Sept. 18, 2013
Number 09/19 #03
This Update highlights the fact that we have just passed three important anniversaries in Middle Eastern and world history – the 20th anniversary of the original Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians (signed on Sept. 13, 1993), the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1973 Middle East war, which began on Yom Kippur, 1973, and of course, the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks in the US. We feature pieces discussing each of these anniversaries.
First up, David Makovksy of the Washington Institute evaluates the 20 years of the Oslo process. He analyses the considerable benefits that both sides have received even though the ultimate aim of a final resolution has not yet been achieved – the autonomous Palestinian Authority and massive international aid on the Palestinian side, peace with Jordan and quasi-peace with many other Arab States, plus current quiet in the security arena, for Israel. He then takes on those who insist that the failure of Oslo to lead so far to a two-state peace means a “one-state solution” must replace it, noting, among things, that neither Israelis nor Palestinian want this according to polls. For his evaluation in full, CLICK HERE. A different, more critical view of the effects of Oslo, but discussing both the positives and negatives, comes from Israeli strategic expert Prof. Efraim Inbar – who is due to visit Australia in October as a guest of AIJAC.
Next, Chemi Shalev, an Israeli journalist who lived in Australia for a number of years, discusses his memories of the horrors of the bloody 1973 war. His first person account of what he found on the second day of the war while on a mission in Sinai is both moving and spine-chilling. Interestingly, he uses the ANZAC “Ode to the Fallen” to express his feelings about the comrades that he lost in that war. For the whole article, CLICK HERE. A look at the large issues the war raised in Israeli society, issues still shaping Israeli politics, comes from noted Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi, while a report on the latest information about the much-debated mistakes made by Israel’s government in the lead-up to that war is here.
Finally, the Jerusalem Post editorialised about what has happened in the 12 years since Sept. 11, 2001. The paper says the “war on terror” which followed has a mixed record and questions the assumption in the intervening years that the Islamist ideology behind the attacks would, like Communism, fade away, and the claims made in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden a couple of years ago that this was occurring. The editorial also notes the war-weariness of the US public, and poor signs for democracy across the Middle East region. pointing out these realities present a serious strategic challenge for Israel and the world as the Islamist ideology continues to influence many there. For their argument in full, CLICK HERE. Another useful view comes from Jonathan Toben, who warns of a return to a “Sept. 10” mentality afflicting too many even though the war launched in 2001 has not yet concluded. Plus, the always excellent Martin Kramer looks at what he wrote after Sept. 11, 2001 and how it holds up today.
Readers may also be interested in:
- In honour of 9/11, the BBC reports on the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.
- Michael Rubin asks some questions about the strange 9-month disappearance of Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talibani.
- Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim they are establishing a joint command in Gaza.
- American analyst Nick Danforth corrects an all-too-common but overly simplistic view that “artificial colonial borders” imposed by Western imperialists are responsible for much of the instability in the Middle east.
- An Italian journalist captured by Syrian rebels tells of a horrifying ordeal which reveals much about the character of many of the rebels.
- Isi Leibler writes about the growing Russian role in the Middle East in the wake of the Syrian chemical weapons deal.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Daniel Meyerowitz discusses how a taxpayer-funded ANU conference brought a 9/11 truther and other extremist anti-Israel activists to Australia.
- Sharyn Mittelman reports on the Palestinian “anti-normalisation” campaign, and finds its principal victims are Palestinian economic prospects and hopes for peace.
September 16, 2013
Despite its shortcomings, the Oslo process has benefited Israelis and Palestinians, and its focus on nationalist frameworks remains more relevant than unfeasible binational proposals.
This article focuses on Oslo’s impact on the two parties and its advantages over other peace plans. An upcoming PolicyWatch will discuss the U.S. role in the peace process.
Capped by a White House handshake twenty years ago this past Friday, the Oslo Accords marked a historic breakthrough: mutual recognition by two national movements that had fought each other intensely for decades, and mutual agreement to pursue a transitional approach that would lead to a peaceful outcome. Given past expectations that the process would spur Israelis and Palestinians to quickly shift from enemies to peace partners, there is ample reason today for each side to focus on the agreement’s shortcomings. Yet its actual legacy is more varied.
