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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Paper peace

Elliott Abrams has a lengthy article in next week's Weekly Standard about the 'peace process' and all the ways the Obama administration has blown it (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). I urge you to read the whole thing (yes, I know, five screens is a lot to read!). Here are some highlights.
Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught five clear lessons. Each of them is being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular “peace process” has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace. Today the only factor uniting Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab leaders is distrust of the quality, sagacity, and reliability of American leadership in the region.


3. Israeli withdrawals do not lead to peace unless law and order can be maintained by responsible security forces.

Israelis learned this the hard way in South Lebanon and Gaza, and it is unquestionably the greatest factor leading them to oppose a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. The Labor party leader Ehud Barak is not viewed in Israel as a hardliner; when he was prime minister he offered Arafat a dramatic peace proposal in 2000. But when, as defense minister, he met with President Bush in 2008 he handed over, and raised repeatedly in later meetings with Secretary Rice, a list of Israel’s security needs in the West Bank. He and Netanyahu (and the vast majority of Israelis) are of one mind on this: Terrorism from Gaza is a security challenge for Israel, but terrorism from the West Bank threatens Israel’s survival. There has been considerable progress in training Palestinian security forces, but no one believes they can yet maintain order without the presence of the IDF and Shin Bet. Those who say, as George Mitchell—Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East—and the Quartet have, that there can be a peace deal in 24 months are saying that fundamental security issues can be finessed or forgotten. Of course they can if your goal is a piece of paper—or, perhaps better put, a paper peace. If you want a real and lasting peace, you must have the answer to the question: What will fill the vacuum when Israeli forces leave? Today the answer is chaos or Hamas, and any prediction that in 24 months these matters will be resolved shows a lack of seriousness. Palestinians who value law and order and seek to build a decent society, as well as Jordanians who worry what forces will be across the river from them, cannot be so cavalier. This brings us back to lesson one: If the United States is intent on a deal in 24 months no matter what, Israelis will understand that we are not going to protect their security and that we’ll complain when they assert the need to do it themselves.
It's not just about who will fill the vacuum - it's about whether they can be counted on going forward. Even if Fatah's forces were capable of handling Hamas (which they are not), Israelis cannot and do not trust Fatah. It's unfortunate that for the last 17 years, one Israeli government after another has gone around convincing the World that Fatah wants peace. But the truth - as most Israelis know - is exactly the opposite, and this is why the issues coming out now are what is referred to as the "1948 issues" and not the "1967 issues." Fatah and Hamas differ only on tactics. Both of them wish to destroy us. They aren't willing to accept any State of Israel of any size.
4. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not the center of world, Arab, or Muslim politics.

George Mitchell once acknowledged that when he talks to Arab leaders they raise Iran first, but no one in the administration wants to allow mere facts to interfere with their ideology. George W. Bush was as close as any American president ever has been to Israel, but had excellent relations with the Moroccan, Algerian, Emirati, Omani, Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Jordanian rulers—all except the Egyptians, who were annoyed that he thought they should have free elections. Paying attention to what Arab political leaders say publicly about Israel is foolish, for their real views consist of tough-minded assessments of the balance of power in the region. What they want most of all is calm; they do not want their streets riled up by Israeli-Palestinian violence. Palestinians are not at the center of their hearts or they would visit the West Bank and bring plenty of cash with them. What preoccupies them is survival and Iran. If they take any lesson from the current coldness between the United States and Israel, it is that the United States is not a reliable ally. If we can ditch Israel, they know we can far more easily ditch them.

The most perverse misunderstanding along these lines is the thought that supporting Israel is risking American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war on terror....

Israelis listening to official American remarks hear an amateurish interpretation of Arab politics, which as Lee Smith reminded us in his recent book (quoting bin Laden himself) is basically about backing the strong horse. Arab leaders want to know what we will do to stop Iran; they want to know if their ally in Washington is going to be the top power in the region. Israelis wonder where the “uh oh, this will make Islamic extremists angry” argument stops. Does anyone think al Qaeda or the Taliban would be mollified by a settlement freeze? The Islamists are not interested in “1967 issues” related to Israel’s size, but in “1948 issues” related to Israel’s existence. If henceforth we mean to engage such people rather than to defeat them, Israel’s existence—not its settlement policy—comes into play.
Now that's an angle I hadn't thought much about, but it's true. It reminds me of a story of a certain private school that forced out its principal after 30 years, telling him that it was time to retire. The principal lived for 15 years or so after retirement; there was certainly no reason to force him out at the time. I remember my father saying to me regarding this school, "would you want to take a job whose previous holder was forced out after 30 years having done nothing wrong?" If the US can dump Israel, is there anyone they can't dump? (They've already dumped the UK under Obama, and that may even be a stronger argument). What kind of alliances are you going to have if no one trusts you?

By the way, I'm not convinced al-Qaeda and the Taliban are interested in Israel's existence at all. They're looking to destroy America much more than they're looking to destroy Israel.
If this is not the Obama view of the world, the administration should say so quickly and very clearly. Otherwise his administration can fairly be said to be revisiting our own “1948 issues.” The argument that Israel would be a great burden and ruin our place in the Arab world was proffered then by George Marshall—and rejected by Harry Truman. In his memoirs, Clark Clifford wrote at length about the State Department’s efforts to stop -Truman from recognizing the new State of Israel. Clifford quoted Marshall’s deputy Robert Lovett as saying on May 14, 1948—the day Israel declared its independence and Truman offered recognition—“There will be a tremendous reaction in the Arab world. We might lose the effects of many years of hard work with the Arabs. We will lose our position with Arab leaders. It will put our diplomatic missions and consular representatives in personal jeopardy.” After 60 years of American leadership and military dominance in the Middle East, it should be as disturbing to Americans—not least to Democrats who venerate -Truman—as it is to Israelis that traces of this approach are emerging again in Washington.

Netanyahu answered these poor arguments in his address to AIPAC:
Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values. In the eyes of these fanatics, we are you and you are us. To them, the only difference is that you are big and we are small, you are the Great Satan and we are the Little Satan.
Here's the bigger problem: There are three more years of Obama left. What pieces are going to be left to pick up by the time this administration ends (assuming he is not re-elected)?

Read the whole thing.


At 1:35 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - the real point is Obama has decided Israel is dispensable - that the entire alliance with Israel in his eyes is more of a hindrance than an asset to his plans to reconcile with the Muslim World. From that we can draw one conclusion: there is nothing Israel can offer the current Administration that would change that decision. Surrendering Jerusalem would simply postpone when the coup d'grace would take place. The Palestinians don't want peace talks with Israel and the Arab World would like to see Israel disappear.

The peace process has been dead for quite sometime and nothing is going to revive it.


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