By Daniel Pipes, February 2003
The year 2002 will be remembered as a low point in the long conflict between
Palestinians and Israelis, when diplomacy came to a standstill, emotions boiled
over, blood ran in the streets, and the prospects of all-out war drew closer.
Anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic furies seemingly put to rest suddenly revived with
stunning vehemence. The existence of Israel appeared imperiled as it had not
been for decades.
This picture is accurate as far as it goes, but it omits one other salient feature
of the landscape in 2002. The year also witnessed a host of new plans,
initiatives, and schemes for fixing the situation.
None of these ideas came from the Palestinian side – hardly surprising,
given that Yasir Arafat seems to see violence against Israelis as the solution to
all his problems.
Instead, they issued from various parties in Israel and the United States,
with an echo or two from Europe and the Arab states.
These plans, of which the best known is the Bush administration’s “road map,”
run the gamut from tough-seeming to appeasing. But they have two qualities in
common. All of them give up on the Oslo-era assumption of Palestinian-Israeli
comity as the basis for negotiation. But at the same time, all of them proceed
from a fundamentally flawed understanding of the conflict and therefore, if
actually implemented, would be likely to increase tensions. None of them can
lead to a resolution of the conflict; that requires an entirely different approach.
Suggestions for resolving the conflict fall into three main categories.
The first consists of proposals for Israel to retain a significant portion of
the territories won in the 1967 war while effectuating a unilateral separation
from the Palestinians living there. The toughest idea under this heading calls for
an involuntary “transfer”: expelling the Palestinians, if necessary against their
will, from the West Bank and perhaps from Gaza as well. Once a fringe view,
this proposal, thanks to protracted Palestinian violence, has begun to win
support in Israel. A February 2002 poll showed 35 percent of respondents
wanting to “transfer the residents of the territories to Arab states.” A March
2002 poll, asking more specifically about “annexing the territories and carrying
out transfer,” found 31 percent in favor.
In a milder version of the same idea, some Israelis have called for encouraging a
voluntary transfer. Under this plan, Palestinians who chose to leave
Israeli-controlled areas could sell their land to the government of Israel, which in
turn would help them get established in their new homes. An October 2001 poll
reported 66 percent of Israelis supporting this scheme.
Some Israelis would like to redirect Palestinian aspirations toward Jordan, a
country that already has a Palestinian majority. Benny Elon, head of the Moledet
party, is today the most prominent exponent of this idea, which, under the
name of “Jordan is Palestine,” has in the past been associated with such
figures as Vladimir Jabotinsky, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon.
Another idea along these lines, espoused by the Labor-party politician
Ephraim Sneh, involves a territorial swap: the Palestinian Authority would get
some Arab-majority areas inside Israel’s 1967 borders in return for giving up its
claims to some Jewish-majority areas on the West Bank.
Perhaps the simplest proposal for separation is the one that does not require
moving people. It is to build a physical wall between the two populations. “A
Protective Fence: the Only Way” was a popular bumper sticker in Israel before
the Sharon government began building such an electronic boundary along a
192-mile line approximately between Israel and the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon favors a beefed-up version of this plan, with
trenches and mine fields, arguing that in combination, walls and buffer zones
“will contribute to the security of all Israeli citizens.”
The second grouping of proposals concentrates on ways of working around the
present impasse toward some sort of mutual accommodation. Here the key
distinction is between those who emphasize a change in Palestinian leadership
and those who emphasize mechanisms for improving the existing climate of
The former, focused on getting Yasir Arafat out, divide again between
some (like Benjamin ben Eliezer of Labor) who favor a policy of waiting until a
new Palestinian leadership emerges on its own and others (like Benjamin
Netanyahu of Likud) who urge Israel actively to remove Arafat and replace him
with a more pragmatic and flexible leadership that Netanyahu says is “waiting
in the wings.”
As for those who stress new mechanisms, they would offer benefits to the
Palestinians on condition that the latter make certain changes in their internal
arrangements. One such condition is good governance.
Originally proposed by Natan Sharansky, Israel’s deputy prime minister,
this idea was picked up by George W. Bush, who devoted a major policy
speech to the subject in June 2002. Proclaiming that it is “untenable for
Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation,” the President outlined a vision
whereby, as a means toward acquiring a state that would live in peace
alongside Israel, the Palestinians would develop “entirely new political and
economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action
He specifically mentioned transparent financial institutions, independent
auditing, and an independent judiciary.
