April 13, 201
Number 04/10 #02
As noted in the last Update, reports from Washington, such as this column by David Ignatius, suggest the US Administration is considering the idea of putting forward its own Israeli-Palestinian peace plan which it would then attempt to impose on the parties. A number of experts on Middle East peace issues have taken issue with this idea as unlikely to be successful, and some are collected in this Update.
Among the most vociferous is Elliot Abrams, a former senior National Security Council official now at the Council for Foreign Relations. First, he argues it is not true, as widely said, that the details of a future peace are known, and points to numerous gaps on security, Jerusalem, settlement blocs and other issues. He also says that the reasons given for the US proposing a plan – the lack of progress between the actual parties – can be primarily attributed to the mistakes of the Obama Administration, and that putting forward its own plan is only likely to make things worse. Finally, he strongly opposes the idea that attempting to impose a peace would help US efforts to “confront Iran.” To read his full arguments, CLICK HERE. Also strongly opposing the idea that the Administration should be linking Israeli-Palestinian efforts to the Iranian crisis is another, very different, Council of Foreign Relations Middle East expert, Ray Takeyh.
Next up is veteran peace process mediator Aaron David Miller, who puts this latest Administration trial balloon of its own plan in the larger context of a US policy which seems designed to alter the composition of the Israeli government. Looking at the history of similar past US efforts, he says such a tactic now seems to have little chance of success, and would be very unlikely to make much difference to peace prospects if it did change the Israeli government. Moreover, he argues that the history of Israeli peacemaking is primarily of transformed hawks, like Begin, Rabin and Sharon, not impassioned doves, and that Netanyahu stands at the centre of his government at the moment. For Miller’s complete analysis, CLICK HERE. More on the history of disagreements and disputes between Washington and Jerusalem comes from Israeli academic and former Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold.
Finally, Barry Rubin notes that the Palestinians also reject the idea of a Washington peace plan, even if it is heavily skewed toward their demands. He points out that the Palestinians have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the US Administration, despite its favourable attitude toward most of their claims and ongoing reluctance to criticise the Palestinian Authority. He points out that, given that any peace deal will excite internal and external rejectionism and opposition, the Palestinians appear to be pursuing a strategy that they will declare statehood and then, without having to make any concessions or sign any agreements, seek UN and US support for a demand that Israel pull back to the 1967 boundaries. For Rubin’s complete argument that the Palestinian approach makes the Obama Administration’s efforts futile, CLICK HERE. Kenneth Bandler of the American Jewish Committee had an enlightening article on the apparent Palestinian strategy of refusing to negotiate and demanding more and more concessions to do so, – which they may have borrowed from Iran’s nuclear negotiating strategy. Plus, more on the Palestinian poll Rubin cited, where most Palestinian reject any sharing of Jerusalem or any land swaps for peace, is here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- A Jerusalem Post editorial on the latest example of naming a Palestinain public site after a terrorist – the naming of the street where the Palestinian Presidential compound is after a notorious Hamas bomb-maker.
- Israeli columnist Jonathan Rosenblum, writing in the Chicago Tribune, explores how Israelis see Obama’s Middle East policy. Plus a very strong critique of Obama’s Middle East policy from fellow Democrat and former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
- Gaza’s only power plant is shut down by a dispute between Hamas and Fatah.
- What everyone should understand about the Anat Kamm affair – concerning a soldier who gave thousands of highly secret army documents to a journalist – plus some differing Israeli opinions on it here, here, and here.
- Allegations that Syria is now giving Scud ballistic missiles to Hezbollah – making it the first non-government militia in the world to have such missiles. Reactions to this come from Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
- A report from a university centre that antisemitic incidents doubled globally last year.
- The always interesting American academic Fouad Ajami on the recent rocky relations between the US government and the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.
BY Elliott Abrams
Weekly Standard, April 7, 2010 1:05 PM
“Obama to Impose Terms on Israel” is the headline you didn’t read on David Ignatius’s column in the Washington Post today. The story ran under the title “Obama’s Mideast Plan,” which Ignatius describes as “proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict.”
