or read on this subject comes from an Israeli analyst who understands
us, Israelis, Palestinians, and the real world better than anyone else.
NO ONE likes to admit a mistake. Me neither. But honesty leaves me no
A few days after the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001,
I happened to go on a lecture tour in the US.
My message was optimistic. I expected some good to come out of the
tragedy. I reasoned that the atrocity had exposed the intensity of the
hatred for the US that is spreading throughout the world, and especially
the Muslim world. It would be logical not only to fight against the
mosquitoes, but to drain the swamp. Since the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict was one of the breeding grounds of the hatred - if not the main
one - the US would make a major effort to achieve peace between the two
That was what cold logic indicated. But this is not what happened. What
happened was the very opposite.
American policy was not led by cold logic. Instead of drying one swamp,
it created a second swamp. Instead of pushing the Israelis and
Palestinians towards peace, it invaded Iraq. Not only did the hatred
against America not die down, it flared up even higher. I hoped that
this danger would override even the oil interests and the desire to
station an American garrison in the center of the Middle East.
Thus I committed the very mistake that I have warned others against many
times: to assume that what is logical will actually happen. A rational
person should not ignore the irrational in politics. In other words, it
is irrational to exclude the irrational.
George W. Bush is an irrational person, perhaps the very personification
of irrationality. Instead of drawing the logical conclusion from what
had happened and acting accordingly, he set off in the opposite
direction. Since then he has just insisted on "staying the course".
Enter James Baker.
SINCE I am already in a confessional mood, I have to admit that I like
I know that this will shock some of my good friends. "Baker?!" they will
cry out, "The consigliere of the Bush family? The man who helped George
W steal the 2000 elections? The Rightist?"
Yes, yes, the very same Baker. I like him for his cold logic, his
forthright and blunt style, his habit of saying what he thinks without
embellishment, his courage. I prefer this style to the sanctimonious
hypocrisy of other leaders, who try to hide their real intentions. I
would be happy any time to swap Olmert for Baker, and throw in Amir
Peretz for free.
But that is a matter of taste. More important is the fact that in all
the last 40 years, James Baker was the only leader in America who had
the guts to stand up and act against Israel's malignant disease: the
settlements. When he was the Secretary of State, he simply informed the
Israeli government that he would deduct the sums expended on the
settlements from the money Israel was getting from the US. Threatened
and made good on his threat.
Baker thus confronted the "pro-Israeli" lobby in the US, both the Jewish
and the Christian. Such courage is rare in the United States, as it is
rare in Israel.
THIS WEEK the Iraq Study Group, led by Baker, published its report.
It confirms all the bleak forecasts voiced by many throughout the world
- myself included - before Bush & Co. launched the bloody Iraqi
adventure. In his dry and incisive style, Baker says that the US cannot
win there. In so many words he tells the American public: Let's get out
of there, before the last American soldier has to scramble into the last
helicopter from the roof of the American embassy, as happened in Vietnam.
Baker calls for the end of the Bush approach and offers a new and
thought-out strategy of his own. Actually, it is an elegant way of
extricating America from Iraq, without it looking like a complete rout.
The main proposals: an American dialogue with Iran and Syria, an
international conference, the withdrawal of the American combat
brigades, leaving behind only instructors. The committee that he headed
was bi-partisan, composed half and half of Republicans and Democrats.
FOR ISRAELIS, the most interesting part of the report is, of course, the
one that concerns us directly. It interests me especially - how could it
be otherwise? - because it repeats, almost word for word, the things I
said immediately after September 11, both in my articles at home and in
my lectures in the US.
True, Baker is saying them four years later. In these four years,
thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians
have died for nothing. But, to use the image again, when a giant ship
like the United States turns around, it make a very big circle, and it
takes a lot of time. We, in the small speed-boat called Israel, could do
it much quicker - if we had the good sense to do it.
Baker says simply: In order to stop the war in Iraq and start a
reconciliation with the Arab world, the US must bring about the end of
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He does not say explicitly that peace
must be imposed on Israel, but that is the obvious implication.
In his own clear words: "The United States will not be able to achieve
its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly
with the Arab-Israeli conflict."
His committee proposes the immediate start of negotiations between
Israel and "President Mahmoud Abbas", in order to implement the
two-state solution. The "sustainable negotiations" must address the "key
final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of
return, and the end of conflict."
