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Monday, November 24, 2008

Former US negotiator: 'Forget about Israeli-Palestinian agreement'

In a column in Monday's Jerusalem Post, former US Middle East 'peace' negotiator Aaron David Miller says that we can all forget about an Israeli-'Palestinian' agreement.
Varying kinds of accommodations cease fires, informal cooperation and temporary arrangements may still be possible. But an agreement now or perhaps for the foreseeable future that revolves conclusively the four core issues (borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security) isn't.
Miller cites three 'realities' that make an Israeli-'Palestinian' agreement impossible:
It's not that there are metaphysical or magical reasons why these core issues can't be resolved; it's that the political will is lacking among leaders to reach an agreement and that the current situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians makes it impossible for them to do to. That everyone knows what the ultimate solution will look like (an intriguing notion that is supposed to make people feel better) is irrelevant if the circumstances for an agreement don't exist.

THIS BRINGS me to my second point. The dysfunction and confusion in Palestine make a conflict-ending agreement almost impossible. The divisions between Hamas (itself divided) and Fatah (even more divided) are now geographic, political and hard to bridge. Until the Palestinian national movement finds a way to impose a monopoly over the forces of violence in Palestinian society, it cannot move to statehood.


Third, there is serious dysfunction at the political level in Israel as well. Israel has its own leadership crisis. The state is in transition from a generation of founding leaders with moral authority, historic legitimacy and competency to a younger generation of middle age pols who have not quite measured up to their predecessors or to the challenges their nation faces. The leadership deficit is a global phenomenon, but not all states are sitting in a dangerous neighborhood on top of a political volcano. Is there an Israeli leader today who has the authority and skill to make and sell the tough choices required for Israeli-Palestinian peace?
Miller's first two arguments show why the Oslo accords - which he championed during the Clinton administration - were doomed to failure from the outset. One of the guiding principles behind Oslo was to postpone the hard issues to the end of the game. The goal was to chip away at Israel's positions until there was nothing left and Israel would have no choice but to concede on what Miller calls the 'identity issues.' When Ehud Barak very dangerously called the bluff by attempting to resolve the 'identity issues' at Camp David in 2000, the entire house of cards fell apart.

And while Miller presents the second point as being a new obstacle, it's really not new. Yasser Arafat may have been a popular leader, but the reason that he was popular was precisely because he did nothing to attempt to take control of the guns. The terror groups continued to roam the streets, Hamas gained in power and popularity while Arafat was in power and Fatah was a corrupt organization in which militias (like the Tanzim) acted on their own.

Miller's third 'reality' is misplaced. It's not that Israel has no leaders capable of leading (although the current government clearly is incapable of leading) it's that Israel's people have awoken to reality since 2000 and are not going to rush to give away all their strategic assets to a people bent on their destruction.

Miller's prescription is to go "all out" for an Israeli-Syrian agreement. But that is destined to fail for all the same reasons. Syria has no real interest in peace, will do nothing to rein in Hezbullah, and has an unpopular dictator as its leader who cannot change the way his people actually think. And the Israeli people are much smarter than they were 10-15 years ago.


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