BENEFITS FOR BOTH SIDES
Among Oslo’s landmark accomplishments was that it clarified who the negotiators were. Until 1993, the conflict was marked by decades of failure to define a Palestinian interlocutor. Many people forget that Oslo never mandated two states — an outcome on which there is wide agreement today among Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community. One of Oslo’s best legacies is that the majority of each population now favors a two-state solution, though each is convinced that the other does not share its convictions.
Moreover, the Palestinians now have a government — the Palestinian Authority — that runs the affairs of close to half of the West Bank, including all of its Arab cities. This administration works with Israel on security and other issues — something that was inconceivable before 1993. The Palestinians have been able to use this proto-government to attract billions of dollars in economic support and enhance their international position.
Israel has gained as well. Its peace treaty with Jordan was a direct result of Oslo, and it has also established quasi-diplomatic and economic relations with several Arab countries. Despite the hiatus in those ties during the second Palestinian intifada (2000-2004), a modicum of quiet economic relations between Israel and Persian Gulf states has returned. More broadly, the post-Oslo gush of foreign investment into Israel has been key to the country’s high-tech boom, which remains central to its economy.
Meanwhile, despite ongoing tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and widespread turmoil in the region as a whole, violence has dropped sharply in the West Bank as a result of Oslo, especially since President Mahmoud Abbas came to office eight years ago and Israel constructed its security barrier. Of course, if the nonviolent approach is somehow discredited and Abbas fully leaves the political stage, this relative quiet could end.
Oslo’s shortcomings are not to be dismissed, of course. The Palestinians would note that a two-state solution has yet to materialize in part because Oslo deferred the core issues (e.g., the final territorial contours of a West Bank state). In addition, the accords did not stop Israeli settlement activity, thereby bolstering Israeli spoilers.
For their part, Israelis would note that Oslo failed to create peace education programs to foster new attitudes among the next generation of Palestinians, dashing hopes that reconciliation between the two peoples could accompany final negotiations between the two governments. Oslo also failed to prevent a bloody four-year intifada that claimed many Israeli and Palestinian lives and increased the potency of Palestinian rejectionism.
Indeed, this mixed legacy has implications for negotiators today, most notably deep skepticism of the other side’s intentions. In a recent “Peace Index” poll by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute, 41 percent of Israeli Jews said that the two-state solution is dead, and 78 percent did not believe that the Palestinians would see the signing of a peace agreement as the end of the conflict. Likewise, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 69 percent of Palestinians believe that they will still be stateless five years from now, while 82 percent believe that Israel’s long-term goal is to annex the West Bank.
In light of these attitudes, leaders on both sides have been risk-averse. Instead of counting on the type of visionary leadership seen in the past (e.g., by Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin), Israelis and Palestinians will have to change the cost-benefit analysis of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Abbas if they truly want an agreement. Wary of going too far out ahead of their publics, the leaders will need to engage the people and address the other side in order to improve public support and, in turn, give themselves sufficient political confidence to make tough policy decisions.
MORAL BANKRUPTCY OF “ONE-STATE” PROPOSALS
Oslo’s relevancy has also endured because those who dislike its core idea — partitioning the West Bank into two entities, one Israeli and one Palestinian — have been unable to come up with a viable, just alternative. Jordan adamantly refuses to negotiate territorial issues on behalf of the Palestinians for fear of being sucked into the vortex of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, so a more radical proposal has emerged in some academic circles: a one-state solution. According to this idea, Israel would agree to its own destruction, as would the Palestinian Authority. In their place would be established a binational, democratic state of Israeli Jews and Arabs from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Currently, polls indicate that only around 8 percent of Israelis support the one-state model (largely from the far left and far right), while Palestinian support stands at 29 percent. Neither number carries significant political weight given the nature of Israeli and Palestinian politics. In contrast, clear majorities on both sides support a two-state solution, while prominent figures have vehemently dismissed the one-state idea. In June, for example, Oslo architect and leading Israeli dove Yossi Beilin called the notion “deranged,” saying that no Zionist leader would accept a one-state arrangement: “Any such leader will prevent a situation in which a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority. I predict that a center-left leader would prefer to cut the Gordian knot through a peace treaty with the Palestinians, based upon the spirit of the Clinton Parameters from 2000 and the Geneva Initiative of 2003, whereas a center-right leader would prefer to do so through a unilateral withdrawal to the security barrier built by former Likud leader Ariel Sharon.”
