Platoons of diplomats and politicians have solved the problems of Israel and the Palestinians -- again! The United States, the UN, Russia and the European Union, working together as "the Quartet," claim that their wisdom will produce a final settlement and an "independent, democratic and viable Palestine." Delivering their formula to both sides on Wednesday, they predicted that the crucial changes will fall into place in 2005.
The seven-page "road map" embodying these instructions appears to have been written in another world, a Never-Never Land where nobody's historical memory goes back even to the bitter failures of the 1990s. It delivers glib promises that will encourage false hopes among the naive on all sides. If you believe what it says, you can expect progress at a breathtaking pace. Among other absurdities, it anticipates that the Palestinian constitution will be written and ratified by next winter.
It's based on the foolish notion that Israelis and Palestinians will act like diplomats sitting in a conference room in Brussels. This is the error intelligence professionals call "mirror-imaging"; it's made by analysts who expect that people with different cultural experiences will act as they themselves would act. Abram Shulsky, in his book, Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, explains that mirror-imaging caused the failure of Israeli intelligence to anticipate the Yom Kippur sneak attack by Egypt and Syria in 1973. Israelis know their first loss in a war will be their last: Defeat will destroy their state. They imagined that Egyptians were just as afraid of losing and wouldn't attack unless they could destroy the Israeli Air Force. But apparently President Anwar Sadat didn't count on winning, and in fact his plan worked. Early Arab victories, even though they were reversed, provided the psychological backdrop (as Shulsky says) for what Sadat wanted: to regain the Sinai through a peace treaty.
In the same way, the Quartet's road map assumes that both Israelis and Palestinians will swiftly forgive and forget all the recent violence. It assumes that Palestinians want precisely the peaceful democracy that the diplomats want them to want, and that they will immediately repudiate terrorism and accept the principle of two states living side by side, a solution they rejected in 2000. It ignores the polls showing that Yasser Arafat, a career terrorist, remains the most popular living Palestinian, far more popular than the new Quartet-approved prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen. (Barry Rubin, the author of a forthcoming Arafat biography, noted this week that Arafat still controls security services and can nullify any change he dislikes.)
The Quartet seems also to assume that Israel will happily pull out of its settlements in disputed areas. Many outside Israel will no doubt agree, particularly if they ignore earlier generations of struggle between Arabs and Jews and blame all recent trouble on the settlements. Susan Sontag, for instance, wrote in the Guardian last Saturday that "Israel is going through the greatest crisis of its turbulent history, brought about by the policy of steadily increasing and reinforcing settlements on the territories won after its victory in the Arab war on Israel in 1967."
But Israelis know that many Arabs reject all of Israel, not just the settlements. Israelis will also point out that 225,000 Jewish settlers occupy only 2% of the West Bank. Many settlements, such as Ma'aleh Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem with a population of 28,000, will never be casually abandoned.
The dates contained in the plan add a peculiar element of fantasy to the whole enterprise. For some arcane reason, known only to diplomats, the authors insisted on delivering a document that was already obsolete. They wrote it in December, 2002, and handed it over on April 30, 2003, with all the original dates unchanged. As a result, the text reads like the work of a grim and derisive satirist. "Phase I: Ending Terror and Violence, Present to May 2003," describes what should be done between December, 2002, and this minute. Palestinians cease all violence while Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied since Sept. 28, 2000 and freezes settlement activity. Palestinian institutions (notably schools) end anti-Jewish incitement. Israel lets Palestinian officials, presumably including Arafat, travel where they wish and commits itself to a sovereign Palestinian state. At the same time, Arab governments cut off funding to terrorists. And all this fiction appears in a document claiming to establish "a realistic timeline for implementation."
Naturally, almost nothing on that list has happened. Only one item mentioned in Phase I, the naming of an interim Palestinian Prime Minister and his Cabinet, was finally carried out, just before the road map was delivered. Hamas and the Arafat-connected al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades celebrated those appointments eight hours later by sending two extra-big bombs to a Tel Aviv pub, apparently in an attempt to set a record for deaths by suicide bombers on a single occasion. The terrorists were thwarted by an alert security officer, and they set off only one bomb, which killed one terrorist and three Israelis while injuring dozens of others. It was the start of another peace process.