The road map reads like a necessary lie
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 28 June 2003)

For the sake of form and morale, political rhetoric always contains necessary lies that no one can believe but many feel they must state. Last year, as the Israelis began fighting Palestinian murders by attacking the terrorist managers in their hiding places, The Jerusalem Post published the words of Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's chief of staff. "This," he said, "is a conflict we must win, so the Palestinians will understand that they cannot gain through terror."

How the world's leaders love to say that! Terrorism doesn't work and should never be rewarded, they explain. Ya'alon speaks with the authority of experience, but on that occasion he was speaking nonsense. In truth, terrorism produces many benefits. In Sri Lanka terrorism is revising the system of government to provide a measure of Tamil independence. In the Middle East, Ya'alon's words certainly apply to the Palestinian masses: Far from being improved, their lives have been made worse by terrorism, which brings Israeli tanks down their streets. But for Yasser Arafat and those under his patronage, terrorism remains to this moment a rich source of prestige and money.

Arafat's astounding longevity as a leader (he's outlasted seven U.S. presidents and nine Israeli prime ministers) shows how he makes it work. With the dreaded apparition of terror at his side, he's lectured from the dais at the United Nations, shared a Nobel Peace Prize, and made his way into photo ops on the White House lawn. He's a world figure. Who can look at him and think terrorism doesn't pay?

Nor should we believe those who say "I will not negotiate with terrorists." All leaders confronted by persistent terrorists end up negotiating. George W. Bush refuses to see Arafat, but Americans negotiate with other Palestinian terrorists. It is terror that has brought American power back to the region. The "road map" would not exist but for terrorism.

Margaret Thatcher once said that half the political trouble in the world results from people taking metaphors literally. The current example is "road map," the clumsiest metaphor since "information highway." UN, European, Russian and American diplomats inserted this figure of speech into the geopolitical lexicon. But a road map tells you how to get where you want to go, which this one doesn't. Road maps are usually honest, and this one isn't. Road maps show you where you will be at the end of your journey. This road map doesn't tell you that either. Still, some must find it reassuring. Embarking on a dangerous journey, they seek comfort in the false notion that someone knows enough to draw a map.

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote in his notebook the phrase "necessary lies." Those words have often appeared in the language; two novels published in the last eight years, one American and one Canadian, are called Necessary Lies.

The road map reads like a classic necessary lie. The diplomats responsible have little faith in it but argue that it's better than nothing, even though it makes promises that will encourage false hopes among the naive on all sides. It anticipates an "independent, democratic and viable Palestine" by the year 2005 and (once that's accomplished) "Permanent Status Agreement and End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2004-2005."

Anyone who has studied these issues knows that the permanent status agreement will not be permanent and the conflict will not end. The two sides hold irreconcilable views. Palestinians demand the return to Israel of pre-1948 refugees and their descendants. Schoolbooks and government media have taught them that this is only right, and reversing that belief (even if their leaders wanted to) would be painfully slow. Israelis, on the other hand, know that the return of the refugees (now 3-million or 4-million of them) would swamp Israel and destroy its status as a Jewish state. So the Palestinians' most passionate desire is the one that Israel cannot even consider satisfying. But the diplomats assume that in a year or two this point can be worked out. No one on either side believes that.

This is only one among half a dozen colossal disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians. Efraim Inbar, a specialist in strategic studies at Bar-Ilan University, believes that, realistically, the world should not expect a solution in this case. "The problem will persist. What we have to do is manage the conflict."

Lester B. Pearson, who won the Nobel Peace Prize through his skills as a negotiator, used to say that you had to identify areas of agreement and then slowly enlarge them. In the Middle East that's not easy; areas of agreement are hard to find.

In cases of that kind, negotiation can only begin with elements of fiction, necessary lies, a willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, negotiation must be pursued. There's always a remote chance of success, and, just as important, negotiation remains an essential element in the way of life that the West and Israel seek to preserve. Those who oppose chaos and tyranny must be true to themselves. The qualities expressed through a persistent belief in negotiation may be among the greatest assets possessed by the enemies of terrorism.

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