WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY
By Boris Shusteff
Recently, Israeli leaders have started to speak too often about windows. No, the Israeli politicians did not suddenly all decide to become glass-cutters. They are talking about "windows of opportunity." On September 24, Israeli intelligence chief Amos Malka told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that a "window of opportunity of roughly a year to 18 months existed to make peace with Syria." On the same day in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Ehud Barak said, "There is a window of opportunity here. [that] will close in, say, five or six years when it is possible there will be a regional leader, a dictator with nuclear capability and the means to launch it." Therefore "within this window of opportunity" Israel must "diffuse the immediate mines of the conflict."
If Barak would listen to the Arab radio and TV stations, read the Arab newspapers, or visit the Palestinian Arab's youth camps, he could easily find out that, as far as the Arabs are concerned, the "immediate mine" of the conflict is Israel's existence itself. There are also "smaller" mines, the so-called "permanent status issues," that are lying hidden in the depths of the conflict. The architects of Oslo were well aware of them. Perhaps the "window of opportunity" at that moment was so foggy that they decided to leave the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and the borders for a later time, when the fog disappeared?
Today when the "window" is wide open, it is easy to see that the "mines" cannot be diffused and that an explosion is inevitable. It is enough to compare Israel's position on these issue-mines with that of its adversaries in order to understand that they are absolutely irreconcilable. Israel's position is well known: "NO" to the return of the refugees, "NO" to shared sovereignty in Jerusalem and "NO" to a return to the 1967 borders.
At the same time the Arabs' stand consists of a resounding contradiction to each and every one of Israel's "NOs". On September 19, Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei said in Ramallah at a Palestinian conference on the final-status talks that "there can be no permanent settlement without the right of return for Palestinian refugees." He told The Jerusalem Post: "The refugees are the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we do not solve the issue, then there will never be peace."
He explained that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is talking about "the right of return for all refugees to their home and compensation for those who choose not to return. Those refugees from 1948 who have property in Israel and want to return should have the right to do so, but will have to live under Israeli rule."
There should not be doubts that Qurei reflects the real position of the Palestinian Arabs. According to a survey conducted in the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Nablus Research and Studies Center "over 72% of the respondents said they wouldn't accept compensation or indemnification under any circumstances as an alternative to repatriation." (5)
The abyss on the Jerusalem issue is also more than obvious. Just recently, in the opening session of the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo, Yasser Arafat stated: "No peace without Al-Quds Al-Shareef, a free capital of a Palestinian state." Arafat's Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and Permanent Status negotiation team member Faisal Al-Husseini made it clear that, when the Arabs speak of Jerusalem, they mean the complete city. On September 26 he said in an interview, "We are not ready to give up [any] of our rights in West Jerusalem, let alone East Jerusalem. We have property there, as well as holy places and history,.our rights there [in West Jerusalem] are not to be compromised because we own 70 percent of West Jerusalem on both the popular and the institutional levels. Part of the remaining 30 percent is governmental land Israel inherited from the British mandate, which does not mean it has become part of their right, because West Jerusalem is not rightfully Israel's." (1)
Those who are still hesitant to believe that the Palestinians are dead serious about Jerusalem should look into the August 26-27 survey of 1,200 West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian Arabs performed by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC). The results show that "nearly half of those polled wanted both sides of the city. as the united capital of a future Palestinian state," and "93.7 percent of Palestinians would oppose any permanent peace accord making Jerusalem the Israeli capital, even if this were the only issue holding up a deal." (2)
The issue of the "borders" is also at an impasse. The Palestinian Arab leaders unequivocally demand Israel's withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 armistice line. On August 18, in an interview with the France Press Agency Mahmoud Abbas ("Abu Mazen"), another Permanent Status negotiation team member, warned Israel that "the Palestinian side rejects signing a peace treaty with the Jewish state that does not grant Palestinians a state within the borders of 1967. .They [the Israeli leaders] must be dreaming if they believe that we will make concessions on 1967 borders."
It is obvious that Barak can see the unbridgeable gap between Israel's and the PA's positions, otherwise why should he indicated in the interview that "Even if we manage partially - that is, to identify those parts on which we can, in principle, reach agreement, and those parts that will require long interim agreements, or those for which we can see the permanent status but which require a long time to arrive at - we will have done the right thing." (3)
However, this "partial" method happens to be yet another "mine." Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Information Minister of the PA, who will lead the PA delegation on the final status negotiations made clear that Barak's approach is unacceptable. He said:"Israelis will be na´ve to think that Palestinians will accept establishing a state on the lands under full control by the PNA up till now in return for an open delay of final-status issues, especially the issues of Jerusalem, settlements and refugees. This belief is ridiculous; I don't know how they can think this way and believe that we can accept such a compromise; we made it clear that the state does not come until full withdrawal." (4)
All that this means is that the "windows of opportunity" exist only in the imagination of the Israeli leaders. The whole concept of "windows" is completely flawed. There cannot be a "window" for peace; there can be only a "window" for signing a "peace agreement." What value will such an agreement have, signed within such a "window?" When the "window" closes and the adversary is ready for another war, how useful can this agreement be? Or maybe the Israeli leaders believe that the peace agreements signed by the Arabs are sacred?
Do the Israeli leaders naively believe that there will never be more wars with the Arabs? If so, they should be reminded that unfortunately war and not peace is the normal state of affairs among countries. According to one comprehensive study, "222 wars were fought between 1648 and 1964, or one war for every one and four-tenths years of the modern nation-state system"(6). And it does not appear that this is likely to end anytime soon.
Barak is right when he says that the Middle East "is a place with no second chances, with no compassion for the weak." (3) He is also right in saying that "for years, even after we have peace agreements with everyone, we will still have to remain strong" (3). However, he is completely wrong in thinking that Israel can "achieve peace agreements with everyone" by retreating and relinquishing territory and still remain strong.
The Middle East will not have compassion for the weak. It is only the weak who give up land, and the strong who keep it. It is only the weak who shed tears about parts of their homeland and deliver them to their enemy; the strong break the hands and poke out the eyes of those who even dare to touch the land that they love. [10/04/99]
(1) MEMRI 9/28/99, Al-Hayat (London), September 26, 1999
(2) Reuters News Agency 9/17/99
(3) David Makovsky and Danna Harman "Peace without illusions", interview with Ehud Barak, The Jerusalem Post, 9/24/99.
(4) WAFA news 9/13/99
(5) HAMAS news 9/30/99
(6) David Ziegler, War, Peace and International Politics.
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies