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Gary Kamiya: "Last Chance for Mideast Peace" (SALON

Gary Kamiya: "Last Chance for Mideast Peace" (SALON

TO: Distinguished Recipients
   FM: John Whitbeck

   Transmitted below is a very cogent and coherent analysis of the
   "last chance for Mideast peace".

   A significant portion is devoted to an interview with the estimable
   Henry Siegman.

   Last Chance for Mideast Peace

   While Bush and Olmert cling to their hard line, hope for an end to the

   Israeli-Palestinian conflict is slipping away forever.

   By Gary Kamiya

   Apr. 03, 2007 | George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

   are letting what could be the last, best opportunity to resolve the

   world's most dangerous conflict slip through their fingers. Unless both

   leaders somehow find the wisdom and vision to seize the moment, 2007

   be remembered as the year when the chance for a lasting peace between

   Israel and the Palestinians slipped away for the last time.

   Last week Saudi Arabia revived the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative.

   This offer, backed by every Arab country, offers a fair solution to the

   crisis. It is basically a land-for-peace deal along the lines of the

   Clinton parameters  and the 2003 Geneva accord. The rudiments of the

   plan are that Israel will return to its pre-1967 borders, with some

   territory swaps to be negotiated; a reasonable compromise will be

   out on the issue of refugees; and East Jerusalem will become the

   of Palestine, with Israel maintaining control over the Jewish holy

   and Jewish neighborhoods. Such a plan represents the only solution that

   will be acceptable to both sides. Essentially, the Arab states have

   Israel: Whatever you work out with the Palestinians will be
   agreeable to us.

   But despite U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's suddenly more

   active diplomacy and Olmert's  invitation to Arab leaders to meet at a

   future regional peace conference, there is no indication that either

   Israelis or the Americans are willing to take the steps necessary to

   make peace.

   Rice headed home last Tuesday in diplomatic humiliation. She wanted to

   prod Olmert to discuss final-status issues, but was unable to get
   him to

   agree to anything more than meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud

   Abbas twice a month. As veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery

   caustically commented, "Julius Caesar, as is well known, reported to

   Roman Senate, 'I came. I saw. I conquered.' Condoleezza could report to

   the US Senate: "I came. I saw. I capitulated.' Who to? To a failing

   Israeli prime minister, whose popularity rating is approaching zero and

   who practically nobody expects to survive to the end of the year. In

   ongoing debate about which is wagging which --- the dog its tail or the

   tail its dog -- the proponents of the tail have won the day."

   Olmert's call on Sunday for a regional conference appears to be a

   positive step, but it is nothing more than diplomatic window-dressing

   designed to give the appearance of open-mindedness and bolster his

   approval ratings. (Considering they now stand at  3 percent, this

   not be hard to do.) Olmert has refused to deal with the real issues,

   Rice, who obviously lacks Bush's support, has not forced him to. Both

   Israel and the United States still refuse to end the boycott of the

   Palestinian unity government. They refuse to go directly to

   issues. And they refuse to talk to Hamas, because they consider it a

   terrorist organization that will not recognize Israel or forswear

   In some dreamworld where enemies are nice and don't blow up each

   civilian populations, this rejectionist position -- which Bush has

   embraced with such ringing success in his "war on terror" -- would make

   sense. But as history has shown time and again, it is precisely the

   hard-line and unappealing of your opponents that you must talk to. A

   painful historical irony underscored that this week: While the United

   States and Israel continued to dwell in a self-righteous fantasy land,

   hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley and longtime Sinn Fein head

   Gerry Adams announced that they were prepared to share power in a new

   Northern Ireland government -- giving the world, and the long-suffering

   people of Northern Ireland, hope that the bitter, bloody conflict might

   finally be ending.

   As veteran Mideast expert and conflict-resolution analyst Helena Cobban

   noted, citing the work of University of Ulster expert Cathy

   Gormley-Heenan, the negotiations worked because both parties finally

   understood "the need to embrace political inclusiveness in the

   peacemaking. The sole criteria for inclusion in the process in Northern

, [Gormley-Heenan] said, had been (a) willingness to abide by a

   ceasefire, and (b) the holding of a clear mandate from the electorate."

