A sensible solution for the Israel– Palestine conflict has been known for years: Israeli withdrawal from enough of the territory occupied in 1967 to allow a workable, contiguous Palestinian state to be established. Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat won’t hear of it. Peace initiatives on this basis such as the recent “Geneva Accord” between liberal Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have been greeted by Sharon as acts of “treason” and by Arafat with icy silence. Sharon, for whom the very idea of Palestinian independence on the western side of the Jordan River has been anathema for years, is now ready to allow a Palestinian state to be established only in Gaza and a few small, disjointed enclaves on the West Bank surrounded by Israeli settlements and military installations. Sharon has been damaged politically by the reluctance of his own party to approve a planned “disengagement” from Gaza but he has been heartened by strong support from the United States—George Bush called him a man of peace. In a letter to Bush this May, Sharon promised only to “limit,” not stop, the growth of settlements on the West Bank. Before he made any concessions, he said, all terror would have to stop.
Arafat continues to maintain that the Palestinians already ceded 78 percent of Palestine in 1948; the absolute minimum must be a state within the pre-1967 borders. He also demands the right of return to Israel of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Of these, there are now some four million on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) payrolls.
These positions are so far apart that it is difficult to see how they can be bridged during the political lifetimes of these two men. More than ever before, they keep each other in power. The bloodshed continues. In what has for years been a tribal war, violent attacks are followed by even more terrible attacks to “avenge” them. Revenge, as George Orwell once pointed out, is a sour, childish daydream born of impotence, not power. Recently a columnist for Haaretz bitterly deplored the “wretchedly sad state of affairs between these two infantile peoples” incapable after so many years “to take their fate into their own hands” and finally “make peace.” The toll only becomes more exorbitant, as was recently shown in the Gaza border town of Rafah, where Israeli troops avenging the death of thirteen Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and made thousands homeless for the second time since 1948 by blowing up their houses. The victims weren’t even allowed to save their belongings.
On both sides, people now seem stoically reconciled with the situation, like islanders living on the edge of a live volcano that might pour fire and brimstone on their heads at any moment. The failure of negotiations three years ago allowed the extremes to rule on both sides. God-struck settlers squatting on another people’s land hold Israel at ransom. Among Palestinians there has never been a popular …