Henry Siegman is my hero. Really.
With academic credential no greater than mine (a bachelor's degree from the New School vs a B.A. in Math from Yeshiva University ) Siegman has had the title of "expert" appended to his name. He writes for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books and served on the council of foreign relations. He also is better connected than I am. I doubt that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia would deign to talk to me, but he talks to Siegman. I don't know that he writes a whole lot better than I do, though he is certainly longer winded.
Me, I'm just a blogger. Still when Siegman writes, people apparently read, so I guess that's why he continues to write no matter how wrong he's been in the past.
In a recently published piece in the NY Review of Books dramatically titled, Annapolis: The Cost of Failure, Siegman lays out many of his ideas about what's wrong with the Middle East.
One of the first on-line responses to the publication of the letter to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a simple, straightforward question: "What is in it for Israel?" The "it" referred to guidelines the letter proposed for an agreement that would end Israel's occupation of the territories the IDF overran forty years ago in a conflict—as Israelis were reminded by the celebrated author David Grossman when he addressed a recent commemoration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination—that is now in its 100th year.
What is in it for Israel should be self-evident, but now that three new Israeli generations have been born having no memory of Israel without settlements, it no longer is; for too many, the occupation—and the spiral of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has come with it—is a given, the natural order of things.
An agreement that leads to the end of an occupation that with the best of intentions humiliates and brutalizes an entire nation should be more than enough of a reason to go for it. The subjugation and permanent dispossession of millions of people is surely not the vocation of Judaism, nor is it an acceptable condition for a Jewish national revival.
The occupation, to the degree that it exists, is no longer the occupation of 1967 or even 1993. For one thing all Jews have been evicted from Gaza. In Judea and Samaria there exists some form of Palestinian self-government, however inept and corrupt it might be. The dispossession of the Palestinians is not vocation of Judaism, it is however, the vocation of the Palestinians' Arab brothers who have refused to settle them since 1948, keeping them instead, as a cynical proof of the inhumanity of Zionism.
The argument against an Israeli agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is that they are too weak and unpopular to implement an accord that would require them to put an end to the violence of Palestinian rejectionist groups. Indeed, it is pointed out that the fact that most of the violence in the West Bank continues to come from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a faction that belongs to Abbas's Fatah, underlines the limits of Abbas and Fayyad's authority and their capacity to establish the rule of law in the territories.
That Abbas has been unable to control violence is true enough, but it is nevertheless a disingenuous argument. Abbas's weakness is the result of Israeli policies—primarily the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory that continues even as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks about removing settlements—that have convinced most Palestinians that Israel has no intention of returning to the pre-1967 border and allowing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. An Israeli policy that seriously rewarded Abbas for his moderation—such as a significant release of Palestinian prisoners, instead of several hundred out of the over 10,000 prisoners being held by Israel; the removal of physical obstructions and checkpoints that have strangled Palestinian economic and social life; the dismantlement of outposts and a freeze on further construction in the settlements, as required by the Roadmap—would turn Abbas and Fayyad into strong leaders overnight. But Olmert has until now only offered token "gestures," and Palestinians have been given no reason to believe that a change in Israeli policy will occur even when the Palestinians choose leaders committed to nonviolence and moderation.
Actually, I'd add one more adjective to describe Abbas and Fayyad - unwilling. They are unwilling to fight the terror groups because, despite their nice suits and reputed Western leanings, they both subscribe to the same ideology as the terrorists. Israel - not post 1967, but even post 1948 - , to them, is an illegitimate entity. Israel has no right to exist. Claiming that agreeing that Israel is a Jewish state is a bargaining chip, is disingenuous. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state is the same thing as declaring that Israel had a right to exist. To deny one is to deny the other.
