As Gaza collapsed into Hamastan last week, the New York Times wrote that "Washington is facing a shrinking menu of alternatives." The Times quoted one of the most prominent peace processors of the Clinton Administration:
"We have limited options, and most of them are bad," said Martin S. Indyk, the former United States ambassador to Israel. America's options are limited in part because its role has been limited, with the Bush administration pursuing what for the most part has been a hands-off policy toward the Palestinians.
Hands-off policy? After the Palestinians rejected a state on 100% of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, with a capitol in Jerusalem, and commenced a barbaric war against Israeli civilians, Bush nevertheless did all of the following:
(1) became the first American president to officially support a Palestinian state,
(2) gave a major policy address outlining a new process to achieve it, notwithstanding the collapse of the Oslo process,
(3) convinced the U.N., E.U. and Russia to formally endorse the process, in the form of a Road Map with specific phases and timelines,
(4) got both Israel and the Palestinians to formally commit themselves to the three-phase plan,
(5) negotiated a disengagement deal under which Israel (whose Phase I obligation was only to dismantle certain post-2000 "outposts") dismantled every settlement in Gaza and totally withdrew its forces from the area, to give the Palestinians the chance to demonstrate their ability to live "side by side in peace and security,"TM
(6) insisted as part of the deal that Israel also withdraw from settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate that the disengagement process would not end with Gaza,
(7) assisted the Palestinians in holding their first truly contested election, giving them the opportunity to vote among competing parties and freely choose their leaders, and
(8) greatly increased American humanitarian aid to the Palestinians both before and after those elections
The Palestinians took the proffered new opportunity to have a state and instead:
(1) continued their war against Israel, with waves of mass-murder bombers in cafes, buses, seders and other civilian areas, intentionally targeting women and children,
(2) did nothing to start dismantling their terrorist infrastructure, as they had promised to do,
(3) began a massive smuggling operation of weaponry into Gaza,
(4) fired thousands of rockets, on a daily basis, into Israeli border cities and kibbutzim (in numbers that increased once Israel withdrew),
(5) crossed into Israel and killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers,
(6) used a kidnapped Israeli soldier as a hostage to make ludicrous demands for the release of Palestinian murderers and thousands of others from prisons in which they were lawfully held,
(7) continued to receive hundreds of millions of dollars of aid without making any significant dent in their endemic corruption and mismanagement, and
(8) elected an arch-terrorist group to run their government.
The elected governors of the Palestinians have now murdered their way into complete control of Gaza, with a display of barbarity that sets a new standard for depravity (throwing political opponents to their death off roofs, killing men in front of their wives and children, raiding hospitals to find more opponents to murder).
I don't think this is the result of a "hands off" policy of the Bush administration.
But the "hands off" accusation, trumpeted by the New York Times in the opening paragraphs of its "news" story on Gaza, illustrates a number of points about the perspective of the perennial peace processors.
The first is that they have short memories. In 2004, Martin Indyk testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration's "preference" was to "blame the Palestinian Authority and do nothing." Indyk argued "non-involvement" was not an option and urged the administration to "intervene" to shape Sharon's disengagement plan, "reform" the Palestinian Authority and turn it into "a capable negotiating partner." An American-led intervention, Indyk argued to the Committee, would involve the following elements:
"A Quartet demand that Yasser Arafat finally relinquish control of the security services, enabling a serious U.S.-led effort to unify and retrain them as a force capable of controlling and disarming the terrorist organizations.
"A credible threat that if Arafat does not comply external funding will be cut to the Palestinian Authority (alternative methods for providing humanitarian assistance would have to be utilized).
"A Quartet-supervised implementation of political and economic reform of the Palestinian Authority.
"A U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiation to create a Palestinian state with provisional borders as provided for in Phase II of the Roadmap. However, implementation would only take place after the Palestinians fulfill their Phase I commitments to uproot the infrastructure of terror.
"Arab state endorsement and support for all these elements."
That is exactly what the Bush administration has been doing ever since the death of Arafat later that year -- with U.S. generals (first Gen. William Ward and then Gen. Keith Dayton) continuously on the scene, trying to turn the bloated, uncontrollable Palestinian "security forces" into a credible force, constantly urging Arafat's successor to take action against the corruption endemic throughout Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, seeking to have Abbas commence compliance with his Phase I obligation to deal with the terrorist infrastructure, sending the Secretary of State out to endorse reversing the order of the Road Map steps (under the guise of a "political horizon" allegedly necessary for Palestinians to comply with Phase I), and -- in the meantime -- constantly urging Israeli "restraint" at every new provocation.
