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Monday, February 23, 2009

Realism or failure?

Following up on many of the ideas in his JPost interview with Ruthe Blum-Leibowitz last week, former deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy Elliot Abrams calls for the 'peace process' to return to the realism that characterized the Bush administration approach between President Bush's famous 'new Palestinian leadership' speech on June 24, 2002 and the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 (Hat Tip: Israpundit). I don't agree with all that Abrams writes, but he makes some valid points.
The Roadmap did not call for leaping directly from the status quo--the Palestinian Authority, or PA, established after Oslo--to statehood. Instead it called for an interim phase "focused on the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on the new constitution, as a way station to a permanent status settlement." The text here reiterated the need for Palestinian leaders "acting decisively against terror, willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty."
You will note that Abrams fails to mention Ariel Sharon's fourteen reservations to the Road Map or how they were ignored by the Bush administration. Other than promising to 'seriously address' them, the Bush administration never really took them into account. In this respect, it is probably best for Israel that the 'Annapolis Conference' was born, because it was so clearly unworkable and yet at the same time it seems to have taken the Road Map off the table. I'd be curious to hear from Abrams what the Bush administration thought of Sharon's reservations and how they planned to deal with them. If any of you ever finds an article where Abrams discusses the question, a hat tip awaits you.
Those of us within the Bush administration who had protested the Annapolis plan and the announcement of the 2008 goal were sadly proved right. Historians may puzzle over the causes of the failure, and perhaps more so over what led the president to turn away from the tough-minded realism toward this conflict that he showed during his first term. But the lesson for 2009, for the new administration, must be that there are actually only two alternatives: realism and failure.
Much of what I dispute in Abrams' column follows this paragraph: It's a listing of all the 'progress' the 'Palestinians' have made since 2002 and he credits it to Salam Fayyad. Sorry, but in the most important area of all - educating their 'people' to live in peace - the 'Palestinians' have made NO progress since 2002. If anything, they have regressed. I also believe that most of the superficial signs of progress to which Abrams points are largely the function of the IDF's presence in Judea and Samaria.
What are the chances that such meetings will produce a final status agreement in 2009? None. Despite the pressures for progress after Annapolis, little progress was made in 2008, and if anything conditions are worse now. In 2008, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were frequent at two levels: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with President Abbas, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with Palestinian chief negotiators Ahmed Qurei ("Abu Ala") and Saeb Erekat. I am unaware of the achievement of any actual agreement on any important issue on either track.

On the toughest issues, such as Jerusalem and refugees, there was, unsurprisingly, no meeting of the minds. It is unlikely negotiators will do better this year. It has been true for decades that the most Israel can offer the Palestinians is quite evidently less than any Palestinian politician is prepared to accept. Those who say "the outlines of an agreement are well known" and thereby suggest that an agreement is close are precisely wrong: Is it not evident that to the extent that such outlines are "well known," they are unacceptable to both sides or they would have led to a deal long ago? In addition, any possible deal would take years to implement: Israel would need that time to remove settlers from lands that would become part of Palestine, while the Palestinians would need to win the fight against terrorism. So any deal would be a so-called shelf agreement, where Palestinian leaders would be compromising on Jerusalem, borders, and refugee claims in exchange not for a state, but for an Israeli promise of a state at some indeterminate future date. No Palestinian leader jumped at that in 2007 or 2008, and none will in 2009.

Meanwhile, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the PA as an institution, Fatah as a party is moribund. Its reputation for incompetence and corruption remains what it was when Arafat was alive, for there has been no party reform despite endless promises. At one point in 2008, when Ahmed Qurei--one of Arafat's closest cronies, famed for permitting corruption, renowned for opposing the rise of any newer and younger leaders in Fatah--was formally charged with organizing and implementing party reform, tragedy gave way to farce. But if democracy is impossible without democratic parties, the collapse of Fatah is no joke; it suggests that a future independent Palestine would either be run by Hamas and other extremists and terrorists or become a one-party "republic" on the model of Tunisia or Egypt.

There is more. Prime Minister Olmert, who was intent on trying for an agreement by the end of President Bush's term, will be gone, and his successor will not be as enthusiastic to make the concessions Olmert reportedly offered the Palestinians. President Obama has not committed himself to achieve an agreement in 2009 in the way that President Bush did in 2007 and 2008. The Palestinian political leadership under President Abbas and his Fatah party is weak, even increasingly illegitimate as the presidential election date prescribed in the Palestinian law was ignored and Abbas's term in office extended. And, of course, it is impossible to see how a comprehensive final status agreement between Israel and the PA can be reached when the PA itself has now lost control of 40 percent of the Palestinian population, the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza.

