New York Daily News -
Tough love for the Palestinians
Sunday, August 18th, 2002

Imagine a proposed negotiation between two parties. One is very strong. One is very weak. The strong party possesses what the weak party desperately wants. The weak party has no power to secure these assets on its own, or allies willing or able to help very much, but it continuously harasses the strong party.

Yet the weak party refuses to start true negotiations until the strong party surrenders nearly all the disputed assets first. It claims legal entitlement to these concessions and full legal equality with the strong party. The strong party rejects these conditions, contends the law is baseless and insists on its own conditions for talks: No more harassment.

If you think this situation prevents genuine negotiations from even beginning, let alone succeeding, you're right. And if you recognize the parties as the Israelis and the Palestinians, take a bow.

But despite some constructive recent statements from President Bush, America's policy continues to ignore these obstacles to successful Middle East diplomacy and still views negotiation as the region's only hope for peace.

Washington must recognize fully that the power realities of the Middle East have left open only one road to a durable peace: not negotiation, but capitulation by the Palestinians.

And Washington can help most effectively by dispelling the longstanding Palestinian illusions of equality. These illusions have been propped up for decades by international recognition, but they have only fueled futile violence.

International negotiations rarely succeed unless they reflect actual and potential power balances. In particular, each disputant must possess something of real and unique value to the other side.

Yet clear-cut Israeli strategic superiority denies the Palestinians any genuine bargaining chip. After all, decades of Palestinian violence have left the West Bank largely occupied and Israel militarily stronger than ever. Since Sept. 11, moreover, Israel has had a near carte blanche from Washington to suppress further terror strikes.

Unable to change the military balance through their own efforts or outside arms aid, the Palestinians cannot use new threats or actual attacks to produce major new Israeli concessions. In other words, the Palestinians have been militarily defeated. Although they can wound Israel, they cannot truly endanger the Jewish state. Worse, prolonging the impasse only prolongs their defeat.

Bush's Mideast speech of June 24 injected a new realism into U.S. policy by declaring that the Palestinians have no inalienable right to statehood. But because Bush remains imprisoned by the negotiations mindset, and because the basic prerequisites for successful talks are still absent, precious momentum has been lost.

Momentum can be restored if Bush explicitly delivers this message to the Palestinians and their sympathizers: The diplomatic award of Palestinian equality is a destructive sham that must be ended. Negotiations for the indefinite future are impossible. The Palestinians must instead accept their strategic inferiority and launch a long-term, communitywide effort to prove their trustworthiness.

Only years of good behavior, not promises, can prove that the Palestinians can safely be granted statehood.

The good news for the Palestinians is that this strategy has every chance of succeeding because of their adversary's fundamentally liberal, humanitarian nature.

Israel's democratic character is the Palestinians' only real strategic asset. They must see through Arab propaganda and begin to use it.


Tonelson is a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation.