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SCHUEFTAN AT HERZLIYA

Dan Schueftan

Middle East expert Dan Schueftan aroused great interest at the Herzlyia conference when he assessed the current Palestinian situation. In his analysis, Dr. Schueftan, also presented an analysis of how Israeli Arabs relate to the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Previously on January 16th, Schueftan discussed the issues in a wide - ranging audio interview on IsraCast.  Due to the interest in Schueftan's analysis, we now present the written text of that interview .

Q :      We are speaking now with Dr. Dan Schueftan. He is a leading Israeli annalist at Haifa Universityhere in Israel. First of all, Dr. Schueftan, I would like to ask about what is going on within the Palestinian power struggle. We have seen now that there has been some kind of religious element even being introduced. The Palestinians are mostly Sunni Muslims, but at a big demonstration of Fatah one of the top Palestinian leaders, Mohammed Dahlan, charged that the Hamas rivals were really Sheais. He called "Shea, Shea, Shea" several times and tenths of thousands of Fatah supporters also repeated this. And this, I understand, is one of the most degrading insults among Sunni Muslims. What is your reading of this?

A:       Of course the Hamas is not Shea but Sunni, but this is a way to insult somebody among the Sunnis, when you call them Shea, and the reason they are doing it is because of their strong links with Iran. The links with Iran are a product not so much of a religious coalition, but of the fact that the radicals in Tehran and in Damascus and in Lebanon and among the Palestinians have joined forces, and since Hamas is even more radical than Fatah, what you have there is an accusation that we are speaking about Shea Muslims. Of course these are not Sheas, but we must say that this comes against the background of a very severe race between Sunnis and Sheas that is now present first of all in Iraq itself. Second, because throughout the Arab world there is fear of Iranian radicalism, this also brings up the old feud between Sunnis and Sheas. But when it comes to the Palestinian society this is not the issue. The Palestinians are Sunnis and not Shea, and there is no serious problem on this level. Where you have a very serious problem, to the point where I doubt if there is a coherent Palestinian society today, is the process of disintegration of this society that we have seen in the recent years, that is now becoming more important than ever before. What we see the Palestinians doing is really being split between different groups, militias, gangs, families,   with no responsibility whatsoever, of any kind, of a united leadership. We used to say that Fattah has a problem, and with all the difficulties of Hamas, at least there is discipline there. One leader says something and everybody follows him. Not even in Hamas. Nobody listens very much to Ismail Haniyeh, and the only reason they listen to Khaled Mashal in Damascusis that he is the most radical. If he will be anything but the most radical, they will not listen even to him. So what we have is a Palestinian society that decided to be irresponsible many years ago. Arafat epitomized it more than any other individual. They believe that once Israel is confronted with a structure where there is no responsibility, Israel will have no ability to deter the society and no ability to restrain the very hostile elements among the Palestinians. Therefore becoming irresponsible not only fits Palestinian history, but also was a tactic by Arafat, to make things very difficult for Israel. But as one could have expected, this is a detriment to the Palestinian people, and they are in the worst shape they have ever been before, not because the Israelis are putting more pressure on them, but because their society is disintegrating. One generation after another of Palestinians has seen no hope whatsoever, because their own society takes all the hopes and shatters them. They take the money that the Palestinians get and waste it. It was true about Fatah, it is true about Hamas. One is wasting it more about one kind of corruption, the other one about another kind of corruption and violence, but the disintegration of the society is the worst possible thing that happen to the Palestinians, and it is something that Israel will have to take into consideration, because the option of a settlement isn't there not only because the Palestinians are radical, but also because there is no one unified leadership of the Palestinians, and certainly no kind of leadership that can pursue anything but the most radical anti Israeli policy. So, it is very bad news for Israel, but even worse news for the Palestinians.

Q :      What kind of policy option does this leave then for an Israeli government, keeping in mind that the U.S. Secretary Of State, Condoleezza Rice, is about to make another trip to the Middle East, and she will be talking, of course, about the political process between Israel and the Palestinians?

A:     I know that what I am about to say is very unpopular in Israel today, and it may take us a few months or a few years to realize that these are the real options, but the real option is to try and maintain, hopelessly, the status quo, or to take unilateral steps. The status quo can not be maintained for long, because the Israeli people is not willing any more to pay the price of permanent settlement of Israel within the heavily populated parts of the West Bank. So it may seem as an option, but it is not a real option in the long run. The second option has been discredited recently, but is, nevertheless, the only realistic option, and this is unilateral steps, because there has never been a partner on the Palestinian side, and today there is even less of a Palestinian partner for anything - be it interim agreements or final status negotiations. Israel will have to leave most of the territories, certainly the heavily populated parts of it, unilaterally. There is simply no other option. And the fact that the Palestinians will continue with the terrorism, as they did after we left the Gaza Strip, is there. I agree that it is a problem, but the alternative is even worse.

Q:       But will the Israeli public go for this after the Gazaexperience, where they have simply used the territory to launch more Qassams into Israel?

A:       What is true about governments is sometimes even true about the broader public. Namely, eventually the Israeli public will do the right thing, not before they have exhausted all other options. The hopeless option of negotiations - be it long term negotiations, final status negotiations or interim negotiations - it will not succeed. It is impossible that it will succeed because there is no Palestinian leadership there. Hamas is openly committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and can not bend. The Fatah can, perhaps, pretend to bend, but it is no longer there. It can not deliver. Abu Mazen is completely impotent. He was impotent, is impotent, will remain impotent. Everybody loves what he is saying, but nobody realizes that he is incapable to deliver structurally. There is completely zero possibility that Abu Mazen will deliver. Look at his own organization, look at the Fatah. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the hoodlums in the streets, who are the backbone of Fatah, are as radical as Hamas. Even Abu Mazen can not reach permanent status negotiations successfully, because he is committed to the right of return. When it comes to more interim arrangements he is incapable of speaking about an independent Palestinian state with borders to be determined later, with interim borders. He said yesterday that he rejects it, but even if he will say that he accepts it, he can not sell it to the Palestinian public.

