Commentary Magazine


The Same Old Song

Well, the Bush administration has finally reconciled itself to the reality that there will be no lasting Mideast peace agreement on its watch — and I find myself relieved. Secretary of State Rice is making her final visit to the region before leaving office, meeting with various and sundry involved parties, but says there will be no deal by the end of the year — and, presumably, by the end of the Bush administration on January 20.

As I said, I find myself relieved.

I am not a scholar of the Mideast, but in the years I have been following developing matters in the region, I have noticed that there is a recurring pattern in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

  1. Some outside body pushes for a peace agreement.
  2. The body brings representatives together in some new place for intense talks.
  3. The talks go on for a while, drawing up a plan.
  4. The plan is announced with much fanfare, with a series of steps to be taken by each side building towards a lasting peace.
  5. Before the conciliatory steps are begun, Israel is called upon to make some sort of concessions as a “gesture of good faith.” (Note: This can occur before or concurrent with steps 3 and 4. Also, the Palestinians are never called upon to make similar gestures.)
  6. Israel, under great pressure, makes the demanded “gesture” — usually involving release of prisoners or evacuation of lands.
  7. Israel is praised by the global community for its “commitment to peace.”
  8. The agreement begins to be implemented, with Israel always having to begin to make the real concessions (this is in addition to the prior “gesture of goodwill.”)
  9. Israel makes the first of its concessions, and is praised once more for its “commitment to peace” by the global community.
  10. The Palestinians start making excuses for why they cannot comply with the agreements they made at the negotiating table.
  11. Israel is pressured to continue with its commitments and obligations unilaterally, with the warning that “they must not endanger the agreement.”
  12. Israel reluctantly continues to make its concessions, but demands that the Palestinians begin living up to their end of the bargain.
  13. The Palestinians continue to prevaricate and stall, and warn that “rogue elements” might strike out to “destroy the peace process.”
  14. Israel announces that it will not continue with its obligations until the Palestinians begin living up to theirs. (Note that at this point, Israel has already made several concessions.)
  15. The Palestinians accuse Israel of “sabotaging” the peace agreement and warn of “dire consequences.”
  16. A “rogue group” of Palestinians attack Israel.
  17. The Palestinians warn Israel that any retaliation for the attack will “destroy the fragile peace” and end the agreement.
  18. The rest of the global community also pressures Israel to “show restraint” and “not break the truce.”
  19. Another “rogue group” of Palestinians commits another attack.
  20. Israel strikes back against the terrorists.
  21. The Palestinians announce that Israel has “destroyed the peace” and formally withdraw from the agreement.
  22. A fresh wave of terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliations resume.
  23. Return to step 1.

Obviously, there are variations, but that is the basic outline.

There’s an old saying that defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” Obviously, this pattern has not worked in the half-dozen or so times it’s been tried, but the world keeps coming back to it. Why on earth do they?

The world community does, I think, because it lets them seem like they’re actually doing something, and most politicians understand that it’s in their best interests to be perceived as doing something, even if (and sometimes especially if) they aren’t actually achieving anything.

The Israelis do it because they are constantly pressured by the global community to do so, and threatened with the withholding of aid and support if they do not comply. Also, they are always hopeful that this time it just might work.

And the Palestinians do it because it is to their advantage to do so. Because, while the process always loops back to the starting point, the concessions they win from Israel are almost always left intact. For participating in this recursive loop, they get to keep whatever Israel gives up in the early stages of the process. The prisoners released remain free, the surrendered land remains theirs, and other concessions often remain intact.

In essence, the Palestinians end up getting a few concessions for virtually nothing. It’s a very slow path to victory, but it’s certainly steps in the right direction. It’s the “death of a thousand cuts” writ on a global scale.

I don’t particularly enjoy being a cynic, but I have found that when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s usually the wisest and safest approach.

For the next round of this grand game, I would suggest a change from the beginning. Call upon the Palestinians to make the “gestures of good will.” Require them to make the first concessions, and structure the agreement that Israel is required to keep up with them.

Naturally, I don’t expect this to work. But it will have the effect of shortening the entire process considerably.

And who knows? Perhaps after going through this new pattern a few times, with Israel getting to keep whatever the Palestinians might concede before aborting the process, there will be a sincere effort to finally achieve a lasting peace in the Mideast.

At least, it’ll be an improvement over the existing, seriously broken model.

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