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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Annapolis was not in America's interest

David Wurmser was an adviser on Middle East affairs to Vice President Dick Cheney until this year. He's married to an Israeli who was one of the founders of MEMRI, and although he's American-born, somewhere along the line he picked up the blunt style for which Israelis are known. Last week, he gave a talk to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled “After Annapolis: Next Steps in the Middle East Peace Process." I believe the title above is a better summary of what he said. Here are some highlights. (Hat Tip: Noah Pollak)
For two decades, we have called on Israel to take risks for peace and make painful concessions so that it will be accepted more broadly and solidly by the international community. And yet, after two decades, the voices questioning Israel’s very right to exist even in Europe are louder than ever. Polls there show that even the populations of even our closest allies revile Israel and Israelis more than even Iran or North Korea.

The prospects that this time will be different and that we will see real progress follow Annapolis, and that all these trends will be reversed, are bleak for several reasons. First, the concept behind Annapolis was divorced from the President’s forward strategy of freedom. Second, the Fatah leadership is so irredeemably weak that it cannot deliver. Third, we are ignoring the danger of the situation in Gaza. Fourth, the Annapolis framework “regionalized” the Palestinian issue when the historical record of regionalization of conflicts is tragic and violent. Finally, the Palestinian issue is not our highest national priority in the current strategic environment. Yet, it disproportionately occupies our attention at the cost of displaying commitment to more important causes, such as Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. In short, Annapolis failed to emerge from, and thus advance, our national interests.


The forward strategy for freedom remains the only proper foundation for dealing with Israel and its neighbors. To create a leadership capable of making peace with Israel, we need local institutions and accountability of governance among Palestinians. Over time, a genuine, popular and responsible leadership will emerge which will command the profound internal credibility to make the required decisions with respect to Israel and then deliver on those decisions. This is a long process that begins with institutions and civil society, not elections and phony democracy. These principles were the foundation of the June 24, 2002 speech by President Bush, and their realization remains the only viable foundation for a process to create a responsible and moderate leadership among Palestinians.

The roadmap inverted that effort. By putting Israeli-Palestinian talks up front, we and Israel needed a Palestinian interlocutor. The quest for the interlocutor forced us to abandon the June 24 principles in order to artificially define and prop up a corrupt and domestically unpopular leadership elite at the top of Fatah. It represented a microcosm of what we had tried to do for decades: bolster weak, secular Arab-nationalist dictatorships as a bulwark against extremism. This was hope against experience. This idea failed in Iraq in 1990. It failed with Arafat in 2000.

It failed again among Palestinians in 2006. Precisely because the Roadmap took precedence over first building a profoundly new Palestinian leadership, the Palestinians entered the January 2006 elections with a choice between a failed and corrupted ideology and leadership of the past – secular Arab nationalism under Fatah -- and Islamist delusion for the future. Neither represented freedom. Forced to choose between despair of the past and delusion of Islamism, the Palestinians chose delusion. Hamas’ victory and its takeover of Gaza in August 2007 are directly a result of the replacement of the June 24 principles with the Roadmap.

Current efforts to reform and build up Fatah leadership must succeed were the Annapolis process to mean anything. But the prospects of this are dim. For years, we have urged Fatah to reform. It has not. For years, we have tried to build the PA into an army capable of confronting Hamas. The trained soldiers and weapons of that army fell to Hamas in Gaza in days. For years, we have pushed Israel to withdraw and concede to prove to the Palestinians that Abu Mazen alone can “bring home the bacon” for the Palestinian people. But every Israeli concession has been viewed by the Palestinians as a result of Hamas’ strength and Israel’s weakness, thus confirming and reinforcing Hamas’ leadership and rewarding its extremism, not Fatah’s leadership.

And they cannot deliver:

Further investments in this leadership are wasted. Precisely because Abu Mazen and Fatah represent a weak leadership, they lack the sort of domestic credibility to govern, let alone make fateful decisions, so they are driven to seek legitimacy through tough postures. In fact, so weak and rejected is that leadership that it cannot deliver on the cornerstone of any negotiation structure: the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation. And as long as that issue cannot be put behind us, then the process of negotiations called for by the Annapolis summit is a structure without anchoring foundations. And we cannot ask of Israel – or any other nation -- to enter risky negotiations and make concessions until after it is accepted as a legitimate nation.

In fact, the failure of the current Fatah leadership to accept the essence of Israel raises a serious question, the answer to which must precede any meaningful negotiation: Are basic Israeli demands necessary for its survival capable of being reconciled with the minimal Palestinian national aspirations entirely within Cis-Jordan (i.e., the land west of the Jordan River)? If we cannot answer that question, then we can have no confidence in the entire framework we are pursuing – namely, the creation of two states west of the Jordan River.


The Annapolis summit also took a dangerous turn in that it sought a solution by regionalizing it. The history of the Middle East tells us nothing if not that the regionalization of local conflicts is the problem, not the solution. Indeed, it is the persistent recurrence of internationalization of internal politics that afflicts, distorts and ultimately destroys so many Arab nations.

Whatever problems Lebanon may have had early in its life, the stream of intrusions by regional forces – the most dangerous of which was Nasserism and the tide of pan-Arab nationalism – killed it. Now a brewing fight over the soul of Islamism between Iran and Saudi Arabia threaten Lebanon reborn.

Similarly all the signs in Iraq, left to itself, point to a collection of Iraqi communities engaged in a rancorous, but ultimately reconcilable debate. Every time we have sought to load a regional solution onto the internal debate in Iraq – be it neighbor’s conferences or the role of the UN representative Ladhkar Ibrahimi – it has overloaded the system and led to dangerous breakdowns. More simply, every time we invite Iraq’s covetous neighbors to dinner, Baghdad finds itself on the menu, not at the table.

But no issue has been as distorted, dominated and ultimately made as dangerous by exposing it to international trends as the Palestinian issue. Almost every war fought in the Palestinians’ name has been fought to their detriment because those wars really had more to do with the agenda of other nations – mostly Arab, but also other great powers -- and served their interests. Indeed, there is no solution possible to the Palestinian problem until the Palestinians are finally isolated and insulated from broader regional trends which seek to use the Palestinian cause as part of their regional strategy.


As far as the Middle East goes, Iran poses the gravest challenge this nation has yet regionally faced. Tehran believes it has become the soul and sword of Islam and the vanguard to destroy the West, not only Israel. Across the Middle East there is broad fear that Iran will drag down the whole region into a civilizational clash, the consequences of which are unfathomable. And we have yet to devise a strategy that guarantees that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons. The trajectory we are on will not stop Iran, nor will it bring about a collapse of the regime -- which is the only way the region will ever see a day of peace in any corner.

For those nations most threatened by Iran, the Palestinian issue is the last issue with which they really want to cope. Iran has wired the Palestinian issue to its complete advantage. By becoming the champion of Palestinian extremism, Iran has positioned itself to accuse any regional leader who wishes to come to terms with Israel of betraying the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim trust to save his regime. The result is that in public, Arab leaders are driven to radicalize their positions lately on this issue. Now is not the time to expect moderation from Arab capitals since it plays into Iran’s hands.
There's much more. Read it all.


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