May 10, 2006
The Morass of Middle East DiplomacyBy Rachel Neuwirth
Since 1993 a sustained diplomatic effort has been devoted to solve what is commonly known as the Arab—Israeli conflict.� This conflict, reframed as the 'Israeli—Palestinian' conflict, is no closer to resolution.� Political leaders, diplomats, media pundits and think tank analysts of all persuasions, over thirteen years of intense dialogue and a multiplicity of peace plans, have exercised their power and contributed their expertise in this thorny issue.� However, even the most optimistic observers cannot deny that all these efforts have resulted in failure.� This article attempts to analyze the causes of this failure and to propose a different approach.
Among the wide variety of diplomats and pundits, we can select a small sample based on their direct participation to the resolution of the conflict, their position on the decision making process, or their influence in the media.� A few names come to mind in no particular order.
Dennis B. Ross, now a director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has served at the U.S. Department of State as a special Middle East coordinator and has been intimately involved in the negotiations following the Oslo Accords under the Clinton Administration.� To his credit, his latest book, 'The Missing Peace', provides a detailed account of the Arafat—Barak negotiations and dispels the myths advanced by Robert Malley and others who derided the 'generous offer' of the Israelis.� In an interview with the 'Australian Jewish Review', in June 2001, Ross criticized Arafat:
When asked why he did not react to the Palestinians' non—fulfillment of their obligations under the Oslo Accords, Ross admitted that�
Martin S. Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and presently director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, wrote a paper in March 2005, published by the Brookings Institution, in which he made a number of recommendations following the Sharm el—Sheikh summit of February 2005.� Not only did he strangely soften the language of the Roadmap with regard to the Palestinians' obligations to dismantle their terror organizations, but he also implicitly recognized the fragility of any agreement by warning that 'a single terrorist bombing or missile strike ... can derail [the peace process].'�� And sure enough, more than one bombing and missile strike happened since.� As far as we know, Indyk has not reversed his fundamental views on the 'peace process.'
Miguel Angel Moratinos, current Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, served as the European Union Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process in the early 2000s.� In his farewell message as the EU Envoy, he penned an op—ed published jointly in The Jerusalem Post and in Al Quds on July 2, 2003, in which he issued a 'wake—up call to Israel'.�� In the middle of one of the bloodiest terror periods that Israel has ever experienced, Moratinos exhorted the Israelis to 'to stop the occupation," to actively pursue the creation of a Palestinian state and
Pascal Boniface, president of the Paris based Institut des Relations Internationales et Strat�giques (IRIS), and an influential analyst of French foreign affairs, declared in 2004 that
This flimsy argument is utterly contradicted by the persistence of terror during the nineteen years preceding the 'occupation' (1948—1967).� He also blasted the United States for vetoing the many Security Council resolutions which condemn Israel, even though the unbalanced character of these resolutions has been proven time and again.� For Boniface, Israel is overwhelmingly in violation of international law:
More recently, Boniface demonstrated his misguided reading of the UNSC Resolution 242 when he declared that the text clearly 'condemns an occupation deemed illegal.'
Yossi Beilin, former Israeli Minister of Justice, one of the chief architects of the Oslo process under Yizhak Rabin, and later the promoter of the 'Geneva Initiative', still believes that 'the Oslo idea was right.'� The only tactical mistake Beilin is prepared to concede is that '[he] did not take into consideration the gravity of Palestinian incitement.'� In a 2001 interview by Ari Shavit of Haaretz, Beilin advocated an almost total withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the 'West Bank') and the uprooting of most settlements.� As late as the end of 2003, Beilin was still of the opinion that more power should be given to Arafat.
The shared mindset
What is wrong with this broadly shared mindset?� There is something about diplomats that we cannot fathom, especially with regard to the Middle East conflict.� It seems that they all operate at what we may call 'level C.' They all accept as a given:
From there, all their activities, speeches, writings, meetings and activities are focused on the mechanics of implementation, such as:�
And on and on.
In February 2005 Dennis B. Ross made this candid statement:�
In 1997, Angelo M. Codevilla� — a Professor of International Relations at Boston University —� detected in the Oslo Accords 'a pernicious utopian virus' and he lamented that no effort was made 'to ascertain that the objectives of the two parties are compatible.'� Eight years later, Ross seems to have come to the same conclusion.� But he and others are still persevering in the same track, without realizing that such an incompatibility of objectives is a blatant departure from the basis of any political negotiation.
This is where some attention to 'level B' would have been most welcome in highlighting the governing principles of the conflict and clarifying a few anomalies:�
A cursory examination of the following documents would have provided diplomats with a better grasp of the problem:
Negotiating with a party vowed to your destruction is insane.� The true intentions of the Palestinian Arabs could not be more specific.� It is inconceivable that high ranking diplomats, including Israelis, are not aware of the above.� Why did they, knowingly, dismiss these warnings?�� We can have serious doubts about the true intentions of those who favor the pursuit of a 'peace process' with such a partner.
Even assuming that all the stumbling blocks of 'level B' had been properly addressed and resolved; that the Palestinians agreed to live 'side by side with Israel in a new, peaceful and viable state'; and that Islamic radicalism had no longer any claims on Israel, politicians and legal experts should still pause and think about the legality of the whole process.�
This is where 'level A' comes in, to remind us of the fundamentals of 'Palestine':�
Unfortunately, these crucial issues seem to have been buried deep under the thick Arabian rugs of international conference rooms.� But they should soon resurface and be presented to the whole world with the supporting data that constitute the founding documents of the Jewish Nation in Palestine:
In light of the above, one may seriously question the integrity of most diplomats and analysts who, along with the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the U.S. government (all members of the Quartet) consistently peddle the Arab line and blur or erase the history of the region prior to 1967.�� We can understand why the Arabs seek to ignore the pre—1967 history of the region, but why should everyone else follow the same distortions?� All inquisitive analyses of these issues are strangely absent in the mainstream media.� It all looks like a concerted effort in non—disclosure.� Is there a name for this willful blindness?
The failure of the 'peace process' since its inception in 1993 (Declaration of Principles and Oslo Accords) and all the way through the present Roadmap is too obvious to deny.� A telltale of a failed process is the short lifespan of its underlying expectations.� Take any paper written just a year ago by a proponent of the 'peace process', and the incompatibilities with current conditions become glaring.� Look at what was written about the withdrawal of Israeli forces from 'Area A'; the 'disengagement' from Gaza; the foreign observers at the Rafah crossing and at the Jericho jail; the transfer to the Palestinians of the greenhouses of Gush Katif, etc., and compare it with today's reality.� Nothing stood the test of time for more than a year.�
No wonder:� these are all details ('level C') that inevitably flew in the face of the fundamentals ('level B' and 'level A').
As an example of the rosy mindset which inhabits the 'peace process' enthusiasts, Dennis B. Ross showed his misguided optimism about the Gaza 'disengagement'.� In a September, 2004, interview�by Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist at the New York Times, Ross believed in the existence of 'an assertive Palestinian reform movement' that would think and act rationally:
Less than a year later, chaos settled in, greenhouses were vandalized, internecine riots broke out, and Kassam rockets kept raining on Israeli towns.
To respond to Dennis Ross' pertinent observation ('those that say Oslo was a mistake, they don't offer anything in its place.'), I would simply say that the resolution of the Arab—Israeli conflict calls for a radically different approach in diplomacy.�
First, the fallacy of the ongoing political dogma should be recognized:� the objective is wrong (A new Palestinian state carved out of Israel as defined by the Mandate); the 'land for peace' principle is wrong; the many assumptions that have gained currency with time are also wrong ('inalienable rights of the Palestinian people'; 'illegal settlements built on occupied Palestinian land'; 'Jerusalem as the third holy city of Islam').� A bold stance on the historical/legal truths should not be an obstacle to peace unless the world is willing to sacrifice the integrity of Israel on the altar of dubious geopolitical interests.� But if such is the case, we should expect less hypocrisy and certainly no selective application of international law.
Among the various alternatives to solve the Israeli—Arab conflict, the P.A.I.R. (Plan for Arab—Israeli Reconciliation Initiative)� deserves serious consideration.� Let us remember that funding of up to 30 billion dollars was earmarked at Camp David II for the settlement of Palestinian refugees.� This amount would be far better spent in developing a new state in the region (if such is the wish of Palestinians) where land is available without geographic restrictions and without infringing on international law.
But pursuing any of the 'peace plans' which have been tossed around since 1993 will only lead to a morass of clumsy arrangements and preposterous negotiations.
�The original version of the PLO Charter, written in 1964, does not mention the 'Palestinian people'.� Article 24 specifically discards the 'West Bank' and Gaza (illegally occupied at the time by Jordan and Egypt, respectively) from the territories to be 'liberated'.� The revised version of 1968 (a year after the Six—Day War, when Israel conquered the 'West Bank' and Gaza) introduces the notion of 'Palestine as the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people' and calls for the 'liberation ...of Palestine with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate.' (Art.2—3).� These spurious changes were apparently not registered in diplomatic circles. See the Palestine National Charter (1964): Palestinian National Charter (1968). A brilliant analysis of these two documents, by Francisco Gil—White (Professor at the University of Pennsylvania) can be found here.
� "Political Program for the Present Stage Drawn up by the 12th Palestinian National Council, Cairo, June 9, 1974," Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1974, p. 224.� See the�analysis by Efraim Karsh in 'Arafat's Grand Strategy.'
Thanks to Salomon Benzimra for his contributions to this article