The Return of the Bad Old Middle East
By Steven Plaut
Jewish Press (NY)
Date: Wednesday, December 31 2008
For most of the past 16 years or so, a seemingly benign specter has been
haunting the world - namely, the notion that there exists a New Middle
East, one that plays by rules very different from those in the Bad Old
Beginning with the first of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, Israel
was launched by its own political leadership into a "peace process" whose
main axiom was that the Old Middle East was dead and gone.
Oslo was based on the assumption that what was needed to resolve the
conflict was a sincere willingness on Israel's part to reach an
accommodation with the Arab world through unilateral concessions and
especially through Israel's acknowledging the legitimacy of Palestinian
demands for statehood.
But as we enter the year 2009, the conclusion is unavoidable that there is
no such thing as a New Middle East. The Bad Old Middle East keeps
reasserting itself - with a vengeance.
It is crucial at this point in history for all to abandon the campaign of
peace through make-believe that has governed efforts at resolving the
conflict since late 1992. No progress can be made until the world renews
its acquaintance with Middle East reality and stares it straight in its
unpleasant face. Unhappy truths and principles must again be understood
and internalized. The most important ones follow.
I. Arab terrorism and military aggression are not caused by Israeli
occupation but rather by the removal of Israeli occupation.
Since Oslo, the working hypothesis of the Israeli government, endorsed by
nearly everyone on the planet, has been that the most urgent task at hand
was to end the Israeli "occupation" and remove Israel from its position of
control over the lives of Palestinian Arabs.
The Israeli Left and its amen chorus in the international media have been
repeating for so many years that the ultimate cause of Palestinian
terrorism and Arab grievances is the "occupation" of "Palestinian lands"
by Israel that few are capable any longer of thinking about that assertion
critically. It is wrong. The main cause of anti-Israel terrorism today is
the removal of Israeli occupation from Palestinian Arabs.
This is so obvious that it is a major intellectual challenge to explain
why so few people understand it. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza
Strip in its entirety in 2004 and evicted all Jews who had been living
there. The result was the massive ongoing rocket assaults launched from
the Gaza Strip against Sderot, Ashkelon, and other towns in the south of
The Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon was unilaterally ended in the
year 2000 by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. The direct result of
that move was the launching of 4,000 Katyusha rockets from Lebanon against
northern Israel in the summer of 2006 and several times that number now
poised to strike Israel.
The worst waves of Palestinian suicide attacks were directly triggered by
the early Oslo withdrawals - before which there were no suicide bombings.
The only possible exception to the rule that removal of Israeli occupation
causes terrorism has been the Sinai Peninsula, which is largely empty. Yet
given the role of the Sinai and its Egyptian-sponsored smuggling networks
in providing a pipeline for rockets and explosives to Hamas in Gaza, it is
not even clear that Israel's withdrawal from Sinai is an exception to this
There can be no doubt that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West
Bank and a return to pre-1967 borders would trigger a massive rocket and
terror assault against the remaining rump areas of Israel, launched from
the "liberated" lands in the West Bank. The same thing would result from
relinquishing the Golan Heights to Syria.
There are worse things in the world than occupation, and the experiences
of the past few years have demonstrated how much worse are the
consequences that follow the removal of Israeli occupation. The inevitable
consequence of a complete withdrawal by Israel to its 1967 borders would
be a replay of 1967, when the Arab world hoped to achieve the military
annihilation of Israel inside its Green Line borders. This time, though,
the Arabs would be using 21st century military technology.
Academics can debate about whether animosity to Israel was itself
initially stoked by the years of Palestinians living under occupation. But
in fact there was more than sufficient Palestinian animosity and terrorism
long before Israel occupied anything at all in the 1967 Six-Day War. Be
that as it may, progress today can occur only if the starting point is the
understanding that removal of Israeli occupation causes terror and
II. Israeli goodwill concessions do not trigger goodwill among Arabs, they
trigger Arab aggression and violence.