The “Road Map”, first adopted in September, might be thought of as the State
Department’s belated answer to the President’s June 2002 proposal. The
product of consultations by the “Quartet” (the United States, Russia, the
European Union, and the United Nations), it bears a name (the “concrete,
three-phase implementation road map”) that suggests its incremental quality.
The first phase, proposed for early this year, would have the Palestinians
hold “free, fair, and credible elections” and Israel withdraw to its positions of
September 28, 2000 “as the security situation improves.” The second phase, to
kick in later in the year, will “focus on the option of creating a Palestinian state
with provisional borders based upon a new constitution.” The final phase
(2004-05) will see Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “aimed at a permanent-status
solution”; once these are achieved, Israel would pull back from territories it won
in 1967 “to secure and recognized borders.”
The American government regards the dates in the road map as guidelines,
whereas the other three parties prefer to consider them hard and fast. Others
find the whole road-map process too slow. Thus, the Israel Policy Forum, an
American advocacy group, has developed a detailed four-step “on ramp” in
anticipation of the road map’s inception. No less impatiently, Prime Minister
Tony Blair announced a series of meetings in London to include the Quartet, the
Palestinians, and officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. (To make an
agreement easier to reach, Blair conveniently left out the Israelis.)
The road map is vague about conditions to be imposed on the Palestinians – and
specifically about what, if any, penalties they would pay for noncompliance.
But there are some – and they make up the third grouping in the
constellation of new ideas – who chafe at conditions altogether, preferring to
proceed in the hope that an ample supply of carrots will lead to the desired
result. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee,
has proposed a “Marshall Plan” for the Middle East that promises the
Palestinians (and others) a comprehensive economic development program. The
core of this idea, which has the support of Tom Lantos, the committee’s
ranking Democrat, is, in Hyde’s words, that “people who had hope of a better
life in economic terms would not resort to violence.”
Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, favors a more muscular and
faster device. He calls for international troops to establish a “trusteeship” over
the West Bank and Gaza and thereby lay the basis for “credible, representative,
accountable, and transparent institutions.”
Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, has proposed a
scheme whereby “a joint American-Palestinian security force” would replace
Israeli control over the territories, followed by American troops who would stay
Finally, there is the most popular idea of all: no transfer, no wall, no change in
leadership, no conditions, no road map, and no foreign troops. Rather, Israel
should immediately withdraw all its forces from the territories, dismantle all the
Jewish towns and outposts there, and close down whatever remains of its
machinery of control.
The goal is to inspire a reciprocal mood of accommodation by the
Palestinians or, failing that, a de-facto separation that would benefit both sides.
“Leave the Settlements, Return to Ourselves” is how the left-wing Israeli
organization Peace Now promotes this notion. Variants of the same idea have
been put forward by such figures as Amram Mitzna (the recent Labor candidate
for prime minister), by Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah, by virtually every
European government, and by the overwhelming majority of leftists, academics,
journalists, and diplomats around the world, not to speak of religious and
Each of these plans has major deficiencies. The forceful removal of Palestinian
Arabs from Israeli-controlled territories would indeed reduce Israeli casualties,
but the political price, both abroad and within Israel, would be incalculable,
rendering this option more fantastical than real.
The voluntary departure of Palestinians is even more unrealistic.
Jordan-is-Palestine is a non-starter for many reasons, of which the single
most important is that neither Jordanians nor Palestinians show the slightest
readiness to go along with it.(1) Since there is no inclination among Palestinians
to accept Jordan as a substitute for Palestine, much less Amman for Jerusalem,
the only conceivable outcome of such a policy, were it somehow implemented,
would be to add Jordan as a base for the Palestinian conquest of Israel.
As for fences and buffer zones, they offer poor protection. Terrorists can go
over a fence in gliders, around it in boats, or under it in tunnels; they can fire
mortars or rockets over a wall, pass through checkpoints using false
identification papers, and recruit Israeli Arabs or Western sympathizers on the
wall’s other side. Once a wall goes up, moreover, Israel would effectively
surrender its influence over what happens beyond it, within the Palestinian
Authority, including the latter’s ability to import weapons and foreign troops.
Nor, finally, would hunkering down behind a fence send the Palestinians
the intended message, convincing them to give up on violence; on the contrary,
it would likely reinforce an impression of Israel as a cowering and essentially
passive society, thus spurring further violence. In sum: a fence may have utility
as a tactical tool to save lives, but none as a basis for ending the conflict.
