The Peace Processor’s Blind Spots
Aaron David Miller’s Tale: Palestinians Can’t, Israelis Won’t Make Peace
The Los Angeles Times just published The Mideast peace gap: Why Kerry has failed by Aaron David Miller. Miller, a long time peace processor (he served under both Presidents George H. W. Bush and BillClinton) nails the essential problem with the Kerry’s peace process.
Simply put, the maximum that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to give on the core issues that drive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be aligned, let alone reconciled, with the minimum that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is prepared to accept. You want to know why every effort in the last decade has failed? That’s why.
If Miller had left it at that he would have been correct. Obvious. But correct.
The problem with the op-ed is that he continued. For example:
The idea that Netanyahu is ready to pay the price and could be persuaded to do so was a fundamental misunderstanding of the man and his times. Now the longest continuously serving prime minister in Israel’s history, Bibi never envisioned himself as the midwife or father of a Palestinian state. That’s not who he is. Ideology, family, politics and his fears of the Arabs all drive him in a different direction.
His self-image is as the Israeli leader who is to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian nuclear bomb and to guide it through the challenges of a dangerously broken, angry and dysfunctional Arab world. And he reflects the mood of an Israeli public that sees almost no reason or urgency — regardless of U.S. doom-and-gloom threats of violence, third intifadas, apartheid state or demography — to grapple with the problem. Governing is about choosing. And for now, Netanyahu has made his choice.
This is not a serious appraisal of Netanyahu, but psychoanalysis by an unlicensed psychiatrist. Instead of looking at Netanyahu’s record, Miller strung together a series of cliches that every right thinking peace processor would believe. I would agree that Netanyahu “never envisioned himself as the midwife or father of a Palestinian state.” But he also understands that as a leader of a democratic country he is bound by the obligations of his predecessors.
Netanyahu would not have been elected in 1996 if the peace process had been successful. He was elected in the wake of ten days of terror in February and March of 1996. Though he was elected because of his critique of the peace process, he continued it. Backed by assurances of the Clinton administration (later betrayed), Netanyahu withdrew Israel from most of Hebron, and as Charles Krauthammer pointed out, “With Hebron, Netanyahu managed to bring most of the nationalist camp of Israel to recognize that Oslo is a fact.”
Has Miller, who now demeans Netanyahu at a distance, ever done as much for the peace process?
Governing isn’t simply choosing. Governing is also a matter of representing one’s constituents and seeing that they are safe. Consider a previous Miller column (from 2005), inexcusably arguing that America was Israel’s Lawyer.
Beyond this, once Gaza withdrawal is secured and Palestinians can effectively control terrorism and violence, the administration must recalibrate its role — lawyering now for both sides: Palestinians need a settlements freeze and a pathway to permanent-status negotiations; Israelis need a comprehensive end to Palestinian terrorism, violence and incitement.
Guess what. Israel withdrew from Gaza. The Palestinians have not controlled terrorism and violence. Israel has had to fight two wars to restore deterrence from Gaza. (More generally over the past twenty years three Israeli withdrawals that were supposed to bring peace brought more terror.) Why would any Israeli leader, even one more dovish than Netanyahu, not seek the very same security measures, including an indefinite presence in the Jordan Valley? Why would any Israeli citizen trust the Palestinians for their security again? If Miller, who was as intimately involved with the peace process as anyone through two presidencies doesn’t understand that Netanyahu’s “fears of the Arabs” (as he puts it) is based on experience, he hasn’t been paying attention.
To pretend that somehow Netanyahu is the problem rather than the expectations of the peace processors or the trust in the Palestinians, is dishonest.
On the other hand, here’s how Miller describes Abbas.
The Palestinians were the weakest party to the negotiations, and the notion that they could be counted on to make concessions that would take them beyond their established consensus — June 1967 borders, a capital in East Jerusalem, some semblance of sovereignty on the security issue and a resolution to the refugee problem that doesn’t force a wholesale capitulation — was the other illusory assumption. Under Yasser Arafat, a leader with more street cred and legitimacy than Abbas, Palestinians were not prepared to depart from this consensus. Why would Abbas — a much weaker leader — be prepared to do it, or accede to demands that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
The issue is not what Abbas was prepared to tell Kerry or Netanyahu in private. It is what he was prepared to say publicly and what he needed to be paid to say it. Abbas is presiding over a weak economy and a divided Palestinian national movement that looks like Noah’s ark, in which there are two of everything (polities, security services, constitutions and even visions of Palestine). He has very little Arab state support. The notion that he could be depended on for major deliverables was a fantasy.
Weakest party? In these negotiations the Palestinians are the ones receiving. Israel is being asked to make risky, concrete concessions. The Palestinians are being asked to accept those concessions. The Palestinians merely have to say that what Israel’s offering is not enough and that stops the talks and the process. In Miller’s view, the Palestinians have been absolved of any responsibility for self-government or past failures. (Really, Miller is acting as the Palestinians’ lawyer.)