Similarly, Israeli statesman Abba Eban ridiculed the one-state idea during his lifetime, noting that Israelis and Palestinians speak different languages, come from different cultures, and do not share common daily experiences. Moreover, they have been traumatized by each other via Palestinian terrorism and Israeli control of the West Bank.
Some academics have attempted to argue that the emergence of binationalism is part of a wider trend to end longstanding strife between ethnic states. Yet there has been no movement to combine states in clearly similar situations, such as India and Pakistan. And the binational state of Lebanon has largely been a failure — its people have suffered a fifteen-year civil war and growing sectarian tensions despite being Arab and speaking a common language.
Indeed, the odds are that a one-state solution would only intensify the far more obvious differences between Jews and Arabs rather than resolving the conflict. Both groups would surely seek to gain the upper hand in such a state. For example, one can easily imagine Palestinians seeking to open the shared state to descendants of Palestinian refugees in the hope of spurring Jewish citizens to flee, just as other minorities have been forced out of the Middle East by intolerant forces. In this regard, binationalism dovetails with the idea outlined in the original PLO Charter, which called for a secular democratic state but declared that Jews who did not live in Palestine before 1917 were to be expelled. It also fits with the ideology of many Islamists, who believe that Jews should have no rights to the holy land. Even Edward Said, a leading intellectual proponent of a one-state solution, expressed concern about its potential impact on Israeli Jews: “It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know.” In short, far from solving the problem, binationalism would be a recipe for constant bloodshed and endless conflict.
Although one can look at Oslo at twenty and bemoan its shortcomings, a fuller appreciation emerges when one honestly assesses its achievements and compares the likely consequences of its alternatives. Destroying Israel and the Palestinian nationalist movement in the hope of building a new binational state is not only morally repulsive, but also a nonstarter. Any solution must account for the fact that nationalism remains a powerful force in the Middle East and cannot be ignored.
David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute. His publications include the 1995 book Making Peace with the PLO: The Rabin Government’s Road to the Oslo Accord.
Back to Top
by Chemi Shalev
Hose in hand and cigarette in mouth, the orderly washed away the tissue and blood while humming a tune: 24 hours had gone by and we had moved to another planet.
The M-113 armored personnel carrier was parked at an awkward angle, its motor running, a few feet away from the sand colored tent that served as the battalion triage station. I waited until the latest wave of wounded soldiers had been dealt with and the din of frantic doctors and medics died down before pointing at the APC and asking, “What is that doing here?”
A few soldiers raised their heads, looked at the vehicle, and then, warily, at each other. “Someone drove it in here a few hours ago at breakneck speed and stopped abruptly,” one of the doctors replied, “Then he ran off into the desert. We were too tired and too busy to ask why.”
The APC was a little burned but seemed otherwise intact. One of the medics approached it to take a closer look, and then, pointing at the side of the vehicle, he cried out “there’s a hole here”.
“It’s one of those Saggers,” someone said quietly, referring to the Soviet-made anti-tank missile with which Egyptian soldiers had been methodically destroying Israeli tanks. “No, it’s an RPG,” another non-expert chimed in, preferring the rocket propelled grenade that could also penetrate the APC’s thin armor.
By now most everyone had stopped what they were doing. The heavy silence that fell on the medical tent in the middle of the Sinai Desert included the half-dozen wounded soldiers who stopped groaning and were craning their necks to have a look. After a few seconds that truly seemed like an eternity, one of the doctors stepped up to the door on the left side of the rear cargo hatch of the American-made APC. He turned the handle, peered inside, lurched back and let out an unearthly wail, the likes of which I’d never heard before and haven’t heard since.
He pleaded for us to stay away, but we couldn’t.
This was the Southern Front, Sunday, October 7, 1973. The Yom Kippur War was barely 24-hours-old. On its race to the front, my brigade had been broken up into battalions, and then into companies, and then into platoons, dispersed among other armored units desperately flinging themselves at the masses of Egyptian soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles that had broached the Suez line.
