Vain Hope Springs Eternal

Israel has been fooled not once, not twice, but at least five times in a quest for peace that has gone nowhere.

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By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on February 13, 2013)

“Hope springs eternal,” wrote Alexander Pope, in “An Essay on Man.” And so it is with Israel’s hope for peace with the Palestinians. After every disappointment, hope rises again.

When Yasser Arafat seemingly renounced terrorism at a press conference in Geneva in December 1988, we wanted to believe him. We signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, brought him and his minions from Tunis to Gaza and Ramallah – only to find that he had by no means abandoned terrorism.

In May 2000 we decided to unilaterally leave the South Lebanese security zone and abandon our allies, the South Lebanon Army, hoping that after the Israeli withdrawal Hezbollah would cease terrorist activity against Israel. We hoped it would become just another Lebanese political party, and we would have peace on our northern border. These hopes were in vain. Not only did Hezbollah not abandon terrorism against Israeli civilians, but the unilateral withdrawal was advertised by Hassan Nasrallah as a Hezbollah victory and perceived by the Palestinians as a sign of Israeli weakness. This in turn led to preparations for the second intifada.

The second intifada was launched shortly after Ehud Barak offered Arafat, at Camp David in July 2000, the most far-reaching concessions ever proposed by an Israeli government. These concessions were rejected, and what followed was a wave of terror which brought suicide bombers into the streets of Israel and led to the death of over a thousand Israeli civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces’ entry into Judea and Samaria put an end to it. We uprooted 8,000 Israelis from the Gush Katif settlement bloc hoping that this would further the peace process with the Palestinians. Instead, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and rockets started raining down on the towns and villages of southern Israel.

As they fell, Ehud Olmert conducted negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, offering him everything Barak had offered Arafat. In addition, he agreed to a partial return of Palestinian refugees. That too was rejected.

And so it went, one disappointment after another. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Israel has been fooled not once, not twice, but at least five times in a quest for peace that has gone nowhere.

Could it only be wishful thinking on Israel’s part that has allowed the Palestinians to make fools of it time after time? Obviously there are other motivations at work – such as the feeling that we have no choice but to give in to pressure from the “international community” and offer concessions that would end this conflict once and for all. This is further reinforced by the Israel-bashing that is going on in much of Western Europe. Maybe this is a chance to become a respected member of the “international community,” no matter what the cost.

Or perhaps this is the opportunity to end the “occupation” and rid ourselves of the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria. They may not be better off after we withdraw, but who cares? That, after all, is their business. And those Israelis who live in the shadow of the “demographic” demon, and do not want a single Arab added to the roster of Israel’s Arab citizens, will agree to almost anything to prevent such an eventuality.

So now we have Mahmoud Abbas. He is a reformed terrorist who proclaims his desire to establish a Palestinian state by peaceful means. Is this not the opportunity that we and most of the rest of the world have been waiting for? He rejected Olmert’s offer, but maybe we can sweeten the pill.

There is only one problem. Abbas is not capable of fulfilling the two basic requirements Israel would demand in any agreement involving significant territorial concessions: First, that the agreement would constitute the end of the conflict and that no further Palestinian demands would be made of Israel. And second, that the territories ceded would not become bases for terrorist activities against Israel.

Abbas cannot fulfill these requirements, and he knows it.

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