whose bottom-line demand is that you give up the ghost.
Hamas cannot trade away its ultimate aim because that aim is precisely the reason for its triumph over Fatah in Gaza. It won because it was more brutal, more inflexible in its hatred of Israel, than its rival.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was in part a success. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon built a wall around the strip, which brought to an end the waves of suicide bombers that crossed into Israel and killed scores of innocent civilians. But the wall can't keep out missiles. Every Israeli withdrawal from disputed territory means that the terrorists move their missile launchers up to the new border.
Any truce is just so much time for Hamas and its allies to move in more weapons, and prepare more mayhem. Israel is hardly innocent. But there is this difference. Israel's recent strikes were precisely aimed at Hamas military targets. If they also killed civilians, that is largely because that's where Hamas puts its soldiers and hardware.
The terrorists, by contrast, aim their missiles, as precisely as they can, at civilians. Recently an improvised missile fell a bit short and killed two Palestinian children.
Now Israel faces missile attacks both from the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, and from Gaza. That leaves nowhere to retreat. That might explain Israel's recent actions.
This situation is what President Obama will inherit. He will try to bring peace to the region. And he will fail.
Kenneth C. Blanchard Jr., is a professor of political science at Northern State University. His columns appears occasionally in the American News. Write to him at the American News, P.O. Box 4430, Aberdeen, S.D., 57402, or e-mail [email protected] The views presented are those of the author and do not represent those of Northern State University.
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