I had been sent to go up and down the road from a god-forsaken base called Tasa to an equally wretched base called Baluza, near the Mediterranean coast, to try and locate casualties from our unit. “Someone says there are Egyptian commandos all over the place,” one of the operations room sergeants told me, though he didn’t sound convinced.
I traveled north, up the eerily abandoned Lateral Road, accompanied by the steady thump of artillery shells, the muffled din of battles raging nearby and occasional sightings of groups of soldiers walking in the desert whose nationality I didn’t stay to ascertain. When I reached Baluza – the once proud Egyptian and Roman city of Pelusium, where Pompey the Great was assassinated – the gates were wide open, the base seemingly abandoned, the air filled with a kind of yellow smoke that had been mistaken for a chemical weapon that had sent the entire base, as it turned out, to frantically seek shelter.
Eventually I spotted a soldier wandering aimlessly near the edge of the camp and told him what I was looking for. They landed commandos in the nearby outpost at Romani, he said, pointing vaguely in the direction of one of the buildings. I thought he was sending me to the infirmary or to the adjutant’s office, so nothing prepared me for the sights and smells that assaulted me when I opened the door to what turned out to be a makeshift morgue: there were bodies, so many bodies for such a short time, all in uniform, lying there, unattended, on the floors and on the chairs and on the tables.
I stepped out quickly, then slowly back in. I spent long minutes peering at their faces, some of which were disfigured and others in perfect shape, reading whatever halves of dog tags remained on their necks. Then I went back and started all over again, gazing at them anew, even after I realized that none of them were from my unit.
There were young soldiers among them, but mostly older reservists, some short, some tall, some slim, some fat, all very silent. I started guessing who they were, what they did, where they came from, who would miss them. Finally, an angry officer burst into the room, shouting at me to get out at once. He was gruff and I was grateful.
Memories of my travel back down from Baluza remain blurred. The road was a few kilometers away from the battles, but it was no longer empty: tank and infantry vehicles were parked on both sides of the road, some damaged, others disabled, the crews dirty, haggard, often burned and wounded, their faces locked in shock and dismay.
Whatever I was seeing was nothing compared to what they had just been through, I told myself, certain that after the gruesome scene at Baluza, things could hardly get worse. That was when I saw the APC standing strangely next to the medical station, north of Tasa, and decided to stop and take a look around.
The hole at the side of the American-made M-113 was caused by something known as the Munroe effect, named for one Charles Munroe, a Massachusetts-born Harvard graduate who worked at the Naval Torpedo Station and War College in Newport Rhode Island in the late 19th century. The Munroe effect is the discovery that enabled the development of the so-called “shape charge”, which is the centerpiece of the High Explosive Anti Tank warhead known as HEAT. It has a conical shape that focuses the energy of the explosives in it to the tip of the warhead, creating a small hole through which a powerful stream of high-energy TNT is injected to explode inside an armored vehicle. It is destructively deadly, of course, especially in closed quarters.
We stood there, with our backs turned, as a team of medics removed what remained of the four or five soldiers who had been trapped inside. When I looked again, a few minutes later, one of the orderlies walked towards the APC, a cigarette at the corner of his mouth, and calmly hosed away the remaining blood and tissue. And he was humming a tune.
Less than a day had gone by, I told myself, and we had descended to hell, or traveled to another planet.
Throughout the next several days I saw scores of dead bodies and hundreds of wounded, disfigured soldiers. By now I was already encountering dead casualties from my unit, along with others that I knew from different stations in my life. I cried on October 15, when someone told me that one of my best friends had been killed nearby, but that may have been because I received the bad news by word of mouth rather than seeing it with my own two eyes.
Other than that, by the end of the war I was emulating the soldier with the hose: with a Marlboro cigarette sent by caring American mothers perpetually hanging at the corner of my mouth, I nonchalantly continued my voyage in and out of the land of the dead, looking at faces, meeting new people, humming a song every so often to cheer us all up.
Two decades later, I told Edna Lomsky-Feder, then a psychology post-grad who was researching the effects of the 1973 war on soldiers who had participated in it: “The experience was so terrible that there was no way of coming to terms with it. It wasn’t that we didn’t talk about the war, because we did, but emotionally, I don’t think we ever really confronted it.”
