Finding a solution for the Palestinian problem, it is widely thought, would remove one of the greatest obstacles to world peace in general. Consequently, the “international community” has devoted much effort and finance in devising plans for a “two-state solution” of this problem. Because of the quick failure of every such plan, the Palestinian problem is believed to be unusually intractable.
In fact, however, the Palestinians are marginal even in Middle Eastern terms, since they have neither oil nor anything else that the wider world covets. For decades, even the Arab states have limited their involvement to ritual declarations and payments of conscience money.
Moreover, the intractability of the problem is not intrinsic to it. Rather it is the consensual opinion of the “international community” that has made an eminently solvable problem unsolvable. The “international community” has both misdiagnosed the illness and prescribed the wrong medication. What it has defined as necessary conditions for a solution are in fact sufficient conditions to ensure perpetual conflict.
Who are the “International Community”?
This grand buzz word seems to have emerged in the wake of the “victory of democracy” over European communism, in order to denote the subsequent greater degree of international cooperation. It sounds like millions and millions of people the world over who share a common opinion and will. But the true numbers involved are far smaller.
To begin with, the term “democracy” itself is now used so loosely as to have become almost meaningless. Properly speaking, there is only one democracy in the world today, namely, Switzerland. Only in Switzerland is there a mechanism whereby the people do not merely choose rulers but also determine what policies those rulers are permitted to pursue.
In all other countries, governments determine policy and the people have at most the opportunity to vote the government out from time to time. As I have argued extensively elsewhere, the proper name for this kind of constitution is “competitive oligarchy.” Once every few years, that is, an election enables the people to choose which small group of politicians – which oligarchy – will be in power for the next few years, during which the people will have negligible influence over what their rulers decide.
Often it is only two such oligarchies that compete, such as Labour and the Conservatives in Britain, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany, the Popular Party and the Socialists (PSOE) in Spain. More precisely, it is just the respective party leaderships that compete for national power. As for senior civil servants, in European countries they are not replaced even after elections.
From a long term perspective, therefore, Britain is ruled by a single super-oligarchy, made up of a handful of leaders of each political party and the permanent undersecretaries of the government departments. Adding such figures as the governor of the Bank of England or the editor of The Times would not significantly increase the total number.
In the United States, where actual power is diffused more widely, one should add the leading senators and congress(wo)men and maybe the governors of states. Nevertheless, each of the modern “democracies” is ruled in practice by a super-oligarchy to be numbered sometimes in hundreds, but mostly in tens.
This is why fewer and fewer vote in European elections. Increasingly, the change of government brings little change in policy; the most that voters can do is reinstate those whom they threw out the previous time. This also explains why such a constitution often fails elsewhere in the world, where it creates parliaments made up of tribal oligarchies (Africa) or religious oligarchies (Lebanon). Inasmuch as nobody changes tribe or religion, here an election can change nothing; the system merely institutionalizes the domination of some such groups over others.
The “international community” is then nothing other than the super-oligarchy of all the national super-oligarchies of the more powerful countries, to which one might add the directors of international agencies such as Kofi Annan and the Pope. It is to be numbered in thousands, not even in tens of thousands. In what follows, it is these eminent persons who will be referred to as the IC.
The IC does not have a unanimous view of everything. This is because individual members usually place their own national interests above any consensus Thus Spain’s PSOE foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, defies the widespread consensus that Spain ought to remove its settlements from the Moroccan coast and end its occupation of the Basque Country. But he joins the consensus in demanding the end of Israel’s settlements and occupation.
As by far the most powerful country, the US is most able to pursue its own views. This enviable position has earned it widespread hatred elsewhere. The record of recent years shows, however, that the IC has hardly solved any problems, but rather only made them worse, for as long as the US was not involved. The former Jugoslavia is a salient example.
Failure has also followed when the US acceded to the majority opinion of the IC. An example is the so-called Road Map for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This plan died shortly after birth, but the IC insists that it is still alive. It recalls the legendary British TV comedy about a man who bought a parrot from a pet shop. He quickly realized that the parrot was dead. But when he went back to exchange it for the real goods, the salesman insisted, against all arguments, that the parrot was alive and well. The Road Map is the IC’s dead parrot.
Where the genuine members of the IC do share an opinion, however, it is difficult for any other view to establish itself anywhere. Politicians and journalists who battle furiously over internal issues maintain a strange unanimity on problems in far-off countries. Correct or incorrect, that opinion will appear and reappear, even with the same verbal formulas, in all the publications that the IC reads, such as the recognized national newspapers and journals like The Economist. The reports of governmental institutions, everywhere, also sing the same tune. The Palestinian problem is an eminent example.