The use of the title "President" for Abu Mazen and, even more so, the
use of the term "right of return" has alarmed the whole political class
in Israel. Even in the Oslo agreement, the section dealing with the
"final status" issues mentions only "refugees". Baker, as is his wont,
called the spade a spade.
At the same time, he proposes a stick and carrot approach to achieve
peace between Israel and Syria. The US needs this peace in order to draw
Syria into its camp. The stick, from the Israeli point of view, would be
the return of the Golan Heights. The carrot would be the stationing of
American soldiers on the border, so that Israel's security would be
guaranteed by the US. In return, he demands that Syria stop, inter alia,
its aid to Hizbullah.
After Gulf War I, Baker - the same Baker - got all the parties to the
conflict to come to an international conference in Madrid. For that
purpose, he twisted the arm of then Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir, whose
entire philosophy consisted of two letters and one exclamation mark:
"No!" and whose slogan was: "The Arabs are the same Arabs, and the sea
is the same sea" - alluding to the popular Israeli conviction that the
Arabs all want to throw Israel into the sea.
Baker brought Shamir to Madrid, his arms and legs in irons, and made
sure he did not escape. Shamir was compelled to sit at the table with
representatives of the Palestinian people, who had never been allowed to
attend an international conference before. The conference itself had no
tangible results, but there is no doubt that it was a vital step in the
process that brought about the Oslo agreement and, more difficult than
anything else, the mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the
Now Baker is suggesting something similar. He proposes an international
conference, and cites Madrid as a model. The conclusion is clear.
HOWEVER, THIS baker can only offer a recipe for the cake. The
question is whether President Bush will use the recipe and bake the cake.
Since 1967 and the beginning of the occupation, several American
Secretaries of State have submitted plans to end the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. All these plans met the same fate: they were torn up and
thrown in the trash.
The same sequence of events has been repeated time after time: In
Jerusalem, hysteria sets in. The Foreign Office stands up on its hind
legs and swears to defeat the evil design. The media unanimously
condemns the wicked plot. The Secretary of State of the day is pilloried
as an anti-Semite. The Israeli lobby in Washington mobilizes for total war.
For example: the Rogers Plan of Richard Nixon's first Secretary of
State, William Rogers. In the early 70s he submitted a detailed peace
plan, the principal point of which was the withdrawal of Israel to the
with, at most, "insubstantial alterations".
What happened to the plan?
In face of the onslaught of "the Friends of Israel" in Washington, Nixon
buckled under, as have all presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man
of principle who did not need the Jewish votes. No president will
quarrel with the government of Israel if he wants to be re-elected, or -
like Bush now - to end his term in office with dignity and pass the
presidency to another member of his party. Any senator or congressman
who takes a stand that the Israeli embassy does not like, is committing
The fate of the peace plans of successive Secretaries of State confirms,
on the face of it, the thesis of the two professors, John Mearsheimer
and Stephen Walt, that caused a great stir earlier this year. According
to them, whenever there is a clash in Washington between the national
interests of the United States and the national interests of Israel, it
is the Israeli interests which win.
WILL THIS happen this time, too?
Baker has presented his plan at a time when the US is facing disaster in
Iraq. President Bush is bankrupt, his party has lost control of Congress
and may soon lose the White House. The neo-conservatives, most of them
Jews and all of them supporters of the Israeli extreme Right, who were
in control of American foreign policy, are being removed one by one, and
this week yet another, the American ambassador to the United Nations,
was kicked out. Therefore, it is possible that this time the President
may listen to expert advice.
But that is in serious doubt. The Democratic Party is subject to the
"pro-Israeli" lobby no less than the Republican Party, and perhaps even
more. The new congress was indeed elected under the banner of opposition
to the continuation of the war in Iraq, but its members are not jihadi
suicide bombers. They depend on the "pro-Israeli" lobby. To paraphrase
Shamir: "The plan is the same plan, and the trash bin is the same trash
In Jerusalem, the first reaction to the report was total rejection,
expressing a complete confidence in the ability of the lobby to choke it
at birth. "Nothing has changed," Olmert declared. "There is no one to
talk with," - immediately echoed by the mouth and pen brigade in the
media. "We cannot talk with them as long as the terrorism goes on," a
famous expert declared on TV. That's like saying: "One cannot talk about
ending the war as long as the enemy is shooting at our troops."
On the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis I wrote that "the dog is wagging the tail
and the tail is wagging the dog." It will be interesting to see which
will wag which this time: the dog its tail or the tail its dog.