Why is the Palestinian economy weak? Because of massive corruption and a failure to develop an economy. Last year, Abbas forced out the only person who made an effort to make Palestinian government transparent and accountable, Salam Fayyad. Abbas has little political power but then he is also in the tenth year of a four year term. Has he gone back to the Palestinians to seek support concessions for peace? Has he built a consensus for peace by publicly denouncing terror or does he celebrate cold blooded murderers?
Miller’s analysis is typical for a peace processor. It excuses any Palestinian responsibility for terror or lack of peace ascribing it to Palestinians “weakness.” It gives the Palestinians sole discretion to determine what is acceptable for peace and ascribes any Israeli objections to the whims of their leaders.
There is also no sense of humility that maybe his past assumptions have been wrong. Rather he condescends to both sides pretending that Netanyahu is ideologically opposed to peace and that Abbas is too weak to make peace. If there’s no peace between Israel and the Palestinians, maybe it’s because of the peace processors.
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Miller states that Abbas has little support and can’t deliver a thing. No legitimacy plus partnership with a terrorist organization means that the time to talk is over.
One can’t reach any meaningful agreement with totally unreasonable people. One can’t trust the word of liars. One will never reach a peace agreement with a side which gains more by not refusing peace. The only way to get the “palestinians”, which really are either Egyptians or Syrians, to submit to a peace agreement is to fight them until they have to surrender. Until they are made to accept peace, they will never agree to a peace treaty. They are way to intrenched to deviate from ideology.
Pretty much boils down to this: You can’t make a one-sided peace, unless the other side is completely broken of it’s will to fight.
The Israelis will never compromise in this regard as it is essential to their survival as a nation state.
Well heck yes. That would be quite a job for a leader and I don’t know why Mr. Gerstman disparages Miller for saying it. It indeed is job one today for an Israeli prime minister to protect his country from the Iranian bomb. The Arab world is indeed broken, angry and dysfunctional; all that directly threatens the existence of Israel.
If Mr. Netanyahu succeeds in leading Israel to the other side of both of those existential threats to his nation’s existence he’ll deserve the gratitude and applause of his people. And ours.
Not only is the Israeli public correct, we are correct here at LI to point out (as we have in the past) that there is no point to negotiate with Mr. Abbas or any of the other Palestinian ‘leaders’. Those individuals are simply kleptocrats interested in keeping their attained wealth and power (and their heads).
We know an ‘extremist’ Palestinian wants all the Jews dead or subjugated, whereas a ‘moderate’ Palestinian wants a two-state solution, followed immediately thereafter with all the Jews dead or subjugated. Where Miller goes wrong is that he doesn’t see that the latter are simply ‘pragmatic’ (more correctly, cowardly) versions of the former. Because of that he doesn’t understand why the US can’t be the lawyer, and why Mr. Netanyahu can’t make compromises (to “choose”).
Miller’s first mistake isn’t blaming the intransigence of Mr. Netanyahu. His first mistake is not understanding the horrible moral pathology afflicting the Palestinian people.
stevewhitemd – I disparage Miller because he describes Netanyahu’s view as “self-image,” making it seem that Netanyahu’s views are subjective. But you are correct, if he manages to do what Miller says he’s focused on, that would be a significant accomplishment.
If the Palestinians wanted their own state they could have had one at any point for the last 30 years or so.
They want Israel.
So yes, there can be no deal when one side wishes to destroy the other.
More to the point, the Arabs of the former British mandate already have a state. It is called Jordan.
They have their own state. It is a piece of Israeli territory now called “Jordan”.
So Miller condemns Israel for not making concessions to those who have plainly stated that their goal is the destruction of Israel and that uses concessions as stepping stones to that holocaust.
I won’t psychoanalyze Miller, but I will make some conclusions about his moral character–or rather lack thereof. I would dearly love to be asked to mediate negotiations between Miller and somebody who wants to kill him. I would hugely enjoy the opportunity to tell him that he must make concessions whose only purpose is to make it easier for his enemy to kill him someday. Sadly, it seems likely that even in the midst of such a horrific danger he would fail to see the parallel.
Miller fails to acknowledge that any Palestinian leader today who makes any deal with Israel that recognizes its right to exist, will be swinging from a rope in an hour.
Three generations of total propaganda immersion, right down to the preschool “educational” television shows, has ensure the Palestinians will “accept” only total victory.
As Reagan pointed out, it is impossible to negotiate with those who say, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Also, Palestinians should be held to account for breaking every single promise they have ever made in negotiations with Israel. Why is this not an important question?
Peace with neighbors, or neighbors in pieces–what is it about the high minded that they have difficulty choosing? Somebody help me…
Has Aaron David Miller read the Hamas Covenant? If not, why not? And if he has, why does he fail to take the intent of the Palestinians, as recorded in one of their founding documents, seriously?
As the author points out, there are nice grains of truth in Miller’s analysis; it’s too bad Miller doesn’t focus on them.
For example, if Abbas is too weak to deliver, then why are we talking to him?
And, by the way, that’s quite a complimentary assessment of Netanyahu; many here think him basically a RINO, a right-winger (that is, someone who sees the security situation rationally) in name only, a man who has long ago given up his core. I have no idea what is true, but I have a hard time understanding his giving in for no reason.