The International Community’s Palestinian Policy
It is notable how uniformly the IC views the Palestinian problem. One need merely read the typical mouthpieces of the IC, such as The Economist or Le Monde, today or a decade or two decades ago. Their pronouncements about the wishes and needs of the Palestinians have remained monotonously the same, regardless of what the Palestinians themselves think, say or do.
A recent example is a bulky report published by the German government’s institute for political education among the intellectual elite of Germany (Bundeszentrale fr politische Bildung). It comprises invited contributions from Israeli, Palestinian and other academics, together with a short preface. The gist of the preface is two observations. First, that this belongs to the longest and most intractable problems in the whole world. Second, that two factors are evidently involved: Israeli settlements and Palestinian terrorism.
We have all seen countless reports with the same format and the same underlying diagnosis, be it in governmental publications or in special supplements to the newspapers that the IC reads. The Germans, however, could have recalled an observation made by General Carl von Clausewitz in his famous posthumous treatise on warfare.
Most of us have heard of Clausewitz’s dictum that “war is nothing other than the continuation of state policy with other means.” It is found already in a loose note that his wife prefixed to the main manuscript, a note in which Clausewitz summarized the whole purpose of his work. That note begins, however, with what Clausewitz regarded as the most important question to be asked in respect of every form of warfare: Is the aim of war the total subjection of the enemy? Or is it merely the seizure of part of the enemy’s territory in order to further a more limited policy?
The contraposition of “Israeli settlements” and “Palestinian terrorism” implies that this conflict belongs to Clausewitz’s second category: the struggle centers upon land occupied by Israel since 1967. End the settlements and the Palestinians can turn from terrorism to building up their own state. The IC’s “Road Map” was an elaborate day-by-day program to implement that principle.
The Palestinians themselves think, talk and act otherwise. For instance, since Sharon announced his intention to withdraw from Gaza, the Gazan terrorists shifted the focus of their activities to bombarding the nearest town in Israel. They have also announced that they will soon have longer-range rockets. In short, now that they have been promised the liberation of Gaza, their next national project is the liberation of Ashkelon.
Not only has the IC resolutely disregarded every sign that the Palestinians are engaged in Clausewitz’s first kind of war. In its ignorance, the IC also gives the Palestinians the means and the incentive to pursue that war without end.
Throughout history, those who went to war in order to gain territory had to reckon with a loss of territory if defeated. The Romans regularly seized about a third of the territory of other Italian peoples who dared to attack them. Germany, Italy and Japan all sought to gain territory in World War II and all three lost territory.
The IC, however, decided long ago that Palestinian war upon Israel is to be an exception. For instance, any diplomat representing the IC, or the editor of any of the journals that they read, can tell you that the IC does not object to Israel’s security fence as such. The IC merely demands that the fence be moved to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines. In other words, regardless of the Palestinian record of violence, the IC guarantees them the right to all territory up to the 1967 lines.
The wiser among us never go to casinos because we know, rationally, that we are more likely to lose than to win. But suppose we were invited to a casino where we could gamble as much as we liked, with the guarantee that we would never lose our initial stake. It would then be rational to gamble there for the rest of our lives. For we could never lose, but we might be able to break the bank.
Likewise, the unending Palestinian terrorism against Israel should not be seen as an irrational obsession or as a desperate reaction to suffering. It is a rational strategy made possible by the IC’s guarantee that, whatever the Palestinians do, they will never lose an inch of their basic territorial stake. Thus their ultimate aim, the “return of the refugees” and the creation of an Arab majority in Israel, may seem absurd to the IC. But it is precisely the IC’s attitude to the conflict that encourages the Palestinians to pursue that aim unendingly.
The Palestinian Strategy
The Palestinian strategy can be stated very simply. The Palestinians have two goals, an immediate goal and a further goal. Their immediate goal is to turn the clock back to 1967, before the Six Day War. This goal is supported by the consensus of the IC. Their further goal is to turn the clock back to 1947, before the creation of the State of Israel. This is opposed by the consensus of the IC. Therefore, the Palestinian strategy is to achieve the immediate goal without renouncing the further goal.