Call it the Indyk Plan. It was not "hands off" -- it was the "intervention" that the peace processors from the prior administration constantly urged upon Bush and that he implemented with efforts extending for three years, as the New York Times itself once noted.
The second point is that, no matter what you do (even if you implement the Indyk Plan), the peace processors will accuse of you not doing enough. Usually they will phrase this as your having a "hands off" policy, or a policy of "doing nothing" for "six years." But after you follow their recommendations, and the recommendations fail again, their new ones will always be the same: more "engagement," more "statecraft," more "talks," and more concessions by Israel.
In his new book, "Statecraft," Dennis Ross blames Bush for the current impasse, arguing there has been an "absence of statecraft." Ross urges a "hands-on approach," with "intensive diplomacy," an "active, urgent game plan," asking "hard questions," with "active engagement," working "carefully and with our eyes open," and sponsoring a "serious negotiation." Statecraft apparently consists of taking content-less nouns (diplomacy, game plan, negotiation, engagement) and surrounding them with high-sounding adjectives (hands-on, intensive, active, serious). And Israeli concessions. To learn how this worked out last time, one should consult Ross's prior book. The third point is that the peace processors will take every disaster as a new opportunity to urge more of what failed in the past. Writing in the Washington Post on June 15, Indyk spun the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the prospective banishment of Abbas to the West Bank as a new opportunity for engagement, statecraft and talks:
This turn of events would free Abbas to focus on the much more manageable West Bank, where he can depend on the Israel Defense Force to suppress challenges from Hamas, and on Jordan and the United States to help rebuild his security forces. As chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is empowered to negotiate with Israel over the disposition of the West Bank. Once he controls the territory, he could make a peace deal with Israel that establishes a Palestinian state with provisional borders in the West Bank and the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.
Call it Indyk II. Another withdrawal, another agreement with someone unable to carry out the ones he already made, another effort premised on the same assumption underlying past failures: that the Palestinians want a second state (as opposed to a replacement of the first one). But this article of faith is inconsistent with (1) multiple prior Palestinian rejections of a second state conditioned on acceptance of the first one, and (2) multiple Palestinian opinion polls that invariably couple the alleged endorsement of a two-state solution with a deal-killing "right of return" to the other state.
This assumption about the mindset of the Palestinians is held not only by Indyk, but also by Condoleezza Rice. In a February 18, 2007 interview, Rice stated:
You know, the Palestinian people, I think like the Israeli people, recognize that a normal life would be a life in which there are two states living side by side in freedom and in peace. And I'm convinced that the great majority of Palestinians, the great majority of Israelis, want exactly that.
The month after Rice's interview, the Jerusalem Media & Communications Centre published the latest Palestinian poll, and -- contrary to Rice's belief -- less than a majority of Palestinians favored a two-state solution. The critical question in the poll was this:
Q. 3 Some believe that a two state formula is the favored solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict while others believe that historic Palestine cannot be divided and thus the favored solution is a bi-national state on all of Palestine where Palestinians and Israeli enjoy equal representation and rights, which of these solutions do you prefer?
Bi-national state on all of historic Palestine
One Palestinian state*
No answer/don't know
*These answers were not included as part of the options read to the interviewee
The "two-state solution" did not command majority support, much less the "great majority" Rice believes exists. A total of 50% wanted a bi-national state on all of "historic Palestine," or "one Palestinian state," or an Islamic state, or another solution or no solution at all. There was no material difference in the percentages in Gaza and the West Bank.
In another March 2007 poll, 54% opposed a permanent settlement with Israel in which there would be any restrictions on refugee return to Israel. In other words, even those who "support" a two-state solution condition it on a "right of return" that would demographically destroy the Jewish state. Abbas' Fatah party falls within that group.
These poll results suggest that, rather than simply transferring the hopes of the peace processors from Gaza to the West Bank, or thinking up new plans for Israeli withdrawals or security concessions, the problem is more fundamental.
Until the Palestinians establish their own Peace Now movement, form a new political party that is neither corrupt nor jihadist, and use the democracy that Bush's policy gave them to elect competent leaders unassociated with terror or militant "wings," no American efforts (no matter how "hands-on") are likely to succeed. The problem of peace will not be solved by Rician/Rosssian/Indykian statecraft, particularly one that constantly shifts the order of Road Map steps and treats each new setback as a reason for more urgent concessions by Israel. The problem can only be solved by the Palestinians themselves.
Rick Richman edits "Jewish Current Issues." His articles have appeared in American Thinker, FrontPage Magazine, The Jewish Press, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and RealClearPolitics.