DEBUNKING MIDDLE EAST
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Major Shawn Pine

Since the beginning of the Oslo Process there has risen a Middle East conventional wisdom (CW) based upon a perverse political correctness. This phenomena has permeated the rhetoric of both the Palestinians, and the U.S. media. This CW propagates a number of tenets that are widely accepted as facts. The most disturbing aspect of this phenomena is that it has entered the vernacular of the Bush Administration and is being used as a basis for formulating strategic policy in the region. The main problem of this phenomena is that it essentially negates the possibility of achieving a lasting resolution of the conflict. Consequently, it is time to debunk many of the fallacies that have hindered the development of a coherent US strategic policy that will resolve the Arab - Israeli conflict. The most egregious fallacies include:

The Root of the Conflict is over the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 War: This was the fundamental assumption upon which the Oslo Process was borne. However, Arafat's categorical rejection of Barak's July 2000 offer of some 97% of the territories, including de facto Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, removed the facade that the core of the conflict is over the territories captured in the 1967 Arab - Israeli war. This is reinforced by scores of polls taken among the Palestinians. These polls have consistently shown that some 75% of the Palestinians view the "right of return" as a nonnegotiable core tenet in any peace process. Nor is this position merely a theoretical concession that they demand. Those same polls have shown that Palestinians believe that if given the "right of return" between 2 - 5 million Palestinians would exercise the "right," thereby effectively destroying the Jewish State.

End the Occupation and you end the violence and homicidal bombers: This has become the mantra of the Palestinians and their supporters. They argue that it is the "brutal" occupation of Israel over the Palestinians are responsible for the violence. However, acceptance of this premise requires ignoring two critical facts. First, under the Oslo Accords Israel was in the process of withdrawing from the territories. During the process, Israel had withdrawn from some 40% of the territories and was in negotiations to withdraw from most of the territories captured in the 1967 War. Moreover, this argument is further negated by the fact that when Israel fully occupied the territories, Palestinian terrorism against Israel was minimal. Second, Israeli withdrawal from those territories resulted in some 98 percent of the Palestinian population within the territories coming under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Consequently, with the exception of having to pass through checkpoints, the vast majority of the Palestinians were not under Israeli occupation. They were under Arafat's occupation. What is clear, is that it is not the occupation of the Palestinian people that is the crux of the problem. It is the occupation of the land that is the problem. In this respect, it is important to understand that in the jargon of the Palestinians, occupation of the land refers to all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Sharon isn't a real partner for peace: Proponents of this argument fail to realize that Sharon was not elected to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians. He was elected to bring security to Israel. It was the Rabin/Peres government that was elected to bring peace with security to Israel. By 1996 it became painfully obvious to the majority of Israelis that the policy of the Rabin/Peres government, of accelerating the peace process in response to Palestinian terrorism, led Arafat to conclude that he could support terrorism with impunity. In the aftermath of the March 1996, terrorist attacks the Israelis elected Netanyahu to bring security with peace. For the most part, Netanyahu was successful in restoring relative security but failed to make progress in the peace process. Unfortunately, the memories of the March 1996, terrorist attacks faded in the memories of too many Israelis and they elected Barak to bring peace. When he failed, following what has been described by American negotiations as a substantial and generous offer, and Arafat launched his intifada, the Israeli electorate turned to their embattled general to bring security. Sharon's mandate by the Israeli electorate was not to bring peace to Israel but to restore a modicum of the security that existed before the Oslo Process. Unfortunately, it took Sharon more than a year, and hundreds of Israeli lives, to realize this.

Arafat does want peace: The Palestinian Authority, and its supporters, have repeatedly pointed out that, unlike Sharon, Arafat is a signatory of the Oslo Accords and scores of other agreements and cease-fires. They argue that this proves that Arafat wants peace. Unfortunately, these people have never been challenged to actually prove that Arafat has fulfilled any of the obligations he undertook when he signed these agreements. When Arafat signed the Oslo Accords he undertook a number of commitments. These included: that the Palestinian police act to prevent violence and cooperate with Israeli security forces (Annex I, Article II); that the PA disarm and disband all militias operating in the autonomous areas and to confiscate all unlicensed weapons (Article XIV; and Annex I, Articles II (1) and XI); that the PA turn over for trial all suspects whose extradition is requested by Israel (Annex IV, Article II(7)); that the PA refrain from incitement to violence (Article XXII). The record speaks for itself, and It is clear that Arafat's vision of peace does not include Israel.

Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people and no one has a right to decide for the Palestinians who their leader will be: According to this premise, Israel has to deal with Arafat if it wishes to reach a peace agreement. This argument has been propagated by both Palestinian spokesmen and U.S. leaders. However, to accept this premise requires accepting a surreal Orwellian logic. Agreed, only the Palestinians have a right to chose who their leader will be. Consequently, If the Palestinians wish to be led by a terrorist, and commit national suicide, that is their right. However, the West should not encourage such a decision by lending it legitimacy. The fundamental question that faces the Bush Administration is whether or not they believe that Arafat is indeed the "elected" leader of the Palestinian people. If the conclusion is yes, then the administration has no obligation to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians because they suffer this plight by choice. If the answer is no, then the United States would be helping the Palestinian people by supporting the removal of Arafat, in much the same way it helped the Afghan people by deposing of the Taliban.

The United States needs to mollify the moderate Arab States if it wishes to take its war against terrorism to Saddam Hussein: This is the linkage argument that is being proliferated by supporters of the Palestinians. They hope that by linking the issues the United States will exert pressure on Israel to make political concessions while allowing the Palestinian Authority to continue its efforts to destroy the Jewish State. The reality is that militarily Iraq poses a negligible threat to U.S. power. Iraqi conventional forces are a shadow of what they were prior to the Persian Gulf War. Moreover, a decade technological advances have greatly increased the lethality of U.S. weapons. Should the Arab States refuse to support US-led operations, the United States can base its operations out of Israel, Turkey, or sea-based platforms. The US can use airborne forces to capture any number of Iraqi air fields and use them as a base for the introduction of armor forces. In any respect, the United States could effectively destroy the Iraqi military with just a fraction of the force it deployed in 1991. The real dangers that the Iraqi regime presents to the United States is in its development of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. In this respect, the United States is in a race to depose of Hussein before he fully develops his weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, the United States can ill afford to wait until the peace process is back on track before destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein. Moreover, such a precondition only invites Hussein to perpetuate the conflict.

In the final analysis, the West has formulated a very ephemeral strategic policy by attempting to restart a political process before eradicating terrorism. The reality is that Sharon's maximum concessions will not even come close to what Arafat and his supporters will demand. In any political process, Israel will come under pressure to negotiate tangible concessions for abstract promises similar to the of ones given by Arafat since 1993. Moreover, Arafat and his supporters have made it clear that they view the 2001 Taba negotiations as the starting point for any continuation of the political process. Undoubtedly, this view will be supported by the US State Department, the European Union, and the Arab States. The net result is that Israel will be branded as the intransigent party should they balk at such an idea. This will have a negative impact on US - Israeli relations.

In the final analysis, the United States envisions a two-state solution in which Israel withdrawals from the majority of the West Bank in return for a final resolution of the conflict. A solution that will bring Israel peace and security and the Palestinians an independent state. The Administration knows that is not the vision of Yasser Arafat, his people and the Arab States. Nothing that Arafat has said or done should have disabused any observer of the region that the goal of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians is the destruction of the Jewish State. In this respect, any divergence between Arafat, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are tactical in nature. Consequently, any agreement will only be another temporary respite in the continuation of the struggle. Only when the Arab States in the region become democratic will it be possible to achieve a real and lasting peace. In this respect, US strategic policy should be centered on removing despotic regimes, not creating another. It is clear that any Palestinian State headed by Yasser Arafat will be debilitating to U.S. geo-strategic interests in the region. While Israel maintains the military power to defend itself, Jordan will find itself in a much more precarious situation. In this regard it would behoove King Abdullah to remember Arafat's attempt, in the early 1970's, to overthrow his father's regime. It is doubtful that Arafat has deviated from his belief that the road to Jerusalem goes through Amman.



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