Thomas Friedman, today, attempts to correlate the situations with new political authorities in Iraq and within the PLO. In theory, his essay is comforting... The reality is not.
The main disagreement I have with Mr. Friedman is his assumption that there has been real change in the palestinian Authority. There has not, and likely will not be. He even goes so far as to describe the new power in the territories as one that the "Palestinians brought about by a vote of their own legislature". He is imputing democratic motivations on the Arabs, which do not exist. It is foolish to think that the Arabs in power will willfully adopt a system of rule, which, by its nature, will remove their source of power and wealth. In a democratic system, Arafat/Mazen would lose their power of patronage and favoritism. They will not give up that power voluntarily.
The opportunity for real change in the Middle East is upon us. Change in Iraq was brought about by the defeat and overthrow of the violent, corrupt regime that ruled through terrorizing its opponents and rewarding its friends. But, absent the overthrow of the violent corrupt regime that rules the territories by terrorizing its opponents and paying off its friends, there will be no real change in the PLO's rule, and no real chance for a New Middle East.
As widespread and deep that the hatred for Israel is throughout the Arab world, I fear that for real change in the region, the kind that Mr. Friedman is talking about, that all of the regimes will have to be violently overthrown, either through internal upheaval or by external interference. Simply hoping for change while appeasing the PLO has not and will not be effective.
The one thing I feel strongly about is that there is NO chance of change in the PLO if we keep appeasing them. There is no chance for change in the PLO unless we get tough and show them that terrorism does not work. There is no chance for real change as long as there are NO consequences for their continued campaign of terror.
Change in Iraq, just as in Germany and Japan, is happening as a result of the utter defeat of a brutal regime. The regime was warned, it was given options that would have allowed it to stay in power, and when those warnings went unheeded they suffered the consequences.
We have not been so clear with the PLO. We have not coerced them. Instead we have rewarded their terror campaign with Israeli concessions and continued legitimacy. Instead of defining consequences for failing to move towards peace, we excuse their violent behavior. I understand the reasons for coddling them, but our actions are not encouraging them to change.
The main obstacle that is keeping us from clearly articulating consequences for PLO misbehavior is our government’s failure to recognize that the PLO is not the real problem. The real antagonists are the rest of the Arab regimes that support and use the PLO to their advantage. Having a common enemy is the only glue that holds Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Iran, et al, together. The Arab world, despite generations of trying, cannot get past tribal jealousies. As long as they keep the spotlight on the Israeli-PLO conflict, they maintain the appearance of a unified group, and are able to ignore their real internal problems. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is NOT in the interest of the larger Arab world. And neither the PLO nor the Arab world see any consequences in continuing the conflict.
US policy, for 55 years, has allowed the conflict to fester and continue. We have preferred regional stability to reform for a variety of reasons, with oil being the primary factor. Until US policy, and to a lesser extent EU policy, changes, there is no reason to hope for any real change in the situation. Appeasement doesn't work.
The Arabs are already way behind in meeting their obligations of the Road Map. My reading of the document clearly puts the responsibility for first action on the Arabs. They have not met their requirements. Still we continue as if everything is OK. There has not been a public announcement that even the timeline for statehood will be delayed. The Arabs complain that Israel is not doing enough, even though they've done more than was required. Our response has been completely wrong.
We continue to coddle appease and mollify the PLO by letting them change the debate to include issues outside the working framework. We give them unwarranted legitimacy by inviting the representatives of a corrupt regime to the White House, and sent them the signal that lack of real reform is OK with us. They make statements absolutely contrary to the Road Map flatly refusing to confront the terrorists or to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and we respond by pressuring the Israelis to concede even more. It’s absolutely ludicrous.
We have to give the Arabs a choice. They must realize that there are consequences for their continued intransigence. We haven't given them any decisions to make. They must realize that failure to accept Israel as Jewish state, that continued incitement to hatred will mean loss of any hope for a second palestinian state.
How can they choose if we don’t give them a choice to make? We continue to offer only one option, that of PLO statehood. They continue to work towards one end: PLO statehood. How can we expect them to change their behavior?
Every peace plan offers the same end. Regardless of how the PLO and the Arab world acts, no matter how uncooperative the Arabs are, we continue to offer them the same prize and then are confused as to why they don’t choose to cooperate.
We continue to show them that regardless of their behavior we are going to give them another state. The more Israelis they kill the better the terms they will get. That has been the lesson they’ve learned through our actions for 55 years. WE must change before we can expect any change in their behavior.
We must give them a choice. Statehood for the PLO or NOT. Only when they see that intransigence has a consequence can we hope for real movement to peace. If we are not ready to back our demands for civil behavior from the PLO, then we shouldn’t fool ourselves that peace is likely, it isn’t. We have to be ready to discuss “transfer” as a real possibility. If transfer is impossible to talk about, if it is truly unthinkable, then we must recognize that there is no consequence to continued Arab intransigence and there is no hope for peace between Israel and the Arabs.
Saddam chose unwisely and reform is underway in Iraq. The PLO has no real choice to make and is unlikely to change... the situation remains stagnant.