October 9, 2007

Fulfill the old commitments first

You have to give Dennis Ross credit. After years of unsuccessful peace processing he's gone to the private sector and with the added benefit of more than a decade of hindsight, he clings tightly to his principles despite ample evidence that his premises were all wrong.

So now he's giving advice to Secretary Rice in the pages of the New Republic. I couldn't help but be struck by the next to last paragraph.

Thus, if the Secretary is unable to produce a text that outlines the core tradeoffs on Jerusalem, refugees, and borders, she might go for lesser, but still important, agreement on: the scope of sovereignty, state to state relations, and a process to begin to develop such relations; Israeli territorial withdrawal(s) from the West Bank conditioned on agreed milestones on Palestinian (or others') performance on security; a freeze on expansion of existing Israeli settlements and a commitment not to develop the E-1 area; an ongoing process with agreed criteria on Palestinian prisoner releases to ensure at least some prisoners are released every few weeks; a serious mechanism (with leadership involvement) for ending incitement and the teaching of hatred; working groups to develop options on Jerusalem, refugees and final borders; and implementation committees to ensure all obligations are fulfilled.

Specifically it's hard to read Ross argue for "agreed milestones" and "serious mechanism[s]." The Palestinian commitment to fight terror was one of the premises of the Oslo Accords. It has been flouted regularly by Arafat and even by the "moderate" Abbas. So what will milestones do? They will be disobeyed now as they had been for the past 14 years. And serious mechanisms for ending incitement? Please! How many times have those been tried?

The PA will fight terror and incitement against Israel when it feels that it has an interest in doing so. Failing to do so and counting on the international community to push Israel to concede more regardless has reinforced the Palestinian view that, eventually, it will get everything it wants even if they fail to meet every single condition it agrees to.

Would you like a specific example?

A year after Netanyahu and Arafat agreed to the Hebron Accords and Israel withdrew from most of Hebron, Netanyahu was waiting for Arafat to fulfill any of the obligations that he committed to (again) in the Hebron Accords. In January of 1998, he got his cabinet to refuse further withdrawals until the Palestinians started observing the obligations they accepted.

The New York Times, in the person of Serge Schmemann, dutifully issued a State Department press release (in lieu of a news story) on January 14, 1998, ISRAEL ANNOUNCES STRINGENT TERMS FOR WITHDRAWAL

The Israeli Cabinet decided today that Israel would make no further withdrawal from the West Bank unless the Palestinians satisfied a series of stringent conditions.

The conditions included some -- like extradition of Palestinian prisoners to Israel -- that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is most unlikely to accept. His aides dismissed the conditions as another attempt by the right-wing Israeli Government to avoid any further withdrawal.

The article went on to argue (erroneously) that the Israeli government was basing its refusal on a letter signed by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher, but then noted triumphantly

In fact, the ''note for the record'' signed by Warren Christopher -- who was Secretary of State at the time -- included none of these requirements. What it said was, ''We intend to continue our efforts to help ensure that all outstanding commitments are carried out by both parties in a cooperative spirit and on the basis of reciprocity.''

It took me a minute or two using Lynx to discover that the Note for the Record, indeed, spelled out the Palestinian obligations (and the Israeli obligations) but that it was not signed by Secretary Christopher but by Dennis Ross.

As Charles Krauthammer observed a few days later (He Negotiates by the Rules, Washington Post, January 16, 1998)

Take the New York Times. Its front-page lead story on Wednesday reports that these demands are essentially Netanyahu inventions. "In fact," writes correspondent Serge Schmemann triumphantly, "the `Note for the Record' signed by Warren Christopher -- who was secretary of state at the time -- included none of these requirements."

But there is no "Note for the Record" signed by Christopher. And the official American "Note for the Record" (authored and signed by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross) contains, under the heading "Palestinian Responsibilities," every single measure cited above: "The Palestinian side reaffirms its commitments to the following measures. . . . (1) Complete the process of revising the Palestinian National Charter. (2) Fighting terror and preventing violence . . . preventing incitement and hostile propaganda . . . transfer {extradition} of suspects . . . confiscation of illegal firearms. (3) Size of Palestinian Police will be pursuant to the Interim {Oslo} Agreement," etc.

The Times' false front-page report (subject of a correction the following day) is typical of its tendentious treatment of Netanyahu. It echoes the PLO line that Netanyahu's demand for reciprocity is nothing but a ploy. But how can any fair-minded observer consider reciprocity anything but an unobjectionable, indeed essential, condition for a peace process?

If Dennis Ross believes in "agreed milestones" and "serious mechanism[s]" he had a funny way of showing it a decade ago. Every single one of Netanyahu's demands had been codified in a document he had signed and nowhere in Schmemann's report was he [Ross] quoted as saying that Netanyahu's points were valid. (I suspect that he may have been one of several government officials who fed Schmemann the information that Netanyahu had made up these requirements, but I have no proof of that.)

The failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 showed that the failure of Israel to compromise was not the reason there was no Palestinian state or that there was no Middle East peace. Yet seven years later, one of the principals of those negotiations insists that with just the right formula, peace (or at least co-existence would once more be at hand.

The failure really was never demanding substantive changes in Palestinian ideology or that the Palestinians abide by their commitments. Dennis Ross's suggestions to Secretary Rice show that he has learned nothing from his past failure.

Crossposted at Yourish.

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Posted by SoccerDad at October 9, 2007 12:56 PM
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