The Wall Street Journal
The Dangers of ‘Peace’ Making
America’s latest efforts merely entrenched al Qaeda in the Gaza Strip.
BY DORE GOLD
The U.S. and other Western powers are pushing for a new Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, to help contain Iran and undercut the appeal of al Qaeda and radical Islam. A grand-scale Middle East peace conference is planned for this fall.
The underlying assumption is that radical Islam has something do to with Israel-related political grievances. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made this argument repeatedly. If he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice roll up their sleeves and work toward a permanent settlement of the Palestinian issue, so the logic goes, they will be providing a powerful diplomatic antidote to the jihadism threatening the security of the entire Western alliance.
But is this really the case? In August 2005, the international community embraced Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, largely for these very reasons. The “occupation,” which they tirelessly argued was polarizing the Middle East, would be rolled back. The Palestinians would take over Israeli greenhouses and export cherry tomatoes to the European Union. They would pump gas from lucrative off-shore gas fields being developed by British Gas to bring in huge revenues to the Palestinian people.
Ms. Rice also pushed hard for the “Rafah Border Crossing Agreement,” which was supposed to facilitate trade between Gaza and the rest of the world while keeping terrorists out. EU observers were deployed.
But moderation did not ensue. Five months after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas won the Palestinian elections and formed a government. In March 2006, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat that al Qaeda had penetrated the area. A month later, the newspaper reported that al Qaeda operatives had infiltrated Gaza from Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.
Huge amounts of weapons and cash also poured into Gaza. And regardless of their tactical disagreements, Hamas did not fight al Qaeda but in fact joined forces with one of its Gaza affiliates, the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam), in kidnapping Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. In July 2007, the head of al Qaeda in Egypt fled that country’s security forces to hide in Gaza.
In short, the U.S. and its Western allies thought that Israel’s Gaza pullout would establish the foundations of a Palestinian state and thus reduce the flames of radical Islamic rage. Instead they got an al-Qaeda sanctuary on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The source of their error was a popular misconception in policy-making circles of what causes radical Islam to thrive. The gasoline fueling al Qaeda has been its sense of victory, not political grievances.
Its recruits have responded to Web clips of U.S. armored vehicles in Iraq exploding, or the beheading of Russian soldiers in Chechnya. Indeed, al Qaeda was established in 1989, after the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan. It was then that Osama bin Laden and his followers said to themselves that they had just beaten a superpower and were replicating the great victories of the early armies of Islam that crushed the Byzantine and Persian Empires.
It should be remembered that in the 1990s, the U.S. and its allies addressed many political grievances of the Islamic world in Kuwait, Somalia and especially in Bosnia. In the Arab-Israeli sector, the Clinton administration devoted more time to Arab-Israeli diplomacy than most of its predecessors, with the 1993 Oslo Accords, the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, the 1997 Hebron Agreement, the 1998 Wye Agreement, and finally the attempt to reach a permanent-status agreement at Camp David in 2000. But al Qaeda only grew in strength. There were attacks in Saudi Arabia in 1995, East Africa in 1998, Yemen in 2000 and finally 9/11.
In other words, there was no correlation between U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to ameliorate the grievances voiced by radical Islamic groups and the appeal of al Qaeda.
What the Gaza pullout showed, however, was that mishandling the Israeli-Palestinian issue can exacerbate the threat of radical Islam, especially if it deepens the sense in radical Islamic circles that their military efforts have paid off. Today, leading Western diplomats have been praising the Arab League Peace Initiative–based on the 2002 Saudi Plan–which calls on Israel to fully withdraw to the pre-1967 lines (i.e., leave the Golan Heights and entire West Bank) in exchange for “normal relations” with the Arab world. The Saudi Plan re-divides Jerusalem.
This proposal goes well beyond the requirements of peacemaking envisioned by the United Nations in Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967), which did not demand a complete Israeli pullback. The Arab Initiative also goes far beyond the letter of assurances sent by President Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004, which guaranteed Israel’s right to “defensible borders” in the West Bank (and hence precluded the kind of withdrawal envisioned by the Saudis).
But what if Israel were to feel pressured by the U.S. and its partners–and it conceded its right to defensible borders at the upcoming Middle Eastern peace conference by agreeing to the terms of the Arab Initiative? Gaza provides a preview.
For example, if Israel left the Jordan Valley, its strategic barrier in the east, this would create a new security vacuum. This would not only undermine Israel, but would pose a threat to Jordan, which has already suffered from Iraqi al Qaeda over the last few years with suicide bombing attacks in Amman. Jordan would become the new forward base for ihadi groups moving against Israel. Two years ago, Israel discovered that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, had already set up cells for this purpose in the Jordanian city of Irbid.
Even before the implementation of such far-reaching concessions, serious destabilization could easily erupt. Today, the main reason why Mahmoud Abbas and the remains of his Fatah movement retain power in the West Bank is not their popularity. Observers forget that Hamas also won the Palestinian elections in the West Bank in 2006. However, in contrast to the situation in Gaza, the Israeli Army is fully deployed in strategic areas of the West Bank and could intervene in minutes if Hamas tried to execute a Gaza-style military coup to topple Mr. Abbas.
One of the diplomatic proposals that has been on the table since 2002 is to get Israel to withdraw from its current deployment to the lines it held on September 2000, presumably with international guarantees. If Israel were to agree to this idea, it would be hailed by the Western powers as a vital step towards the achievement of an Arab-Israeli peace. But it would also, under present conditions, set the stage for a complete Hamas takeover in the West Bank as well and create a huge victory for radical Islam.
Forty years ago when U.N. Resolution 242 was drafted, its architects understood that peacemaking required balance. Israel would have to compromise, but its diplomacy should not undermine the delicate strategic balance in the Middle East with a radical pullout that would leave it excessively vulnerable. Effective diplomacy today requires striking the same careful balance–seizing opportunities for real peace, but granting Israel its right to defensible borders.
Pushing Israel back to the pre-1967 lines will not satisfy al Qaeda, nor will it bring peace. Right now, what the Palestinians need is help to build a stable civil society with governing institutions that work, not a return to the ceremonial diplomacy of the 1990s. The errors of past Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking have not been cost-free. They have real consequences in terms of loss of life and a deepening conflict. These initiatives do not halt the assault of radical Islam against the West. In fact, if mishandled, they can make it far worse.