The Arabs interpret such goodwill measures as admission of weakness on
Israel's part and as demonstrations of Israeli vulnerability and
destructibility. More generally, the axiom that Israeli niceness toward
Arabs can generate Arab moderation, reasonableness, and friendliness is
also false. It cannot.
Attempts at buying Arab moderation through demonstrations of Jewish
self-restraint and niceness go back decades and predate Israel's
independence (back then it was termed havlaga). They have never worked.
Present-day attempts to win over Arabs with niceness and restraint range
from affirmative action programs that benefit Arabs, to turning a blind
eye toward massive lawbreaking by Arabs, particularly regarding
construction and squatting on public lands.
Niceness means never prosecuting Arab political leaders for treason and
espionage or for endorsing terror, no matter how openly they do so. It
means exempting Israeli Arabs from military conscription and even from
civilian national service. It has even meant that families of Arabs killed
while perpetrating terror atrocities against Jews were allowed to draw
"survivor benefits" from Israel's social security system (the National
Outside the Green Line, niceness often consists of endless offers of
cease-fires with the terrorists - cease-fires that consist of Palestinians
shooting and Israelis not shooting back. It means delivering funds and
sometimes weapons to the very groups engaged in terrorism, in an attempt
to maintain the fa.ade of an ongoing peace process.
None of these measures can assuage Arab bellicosity toward Israel and
Jews; actually, each contributes toward its escalation. Should Israel ever
nicely withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, the Arab world led by "Palestine"
will launch a war against the remaining territory of the Jewish state. It
is likely to do so in the name of the "oppressed" Arabs in the Negev and
the Galilee supposedly suffering from "discrimination" in the Israeli
III. The Arab-Israeli war is not about land, and it cannot be resolved by
Israel's relinquishing land.
The Arab world already controls territory nearly twice that of the United
States (including Alaska), whereas all of Israel cannot be seen on most
world maps. When Israel was occupying nothing outside of its pre-1967
borders, the Arab world refused to come to terms with its existence and is
no more willing to do so today, even if Israel were to return to those
The Arab-Israeli conflict is not about Israel refusing to share land and
resources with Palestinians but about the absolute refusal of the Arab
world to acquiesce in the existence of any Jewish-majority political
entity within any set of borders in the Middle East.
This misrepresentation of the conflict serves to prolong it, precisely
because it misleads. The Arab world insists that Israel trade land for
peace not because it is prepared to in turn offer Israel peace for the
land it vacates, but because a smaller Israel will be that much easier to
destroy. And even if Israel consisted of nothing more than downtown Tel
Aviv, the Arab world would consider it to be an imperialist affront
sitting on stolen Arab land - an illegal "settlement."
IV. Education and economic progress do not produce political moderation or
a desire for peace in the Arab world.
To the contrary, there is reason to believe that wealth and education are
negatively correlated with moderation, meaning that wealthier and
better-educated Arabs are more likely to support terrorism and extremist
political ideas. Arab students in European and American universities have
been regular recruits for terrorist groups, and most of the al Qaeda
terrorists who carried out the 9/11 atrocities had been students.
Suicide bombers in Israel often are university students or graduates of
Palestinian universities. Some have been highly educated professionals,
such as the lawyer who blew herself up in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa,
killing 21 people on the spot. Public opinion polls among Arabs often show
greater support for violence among the better educated.
More generally, in the Middle East poverty and political oppression do not
produce terrorism. Anti-Israel terrorism was sparked by the imposition of
an enlightened regime on Palestinians by Israel - a regime in which basic
freedoms, including freedom of speech and the right to vote in local
elections, were enjoyed.
Terrorism escalated with each concession by Israel, especially after it
agreed to allow Palestinians political autonomy and then statehood. It
escalated after Israel removed its administrative control of the Arab
population in most of the "Palestinian territories."