   Cobban added, "Note that by these criteria, Hamas could and should have

   been included in the peace diplomacy, while the government of Israel --

   which never abided by any ceasefire toward the Palestinians over the

   past year -- would not." Cobban added that neither the Northern Ireland

   talks nor the diplomacy that ended the South Africa conflict required

   either side to give up arms or recognize any "rights" held by the other

   side -- conditions that the United States, the European Union and

   have insisted Hamas meet before they accept it as a legitimate partner.

   In short, the simple fact is that no peace is possible without dealing

   directly with Hamas and grappling with final-status issues -- getting

   real, in other words. Neither Bush nor Olmert is prepared to get real.

   And while they fiddle and Rice runs impotently around, the region

   al-Qaida and its ilk gain in strength, the Palestinians'

   half-century-long tragedy continues, Israel's long-term situation

   continues to deteriorate, and America's standing in the Middle East

   sinks ever lower.

   Israel's supposed "friends" in America will, as always, demand that the

   United States and Israel continue their hard line. But as M.J.

   of the Israel Policy Forum said, blasting the move by U.S. Rep. Ileana

   Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., to prevent the United States from working with

   Palestinian unity government, "It's time for the pro-Israel
   community in

   this country to stop pretending that those who work to thwart U.S.

   efforts are friends of Israel. They are not. They are champions of a

   hopeless status quo."

   Indeed, some experts believe that the status quo is even worse than

   hopeless. Middle East Project director Henry Siegman, a veteran analyst

   whose pieces in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere are among

   most cogent on the subject, said this is the last, best chance for

   peace. And he believes that if the United States and Israel don't seize

   it, the Jewish state will find itself heading down a dark road -- one

   that could even lead to its doom.

   Siegman believes this opportunity must not be squandered, for two

   reasons. First, the Arab states will not repeat their offer if it is

   spurned. "The Arab states have decided that they would like to bring

   this to an end by offering Israel complete normalization -- political,

   economic and so on," Siegman told me. "But if their offer is turned

   down, and if the Arab world sees it as Israel simply slamming the door

   in their face, they will not be able to resume it."

   Second, Siegman said that if this deal isn't closed, ordinary

   Palestinians will simply give up on the two-state solution. "For years,

   important Palestinian voices have said, 'Why are we pleading, why
   are we

   begging? We now have 22 percent of mandated Palestine. Israel has 78

   percent. Why are we begging for crumbs? Why don't we forget about our

   state, and history, if we are patient, will give us all of it?'"

   If there isn't real progress toward a two-state solution, Siegman said,

   "that view will become widely accepted in the Palestinian community.

   Because it's not as if they have an alternative. If you can think in

   terms of a longer time line, they're suffering anyway under occupation.

   And they say, 'The kind of deal at best we're going to be offered is an

   occupation by other means. Even in the small sliver that is left to us,

   we will not be genuinely sovereign and independent. We'll be totally

   under Israeli control. Why should we settle for that? We've suffered

   50 years, let's wait another 50 years. Then we will be clearly the vast

   majority in this land, and Israel's position as a Jewish state will

   become entirely unviable.' That view will come to predominate. And

   there's a certain logic to it that is difficult to escape, particularly

   if there is no alternative. At least not an attractive alternative."

   Siegman is referring to what many Israelis have argued is the greatest

   danger facing the Jewish state: the so-called demographic threat. In

   just a few years, thanks to explosive Palestinian population growth,

   Jews will be a minority in Greater Israel, the area composed of Israel

   proper and the occupied territories. As Siegman pointed out, unless

   Israel divests itself from the occupied territories, this will leave it

   in an untenable position. "How long will the world accept a
   situation in

   which a Jewish minority refuses to grant sovereignty to an overwhelming

   Arab majority?" he said. "The U.S. will not be able to support that

   situation. If a Jewish population that is only 35 or 40 percent of the

   total, or even less, continues to deny all rights to 6 million, 8

   million Palestinians, that's simply not sustainable. An occupation can

   only last so long."

   The Saudi peace plan is a lifeline that could save Israel, Siegman

   But Olmert -- inexplicably, since he was one of the first Israelis to

   publicly raise the demographic issue -- lacks the vision to understand

   this. Instead, he is "taking the easy way out" by stalling and
   trying to

   avoid entering into genuine negotiations with the Palestinians. "If

   Olmert had an interest in pursuing a serious peace process, he has

   opportunity to do so now," Siegman said. "He has the wiggle room to do

   it. He knows that there is room for negotiation on all of the

   final-status issues. But that's not what he's looking for. He continues

   to look for reasons not to engage in the process so that at some point

   he can say, 'Well, we tried, but we have to do it unilaterally.'"