But the substance is clear: It is a threat against Israel by the Obama administration and particularly by National Security Advisor James Jones. (The give-away is this line: “The fact that Obama is weighing the peace plan marks his growing confidence in Jones.” Now who do you think was Ignatius’s source for that gem?) Apparently Obama and his team are frustrated by their inability to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a deal, and have therefore decided we’ll just impose one.
The inability of Israelis and Palestinians to get to the negotiating table is, in this administration, an iatrogenic disease: Our diplomatic doctors have caused it. The astonishing incompetence of Obama and special envoy George Mitchell has now twice blown up talks—direct talks last year, and proximity talks more recently—by making Israeli construction plans a major world crisis, thereby forcing Palestinian leaders to back away from engagement with the Israelis. So the administration will, in the fall, just do it the simpler way. Why bother with Israelis and Palestinians, in whom the president apparently does not have “growing confidence,” when you can just have your own brilliant team draw up the terms? As Ignatius’s sources, “two top administration officials,” tell him, “everyone knows the basic outlines of a peace deal.”
This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?
A tell-tale: One of the demands that Obama is said to have made of Prime Minister Netanyahu is withdrawal to the pre-intifada (September 2000) IDF lines in the West Bank. This is striking, for the demand apparently is not to promise a future withdrawal, or a staged withdrawal as and when conditions permit, but simply to pull back now. This means ignoring security conditions on the ground and the current capabilities of Palestinian forces to keep order and stop terrorism, or it means assuming that the Palestinian forces are adequate. If they are not, well, so what, there will be a few acts of terror, and then we’ll see that maybe they pulled back too far too fast. Everyone makes mistakes. These are the kinds of calculations that persuade Israelis the administration is cavalier about their security, despite the occasional repetition of campaign pledges to the contrary.
Ignatius reports, approvingly, that Obama came to the conclusion that he should impose a “peace plan” after meeting with six former national security advisors. The first to suggest imposing terms on Israel was Brent Scowcroft; he was seconded by Zbigniew Brzezinski. This will not reassure Israelis. (Absent from his list of those attending, and approving, were Condoleezza Rice and Steve Hadley, George W. Bush’s two NSAs. Perhaps this was mere accident; perhaps they are not invited to these festive events in Jones’s office; perhaps they are too smart to lend their names to such White House games and the ensuing leaks.)
Perhaps this is all a trial balloon by Obama and Jones. If so, it will make Israeli-Palestinian negotiations even harder than they are today, after 14 months of Obama administration failures. For Palestinians will conclude that they have no reason to negotiate seriously, or to make concessions, when Obama may deliver what they want on a nice platter; and Israelis will conclude that Washington no longer takes their security seriously, so they must toughen their stance.
According to Ignatius, one senior official explained that “the American peace plan would be linked with the issue of confronting Iran,” because “the issues are two halves of a single strategic problem” and “we have to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000 feet level that can involve, Jordan, Syria, and other countries in the region.” There is a certain irony here, since the administration itself is wholly responsible for making “settlements and East Jerusalem” central issues right now. But read those quotes again. Phrases like “take it to a 30,000 feet level” are gibberish—a substitute for real analysis. There is no linkage to “confronting Iran,” for weakening Israel and U.S.-Israel ties makes that harder. Yet an underlying Obama theme is audible here: The United States needs to get closer to Arab countries, needs to “engage,” and Israel is in the way.
Ignatius begins his column by writing that “despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel,” President Obama is considering trying to impose his own “peace plan.” Where did “despite” come from?
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
The Obama administration’s lack of a clear strategy to move Mideast peace talks forward raises the question of whether the U.S. is interested in bringing about a new, more pliable Israeli government.
By Aaron David Miller
Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2010
Regime change. Generally it’s a term and tactic reserved for America’s enemies. But what if the Obama administration is developing a more nuanced version for one of the United States’ closest allies — Israel?