The Palestinians commonly speak of the further goal as “the right of return” of the refugees of 1948, together with all their descendants. This would create an Arab majority within the State of Israel, soon if not already today. The typical member of the IC thinks that this demand is so absurd that peace plans can ignore it. All the Palestinian factions, however, are committed to maintaining this demand in all future circumstances. So all the peace plans fail.
As long as the demand persists, any Israeli withdrawal will merely redraw the lines from which the conflict continues. Best of all, from the Palestinian viewpoint, are unilateral Israeli withdrawals. This frees them from making even formal commitments to ending the conflict. If, however, those withdrawals are to be part of a “negotiated settlement,” then the least that the Palestinians will settle for is a state on the 1967 lines plus some form of words about the return of refugees. The form of words may seem harmless, but it will provide the excuse for the “legitimate” pursuit of the further Palestinian goal.
The IC believes that the creation of two states with an internationally recognized boundary will mark the end of the conflict. Apparently, nobody in the IC has troubled to imagine how much worse the conflict will be when the Palestinians use a state on the 1967 lines to launch further terrorist attacks upon Israel.
When the Israeli evacuation from Gaza was announced, the reaction of the IC was to call it a first stage in implementing the Road Map. The current slogan of the IC’s diplomats is that “Gaza first must not be Gaza last.” Never mind that, according to the Road Map, withdrawal must go together with the dismantling of Palestinian terrorist organizations, whereas the latter have turned to bombarding Israeli towns. Symbolically, the rockets are launched from refugee camps. The Palestinians rightly regard the reaction of the IC as a vindication of their longterm strategy.
We may now list a number of essential components of the Palestinian strategy. It will show that the apparent chaos and corruption of the Palestinian Authority is more rational than the wider world realizes.
The first essential is the maintenance of the refugee camps inside the Palestinian Authority itself. They will continue to exist even if a Palestinian state is created, as the basis on which to pursue the conflict. The IC can be expected to pay the bill via UNWRA. Even Israelis complain only about misuse of UNWRA facilities. The real complaint should be that UNWRA still exists in Gaza, instead of eliminating itself by integrating the refugees into the PA. The IC officially believes that the refugees should be rehabilitated there, but it pays for them not to be.
Second, the existence of the terrorist organizations. They too will be needed to achieve the further goal. They may be ordered to suspend operations, but their dissolution can be at most a never-fulfilled promise.
Third is the problem that perpetual war normally destroys the economy and forces the belligerents to desist or starve. The Palestinians have indeed smashed up their economy, including many of the foreign investments made in the wake of the Oslo accords. Thus the Palestinian leadership needs to ensure that, whatever happens, the population will get enough to eat in order to survive. Luckily, the IC is committed to paying for this. Thanks to the periodic international donors conferences, the Palestinians have the opportunity to abandon all productive work and devote themselves fully to the pursuit of terrorism.
Fourth is the indoctrination of the population for perpetual struggle. Since 1993 the Palestinian leadership has controlled the schools and the press, to which it has added radio and television. Its success is shown in the rise of a whole generation of Palestinian youngsters eager for “martyrdom.”
Fifth, the non-transparency of Palestinian administration is not merely a means of enriching the few at the cost of the many. It is also essential for the use of money from the IC for activities of which the IC does not approve, like terrorism and incitement.
In short, it is a mistake to dismiss the PA as a failure. It may not be doing much else for the Palestinian population, but it has maintained all the components of the longterm strategy. Once one realizes that the only essential function of the PA is to pursue that eternal struggle, while maintaining the sympathy and financial support of the IC, one has to admit that the PA is succeeding brilliantly.
The Palestinian Strategy Exploded?
Nevertheless, the Palestinian strategy has recently encountered obstacles that could eventually explode it. The first obstacle was the Road Map. This was supposed to start with the end of terrorist and incitement, that is, the abolition of essential elements of the Palestinian strategy. The Palestinians overcame this obstacle by loudly proclaiming their adherence to the Road Map in every detail, but doing nothing about it.
This earned them better headlines than the Israelis, who honestly admitted to having thirteen reservations. These were not for publication, but leaked immediately to the press. The Israelis started to remove “illegal outposts,” but soon decided that it was not worth the effort if the Palestinians did nothing about terrorism. For the IC, the Israeli record was reprehensible, while Palestinian failures were ascribed to Arafat personally. In short, the IC thinks that the Road Map is alive; but if it is dead, then the IC is confused about whom to blame.
