Moshe Yaalon is a wise man. He reached the pinnacle of the IDF as and head of its general staff. He fell afoul of his political superiors even more than other recent commanders, and his term ended after three years without the fourth year extension that had become customary. Since leaving the army he has spoken about several public issues, typically a bit to the right of center. He has consulted with Likud Party chair Benyamin Netanyahu. Commentators have speculated about Yaalon's political future, but he has not announced an affiliation with any political party.
This week he appeared on public forums with a new, reasonable, and attractive set of ideas. He views the established peace process between Israel and the Palestinians as bankrupt, principally because Palestinians continue to educate themselves to hate Israel and plot for its destruction. Yaalon would put the idea of a Palestinian state on the shelf for an extended period, and replace it with a staged program of reform. First there must be basic changes in the curriculum of Palestinian schools, emphasizing accommodation with Israel rather than hatred and destruction. Subsequent steps would work toward bringing law, courts, and police in line with those of western democracies; replace rampant corruption with economic programs meant to benefit the population; and develop mechanisms of government and public services consistent with these changes.
Yaalon's program presents an attractive ideal, but it does not take account of Palestinian and Arab realities. At the center of their culture is an ingrained hatred of Israel. It appears not only in the books and lessons of Palestinian schools, but lives primarily on the international support provided by Arab and Muslim countries, with their wealth, propaganda, religious establishments, and votes in international forums. Individual Palestinians face what may be an impossible task if they would like to separate from the insanity that has kept their economy from any progress, and imposed backward development over the course of recent years. As individuals, such people can leave Palestine with their families, and make a decent life somewhere in the west. Efforts to reform Palestine seem destined to frustration and failure. The infrastructures of Islam, Arab and Muslim politics are too strong. They live on hatred of outsiders, primarily Israel. The continued misery of Palestine, said to be a product of Israel, is at the center of their world view.
Egypt and Jordan have honored their peace treaties with Israel, and represent what may be the best that Israelis can hope for by way of neighboring regimes. For reasons of security, however, Israeli authorities occasionally urge us to avoid visiting them.
Should Israelis or outsiders adopt something like Yaalon's program and seek to break through Arab/Muslim theology and politics? Perhaps the whole house of cards represented by the hopelessness of Muslim countries could come toppling down if the reform of Palestine really works.
The signs are not encouraging. George W. Bush's aspirations to bring something like democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq are mired in civil wars. Whatever comes out of the current political campaign in the United States does not seem likely to persist with Bush's efforts to invest militarily and financially in a democratic Middle East.
European waffling with respect to Iran's nuclear program and the Israel-Palestine conflict is no more encouraging. Europe presents models of decent economics and politics that Muslims might adopt. But the European reality also features governments mortgaged to millions of Muslim immigrants, as well as the attractions of doing business with Muslim countries.
The most useful part of Yaalon's program is for Israeli officials to shelve the goal of a Palestinian state as a near-term prospect. Israelis aspire to living alongside a decent Arab society that gives up the dream of replacing Israel with a flood of refugees or something more forceful, and accepts severe limitations on the armaments that it can acquire.
There is no indication that the more accommodating, and somewhat secular Palestinians of Fatah (i.e., Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues) are willing to give up the aspirations of refugees or accept constraints on their sovereignty (i.e., limited armaments). Other disputes about borders, Jewish settlements, and sensitive locations in Jerusalem may be light years from resolution. And beyond these problems, roughly one half of Palestine in Gaza is under the control of Hamas and its allies. They are a long way from the modest expressions of accommodation heard from Abbas' party. Intense Islam, hatred of Jews, and the destruction of Israel are what we hear from Gaza.
Yaalon's plan may provide the long range guide necessary to any planning. What it lacks is a detailed map through the discouraging nature of Palestine and its supporters. Yaalon tells us where to go in the future. He tells us what not to do in the near term (i.e., work for a Palestinian state not likely to be accommodating). What he lacks is a persuasive plan for the short range designed to end Palestinian violence, and bring it to a stage where it might accept reform.