V. "Talks" cannot produce peace in the Middle East and in fact have
There is a Western obsession with the idea that all world problems can be
resolved through talking. But how many international conflicts can be said
to have been resolved strictly through talking? Especially in the Middle
East, there can be no doubt that talking does not resolve hostilities. It
makes them worse.
The Arab-Israeli war is not a marital spat where bringing together the
parties to sit around a table and socialize reduces anger,
misunderstanding and tension. The conflict is not about hurt feelings but
about the refusal of the Arab world to come to terms with Israel's
existence, period, in any set of borders and regardless of whether
Jerusalem remains under Israeli control.
VI. There is no "two-state solution" or "one-state solution" to the Arab
The latter solution is particularly popular on the left. Under that
scenario, Israel is enfolded into a larger "secular democratic Arab state"
with an Arab Muslim majority. It is in fact little more than a
prescription for a Rwanda-style genocide of Jews. This is little doubt
that a significant number of those proposing such a solution would really
like to see this happen.
More important, there is no "two-state solution" to the Middle East
conflict. Those speaking about a two-state solution really mean a 24-state
solution, meaning the Arabs retain the 22 states they already have, adding
a 23rd state of "Palestine" in parts of the West Bank and Gaza and
pre-1967 Israeli territories, with Israel remaining the Jewish state - the
24th state in the plan - for the moment.
That such a solution will not end the conflict but only signal the
commencement of its next stage has long been the quasi-official position
of virtually all Palestinian groups, which have long insisted that any
two-state solution is but a stage in a plan of stages, after which will
come additional steps ultimately ending Israel's existence as a Jewish
The original partition plan of the United Nations had proposed that an
Arab Palestinian state arise alongside Israel in 1948. The Arab world
rejected this plan altogether. It had no interest in adding one more Arab
Islamic state to its portfolio. It went to war to prevent the creation of
any Jewish state.
The two-state solution is no more realistic an option today than it was in
1948. It is ultimately as much of an existential threat to Jewish survival
in the Middle East as the one-state solution. Creation of a Palestinian
state alongside Israel would be a major step in the escalation of the Arab
war against Israel's existence, even if that war is delayed for a time
while the world celebrates the outbreak of peace in the Middle East thanks
to the end of Israeli "occupation."
VII. Israeli Arabs form a potential fifth column, displaying massive
animosity and disloyalty to the state in which they have lived for 60
years and openly identifying with the enemies of that state.
Sixty years of living under the only democratic government in the Middle
East has had surprisingly little impact on the feelings and loyalties of
Israeli Arabs, who are by and large hostile to the very existence of the
state. They are no more resigned to living as a minority within a
majority-Jewish state today than they were in 1948.
Their animosity toward Israel is apparent in their voting behavior: the
bulk of Israeli Arabs vote for pro-terror Arab nationalist parties with
strong fascist tendencies or for the Stalinist HADASH party.
When the opportunity presents itself - for example, during the riots in
the fall of 2000 or earlier this year on Yom Kippur in Acre - Israeli Arab
enmity toward Jews is candidly manifested, and not just in words.
Education and prosperity offer little hope of changing this reality. One
proof is the behavior of Arab college students in Israel. Despite being
beneficiaries of affirmative action preferences in college admissions and
access to scarce dormitory space, Arab students are almost uniformly
anti-Israel and pro-jihad.
Israeli Arabs have long played a Sudeten-like role in the conflict. In any
new outbreak of hostilities with neighboring Arab countries, there is a
clear and present danger that they will take to the streets in attempts to
cripple the country from within. The Arab lynch mobs of the Galilee that
operated in October 2000 may have been a small foretaste.
For too long the world, led by Israel's own deluded leaders, has been
attempting to create peace via the pretense that war is over,
misrepresenting the fa.ade of negotiations as actual resolution of
It has been a sham, of course, and any short-lived lulls in the fighting
have served only to weaken the resolve of Israelis, whose leaders have
repeatedly presented them with a Potemkin peace based on the substitution
of wish-making for statecraft.