Missed opportunities for peace


David Barnett

written 5 November 1995

Looking back, one may discern missed opportunities for entering a road to peace. The P.L.O. was in disarray after the Lebanon invasion in 1982, and again after the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991. These were times to press forward with plans for autonomy in the territories. For the truth is that peace is made face-to-face by the people - by shopkeepers and their customers. Politics get in the way. Politics are about control of coercive forces. The P.L.O. knows only about power politics. The people have a surfeit of "authorities" controlling their lives.

But the opportunities were missed. Instead, the P.L.O. was rebuilt with the help of the "friends" of peace. Perhaps Rabin misunderstood the nature of this last opportunity. After all, his career was chiefly political. He understood politicians and power plays. Naturally he would think in terms of political leaders. But the store owners regard them as a nuisance at best.

Politics are like war - they cannot create, only curtail and destroy. And just as cessation of war does not guarantee peace and rebuilding (but is a prerequisite), so removal of interference and coercion from one source does not guarantee autonomy and freedom. Autonomy and freedom must be cultivated from within.

Recall that modern Israel was a country long before the British withdrew in 1948. The yishuv had built all the infrastructure and institutions of a country in the face of discouragement from the British rulers. Israel was less granted independence than she took it. So it must be with Palestinian Arab autonomy. It is not within our gift. What is within our gift is to minimise coercive interference in their lives. But there is a price. They must take responsibility for those amongst them who would do us harm. And if they will not then expect us to defend ourselves as cheaply as possible.

There were those who saw promise in the "Jericho and Gaza first" policy. I was one. I expected that Arafat would make a mess of it because he is a corrupt authoritarian. That would not have mattered because Arafat could be replaced easily by something more real. Jericho could have been a model of peaceful democratic development without too much trouble because it was already fairly peaceful. Once peaceful autonomy was established there, extension would be rational and desirable.

But the headlong rush to hand power in all the territories to the P.L.O. without any evidence of even good intentions, let alone the ability to produce the rule of law, is dangerous folly.

© David M. Barnett


This page revised 6 July 1999