Checkpoints and roadblocks designed to prevent the movement of people and goods throughout the West Bank—well over 500 such obstacles—have devastated the Palestinian economy and turned Palestinian life, in all of its aspects, into an endless nightmare. In 2005, following Abbas's election as president of the Palestinian Authority and before Israel's dismantlement of its settlements in Gaza, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank who was designated as the envoy of the Quartet (the EU, UN, US, and Russia), worked out a detailed agreement with the Israeli government to remove many of these obstacles. The plan included the creation of a safe passage that would link the populations of the West Bank and Gaza—a connection that is vitally important to the social, cultural, and economic life of these geographically separated entities, to which Israel had already committed itself in the Oslo accords. The whole point of that agreement was to show Palestinians that Abbas's moderation and opposition to violence could obtain results that Israel had denied his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. It proved the opposite. According to Wolfensohn, Israel violated the agreement before the ink of its representatives' signatures had dried.
"In the months that followed, every aspect of the agreement was abrogated," Wolfensohn, an observant Jew and a lifelong friend and generous philanthropic supporter of Israel, recently told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Indeed, instead of removing checkpoints, more were added. Reading the Ha'aretz interview, it is difficult to avoid the impression that this firsthand experience with Israel's dealings with the Palestinians profoundly disillusioned Wolfensohn, who came to see the equities of the conflict in a new light.
I had never heard that Wolfensohn is an observant Jew. Maybe he is. But no matter. Wolfensohn invested a significant sum of his own money in the Gaza greenhouses that were abandoned by Israel, only to have them destroyed by the very people they were meant to help. My guess is that it was easier to blame the failure of his contribution on Israel - which had to defend against continued violence even after abandoning Gaza - than to admit that he invested badly. Siegman is only too eager to support Wolfensohn's self-interested (and dishonest) claims and pretend that Israel set up more checkpoints arbitrarily rather than out of need.
The signers of the letter to President Bush stressed that a successful outcome of the Annapolis conference would require Syria's participation in the conference, as well as efforts to start a dialogue with Hamas. Washington overcame its initial reluctance to include Syria. However, Syria has said it will not attend if the subject of a Syria-Israel peace agreement will not appear on the Annapolis agenda. Syria's nonattendance would result in the downgrading of Arab attendance at the meeting to the ambassadorial rather than ministerial level, which in turn would defeat the American objective of using the Annapolis gathering to create a coalition of moderate Arab countries that, together with Israel, would be prepared to counter the growing threat of Iranian hegemony in the region.
Syria's absence will also prevent a serious exploration of the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative, whose promise of full normalization of relations with the state of Israel is contingent on an Israeli-Syrian agreement. It would also impede efforts at a resolution of the festering crisis in Lebanon.
Actually Syria sought to subvert the so called Arab League peace initiative by claiming - against the United Nations - that Shebaa Farms is part of Lebanon. (Of course Syria can do this since it considers Lebanon to be part of Syria, but that's not the issue right now.) The mischief of this claim is to deny that Israel fulfilled its obligations by completely withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000. By making this claim Siegman legitimizes Hezbollah's continued terror war against Israel since 2000.
But the claims here are nonsensical. Syria is not moderate and in the Iranian orbit. Strengthening Syria by pressuring Israel to cede the Golan, will only serve to exacerbate the situation in Lebanon. As long as Syria doesn't feel that it will suffer for its mischief it will continue making mischief. And yes, strengthening Syria, strengthens Iran.
Israel and Washington have made clear their determination to deny Hamas the fruits of its 2006 victory in the most honest and democratic election—perhaps the only one—in the Arab Middle East and to return to power a Fatah leadership that lost those elections. This has surely given Hamas's leadership an incentive to undermine any agreement reached by Abbas in Annapolis, or in the negotiations that are supposed to follow the conference. But if Abbas emerges from Annapolis with parameters for an agreement with Israel that will be seen as fair by the Palestinian public—even if such parameters were not explicated in a joint statement of principles by Olmert and Abbas but by Bush in his address to the meeting—Hamas would damage its standing with the Palestinian public if it were to seek to wreck such an accomplishment. Palestinians have suffered too much for too long to tolerate that kind of recklessness.
