Diane Mason in Lawrence of Cyberia has written a masterful, distressingly bleak appraisal, in light of the Palestinian elections, of the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace: Pity Abu Mazen. I apologize in advance for trying to reduce such a complex and nuanced analysis to a few lines but her main premise is that all the current happy talk of imminent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a better future for both peoples is nothing but hogwash. I have to confess that I’ve counted myself among the optimistic after seeing so many recent positive signs of thawing in the relationship. But Diane has convinced me that my optimism is probably unfounded.
She predicted (her post appeared on January 5th) that Sharon, forced to give up his “no negotiations with Arafat” mantra, will quickly adopt a “sure we’ll negotiate with Abu Mazen–just as soon as he dismantles the Palestinian terror network” position. And sure enough, the PM told John Kerry, an observer for the Palestinian elections on January 11th:
The main thing to focus on now after the Palestinian elections is how they handle the terrorism… [T]hey still have not fought terror and Abu Mazen’s statements during the elections were encouraging, but he will be judged on his deeds after the elections, on how he fights terror and works to disarm the infrastructures of terror.
So here we have a built in failsafe option for Sharon. If Abu Mazen does not prove malleable enough for Israel (and does not dismantle the Hamas/Al Aksa nexus), then he can pin all the blame (something Sharon does all too well) on the poor Palestinian leader.
Mason goes on to argue that the fairy tale belief that Abu Mazen is the type of “moderate” Palestinian leader who will walk away from political positions held for decades by his compatriots (Law of Return, return to ’67 borders, etc.) is delusional. She argues that while he is a more flexible and less cantankerous leader than Arafat, he would never retreat from the demand for a return to the 1967 borders. Further, he would never embark on a fratricidal civil war against Hamas based on a vague promise that at some indefinite moment in the future Israel might recognize a Palestinian state. Sharon, in turn, is willing to engage in cosmetics (return of 150 Palestinian prisoners); but is completely unwilling to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians.
Reading Diane’s post made me realize that the hope for progress in resolving the conflict rests on several enormous ifs:
1. if Abu Mazen is willing to return to the negotiating table and consider making compromises necessary to bring peace; and if
2. he can negotiate a ceasefire by Hamas against Israeli targets (and eventually convert Hamas into a political, rather than military entity); and if
3. Sharon is willing to offer serious compromises on behalf of Israel in negotiations; and if
4. the Bush Administration is willing to get off its duff for the first time in years and play a major role in the negotiation process…
Then, and only then might there be a chance of real peace. But you read how many ifs there are before this can happen. Realistically, how easy would it be for any of those ifs not to happen? Only too easy knowing the abysmal history of this conflict going back 100 years or more.
All that being said, I continue to believe that Diane’s scenario is “worst case.” And while she is entirely convincing in her pessimism, I must believe that even if Abu Mazen and Sharon will not solve this conflict at least they might lay some groundwork for those who follow them. Yes, this might be a pipe dream. But I believe that this conflict will end in years rather than decades. I only hope that the two leaders can make some progress toward that goal.