First, there is the question of who can actually negotiate with Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is still recognized by the Arab League and the United Nations as the "sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people" though it never won a free election to attain that status. Israel's past negotiations, in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and ever since, have all been with the PLO--not formally with the PA, which was created at Oslo to exercise certain governmental functions in the Palestinian territories. When Israel negotiates with Abbas, it is in his capacity as chairman of the PLO, not in his role as president of the PA. But now the PA governs only one part of Palestinian territory. Hamas governs the other part--and Hamas is not a member of the PLO. In the 2006 elections 44 percent of Palestinians voted for Hamas, moreover, and it maintains a majority in the Palestinian parliament (a possible problem should that body ever meet). So, for which Palestinians do Abbas, the PA, and the PLO actually speak? While Israel rightly refuses to negotiate with a terrorist group like Hamas, or with the PA or PLO should it include Hamas in its ranks, it remains true that the PA and PLO no longer have a strong claim to represent all Palestinians and may now lack the ability to enforce any deal with Israel they sign. [Let alone the desire to enforce any agreement that they sign, as we saw already with Arafat. CiJ].

Second, the lesson of Gaza to Israelis is identical to the lesson of south Lebanon, and a cautionary tale regarding withdrawal from the West Bank: "Land for peace" concessions have failed and become "land for terrorism." Until there is far better security in the West Bank, few Israelis would risk withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet from operating there.

And third, the terrorist groups Israel is dealing with, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, used to be local; now those groups have the full backing of Iran, both directly and through Syria and Hezbollah. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now part of a broader struggle in the region over Iranian extremism and power. Israeli withdrawals now risk opening the door not only to Palestinian terrorists but to Iranian proxies. How could Israelis, or Palestinians for that matter, take such a risk--especially when the new American administration has not defined its policy toward Iran, except for some vague and (to Arabs and Israelis alike) worrying phrases about outreached hands and sitting across negotiating tables, and the U.S. military option is invisible?

Taken together, these factors suggest that a final status agreement is not now a real-world goal. What is? A return to the realistic assessments and policies that marked Bush's first term. In practice, this suggests an intense concentration on building Palestinian institutions in the West Bank.
To this point, Abrams is pretty much speaking inside the box. But a few paragraphs later he goes out of the box, and this is the part I wanted you all to see.
But one is free to wonder as well whether Palestinian "statehood" is the best and most sensible goal for Palestinians. When I served under Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan administration, we were expressly opposed to that outcome and favored some links to Egypt and Jordan. On security and economic grounds, such links are no less reasonable now; indeed, given Hamas control of Gaza and the Iranian threat to moderate Arab states as well as to Israel, they may be even more compelling. As we've seen, President Bush in 2002 stated that the Palestinians should "reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence."

Now, even the mention of Egyptian and Jordanian involvement will evoke loud protests, not least in Amman and Ramallah, and perhaps U.S. policymakers should think but not speak about such an outcome. There are many and varied possible relationships between a Palestinian entity in the West Bank and the Hashemite monarchy, and if none can be embraced today, none should be discarded either. One Arab statesman told me when I asked him about a Jordanian role that there "must absolutely be an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank--if only for 15 minutes," and then they could decide on some form of federation or at least a Jordanian security role for the area. If the greatest Israeli, Jordanian, and Egyptian fears are of terrorism, disorder, and Iranian inroads in a Palestinian West Bank state, a Jordanian role is a practical means of addressing those fears.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Both John Bolton and Daniel Pipes proposed the same thing last month. Like Bolton and Pipes, Abrams still doesn't recognize that this conflict is existential. Like Bolton and Pipes, Abrams doesn't recognize that the Arabs are using the 'Palestinians' as a stalking horse to regain what they lost in 1967 - and then to go after what they lost in 1948. Until the 'Palestinians' and the Arabs recognize absolutely and finally Israel's right to live on the Jewish people's historic homeland - a process that will take generations in a best case scenario - there is nothing to discuss.


At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another tried and failed meddler. Just what we need!

At 3:49 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

And the problem with placing the Palestinians in the hands of Jordan and Egypt as Carl as pointed out many times before - means to place Israel's security in the hands of an Arab regime. The sanctity of current treaties is not guaranteed and in the Middle East such things have a way of literally changing overnight. There is no prospect of Israel allowing that and as for the Palestinians, the most extreme elements now dominate their society to the extent that statehood is not in the cards in this generation and perhaps never will be.

That is why Tzipi Livni and the Israeli Left have failed to realize that changed circumstances have completely invalidated the premises of the Oslo "land for peace" school. It is politically dead and given the absence of a partner on the other side, is going to go nowhere. Negotiations about negotiations are a complete waste of time and the conflict is not about territory but about Israel's existence. On the latter issue, no compromise is possible.


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