As the brouhaha between Israel and the United States over settlements and Jerusalem continues to simmer, you have to wonder whether President Obama is focused on changing the behavior of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or changing prime ministers instead. The absence of a clear strategy to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations forward, highlighted by the administration’s repeated calls for a settlements freeze — which neither Netanyahu nor his Likud-led right-wing coalition can accept — raises the question of whether Washington is interested in bringing about a new and more pliable Israeli government.
It wouldn’t be the first time America meddled in Israeli politics. In fact, the notion that the United States doesn’t interfere in Israeli politics is about as absurd as the proposition that the Israelis don’t meddle in ours. On at least two occasions I know well, the U.S. not only rooted for preferred candidates (always on the Labor side) but actively took steps to shape Israeli politics, and even electoral outcomes.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III purposely denied Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir housing loan guarantees because of his willful settlement policies — a move that directly contributed to his defeat by Yitzhak Rabin, who got those same guarantees a year later.
And in another, more direct intervention, President Clinton, in an effort to shore up then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, orchestrated a summit of Middle East peacemakers at Sharm el Sheik and a high-profile visit to Israel in March 1996. Clinton not only wanted to demonstrate that the U.S. stood with Israel in the face of Hamas terror, but also to support the moderate Peres in his electoral race with Netanyahu. Peres, however, lost the election in a squeaker.
What would motivate Obama to meddle now, with the goal of undermining Netanyahu, and how would he do it? Both White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have seen the Bibi movie, during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, when Emanuel was an aide to Bill Clinton and Hillary was first lady. They didn’t like it the first time, and don’t want a sequel.
There’s a widespread view — almost a conviction in Washington these days — that Netanyahu just isn’t capable of reaching a deal, and that the Palestinians and Arabs will never trust him. So why expend months of effort starting a process with Netanyahu that you can’t possibly conclude with him?
The remedy, if regime change is the goal, is to hang tough on settlements, create conditions for starting negotiations that are reasonable but that Netanyahu’s coalition can’t accept, and not-so-subtly suggest that Netanyahu can’t be a real partner in a peace process. The administration’s recent leak that it’s considering putting out its own peace plan will only further undermine any chance of partnership.
Sooner or later, the thinking goes, it would become clear in Israel that the prime minister can’t manage the nation’s most important relationship, and that he is putting settlements above Israeli security at a time when the Iranian threat looms large and close ties with the U.S. are more important than ever. The American hope would be that public and political pressure would mount, forcing Netanyahu to broaden his government or even impelling a change at the top.
The only problem with this line of thinking is that the odds of success are slim to none. Pressure could easily backfire, leading to a continued Israeli recalcitrance and an even more muddled political situation.
Aside from our highly questionable capacity to play deftly in an ally’s politics, it’s not at all clear that a new government or Israeli leader would fix anything.
Israel’s dysfunction is only one of the myriad problems that stand in the way of meaningful negotiations and peace with the Palestinians. Big gaps in agreement about what to do on core issues, such as Jerusalem, stand in the way, along with fundamental divisions between Hamas and Fatah on the Palestinian side and a regional situation framed by Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran that doesn’t create an auspicious environment for big decisions.
More to the point, the history of peacemaking on the Israeli side is a story of transformed hawks, not impassioned doves. Prime Ministers Menachem Begin (Egyptian-Israeli peace), Rabin (Oslo), Ariel Sharon (Gaza disengagement) and even Netanyahu himself (as the first Likud prime minister to withdraw from any West Bank territory) were right and right-of-center leaders who didn’t start out as peacemakers, to be sure. Indeed, in his government, Netanyahu is the center.
The fact is that in 1998, Netanyahu’s government fell not because the Clinton administration plotted against him but because it had worked with him and Yasser Arafat for almost a year to reach the Wye River accord. His coalition collapsed in December because it couldn’t accommodate that peace process.
