Friday, May 16, 2014

Patrick Martin Thinks This May Really Be The End.
Here are his Seven Reasons


I went to a lecture last night by veteran Globe and Mail journalist Patrick Martin. The lecture was at the Nerayaver Synagogue and was sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

Martin, who is a veteran foreign correspondent who has specialized in the Middle East and Israel/Palestine for over 20 years, had a rather depressing thesis to present. There is unlikely to be a two state solution in the foreseeable future. Neither is there likely to be a one state solution – at least not one that most people would call a solution. Rather things will just muddle on, more or less as is – the occupation with minor variations. Less friction is the best (or the worst) that the near future holds.

Martin told the audience, of about 70 people (whose average age was also close to 70) that until very recently he had believed that a two state solution would be achieved at some point. “It is the only logical solution. It has always been the only logical solution, dating back to the UN Partition plan of 1947, or maybe longer to the Peel Commission of the 1930s.” But he stated, “This is the Middle East and logic, often, has nothing to do with how things turn out.”

Martin attributed his new found scepticism re the achievability of a two state solution to a number of factors, and he peppered his talk with both anecdotal and statistical evidence to illustrate them. He listed seven reasons.

First, he told us that the children of the settlers – those who are sometimes called the “Hilltop Youth” are much more militant than their parents. He told us how the parents of a family he knew in the settlement of Bet El, told him that while they would demonstrate and strenuously resist any attempt to remove them from Bet El in a peace deal, they would not physically fight the army. Their children however – the eldest of whom was a student at the hyper-nationalist militant yeshiva in Yizhar  (that advocates the re-establishment of a Jewish monarchy in all of the Land of Israel) – had no such compunctions, and would likely take up arms to resist any such evacuation.

Second, Hamas was undergoing two significant trends. On the one hand there are those who believe that “time is on our side”, and if they wait long enough Israel will collapse under its own weight. Together with this they are tired of fighting (as are most Palestinians, according to Martin) and realize that if they do not improve the day to day lives of the people of Gaza, they may lose control there. So they are willing to – quietly – cooperate with Israel, to improve – or at least not worsen – the lives of the residents of Gaza.

Third, the Palestinian upper and middle classes, or at least growing parts of them, just want economic prosperity and a modicum of civil rights, and are willing to give up - at least temporarily - political rights if they have to. This is particularly true in Ramallah, and to a lesser extent in Nablus and Hebron –where the economy has been significantly improving in the last 8-9 years. Together these cities contain about 40% of the population of the West Bank. Furthermore, Netanyahu is aware of this dynamic and has promote a policy of encouraging the growth of the economy in these West Bank urban centres, by loosening travel restrictions, particularly on goods, and encouraging economic cooperation, while on the other hand he chokes off the flow of tax money to the PA and tightens travel restrictions, every time he is displeased with the Palestinian’s actions. This combination of carrots and sticks has had the effect of significantly moderating the political aspirations and militancy of the Palestinian upper and middle classes. (This is not the case, Martin, claimed in the villages – which bear the brunt of the day to day conflict with settler and the army, who often experience land theft, and who have not enjoyed increased prosperity in the last decade.)

Forth, the average Israeli feels no pain and no cost from the status quo. Martin related how even in the middle of a series of rocket barrages from Gaza towards Ashkelon and points north, the beaches were full. Israelis briefly took shelter in nearby buildings and watched as Iron Dome knocked most of the Palestinian rockets out of the sky, and then went right back to sand and the water. Israel has had no real external threat since the 2006 “Second Lebanon War”, and the up upheavals in the Arab world have neutralized such a threat for a near future at least. Except for the small segment of the population that lives close to Gaza, and who experience occasional rocketing from there, most Israelis do not experience the conflict in their daily lives. And even in the Gaza area, Israel’s deterrence capabilities – so effectively and cruelly demonstrated in operation Cast Lead – has had the desired effect of severely calibrating the willingness of Hamas to attempt serious damage within Israel.

Fifth, under Israel’s current political constellation there is no parliamentary majority for a peace deal base on territorial withdrawal. Of the 20 Likud members of the Knesset, only 1 – Benjamin Netanyahu – has publicly stated he supports two states for two people: and Martin doubts he was sincere when he stated this. Furthermore, demographic trends in Israel indicate that the constituency for a peace deal based on two states is shrinking. The haredim – who are currently 16% of the Jewish population of Israel are doubling their numbers every 15 years!  (They will be almost aprox 40% of the Jewish population in 30 years). While the haredim are nominally anti-Zionist, they are also mostly hawkish, have no sympathy for Palestinians, and more and more have a material interest in maintaining the occupation (over 100,000 haredim live in various settlements – not counting east Jerusalem. Non haredi Orthdox are also growing at a faster rate than the secular Jewish population. And finally, polls show that Israeli Jewish youth across the spectrum are on average more right wing and hawkish then their parents.

Six, Martin sees no serious effort being made by the Americans to involve itself in a peace process for a long time, and certainly no American pressure on Israel to make meaningful concessions. Furthermore, the Americans have managed to lose the trust of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. (Martin related that things got so bad that at one point during the talks, the Palestinian delegation did not believe that the Americans were accurately relaying Israel’s proposals.)

Seventh, and finally, Martin believes that Abu Mazen is truly interested in reaching a two state deal with Israel, is totally committed to a non-violent path, and willing to make deep compromises on the actual implementation of the “right of return” – effectively allowing Israel a veto on which and how many and on what time table refugees could return. Abu Mazen, in Martin’s view, is a true partner for peace – maybe the best Israel will ever get. But Abu Mazan will be weakened by the failure of these talks, and Abu Mazen is getting old. It is not clear that the next generation of Fatah leadership will have even his limited ability to pull the population along with them, nor that they will really be interested in a two state solution.

Martin ended by saying that though he is not 100% certain, he thinks that maybe this time the window on two states has finally close – at least for the foreseeable future. And that a great pity in his opinion. One state with full and equal rights for all is also not in the offing.

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