A much more threatening challenge to the Palestinians was the scheme worked out between Sharon and Bush early in 2004. This scheme had three components. First, the removal of all the Israeli settlements in Gaza and northern Samaria. Second, the completion of Israel’s security fence on a course somewhat beyond the 1967 lines. Third, a public exchange of letters between the two leaders.
The most significant element was the letter of Bush. In it, the US president clearly stated that the Palestinians must give up the “right of return.” Rather less clearly, he stated that the future boundary between the Israeli and Palestinian states would leave some Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria – the big blocks close to the 1967 lines – within Israel.
In effect, the Bush letter told the Palestinians: You have gambled in the casino and lost, and if you go on gambling you may lose even more. That is, the Palestinian problem was no longer to be an exception to all historical precedent. Bush is the first international statesman to have stumbled upon the means of making the problem solvable. Whether he did so by chance or design, he deserves the credit that few may accord him.
This scheme created shocks among the Palestinians and the IC, but for different reasons. The IC saw no importance in the denial of the “right of return,” but was aghast at the violation of the 1967 lines. Inside the US, the Bush letter was endorsed by the Democratic presidential candidate and by enormous majorities in Congress, Outside the US, the IC hailed the withdrawal from Gaza as an implementation of the Road Map, but maintained a total disapproving silence about all the other elements of the scheme.
What shocked the Palestinians, on the other hand, was above all the refusal of the “right of return,” not the vaguer remarks about Israeli settlements. After all, as long as the Palestinians can maintain the prospect of an Arab majority inside Israel itself, the presence of some Israelis beyond the 1967 lines is not a significant hindrance.
Paying the Bills
In the meantime, the Palestinians have recovered their confidence. Who knows whether the Bush letter will have a long-term effect, despite congressional endorsement. Otherwise, too, the IC continues to act in accordance with the Palestinian strategy.
An example is the visit of the French foreign secretary, Michel Barnier. He arrived in Israel to announce loudly that he and his European colleagues were no longer content with just “paying the bills,” now they want to influence what happens here.
We might ask: What bills are they paying? For sure, not the enormous bills of hospitals and social security for the Israeli casualties of Palestinian terrorism. Instead they are paying bills that do influence events, but not toward the peace for which they are intended.
First, they are paying the bills to maintain Palestinians in refugee camps in the PA, instead of using the same money to rehabilitate them there. That is, they are maintaining the infrastructure for the Palestinian “right of return.”
Second, they pay the salaries of the enormous and largely inactive Palestinian bureaucracy, including the Palestinian police. They could influence events very differently if, for example, they refused to pay those bills until that police locked up the terrorists and dissolved the terrorist infrastructure.
Third, they finance the continued existence of the architects of the Oslo accords and all sorts of self-styled peace groups. The main function of these groups, in their meetings and publications, is to confirm the IC’s illusions about the nature of the conflict. Indeed, they are the only Israelis whose opinion is respected by the journals that the IC itself reads. In short, the IC pays to hear what it believes anyway. Currently, these groups claim to have been promised European finance for a poster campaign in favor of withdrawal from Gaza.
This last recalls how during 1996-1999 posters sprang up all over Israel proclaiming that “Netanyahu is destroying the peace.” When the organizations concerned submitted their annual financial reports, it emerged that the money for this campaign originated from European governmental sources. During the 1999 election, foreign money reached the Barak campaign from all sorts of mysterious foreign donors. Bill Clinton sent his personal media advisors to assist Barak. The IC jubilantly greeted the defeat of Netanyahu as a “victory for peace.”
In retrospect, however, the day that Netanyahu left office can be seen as the day that the Oslo process died. Barak achieved nothing, not even the implementation of the Wye Plantation agreement. Eighteen months later, it was his insouciance and incompetence that permitted the Palestinians to return to armed warfare.
Netanyahu, by contrast, negotiated both Wye Plantation and the earlier Hebron agreement. The Oslo accords had been pushed through the Knesset with marginal majorities and bought votes. Netanyahu achieved a two-thirds majority in the Knesset for the Hebron agreement, ending the split in the Israeli public. As accompaniments to the Wye Plantation agreement, Arafat was obliged to lock up all the terrorist leaders and to organize a public meeting with Clinton in which the Palestinians collectively buried the Palestinian Covenant’s calls for the destruction of Israel.
So it was the IC, by paying the bills, that killed the one opportunity to make the Oslo process.work. We recommend that they stop paying the bills until they understand what they are doing with their money.
Malcolm Lowe is a Welsh academic living in Jerusalem.