Killing Olive Trees–and Peace Prospects

The essentially cadaverous Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” took another of its periodic turns away from any meaningful or likely movement in the direction of a peace settlement in the past week, after the equally ritualistic and doomed staging of another peace meeting in Washington last month between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mohammed Abbas in Washington, presided over by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and special emissary George Mitchell. Some things never change in basic dynamic; only the peripherals are different.

There were two symbolic events that submarined the latest episode in this geopolitical soap opera. First, the Israelis refused to bow to international pressure and extend the ten-month moratorium on new settlement construction on the West Bank. Instead, the Israelis quietly let the ban expire and thus opened the way for more new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Regardless of the position one might take on Israel’s “right” to build these additional Israeli enclaves in the disputed territories, there is no denying that doing so is an absolute deal breaker in terms of any progress in reaching a lasting accord between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinians, quite simply, will and politically never can accept this usurpation (in their minds) of parts of what they believe should be parts of the sovereign state of Palestine to Israeli control. Since the Netanyahu government bases critical parts of its continuing tenure on support from the settlers who want to expand their domain on the West Bank, the result is an impasse that cannot easily be overcome. More settlements=no peace agreement. It is really as simple as that.

The other event was described in a New York Times article on October 9, 2010, and it involved attacks on Palestinian olive trees (cutting off branches, cutting roots to kill the trees) by what are described as Israeli “extremists” from the settler community. The incident is not unique, apparently, but it does point to another factor that makes progress toward a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian situation all the more problematical: the dominant role of political extremists on both sides who are opposed to any peaceful settlement (one acceptable to both sides), who will act violently to stir up animosities as a way to preclude peace, and who are sufficiently powerful in both communities that neither government will (or can) rein them in.

The Palestinian extremists are better known in the West, because the Israelis and their allies have been more successful in bringing them to our attention. Hezbollah and Hamas have become synonymous with terrorism and acts of atrocity against the Israelis that harden Israeli opinion against the peace process, which is the intent of these actions. The Palestinian Authority has been unable or unwilling to suppress the activities of their extremists, fueling Israel’s position that the Palestinians cannot be trusted with a sovereign state. There is merit to this assertion.

What is less well publicized is Israel extremists. Most of these characters come from small, yet fanatical fringe groups, and they are totally and absolutely opposed to any accommodation with the Palestinians. The fact that many of them are settlers whose homes might be the subject of negotiations adds to their dedication and vitriol. In the past week, the olive tree incident was accompanied by another act, the desecration of a Mosque on the West Bank, including the burning of copies of the Quran by Israeli militants. The Israelis hardly lift a finger (despite pious denials of their indifference) in the face of such acts intended, quite simply, to destro the peace process; the Times story on the olive tree killing, for instance, states that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) brought to the scene simply implored the Israelis committing the acts to stop doing so.

The dynamics of Palestinian and Israeli extremism are remarkably similar. Israeli right-wing extremists want to preclude a movement toward peace, and their method–like that of Hamas or Hezbollah–is to create so much outrage in the Palestinian community that they cannot negotiate with the Israeli government. Like  the PA, the Israeli government is unwilling or unable to suppress their fanatics, partly because these provocateurs have some public support and partly because the ruling coalition depends on them to maintain power. Continuing extremist violence (on both sides)=no peace settlement. It is also as simple as that.

Where is Middle East peace headed? It is not evident that it is headed anywhere. As long as Israeli settlements proliferate on the West Bank and political extremists on both sides operate to effectively block progress, the process can go nowhere. Solving these problems may not be sufficient to move the situation forward, but doing so is clearly necessary for that result.

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2 Responses to “Killing Olive Trees–and Peace Prospects”

  1. Killing Olive Trees?and Peace Prospects…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. William Bilek, M.D. Says:

    This entry exemplifies, again, that “facts” does not always equal “truth”. The facts, as presented, are correct. On both sides of the conflict, there are extremists, and criminals. The truth lies in evaluating the criminal acts, and the response of the societies from which the criminals emanate to those acts.

    One side explodes buses and restaurants, lobs rockets aimed at kindergartens, abducts young boys and crushes their skulls in with stones, eviscerates by hand, hapless captives who blunder into an ambush. These acts are then widely celebrated by their societies by naming streets and auditoriums after the perpetrators, passing out sweets and candies in celebration, and teaching their children to emulate the bravery of these “shahids”.

    The other side’s extremist terrorists destroy olive trees, scare off livestock, deface and try to burn houses of worship, insult and humiliate their perceived enemy. In response, the society from which they arise expresses contrition, condemns, if not always appropriately punishes those actions; often will send its people to repair the damage caused by their criminals, and replace the defaced holy books. This is also fact.

    In September 2009, the Prime Minister of Israel, leading a party that has always maintained that Judea and Samaria were an indivisible part of the Jewish homeland, made a historic and revolutionary break with that position when he accepted, in the name of the government and the party, for the first time, the establishment of yet another Arab state between the Jordan River and the sea. In response to what many now see as misdirected (some would say “idiotic”) pressure from the Obama administration, he also stood up to enormous resistance from his constituency in announcing the legislation of a one-time temporary halt to construction of homes and apartments for Jews only, over the 1949 ceasefire lines, for 10 months. This was his concession in an effort to get direct peace talks which had been broken off by the P.A. in response to Israel’s defensive actions against the thousands of Hamas rockets coming from Gaza, going again. Direct negotiations were formalized in the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords, specifically, never addressed settlements, nor required an end to new construction. The first time that an end to construction was built into any agreement was in the “Roadmap”, which called for an end to Jewish construction AFTER the Palestinians (again) end violence and terror; dismantle and disarm terror organizations; and end incitement against the Jewish state. None of this happened. Nevertheless, the Palestinians continued to negotiate, albeit fruitlessly, as the violence continued, (and, as we now know, instigated, and supported by that Nobel Peace Prize recipient Arafat), despite continued construction. And during the first 9 months of the clearly defined 10 month construction moratorium, the PA refused to return to negotiations. Only at the very last moment, mere days before the expiration of that clearly set period, under enormous pressure, did they reluctantly agree to re-open talks, fully hoping and expecting that Israel, true to its word, would resume allowing Jews to build, and thus provide a pretext to quickly end the negotiations which the PA did not want a part in from the get-go.

    Now, for another fact. “…Israeli settlements proliferate on the West Bank “. This “proliferation” has resulted in Israeli settlements existing on LESS THAN 2% of the land area of the West Bank – hardly an insurmountable obstacle to peace.

    A final fact. The conflict in the Middle East is not a territorial dispute over borders. It is an existential battle over whether the Jewish people, as a people, a nation, or a religion, are recognized as having the same right as other nationalities to exist as an independent nation-state, in a small part of their ancestral homeland. It is the Arab, and Muslim world in general, not just their extremists, who deny that right. It is that denial, not olive trees, that lies at the core of the conflict.

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