What? If Hamas would wreck an Abbas-Olmert agreement it would hurt Hamas with the public? Who does Siegman think he is kidding? After its election, Hamas had every incentive to make its governance work and show the world that it was reasonable. Instead it continued to allow its terrorists to rain rockets on Sderot and launched an attack into Israel killing a number of soldiers and kidnapping Gilad Shalit. Hamas has also restricted the press and persecuted Christians. And still Siegman insists that Hamas is essential to peace, The only truthful thing that he says is that Hamas was democratically elected. Unfortunately that reflects poorly on the moderation of the public that chose them.
Israel and the US have disqualified Hamas as a peace partner not only because it has refused to recognize Israel but also because it refuses to be bound by previous agreements between the PLO and Israel's government. A recent Op-Ed in Israel's Yedioth Ahronot newspaper by Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and a longtime senior adviser to Likud prime ministers, illustrates the manipulative character of Israel's diplomacy. Shoval asks in his Op-Ed piece, "How could the government that would replace Olmert's cabinet be able to free itself from the pledges and commitments to be made in Annapolis," given the "basic principle of international law that every government inherits the rights and obligations of its predecessors...?"
What is remarkable is not only the shamelessness of a Likud leader, himself a prominent Israeli lawyer, urging publicly that Israel find ways to violate commitments it is about to make to the Palestinians in a meeting to which the president of the United States is a party, but of the answer Shoval proposes: This principle of international law applies only to states, and "after all, it is difficult to define the Palestinian Authority as a state." Apparently not so difficult as to prevent Israel from starving the civilian population of Gaza by pretending that Hamas is to be defined as a state.
Here Siegman willfully mis-represents Shoval's entire argument. The fact that theh PA is not a state, is a significant legal issue. But Shoval argued further
There is also a principal that enables states to free themselves from past obligations in case of an extreme change in circumstances, or if the other side violates its own obligations in an extreme manner.
As noted above, the Palestinian leadership denies that Israel is a Jewish state and thus denies its legitimacy. The basic premise that allowed the PLO to be treated as a legitimate entity was that the PLO had accepted Israel's right to exist. We now see that premise was always a sham. Israel has been negotiating with an organization (and its successor) that denies Israel's legitimacy. I can't think of a more "extreme manner" than that.
Be that as it may, Abbas will have to negotiate with Hamas the reestablishment of a unity government even in the highly unlikely event Annapolis is a success. He cannot risk the permanent separation of Gaza from the West Bank, nor will the Palestinian public allow him to take that risk. An even greater risk is that without a unity government, Hamas—which has significant political support in the West Bank—will replace Fatah in the West Bank as well. Hamas will exist at least as long as Fatah, and Palestinian governance will have to reflect that reality.
This might be, but that's hardly an endorsement of Abbas as a moderate.
Is Abbas prepared to agree to compromises that Palestinians must make if there is to be an agreement with Israel? The answer is yes, if the demands for compromise do not go beyond those envisioned in President Clinton's proposals and in the Taba discussions that followed the failed Camp David summit in 2000. The parameters of an agreement reflecting those compromises are outlined in the letter from Scowcroft, Brzezinski, Hamilton, et al. to President Bush and Secretary Rice.
An offer similar to the one made by Clinton at Camp David, giving Palestinian Arabs 92% of the West Bank and Gaza, is completely unacceptable and out of the question. The "moderate" position is that some 400,000 Israeli Jews would have to be uprooted and could not possibly live in a Judenrein Arab Palestine. The 1967 Green Line, which the Arab nations never accepted themselves before 1967, is the sacrosanct borders of the mythical Arab Palestine.