Q:       When you talk of unilateral disengagement in the West Bank, Israel will still have to fight the terrorists, so why do it from a less advantageous topographical situation?   

A:       Yes, but the topography is less important than demography. Demography determined everything in the last 120 years, and it will determine everything in the next 120 years. The Israeli army will not be able to leave the West Bank the way the Israeli army left the Gaza Strip, without opening the door for a security calamity for Israel. So unfortunately the Israeli government will have to stay, at least for the time being. But the Israeli settlements in the heavily populated parts of the West Bank will have to come off, because it is unsustainable, from an Israeli point of view. Forget about international pressure, but from a domestic Israeli point of view. So we will have to come, sooner or later - it may take a few years until Israelis come back to their sense - we will have to come back to the notion that since we can not stay there, we must leave, and since we have nobody to negotiate, nobody to trust and nobody that we can work with, we will have to do it unilaterally. It can be coordinated on a local level, that's a possibility, but not negotiated in terms of a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Q:       Could I ask you about another issue that is in the headlines this week? This has to do with the role of Israeli Arabs in the situation. We had the Labor party leader, Amir Peretz, appointing for the first time an Arab Israeli to the cabinet. At the same time, this aroused a diatribe from Israel Beiteinu Knesset member, Esterina Tartman, and also, almost on the very same day, an Arab Knesset member who serves as the deputy speaker of the Knesset, was speaking to a big Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah, and this Israeli Arab Knesset member actually called for Shahidim, the martyrs, to march on Jerusalem. What is your reading of these developments?

A:       First of all, we should turn our eyes from the minor issues, some of that you have mentioned, such as the appointment of the minister and the response of Israel Beiteinu, and go back to the fundamental issue. We are at perhaps the worst point of the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, simply because the Arabs have completely and totally committed themselves to bring about the destruction of the Jewish nation's state in Israel. The question is not Ahmad Tibi. Ahmad Tibi was always an agent of Arafat, who is committed to undermine Israel, and there is nothing new about Ahmad Tibi in this respect. What he did in Ramallah is as repulsive as things that he did in the past, and there is nothing new there. But the nomination of an Arab minister in the government will do no good whatsoever. It does not make a difference whatsoever, because he will not be perceived as representing the Arabs if he accepts what for the Jews is by far the most important and existential issue, namely Israel as the Jewish nation's state. The Arabs in Israel have totally committed themselves to the radical Palestinian concept, that completely negates the legitimacy of the existence of Israel. They have learned how to recite words that sound benign, but basically what they are saying is profoundly malignant. What they are saying is that you can not have anything but an Arab state, anywhere, and the very notion of two states for two people is negated. You see, at the basis, what the international community and many Jews believe can work very well, namely the notion that you divide the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean into two states: an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Arabs have accepted the Arab state and have rejected the Jewish state. They are not willing to accept historic compromise. The Arabs in Israel have rejected the historic compromise. They consider the very existence of Israel as the Jewish nation's state as a sin, as the original sin. They negate it. They are not willing to grant legitimacy to any kind of Jewish self determination. As far as they are concerned, they have learned to use the language that is popular in Europe and in radical circles around the world about the rights of indigent populations, but again, what they basically want is first to turn Israel into a bi-national state and later to use mechanisms that will turn it to an Arab state. There is nothing the Jews and Arabs can have in common in terms of a long range vision of how to settle the differences, because the issue is no longer the question of equality on the civic level, it is no longer the question of how can the Arabs have a better life in Israel. The question is how to destroy everything that the Jews hold dearest and "raison d'?tre" of the very existence of Israel. This is much more serious than the question of some cheap trick by Amir Peretz trying to look better in spite of the fact that practically all Israelis have no respect for him whatsoever. So I wish this was a new start in a positive direction, and the issue was just finding a few people who disagree with this, and you can have a serious argument with them. But when it comes to the fundamental issue, the Palestinians in Israel, as they prefer to call themselves, have adopted the very negative approach, the very negative ethos of the Palestinians in general, basically not presenting Israel with an option of a historic compromise, but saying: "unless you commit suicide we consider you to be illegitimate".

Q:       So we are facing an eternal clash of civilizations, if I could put it that way?

Dr. Dan Schueftan

Dr. Dan Schueftan is a senior Israeli academic and deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, where he also serves as a senior lecturer in the School of Political Sciences. Schueftan has served as an advisor to Israel's National Security Council, and to former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

A:          First of all, I don't know about eternal, since I'm not a prophet and I'm not paid to be a prophet. I don't know what will happen in one, two, three, four generations. I am just saying that for a long time to come we have a very serious problem. Second, I don't know if it is a clash of civilizations. They want to destroy us. If you go on to call it a clash of civilizations - fine. But basically what you have is the Arab elites in Israel, with the support of their public and their political leadership, saying: "A Jewish nation's state is inherently illegitimate, it doesn't matter how many concessions you make for us, we want to destroy what for you is the "raison detre" of your state".

Transcript by Dar Translations



David Essing

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