What about changes in Palestinian leadership? Every piece of evidence
suggests, and every opinion poll confirms, that the assault on Israel of the past
two and a half years has been wildly popular among Palestinians. Indeed, there
is ample reason to believe that the “street” is more aggressively anti-Zionist
than the leadership. Although Arafat promotes the ambition of destroying Israel,
he is not the source of that ambition, and his removal would not eliminate it.
More particularly, the ben Eliezer plan – waiting for a change of
leadership – rests on the far-from-obvious supposition that the next leaders will
be better than the existing ones, while the Netanyahu plan suffers from the
kiss-of-death syndrome that applies to any Palestinian leadership selected by
Which brings us to the various proposals for conferring benefits on the
Palestinians in hopes of moderating their hostility. The reasoning here is
backward. Although good governance, for example, is certainly welcome in
principle, it is less than desirable so long as the Palestinians continue to seek
It brings to mind the notion of ending the cold war by encouraging
“entirely new political and economic institutions” in the Soviet Union even as
that system’s core ideology remained fully intact. Why should anyone want to
enhance an aggressor’s competence and economic reach?
The same criticism, and more, applies to Congressman Hyde’s update of the
Marshall Plan. To the extent the original Marshall Plan worked, it filled a need
for capital, which is hardly the Palestinian economy’s main challenge (2); the
PA’s terminally corrupt leadership would pocket much of the aid; and the
Palestinian war against Israel has very little to do with poverty or any other
Fundamentally, though, the Hyde proposal suffers from the same
conceptual mistake as good governance: it promises to reward the Palestinians
even as they make war on Israel. Is it too banal to note that the original
Marshall Plan was instituted three years after the crushing defeat of Nazi
Germany in war?
Then there is the road map, which asks the Palestinians to undertake a
temporary reduction in violence, in return for which they will gain a state; as
such, the road map imposes even fewer demands on the Palestinians than the
failed Oslo process that it has been designed to replace, and makes even less
pretense of expecting the Palestinians to comply with its conditions. The “on
ramp” and other such plans share precisely the same errors, some to an even
And the various proposals to use foreign soldiers and intermediaries in
what is now a war zone are plainly unworkable; can anyone seriously imagine
Americans, Canadians, and Europeans accepting fatalities just to keep
Palestinians from attacking Israelis? It is preposterous, no matter how bravely
they might talk in advance.
Finally, we have the immensely popular plan obliging a unilateral Israeli pullback
from the West Bank and Gaza in return for precisely nothing, which is by far the
worst option of all. If proof were needed, a precedent does exist: namely, the
entire past decade, when, under Oslo, Israel took uncounted “steps for peace”
and was rewarded by its Palestinian “partner” with a much more aggressive
The outstanding instance, however, remains the unilateral Israeli pullback
from Lebanon in May 2000, undertaken in the firm conviction that it would
purchase quiet on Israel’s northern border. Not only has that not happened, but,
given Hizbullah’s massive arsenal and overconfidence, the violence there is
likely to get much more intense, possibly leading to all-out war.
In the meantime, Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon played a major role in
spurring the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000. One can only
shudder at the carnage that would follow upon Israel’s headlong flight from the
In truth, all these plans lead in the wrong direction, rendering resolution farther
off than before. Real progress requires a different and more honest way of
looking at the conflict as a whole. Let us begin by recalling certain basic points:
* Although a neutral term like “Arab-Israeli conflict” makes it sound as if both
sides were equally to blame for this decades-long war, and must therefore be
brought to compromise by splitting the differences between them, this is, as
Norman Podhoretz has rightly insisted, “a deceptive label.” A more accurate
term is the “Arab war against Israel.”
* Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be the core of the problem.
The Arab war against Israel predated Israel’s taking those territories in 1967; in
fact, it was under way even before Israel formally came into existence as a
* Rather, the root cause of the conflict remains today what it has always been:
the Arab rejection of any sovereign Jewish presence between the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean Sea.
* The conflict continues into its sixth decade because Arabs expect they can
defeat and then destroy the state of Israel.
* Israel cannot end this conflict unilaterally, by actions of its own. It can only
take steps that will make it more rather than less likely that the Arabs will give
up on those expectations.
At the heart of the problem, in other words, stands Arab rejection. However
cunningly conceived, plans that attempt to outflank, leap over, or otherwise
finesse this stubborn fact are doomed to failure.
Instead of ignoring it, would-be peacemakers would do better to start by
recognizing that the conflict will diminish only when the Arabs finally surrender
their dream of obliterating the Jewish state, and then to concentrate on finding
ways to get the Arabs to undergo what I call a “change of heart.” How might
that be achieved?