It is not true, as Israelis often claim, that Palestinians refuse to compromise. (Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously complained that "Palestinians take and take while Israel gives and gives.") That is an indecent charge, not only because so far Israel has given Palestinians nothing, but because Palestinians made the most far-reaching compromise of all when, in 1988, Arafat formally accepted the legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice line (i.e., the pre-1967 border). With that concession, Palestinians gave up their claim to more than half the territory that the United Nations 1947 Partition Resolution had assigned to Palestine's Arab inhabitants. Palestinians have never received credit for this wrenching and historic concession, made well before Israel formally recognized that Palestinians have a right to sovereignty in any part of Palestine. The notion that Palestinians can now be compelled to accept "border adjustments" at the expense of the 22 per cent of the territory that is left them is deeply offensive to Palestinians, and understandably so.
Nothing? What's Gaza? What's effective control of Kalkilyeh, Jenin, Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Shechem/Nablus, Hebron and Tulkarem? Not to mention the millions of dollars and weapons? Thousands of terrorists released? That's nothing? That's one of the fundamental problems with negotiations. Every Israeli concession is promptly pocketed and denied. What's indecent is that Siegman justifies the terror that continues to kill Jews. Arafat mouthed words that were said to him in Geneva. He never accepted Israel's right to exist in 1988, 1993 or 1998. Even if he said the words, his subsequent actions (and the words and actions of his successors) prove that this basic step was never taken.
And of course Siegman maintains the fiction that the Palestinians are entitled to all of Judea and Samaria. That, of course, goes against the reading of resolution 242, that demanded that Israel withdraw from territories captured, not "all territories captured."
Also forgotten is that at the Camp David summit Palestinians agreed to border adjustments to the pre-1967 borders that would allow large numbers of West Bank settlers—about 70 percent—to remain within the Jewish state, in an equal exchange of territory on both sides of the border. Barak rejected the principle of one-to-one land swaps.
Camp David failed on the refusal of Arafat to bend on the issue of Jerusalem. He wouldn't take less than all of Jerusalem including the Jewish holy sites. Everything else was agreed upon. I guess when you can't make an argument, you make up the facts.
In the past, the Palestinian demand that Israel accept the Palestinian refugees' "right of return" to their homes was a serious obstacle to a peace agreement. But the Arab League's peace initiative of 2002 leaves no doubt that what Arab countries are demanding is Israel's acceptance of that right in principle, while agreeing that the number of refugees allowed to return would be subject to Israel's agreement.
And say that Israel agrees to that, with the fiction that only a symbolic number of Palestinians be allowed in? What will happen when the Palestinians decide that the number isn't enough. Will they negotiate? Or threaten to attack if their new demands aren't met? This is one thing that Israel has every reason to hold firm on. Elder of Ziyon again
Asked if he would demand to return to his birthplace, Safed, Abbas said: 'This is my right, but how I will use this right is up to me and to the refugees and to the agreement which will take place between us.' " - So he will not be flexible either on his "right" to move to Israel proper, either.
If Annapolis fails, it will be because of Israel's rejection of the single most central condition for success: full disclosure of its definition of viable Palestinian statehood. Olmert has already reneged on his earlier endorsement of Rice's insistence that the meeting must produce a joint statement outlining a permanent status agreement to avoid becoming a meaningless photo op, and it remains unlikely that any meaningful joint declaration can be reached.
According to Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz's diplomatic correspondent, Olmert is adept at marching "in the no-man's land between talk and action." For Olmert, Benn says, engaging in high-level talks and granting gestures to the Palestinians creates "the most convenient diplomatic situation," because such gestures are "in themselves sufficient to remove international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories and to end the occupation." At the same time, "as long as it's all talk and there are no agreements," internal pressures not to cede the territories are neutralized. Olmert seems to have succeeded in turning Annapolis into that kind of no-man's land.
No. If Annapolis fails it will be because the Palestinians don't accept the right of a Jewish state to exist. Benn's cynicism notwithstanding, he's probably correct. Of course the reason why there's little political support for more concessions to the Palestinians in Israel, is not because of the extremists. It's because the average Israeli sees his country as less secure than it was 14 years ago when the peace process (and concessions) started.
