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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