She disagreed. After quoting my remarks in her book – appropriately titled “As If There Was No War” – she noted that “even a repressed experience is often a dynamic process, transforming to a conscious presence later in life, often as a result of psychological treatment.”
And so it has become, at least for me, not only a conscious presence but also a constant one that actually seems to be expanding in recent years, as it recedes from the collective consciousness of Israel as a whole. It’s a natural progression, I guess, that the traumatic and surrealistic events that were seared into our memories are as stark today as they were 40 years ago, while they turn into dusty, irrelevant, black and white photos for most of the population.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn”, as World War I poet Laurence Binyon wrote in the remarkable fourth stanza of For the Fallen, later incorporated as the official Ode to Remembrance of the Australia and New Zealand ANZAC forces.
That definitely works for me, as I often find myself peering at those grainy photos in the military memorial books, many of them now online, trying to match them with the people that I got to know 40 years ago as flesh and blood, before or after their death.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning /We will remember them,” Binyon wrote.
Sometimes, I admit, I take things one step further and try to pick up our conversations from where we left off.
Back to Top
It was said that al-Qaida’s own paranoia would devour it. The organization and others like it would fall victim to their own deluded worldview because such fundamentalist, totalitarian ideology is incapable of self-criticism.
Gradually, like Communism, Islamist extremism would fade away.
And for a time it seemed plausible to argue that the tide was turning. Osama Bin Laden had been eliminated.
The trove of information recovered from Bin Laden’s Abottabad hideaway seemed to confirm assessments that al-Qaida was suffering serious setbacks. Drone attacks were taking their toll, the network’s financial plight was critical, and increasing energies were being devoting to rooting out traitors and spies.
Even the Arab Spring – principally protests against economic inequalities – seemed to make the creation of a caliphate less likely.
It has been 12 years to the day since al-Qaida terrorists hijacked civilian airplanes, transformed them into weapons, and aimed them at population centers in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the US-led “war on terrorism” that followed – and was strongly supported by consecutive Israeli governments – has a mixed record.
The same al-Qaida that US President Barack Obama pronounced “decimated” and “on the path to defeat” during his successful 2012 campaign for reelection, is remarkably active.
Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists are alive and kicking in Algeria and Somalia, in Mali and Yemen, in Pakistan and Iraq. And in Syria, the toppling of Bashar Assad’s despotic regime is not being discussed seriously, in part because there is a high likelihood that al-Qaida forces would be one of the central candidates to fill in the vacuum.
Admittedly, the toppling of Sadam Hussein which came in the wake of 9/11 has resulted in numerous benefits, many of them unnoticed or unacknowledged.
In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi’s fear at watching the fate of Sadam helped convince him to surrender his stockpile of WMD in 2003. And it is hardly coincidence that Iran reached what would be a short-lived agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its nuclearenrichment work immediately after the western coalition forces marched on Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraq has – albeit in rudimentary and tenuous form – a free press, a written constitution, and a parliamentary election system that are the minimum demand of Arab civil society. The changes in Iraq might even have been an impetus for the Arab spring. At the very least, the elimination of an oil-rich and heavily armed Arab state controlled by a sadistic crime family with a track record of aggression outside its borders and repression within has made the Middle East a slightly better place.
But the prolonged military interventions in Iraq and in Afghanistan launched in response to the 9/11 attacks have taken their toll. Generating the level of deterrence that intimidated Libya and Iran a decade ago is costly in both lives and resources and is impossible to maintain.
The West, and particularly America, is war-weary and rightly skeptical regarding the efficacy of even the most well-intentioned forced regime change.
Understandably, the same skepticism extends to the present debate over US military intervention in Syria.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans think Congress should not authorize limited military action in Syria, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released on Monday. In a Gallup poll those surveyed oppose US military action 51 percent to 36 percent.
The US-led “war on terrorism” has a mixed record.
The ability of the West to truly influence the Middle East is limited. Totalitarian Islamist regimes and organizations – including al-Qaida – have proven to be remarkably resilient. Hopes that the Arab spring would lead to a more democratic Middle East have yet to materialize.
Instead, democratic election gave rise – temporarily in Egypt’s case – to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated governments.
And this geopolitical reality – as we mark the 12th anniversary of 9/11 – presents serious challenges, not only for Israel, but for the rest of the freedom-loving world.