The importance of reaching such an agreement now rather than in the future should be self-evident. For if Annapolis fails, the likelihood that Israel will again have a moderate Palestinian interlocutor is close to zero. Not only the prospect of a moderate Palestinian leadership but also the commitment of all Arab countries to normalizing relations with Israel following a peace agreement will be casualties. Hamas's insistence that moderation, as understood by Israel, is a synonym for Palestinian capitulation will become widely accepted, and not only in the Arab world.
The disillusionment that would follow a failed effort in Annapolis would therefore leave Israel with the most dismal of prospects for renewing a peace process with the Palestinians and with Arab countries. It certainly could not happen in circumstances as favorable as they are today, for the growing skepticism in US policy circles about Israel's real intentions in the territories, as suggested by the letter to Bush and Rice by this country's most eminent elder statesmen and stateswomen, is bound to change what has been the reflexive US support that Israel has been able to count on until now, particularly during the past two administrations.
Again, Abbas, like Arafat before him is no moderate. There is no one for Israel to negotiate with. There are plenty of Palestinians who would be willing to take territory from Israel, but none who are willing to stop the terror, stop the incitement and stop the deligitimization. The better time for Israel to deal with the Palestinians, would be when the Palestinians have demonstrated that they are ready to live in peace with Israel. Siegman's protests to the contrary, we are not at that point now. That Siegman identifies with Hamas, makes him even less credible.
More important, should Annapolis fail, prospects for resuming a viable peace process at some future date will be made increasingly unlikely by the changing demographic balance in Palestine. A clear Arab majority in historic Palestine, a situation that is imminent, will persuade Palestinians and their leaders that the quest for a two-state solution is a fool's pursuit. They may conclude that rather than settling for even less than 22 percent of Palestine—i.e., less than half the territory that the international community confirmed in the 1947 Partition Resolution of the UN is the legitimate patrimony of Palestine's Arab population—it would be better to renounce separate Palestinian statehood and instead demand equal rights in a state of Israel that includes all of Palestine. Why settle for crumbs now if as a result of their decisive majority they will soon become the dominant political and cultural force in all of Palestine?
In other words Siegman denies all Israeli concessions to date. Of course he also is basing his prediction on demographic projections that are notoriously innacurate. There is nothing imminent about his scenario. However it may reveal his true hostility to the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
If the international community has been largely indifferent to—or impotent to do anything about—what some have tried to portray as a quarrel between Israel and Palestinians over where to draw the border between the two, it is far less likely to remain indifferent to an Israel intent on permanently denying its majority Arab population the rights and privileges it accords to its minority of Jewish citizens. It would be an apartheid regime that, one hopes, a majority of Israelis would themselves not abide.
Annapolis may well be a historic watershed—the last opportunity to salvage not only a two-state solution but a Jewish state that remains a democracy.
Oh please. Israel will remain a democracy regardless of the outcome of Annapolis. It's funny how concerned Siegman is about Israel turning into an "apartheid regime" even as he argues for expanding the scope and power of the Palestinian "apartheid regime."
The truth is that as far as foreign policy "experts" go, few are worse then Siegman. The highlight of his career was an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs, "Being Hafiz al-Assad." The whole article is no longer available, but there's a summary that speaks volumes of Siegman's thought processes:
Unleashing Hezbollah, stalling talks, and having the state-run media spew anti-Israel vitriol hardly seem pacific, but Syria's dictator has a consistent if chilly peace strategy.
Got that? For Siegman "War is Peace." It is this illogical mindset that illuminates all his writing on the Middle East. George Orwell got nothing on him. Siegman's made a whole career out of this, not just a single novel.
UPDATE: I made an edit to correct a mistake in the second paragraph.
Crossposted on Yourish.Posted by SoccerDad at November 25, 2007 8:06 PM | TrackBack