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Posioned Chocolates

The Editors  |
“Whatever the source, violence will not solve the problems of the region. It will only make them worse. Death and destruction will not bring peace, but will deepen the hatred and harden the resolve on both sides. There is only one way to peace, justice, and security in the Middle East, and that is through negotiation.” These words introduce the report of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, chaired by George Mitchell, that the American government appears to be making the basis of its new involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration. The words are true, true, true; but they are also a little ridiculous in the magnitude of their detachment from reality.
These moral platitudes are succeeded by policy platitudes. The Mitchell-Powell formula – that seems a fair name for it – calls for an immediate end to the violence, followed by confidence-building measures (foremost among them, at least in the way the report has been presented by officials and reporters, is that “the GOI [Government of Israel] should freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements”), followed by a resumption of negotiations “in the spirit of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements and understandings of 1999 and 2000.” For diplomatically speaking, “there is a record of achievement.” What in Dennis Ross’s name are these distinguished gentlemen talking about? As of last summer, there is a record of failure, diplomatically speaking; and the present crisis is its sanguinary result.
The Mitchell-Powell plan appears to be to erase what is known about the scuttling of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation by Yasir Arafat’s theological jusqu’au-boutisme, to act as if the Israeli government did not offer the Palestinians a state on virtually all of the territories with a capital in Jerusalem, to proceed as if what was revealed at Camp David was never revealed. This has the effect of detaching the present crisis from its cause, so that the traditional analysis of the peace processors can be protected from all the harsh empirical evidence against it. Suppose negotiations are resumed. Sooner or later they will collide with the Palestinian obsession with the settlements. The Israelis will make concessions, as they did before; and the negotiations will resume. Then they will collide against the Palestinian insistence on sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The Israelis will make concessions, as they did before; and the negotiations will resume. Then they will collide against the Palestinian right of return… And so on. What reason is there to believe that the exercise will go differently?
The immediate consequence of the new American stirrings, of course, has been Sharon’s government’s indication that it will drastically reduce its retaliatory actions and its restatement of Israel’s position that it will not expand settlements beyond their established lines. We are not troubled by the Israeli restraint. But we are troubled by the recurrence of the old pattern of diplomatic partiality: once again, the pressure falls all on one side of the line. The bad joke is that the peace processors are not putting the screws on Arafat because they, too, have given up on him. In The Washington Post last week, Dennis Ross wrote that “[k]nowing Chairman Yasser Arafat as well as I do, I am certain he will never initiate – only respond. But he won’t respond to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, lest it appears he is giving in… Barring a United States or international initiative that provides him a justification for ending the violence, he will let the situation deteriorate in the hope that the international community will have to intervene and rescue him.” It is an extraordinary admission. But the Israelis are expected to act as if all this is not the case. They must pretend that they have not given up on him, that he is still their “partner.”
“The PA and GOI,” the Mitchell Report sagely counsels, “should resume their efforts to identify, condemn, and discourage incitement in all its forms.” What do they mean by “resume”? The anti-Israeli virulence in the streets of Palestine is a direct expression of what the Palestinian educational system has taught its young about Israel. Anyway, no sooner had Mitchell and his colleagues concluded their homily than Tayeb Abdel Rahim told the Voice of Palestine that “they threw from their planes poisoned chocolates and some of our children were poisoned.” Poisoned chocolates! In its way, medievalism is more terrifying than mortars. Even F-16s are useless against it.