A glance at some of the conflicts of the 20th century provides a clue. Those
that ended did so because one side wholly abandoned its war aims. Closure
was achieved when, and because, there was no longer a fight.
This is what happened in World War II and the cold war, and also in the
wars between China and India, between North Vietnam and the United States,
between Great Britain and Argentina, between Afghanistan and the Soviet
Union, and most recently between the United States and Afghanistan.
Conflict ended neither via negotiations nor by means of a wall but by
one side accepting defeat.
Such a surrender can occur as a consequence of a military trouncing, or it can
occur through an accumulation of economic and political pressure. However
achieved, the result must be unequivocal. Should the losing side retain its war
goals, then new rounds of fighting remain possible, and even likely.
After World War I, for example, defeat left the Germans still looking for
another chance to dominate Europe. In like fashion, the wars between North
and South Korea, Pakistan and India, Iraq and Iran, and Iraq and Kuwait have
not ended, for the losing side has interpreted every defeat as but partial and
This historical pattern has several implications. First and foremost, it means that
Israel’s enemies must be convinced that they have lost. Actually, not all its
enemies, just the Palestinians. Although weak by any objective measure as
compared with the Arab states, Palestinians are the ones for whom this war is
being fought. Should they, having suffered a necessary defeat, give up on the
attempt to destroy Israel, others will find it difficult to remain rejectionist.(3)
What will help bring about this Palestinian change of heart is Israeli deterrence:
maintaining a powerful military and threatening credibly to use force when
aggressed upon. This is not just a matter of tough tactics, which every Israeli
government of the Left or Right pursues. It is a matter of a long-term strategic
The trouble with deterrence from the Israeli point of view is that, rather
than offering a chance to initiate, it is by nature a reactive approach: boring,
unpleasant, expensive, seemingly passive, indirect, and thoroughly unsatisfying,
quite out of step with the impatient spirit of the Israeli populace. But it works,
as Israel’s own experience in the period 1948-93 shows.
A bedrock condition of such a strategy – and one no less frustrating in the short
term – is that Palestinian acceptance of Israel is a binary proposition: yes or no,
without any in-between.
This suggests, in turn, the futility of negotiations – at least until the
Palestinians do accept the Jewish state. Such matters as borders, water,
armaments, the status of Jerusalem, Jewish communities in the West Bank and
Gaza, so-called Palestinian refugees – in brief, the central issues of the Oslo
period – cannot productively be discussed as long as one party still aims to
murder the other.
In principle, something along the lines of the Oslo agreement could turn
out to be workable – but only after the Palestinians definitively and
unequivocally, and over an extended period of time, demonstrate that they have
made their peace with the existence of the state of Israel as an irreversible fact.
If, moreover, we have learned anything over the past decade, it is that interim
Israeli concessions are counterproductive and must be discouraged. As the Oslo
experience proved, they inflame, rather than tamp down, Arab aggression.
By offering repeated concessions even as the Palestinians failed to live
up to a single one of their obligations, Israel signaled weakness.
That is how, beginning in 1993, the effect of Oslo was to take a bad
situation – there was some violence in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, but a
mood of caution still prevailed on the Palestinian side – and make it far worse.
Only when Palestinians are convinced there is no other way will an end
to the conflict become conceivable, along with the mutual concessions that will
U.S. diplomacy has long proceeded on the theory that one must start with
agreements between Israel and unelected Arab leaders; after such a leader has
affixed his signature to a piece of paper, it is thought, feelings of amity will in
due course develop among his subjects.
That has not happened. Quite the contrary: whenever leaders like Anwar
Sadat or King Hussein – and this even applies somewhat to Arafat – have signed
agreements, their populations have become more, not less, hostile to Israel.
It is as if the government is understood to be passing on the anti-Zionist
burden to other institutions: the media, the educational system, religious
leaders, the unions, trade associations. A piece of paper cannot of itself
produce a change of heart, but can only symbolize it; treaties must follow, not
precede, deep shifts for the better on the Arab side.
By the same token, it is a mistake to discuss “final-status” issues – i.e., how
things will look when the conflict is over. There has been, indeed, much
speculation about a future Palestinian state: its borders, the nature of its
sovereignty, and so forth. All such talk encourages Palestinians to think they
can win the benefits of a state without accepting Israel.
This is not to say that policy planners in some sub-basement should not
be thinking through the contours of a final-status agreement; but it is not for
those in responsible positions of power to broach the topic.