   Olmert's rejection of the Saudi plan on the grounds that it insists
   on a

   Palestinian "right of return" to Israel is the most egregious
   example of

   his deliberately evasive response to the plan. In fact, all the Saudi

   plan says is that a fair solution to the refugees be found, in

   accordance with U.N. Resolution 194 (which states that the refugees "be

   permitted" to return to their homes), but that the solution must be

   agreed upon by both sides. As the Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar noted

   in Haaretz, this is obviously not an extremist position -- the

   Palestinians could hardly be expected not to mention the refugees -- or

   one that anyone serious about making peace would seize on as a reason

   not to talk. Indeed, it was Olmert who took the extreme position,

   proclaiming to the Jerusalem Post that Israel had no moral

   responsibility for the Palestinian refugees and that "not one refugee

   can return."

   What is Olmert's motivation for not engaging immediately in serious

   talks? I asked Siegman. Is it simply a maximalist position driven by a

   desire to hold on to more land?

   "That's exactly it," he replied. "It's a desire to hold on to areas of

   the West Bank that Sharon before him, and now he, knows Israel will not

   be able to hold on to once a genuinely bilateral negotiation under the

   auspices of the international community proceeds. Because then Israel

   will be seen as making unreasonable demands and saying, 'No, in the end

   we won't sign this document.' They don't want to be placed in that

   position. They want to be able to hold on to land beyond what are now

   known as the Clinton parameters."

   In short, Siegman said, Olmert is still playing the same old maximalist

   game, one he sees as essential to his political survival. The same

   motivation, along with deference to Bush (who wants to isolate Syria,

   which he sees as a rogue state) lies behind Olmert's continued refusal

   to accept a remarkable peace offer from Syria that has been on the

   for two years. (According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, in

   exchange for the return of the Golan Heights, Syrian President Bashar

   Assad offered "surprisingly broad" concessions to Israel, including

   turning most of the Golan into a demilitarized national park that

   Israelis could visit, granting Israel control of vital water rights,

   stopping its support of Hamas and Hezbollah.)

   The only thing that could force Olmert to negotiate with the

   Palestinians is pressure from America. But could Bush, who has been

   demanding that Olmert not talk to Syria, be the one to exert that

   pressure? I asked Siegman if it was possible that Bush, facing the

   collapse of his entire Likud-like Mideast policy, might try to save his

   legacy by making a 180-degree turn and broker a Mideast peace -- which

   would mean leaning on Israel.

   "I think it's highly unlikely," Siegman replied. "In terms of his own

   convictions about how right he really has been all along, and how it's

   just the rest of the world that hasn't come on board, that hasn't

   changed even 10 degrees. He may reluctantly yield, where he has to, to

   the new Democratic Congress. But on this issue there is no opposition.

   In fact, if anything, the Democratic Congress, when they were in

   opposition, criticized Bush for being too generous in his support of

   Palestinians. So he doesn't have that pressure from the Congress."

   Siegman praised Rice for at least trying to restart peace talks, but

   said her task was impossible because Bush didn't support her. The

   reason: The Israeli-Palestinian issue is the last one where he is still

   under the sway of the hard-line neoconservatives. "While many neocon

   ideologues, who were the architects of the Bush administration's

   approach to the Middle East, have been let go or have left on their

   on the Israel-Palestine situation it seems that [Deputy National

   Security Advisor] Elliott Abrams and Cheney are still very much in

   control, sufficiently so to prevent any effort by Condi Rice to

   Israel to join the team and to engage in a serious peace process,"

   Siegman said. "She has decided, it seems to me quite bravely, and

   despite the fact that she doesn't have the support from the president,

   to try to sweet-talk the folks in Jerusalem to suck them into the

   process although they don't want to be. And what she discovered is that

   Olmert is not suckable, to put it inelegantly."

   The only ray of hope Siegman held out was that individual European

   countries might "break the taboo" and begin talking with members of the

   new Palestinian unity government. "If Europeans begin a dialogue with

   this new government and with the Hamas leadership directly, which is

   what it will take for the Hamas leadership to begin changing its

   for recognition of Israel, then I think a political dynamic will be

   created that will compel the United States to do the same," Siegman

   said. "And if Olmert sees that Israel's policy is becoming undone in

   terms of its boycott of Hamas and the unity government, then it may

   to change its policy."

   But all these speculations about what Olmert, the United States or the

   Europeans may do are probably moot anyway, according to Clayton

   program director at the Middle East Institute and author of "The Truth

   About Camp David," which debunks the myth that Arafat refused then

   Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's "generous offer" at the 2000 peace

   talks. Swisher said the peace process is likely to be torpedoed before

   it even gets a chance, because the Bush administration, including Rice,

   is still clinging to the deluded belief that Hamas can be defeated --

   politically or militarily. With the help of Egypt and other "moderate"

   Arab states who are afraid of the growing power of the Muslim

   Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch) in their own countries, the

   United States is arming Fatah, which backs Palestinian Authority

   President Mahmoud Abbas, to prepare it for a showdown with Hamas. The

   likely result, Swisher says, will be the end of the Saudi-brokered

   cease-fire between Fatah and Hamas, and a Palestinian civil war. This

   catastrophic outcome would end all chances of peace.

   "I see a perfect storm brewing," Swisher said. "Because you have, on

   one hand, Rice pushing for a Palestinian state, what she calls a

   'political horizon,' while at the same time she's pursuing a policy of

   'strengthening moderates' like Fatah and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].

   Between now and the summer, the idea is to inject Abu Mazen with

   steroids." To strengthen Abu Mazen and weaken Hamas, Swisher said, the

   United States is bolstering Fatah's military capability and "pushing

   Fatah to make reforms that people can see, like young people getting

   promoted, people getting their salaries, making these changes so that

   people say, 'Oh, Fatah's cleaning its act up and they're delivering.'"

   "Hamas is going to see this as subversion," Swisher said. "And that's

   going to undo the cease-fire between it and Fatah. And what the hell

   good is talking about 'political horizons' when the West Bank and Gaza

   look like Mogadishu? You can't concurrently pursue these policies.

   They're unworkable in the end."

   Pumping up Fatah to defeat Hamas is the same wrongheaded strategy the

   United States has employed since Hamas had the temerity to win the

   elections the United States insisted on. Swisher, like Siegman,argues

   that it is essential for Israel to negotiate with Hamas -- and it is an

   ignorant fantasy to believe Hamas can be defeated either militarily or

   politically. "Hamas will do a two-state deal, but they will not jump

   first," Swisher said. "Like it or not, Hamas is a fact. They are a

   significant portion of Palestinian society. A significant proportion of

   Palestinian society also believes in a two-state solution. The two

   aren't necessarily incompatible. But Rice doesn't get that."

   Swisher said that the Bush administration's timid, wag-the-dog approach

   to Israel is doomed. "The administration is already adopting this 'Why

   press Olmert now, he's weak' line. This is a fantasy and Rice is buying

   into it. She wants to do a deal, but she's going about it the wrong way

   at a pace that won't work. She's hesitant to talk final status now, to

   say the four words: Jerusalem. Security. Refugees. Borders. But she's

   got to be standing on the roof and shouting this now. Because if you

   don't condition the Israeli public for this, they'll never be able to

   swallow it. We should be telling the Israelis, 'Bend over -- here it

   comes.' They should know that they're going to have to make a painful

   concession on this. That would give Olmert cover. But we're playing the

   same old game. And there won't be time. And more importantly, the

   cease-fire will break."

   Both Swisher and Siegman see the current situation as far more

   and dangerous than either Bush or Olmert realizes. Trapped by their

   self-righteous assumptions, unwilling to abandon their hard-line

   positions, under no political pressure in their own countries to do

   anything, the two leaders are failing to realize that a catastrophe is

   coming. If that happens, the United States will suffer irreparable

   But the worst will fall on Israel.

   "I do not believe for a moment that time works in Israel's favor,"

   Siegman said. "And so I have a sense that what we are witnessing is an

   unfolding tragedy. Because I would consider an endangered Jewish state,

   and one that in the long run loses its possibility of viability and

   existence, to be a great tragedy for the Jewish people."

    -- By Gary Kamiya



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