Mini Teaser: The "near miss" at Taba is being widely promoted as the natural starting point for future Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. The only problem, is there was no "near miss."
The issue of the moral legitimacy of a Jewish state is not just a theoretical issue but a central practical one, since any deal reached will require the Palestinian mainstream to engage in an ongoing confrontation with irredentist rejectionists among them in order for peace and stability to be maintained. If Israel lacks moral legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian leadership, true moderates can never win an internal Palestinian struggle.
In light of all this, it is curious how the Taba myth has taken hold among Arab, European and some American elites. Perhaps diplomats needed to present Taba as a success, or as merely a "process problem" that could easily be overcome, since alternative conclusions were too painful to countenance. If Arafat could not accept even a very generous peace deal, further negotiations would be futile, confrontation inevitable, and the need to find alternative Palestinian leadership as daunting as it was inescapable.
There is also a less charitable explanation. Taba represents the most concessionary of all Israeli proposals tabled so far, so to say that it nearly succeeded works as a means to establish Taba as a baseline for the next round. In other words, those not positively disposed toward Israel may well see the myth of Taba as a way to increase pressure against it, whether or not there is ever a final status agreement. Indeed, for some unreconstructed Nasserites in the Arab world, an insistence on Taba is an assurance that no peace deal will ever be signed, except one that it is utterly unworkable. If one believes, as Arafat seems to, that time works against Israeli survival, than pretending that Taba was a close call makes perfect sense. It precludes the end of the conflict and makes it look like Israel is the obstacle to peace.
In the wake of President Bush's June 24, 2002 call for Arafat's removal almost two years after Taba, and amid growing calls from Palestinians for reform, history may nevertheless get a reprieve. Most Israelis and Palestinians know that a two-state solution is inevitable, and it will probably come close in the end to the Clinton parameters. Specifically, it must be clear that Palestinian refugees can go to Palestine, not Israel, lest Israel lose its Jewish character. Moreover, there must be agreement on a formula that avoids exclusive sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem so that the religious sensitivities of both sides are preserved. Finally, it must be clear that this deal ends the conflict between these two peoples and that each respects the moral legitimacy of the other's national project.
Unlike Arafat, many Palestinian negotiators have privately supported an honorable compromise with Israel. For its part, the Israeli public has repeatedly demonstrated that when there is hope for peace, it will support far-reaching concessions--and it will elect a new government to make those concessions if that is what is required. Getting there will be harder now thanks to the mistrust that has accrued during the past two years of violence. Nonetheless, new leadership among the Palestinians in the wake of a successful campaign against Iraq might well bring us to a tipping point--but that tipping point will fall the wrong way if the Taba myth is not dispelled. It does not represent a tragically missed model for a stable and sustainable peace. Properly understood, it reveals the roots of failure, and the motives of those who see failure in much too positive a light.Essay Types: Essay