Beyond these general considerations, there are specific steps that could be
taken by the government of the United States. For one thing, the time has
come for the President to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. By now,
Congress makes an almost yearly habit of trying to force the move of the U.S.
embassy to Jerusalem, but the initiative invariably fails because the embassy
issue is understood by the White House as purely a matter of symbolism, and
the price to be paid in Arab and Muslim anger for a purely symbolic move is
always regarded as too high.
But the issue is not just symbolic. U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as
Israel’s capital, especially if properly presented, would go far to indicate to the
Palestinians that the existential issue is closed: Israel is there, it is permanent,
and the sooner they come to terms with this fact, the better.
For another thing, much more pressure could and should be placed on the
Palestinian side to put an end to violence.
The U.S. government tends to see this violence as an aberration, a
temporary anomaly in Palestinian behavior. Rather, violence stands at the very
heart of the Palestinian attitude toward Israel, and stopping it therefore needs
to be the priority of U.S. policy – including, in the first instance, by refusing to
reward it financially or diplomatically.
If the hope in Washington has been that, by gaining ever more of their
goals, Palestinians would curb violence on their own, that approach has clearly
failed; the time has come to focus directly on the violence itself.
Washington has also been largely indifferent to the massive campaign of lurid
anti-Semitism and fanatical anti-Zionism conducted by the institutions of the
Palestinian Authority, some of which are subsidized by American taxpayers.
In particular, it has paid little heed to the hideous incitement of children
to engage in “martyrdom” operations. This is an error that needs urgently to be
Finally, there are the so-called Palestinian refugees. Alone among all the masses
of dislocated peoples in the years following World War II, Palestinians are
frozen in the status of refugee – in some cases, unto the fourth generation. (The
vast majority of those claiming refugee status were born after the events of
1948-49 that engendered the problem in the first place.)
The reason for this anomaly is plain: the rejectionist impulse is sustained
through the fantasy of a mass “return,” and the ever-proliferating numbers of
alleged refugees amount to an ever-sharpening dagger at Israel’s throat. In this
cruel charade, the U.S. government has been complicit for over a half-century,
contributing a substantial percentage of the funds used to maintain the
Palestinians’ refugee status and to discourage their integration into the Arab
states. The time has come to insist that they be assimilated.
There is no short-cut, and there is no alternative. The only way to make
progress in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is by inducing the Palestinians to
surrender their murderous intentions vis-a-vis Israel.
Not only would the rewards of such a surrender be very great but,
ironically, they would be yet greater for the Palestinians than for Israel.
Although Israel today suffers from blood in the streets and an economy in deep
recession, and although it is the only Western country that is constantly forced
to defend its very existence through military force, it remains, for all its
problems, a functioning society, with a boisterous political life and a vibrant
In contrast, the Palestinians are in desperate straits. The areas nominally
ruled by the Palestinian Authority are anarchic, with curfews, road blocks, and
violence defining the immediate parameters, and dictatorship, corruption, and
backwardness being among the larger consequences.
In the words of one sympathetic observer, Palestinians have been
“ravaged by widespread poverty, declining health status, eroding education,
physical and environmental destruction, and the absence of hope.”
The Palestinians, in other words, are suffering even more from the
consequences of their own violence than is Israel. So long as they persist in
their ugly dream of destruction, they will be haunted by failure and frustration.
Conversely, only when they accept the permanence of Israel will they be
released to fulfill their considerable potential by building a prosperous economy,
an open political system, and an attractive culture.
Much as the Israelis have to gain from a victory over the Palestinians, the
Palestinians have more to gain from defeat. From the point of view of American
policy, helping them to achieve a change of heart is thus an unobjectionable
goal, beneficial to both parties.
And while ultimately it is up to the Palestinians to liberate themselves
from the demons of their own irredentism, others, especially Israelis and
Americans, can indeed help – by holding firm against the seductive appeal of
road maps that lead exactly in the wrong direction.
(1) Adam Garfinkle and I discussed the shortcomings of this idea in “Is Jordan
Palestine?” Commentary, October 1988.
(2) The late P.T. Bauer trenchantly deflated the notion that the Marshall Plan
deserves its reputation as a magically successful program.
(3) A glimpse of this dynamic could be seen in 1993-94, when Palestinian
acceptance of Israel seemed in the making; the governments of Syria and Iran,
among others, found themselves unable either to prevent Arafat from going in
this direction or to pick up his anti-Zionist mantle.