Wye River was never implemented; but it brought the Israeli government to a key decision point, and it created an important precedent: Likud could endorse withdrawal from the West Bank. And like every other positive step in Middle East peacemaking, it required what the Obama administration needs now — a strategy.
Work with, not against the current Israeli government and the Palestinians, and see how far you can get. Then if you reach an impasse or an agreement, let the natural ebb and flow of Israeli politics (and for that matter Palestinian politics) take its course.
That would be better than where the administration seems to be headed: a no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.
Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has advised both Democratic and Republican secretaries of State on the Arab-Israeli negotiations. His book “Can America Have Another Great President?” is to be published in 2012.
Palestinian Leaders Do It Again! Throw Away Opportunity Obama is Giving Them and Poke Him in the Eye
By Barry Rubin
Rubin Report, Monday, April 12, 2010
With their unerring skill at erring, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders are throwing away still another opportunity President Barack Obama is giving them. If Obama is the most pro-Palestinian president in history, his counterparts don’t seem to appreciate it very much. It is the Palestinian leadership, not Israel, that will ultimately make Obama look like and be a failure in all of his peace process efforts.
- Last spring, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in his first visit to ashington made it clear he wasn’t interested in a negotiated solution but just planned to wait for the West to force Israel to give him everything he wanted.
- In September, Abbas stood nearby as Obama said he wanted serious final negotiations within two months, then refused while Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to talk right away.
- Shortly thereafter, Obama asked Abbas not to push the Goldstone report as a sponsor in the UN. Abbas agreed, then broke his word within 48 hours under internal pressure.
- At the end of last October, Obama’s Administration made a deal in which Israel would stop all construction on West Bank settlements though it could continue in east Jerusalem. While Obama hoped this would get talks going, Abbas demanded an end to construction in Jerusalem, too, which he knew Israel would not accept. Indeed, he demanded it precisely because he knew Israel wouldn’t accept it.
- Finally, Abbas agreed to indirect talks but was “saved” when suddenly the U.S. government accepted the PA’s position on Jerusalem construction. Yet even that has not been enough to make the PA support Obama’s policy despite the fact that it was so slanted in their favor.
Of course, the U.S. criticism of Israel and the crisis following the announcement of some future Jerusalem construction have been the main news. But that’s because the Obama Administration is ready (sometimes it seems, eager) to criticize Israel but did not ever criticize the PA during its own first fifteen months in office. This last point–which I have repeatedly pointed out–has become so embarassingly obvious that finally the State Department made a small peep. [See note at end of article.]
So it is easy to miss the fact that by their behavior the Palestinian leadership has lost any possible material gain from the administration’s attitude.
Now, here we are in the biggest crisis of U.S.-Israel relations in more than a quarter-century, arguably the biggest crisis in a half-century, since the Eisenhower Administration pressured Israel to withdraw from Sinai in 1957. Not only is the administration really angry at Israel, but it is considering a plan–though this might never happen–to try to impose a solution.
So what’s the PA stance? To denounce the idea of an imposed solution! Such a plan according to press reports would give them a lot of what they want–1967 borders, a quick state, minimal conditions, all of pre-1967 Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem. Not bad, eh? But the Palestinians would have to make some concessions, like settling refugees in the state of Palestine rather than flooding Israel with Palestinian Arabs in an effort to paralyze and destroy its society.
On the PA’s radio, chief negotiator Saib Arikat (choose your transliteration) said–what a delicious Freudian slip this is–that the Palestinians “don’t want new ideas.” His proposal is that the United States just recognizes Palestine as a state immediately and urges the UN to accept it as such, followed no doubt by huge international pressure for an immediate unconditional Israeli withdrawal from everywhere in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
This isn’t going to happen, of course. But once again it signals U.S. officials, if they bothered to look, that they will get no cooperation, not even the tiniest concession, and the barest minimum of kind words from the PA. This also makes clear why a solution is impossible and why it would not solve all U.S. problems in the Middle East.
