In the peace process nothing can be said to be certain, except Israeli confidence measures and blaming Israel for failure
I agree with one aspect of Jeffrey Goldberg’s, Kerry’s Mideast Fool’s Errand Ignores Reality. The title. Much of the rest of it is out of date, or simply wrong.
But as I’ve written before, I think Kerry is on a fool’s errand, and I think the collapse of these talks, which is almost inevitable, could have dangerous consequences. Remember what followed the collapse of the Camp David peace process in 2000: years of violence, including horrific bus-bombing campaigns.
This is true. Possibly, but not likely. A lot has changed since 2000 for Israel. We are not talking about Gaza, because I can’t imagine Hamas getting involved in a war to bail out Fatah. But also, Israel degraded many of the terrorist groups operating in Judea and Samaria and built a security fence. It’s important to remember, that the so called “Aqsa intifada” wasn’t a spontaneous outbreak of violence but a war started by Arafat. Abbas may not be committed to peace, but I don’t think he’s capable or willing to go to such lengths.
The first is that Hamas exists and is in control of the Gaza Strip, whether we like it or not. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which will be bargaining with Israel, will represent at best half of Palestine. How do you negotiate a state into existence that is divided between two warring factions? It isn’t even clear if the Palestinian Authority is fully in control of those parts of the West Bank that Israel deigns to let it control. (I will save for another time the deeper discussion of whether the maximum an Israeli government could offer the Palestinians represents the minimum the Palestinians could plausibly accept.)
Goldberg’s correct here on both counts, but then he writes:
You also have to blind yourself to the reality that the Jewish settlement movement on the West Bank is now the most powerful political force in Israel. This is a movement whose leaders and Knesset representatives and cabinet ministers will subvert any peace process that would lead to the dismantling of even a single settlement, including any of the dozens of well-populated ones far beyond Israel’s West Bank security barrier.
Is he talking about the “settlement movement” that stopped the withdrawals from Judea and Samaria in 1995 and from Hebron in 1997? Or is he referring to those who stopped the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005? Goldberg ascribes political powers to the settlers that they just don’t have. They make a convenient bogeyman, but when have settlers stopped Israeli withdrawals in the past?
So what does Goldberg suggest?
With the Israelis, Kerry (and his boss) should talk about the demographic, security and moral challenges of governing a population that doesn’t want to be governed by Israel. He would be pushing on a bit of an open door — the increasingly centrist Netanyahu (who is becoming more and more alienated from his robustly right-wing Likud party), seems to understand now that continued occupation (an occupation that exists at this point mainly to support the settlers) is undermining Israel’s international legitimacy and its future as a Jewish-majority democracy.
Kerry is understood in Israel as a true friend; his lobbying could be effective. If the Israelis would take small, unilateral steps on settlements, they could change the Palestinian calculus and improve Israel’s reputation (which has become a genuine national-security concern).
This is condescending beyond belief. He just noticed that Netanyahu’s a centrist? After Netanyahu agreed to the Hebron Accords, Charles Krauthammer observed:
The Hebron agreement was historic for Israel. It was the first time that Likud agreed to give up a piece of Eretz Yisrael — the land of Israel. Netanyahu not only signed on to Hebron. He got a majority of his rightist coalition to sign on as well. And he brought the majority of Parliament along with him.
Remember: Netanyahu may have campaigned personally as one who would retain Oslo while making it more reciprocal, but this was not the unanimous view of Likud. There are many in Likud and, more generally, on the Israeli right who view Oslo as so fundamentally flawed that it needs to be rejected at whatever cost.
Netanyahu recognized that the cost of this approach would have been far more than Israel could bear. He then proceeded to bring his half of Israel into the peace process. Signing Hebron meant retroactively signing Oslo, and Netanyahu got his “national camp” cabinet to sign, 11-7. In the Knesset, he got his own Likud party to vote more than 2-1 in favor. When Menachem Begin brought Camp David back to the Israeli parliament in September 1978, almost half the Knesset members of Begin’s own Herut party failed to support him.
With the Hebron Accords and the withdrawal from most of Hebron, Netanyahu did more to advance the peace process than anyone from Peace Now or J-Street. He did more for the peace process than Thomas Friedman or Jeffrey Goldberg did. And he certainly did more than either Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas ever did.
The problem with the peace process now, isn’t Israeli ideology, but Israeli practicality. Israelis know that when they withdrew from territory, they strengthened their enemies and paid significant prices for those withdrawals. But there is no occupation now. Israel doesn’t rule over the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. The only question – and this has been the case since the end of 1995 – is what the formal borders will be. Goldberg conflates Palestinian demands with reality and assumes that only if all Palestinian demands are met does Israel deserve peace and to be declared occupation free.
Why should Israel’s reputation be a concern? Israel played by the rules made the concessions and was rewarded with terror. When Israel fought back, Israel was condemned; not Fatah who violated its word that it given up terror, not Hezbollah even though Israel was fully withdrawn from Lebanon and not Hamas even though Israel no longer occupied Gaza. Really, is Kerry really going to convince Israel: just make a few more concessions and the world will stop believing Arab propaganda? The world didn’t credit the past 20 years of Israeli concessions, will it start doing so now?
On the other side, Kerry might want to try a bit more aggressively to help the Palestinian Authority become a viable governing body with a functioning economy and a bureaucracy that is reasonably free of corruption. Strengthening the Palestinian Authority (and working to weaken Hamas) while cajoling the Israelis to wean themselves from their addiction to settlements are two steps Kerry could take to advance negotiations.
Earlier this year, Abbas had two prime ministers quit on him. What makes Goldberg think that the PA under Abbas want to “become a viable governing body?” Note that unlike Israel, the Palestinian Authority has no “moral challenge” in front of it. Does the Palestinian Authority lionize terrorists? Of course it does. Is Abbas increasingly authoritarian? Of course he is.
Goldberg by insisting on moral imperatives for Israel but not the Palestinians, shows the fundamental imbalance that he applies to the peace process. Israel must make concessions for its own moral health, but not the Palestinians. This gives the PA veto power over Israel’s legitimacy. By this calculus, as long as the PA isn’t happy, Israel isn’t legitimate. Thus Israel has every reason to comply and the PA has none.
Finally we get to:
It’s true that Kerry has gotten the Israelis to agree to release some Palestinian prisoners. And he may convince the Palestinians to cease, for a while, their campaign to delegitimize Israel in the international arena. But these developments, by themselves, won’t advance the larger cause.
That campaign to “delegitimize Israel in the international arena” is a violation of the premise of peace process, which called for the PLO to eschew terror and engage in bilateral negotiations. It was based on these premises that the PLO was declared to no longer be a terrorist organization. It has not done either. (If the PLO or Fatah is no longer a terrorist organization it has less to with its having reformed itself than with Israel having defeated, at great cost, the terrorist elements within Fatah.)
But let’s say that Israel’s release of murderers does get Abbas to deign to talk with Israel again. And let’s say that Israel and the PA come to an agreement. Would everything be great? The Middle East would have peace. Israel would be legitimate. Kerry would have his first Nobel Prize and Obama his second. What a wonderful world!
What did the PA’s minister of religion say?
On the eve of the renewed peace talks with Israel, PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash said in his Friday sermon that when PA leaders signed agreements with Israel, they knew how to walk “the right path, which leads to achievement, exactly like the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.” Al-Habbash’s sermon was delivered in the presence of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and was broadcast on official Palestinian Authority TV.
The Hudaybiyyah peace treaty was a 10-year truce that Muhammad, Islam’s Prophet, made with the Quraish Tribe of Mecca. However, two years into the truce, Muhammad attacked and conquered Mecca. The PA Minister of Religious Affairs stressed in his Friday sermon that Muhammad’s agreeing to the Hudaybiyyah treaty was not “disobedience” to Allah, but was “politics” and “crisis management.” The minister emphasized that in spite of the peace treaty, two years later Muhammad “conquered Mecca.” He ended his comparison by expressing the view that the Hudaybiyyah agreement is not just past history, but that “this is the example and this is the model.”
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, there have been senior PA officials who have presented the peace process with Israel as a deceptive tactic that both facilitated the PA’s five-year terror campaign against Israel (the Intifada), and which will weaken Israel through territorial compromise that will eventually lead to Israel’s destruction.
These declarations go back to the beginning of the peace process when, Yasser Arafat, made the claim in a South African mosque in 1994.
In the latest taped excerpt, which rekindled the dispute today, the P.L.O. leader compares his agreement with the Israelis to a 10-year peace arrangement in the seventh century between the Prophet Mohammed and the Quraish tribe. That accord was broken two years later. Muslims say the violation was commited by the Quraish, not Mohammed, who went on to capture Mecca.
Many Israelis interpreted the ancient reference by Mr. Arafat as a signal that he had no intention of accepting his agreement with Israel as binding.
“Many Israelis?” How about “any sentient being?” Well the interpretation of “many Israelis” was correct as Arafat violated the Oslo Accords on a regular basis.
The problem isn’t Netanyahu. It’s not the settlers. It’s the Palestinian mindset that they won’t accept Israel until they achieve all of their demands. And if leaders of the Palestinian Authority are to be believed, maybe not even then.
If Jeffrey Goldberg wants to give useful advice, maybe he should recommend giving one of those “morality” lectures to the Palestinian Authority. About the imperative of negotiating in good faith and sticking to its commitments.