Because even if–this is just for the sake of explanation–the Obama Administration were to give the Palestinian leadership 99 percent of what it wants, it would still have to force it to concede 1 percent. Also it would foreclose–at least in theory–wiping Israel off the map. That would lead to the political settlement being denounced by all Islamists, all militant Arab nationalists, and many Arab governments.
I’m not even sure if the Egyptian and Jordanian media would applaud Obama. The latest Palestinian poll (Palestinian Public Opinion Poll no. 40, Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies at An-Najah National University, April 8-10, 2010) asked:
“Do you accept the creation of a Palestinian state on the area of the 1967 borders as a final solution for the Palestinian problem?”
Of those polled, 44.7 percent (and this is after 17 years of supposed moderate policies by the PLO following the Oslo agreement) said “no.” While 51.7 percent said “yes,” remember that they were almost certainly assuming the Palestinians would get the precise pre-1967 borders plus the right to move to Israel for almost anyone who wanted to do so.
And so if Obama were to implement any conceivable negotiated solution–even an extremely pro-Palestinian one by Western standards–he’d be labelled as the man who sold out the Palestinians and go down in history as a betrayer and Zionist imperialist. I’d bet money on being able to collect a considerably large set of clippings denouncing him as worse–more “anti-Muslim” and “anti-Arab”–than George W. Bush! And if you think that isn’t likely then, forgive me for saying so, you don’t really understand how Middle East politics work.
The United States would not be portrayed as a hero because it created Palestine but a villain because it robbed the Arabs of getting everything some day. Terrorism against American targets would go up, as it would argued that the Americans had forever destroyed the chance of wiping Israel off the map. Of course, terrorism against any Palestinian leaders who agreed to such terms would also break out. Abbas’s knowing this is one of the reasons he will say “no” to everything.
And don’t ever forget that little detail: If Palestine is proclaimed a state, presumably Hamas is the legal government of about half of it, despite the fact that it is a terrorist, antisemitic, genocide-seeking client of Iran which won’t even accept the agreement that makes Palestine a state. Here’s one example of the ridiculous situation that would prevail: If the Hamas government wanted to import long-range missiles from Iran and Israel tried to stop it by intercepting them with its navy, would the UN then be able to accuse Israel of an act of aggression against a sovereign state?
Again, nothing is going to happen, not because of Israel but because the PA will torpedo any U.S. effort to solve the issue no matter how bad the terms seem for Israel. Meanwhile U.S. policymakers will pretend this isn’t happening, that the United States isn’t constantly being insulted by the PA.
Unless you understand the above, the whole story of the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflict makes no sense.
Question 1: During the four years of the Obama Administration’s term in office, will his officials ever publicly criticize the PA for anything it does, including honoring terrorists who killed Americans? Prediction: No it won’t.
Question 2: During the four years of the Obama Administration’s term in office, will the Palestinians make any material gain due to his being so supportive of them? Prediction: No they won’t because the extremist goals and intransigence of their leadership will prevent thus.
Note: At last the State Department issues a very mild criticism of the PA, after ignoring for almost two weeks the issue in question. On April 8, it made the following statement:
“Regarding the Middle East, we are disturbed by comments of Palestinian Authority officials regarding reconstruction and refurbishing of Jewish sites in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Remarks by the Palestinian ministry of information denying Jewish heritage in and links to Jerusalem undermine the trust and confidence needed for substantive and productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We also strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end. We will continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for incitement. “
But this isolated statement seems to have been made for form’s sake and when compared to the administration’s outrage at Israel looks quite limited. I predict we won’t be hearing about any follow-up to these issues.
What makes this particularly ridiculous is that the PA named a square in honor of a terrorist who murdered both Israelis and Americans during Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit yet there was no talk about the United States being insulted nor was there any major crisis with the PA declared by the U.S. government. Indeed, well after the affair happened, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was insisting that the deed had been done by Hamas, an absurd error which–to my knowledge–has never been formally corrected by her office.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood.