Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Connect the Dots #2: Parameters—What Parameters?

(Anyone can play, but this round of Connect the Dots is particularly meant for reporters covering Hilary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.)

I spent the last couple of days at Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, at a conference organized by the leading Israeli authors of the Geneva Initiative, including Yossi Beilin and (friend of this blog) Gadi Baltiansky. Present, in addition to a good part of the Israeli peace intelligentsia, were former US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, former Clinton aid Rob Malley, and Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. President Shimon Peres addressed us, emphasizing (to his credit) the importance of Palestinian economic development, especially its private sector. Foreign philanthropists paid. The entrecote was alright.

The theme was “a peace agreement within a year,” following the high rhetoric of last week’s Bush visit. The presentations were proof, if any more is needed, that the pessimism of the intellect can really mess up the optimism of the will.

The hard logic goes something like this (and here the game begins):

  • According to Shikaki and Israeli pollster Tamar Hermann, both Abbas and Olmert have reasonable majorities for a deal that would look much like Geneva Initiative, which is based directly on the Clinton parameters of January 2001. But something over a third of Palestinians and of Israeli Jews oppose peace with the other side under any circumstances, the former because they are drawn to jihadism, the latter because they are fiercely committed to Greater Israel. Both minorities are prone to violent resistance. Polling them is not like polling, say, people opposed to an income tax in New Hampshire.
  • Olmert has a military establishment, led by political rival Ehud Barak, that will instinctively oppose any weakening of national unity, which can be depicted as a security issue. The Israeli public (according to Hermann), wants peace but wants national unity much more. “Most Israelis are focused on their private lives,” she told us; “if you ask them, do you want peace, even at the cost of removing settlements, most will say yes. But if you tell them that the country will have to be split, maybe even violently, to advance to peace, support for peace drops off quickly.”
  • The only way the Israeli right has ever been put on the defensive—that is, the only way the Israeli public has ever entertained the idea that disunity is necessary for national security—is when American policy has firmly required Israel to respect American interests. The only thing worse than disunity, most fear, is the alienation of whatever US administration happens to be in power. US public support is the pillar of Israeli security strategy. Even the effort to remove new illegal outposts was put off until Secretary Rice required it.
Question: Can there be any advance in peace talks unless Olmert and Abbas can play the I-fear-the-loss-of-America card, when the radicals play the how-can-you-trust-those-murderers card?

Hint: Secretary Rice will be gone by mid-November.

Extra credit:

  • Chief negotiator Tzipi Livni—and forget for a moment whether she or Olmert is prime minister after the Winograd Report does its job—will have to agree to reasonable but extremely divisive concessions to get to a peace any Palestinians can accept: give up Israeli sovereignty on the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount, give up on the towns of Ariel and Qiryat Araba, permit some refugees to return to Israel proper, invite thousands of foreign peace keepers to replace occupation forces, etc.
  • The Geneva Initiative stipulates all of these concessions; the Geneva Initiative is based on the Clinton parameters.
  • Clinton claims to be the candidate of experience; and one critical lesson of the Clinton administration was that leaving final status issues to Israelis and Palestinians to work on alone was (as Kurtzer told me) stupid, while eleventh hour negotiations finally yielded the brilliant Clinton parameters (Kurtzer: “Sadly, Clinton did not elevate them to a national policy, so that Bush would have had to formally rescind them if he was going to ignore them”).

Question: Has Hilary ever even mentioned the parameters that carry her own name? Will she endorse them now? Can current negotiations succeed if she does not? And if she does not, do the other Democratic candidates dare?

Caricature credit: John Pritchett


Jonathan Mark said...

"""permit some refugees to return to Israel proper, invite thousands of foreign peace keepers to replace occupation forces, etc.
The Geneva Initiative stipulates all of these concessions; the Geneva Initiative is based on the Clinton parameters."""

You are mistaken with respect to refugees. The Clinton plan said that Israel could permit Palestinian refugees to settle inside of Israel if it wanted to, but that it is not required to do so.

The Palestinians at the time rejected the Clinton plan for that reason:

"""On the refugees, the [Palestinian Authority position] paper states that the Palestinians are prepared to think ''flexibly and creatively'' about how to handle the right of return. But it states flatly that the American proposal adopts the Israeli position by making the right of return subject ''entirely to Israel's discretion.'' """

NY Times, 1/3/01

Jonathan Mark said...

The BBC described the Clinton Plan as follows in a 1/4/01 report:

"""Reported American proposals

Israel to concede sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque

Palestinians give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees

Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip"""


Bernard Avishai said...

Just to be clear: the Clinton proposals morphed into Taba, and then into the Geneva Initiative. They did so because their governing logic required that they do so. On refugees, there was never any doubt that some small number would come "by agreement." On land, the principle of a swap got Israelis and Palestinians beyond the 95%. My point is that the Clinton parameters would be enough for starters. The danger is America leaving this to negotiators without providing a compass. Thanks for your comment, Jonathan.

Jonathan Mark said...

"""On refugees, there was never any doubt that some small number would come "by agreement."""

I think that you are right.

However, President Clinton was always careful when describing his peace plan never to say that the Clinton Plan required Israel to allow Palestinian immigration into Israel.

Instead, Clinton would say that Israel and (Arab nations other than the Palestinian state itself) could allow Palestinian settlement if they were willing to do so, by agreement (as Bernard Avishai says), and so on.

That is the difference between the Clinton Plan and the Geneva Initiative. Clinton did not make explicit what the Geneva Initiative does. What Clinton merely encouraged, GI requires.

Israelis who think that settling Palestinians inside of Israel's pre-1967 borders is a bad idea would thus be more likely to oppose the Geneva Initiative than they would the Clinton Plan.

Indeed, someone once asked Beilin why he had agreed to settle Palestinians inside of Israel when the Clinton Plan said that Israel didn't have to. Beilin answered that Clinton had stated that Israel could admit Palestinians if it wanted to.

But given Beilin's political fortunes since 2001 it is not clear that most Israelis want to. Bernard Avishai would know better than I do about that, since I am not Israeli.

I suppose Beilin fell from grace for a number of different reasons. Yet he is the only well-known Israeli Jewish politician to support settling Palestinians inside of Israel, He went from the #2 man in the Labor Party in 2001 to the head of a four-person fringe party in 2008. For several years he was not in the Knesset at all.

Quite a fall. And it all happened after Beilin supported a "limited right of return" for Palestiains to settle in Israel.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

bar_kochba132 said...

I am aware that the Geneva people claim that a "majority" supposedly supports a "peace agreement" based on their principles. All I know is that ALL the polls I have seen in the past months, including those of the Steinmetz Peace Center show the opposite...that a large majority of Israelis oppose any recognition whatsover of the Palestinian "right of return" and giving any part of united Jerusalem over to the Arabs. I have no idea how your friend Tamar Hermann conducted her poll, I suspect that they asked those polled "do you want peace?" and then quickly read off all the concessions that Israel would make without giving anyone time to think about it. I know Olmert and others (I believe you yourself Bernie also) said that it is important to move "big and fast" i.e. present a whole package, do not allow any discussion of the terms in the Knesset or the media (this was how Oslo was rammed down our throats) and say the Americans will drop an H-bomb on us if we don't accept it. It is true this has worked in the past, but if you think Jews are going to give up Jerusalem under those conditions, you are badly mistaken. I believe that people have learned something about the "peace camp" which has brought so much death and destruction to Israel since Oslo and they are not going to be hoodwinked again. The proof is that Sharon would not call elections or a national referendum over his proposal to destroy Gush Katif..he knew that he couldn't pull the wool over everyone's eyes and that he would lose (just as he lost the Likud party referendum on the matter even though the pollsters all said at the beginning there was a large majority in favor).

Also I don't think it would be domestically popular for as US President to pull such a stunt..there are a lot of American NON-JEWS who oppose a Palestinian state and view them as a terrorist entity, so threatening the Israeli people if they don't go along with a suicidal "peace agreement" is not likely in the cards.

bar_kochba132 said...

As a follow-on to your posting about your Palestinian friend Sam Bahour The Grocer, you had stated how you hoped the Palestinians would create a "comsumer culture" like that in Israel and the US and that Palestinian youth would spend more time thinking about what they want to buy next instead of planning to commit mass-murder as a "shahid". Well, in recent developments, Palestine Media Watch has reported that the official Palestinian television, which is, of course, totally controlled by the moderate, FATAH-dominated Palestinian Authority under Olmert's friend Abbas' direction has taken to rebroadcasting a film praising suicide bombers and encouraging youth to emulate them. This film was repeatedly shown during the peak of the suicide bomber war in 2001 and 2002 and, probably because it offended the international aid donors was withdrawn. Well, it is back now. I suggest you get your friend Sam The Grocer to try to persuade Abbas and the PA that they follow your advice and build a consumer culture instead of encouraging suicide bombers. It will make your job of trying to convince us Israelis to give up Jerusalem and recognize the Palestinian "right of return" easier.

richards1052 said...

Bar Kochba conveniently omits a Jerusalem Post poll which shows that a majority of Israelis ARE willing to share Jerusalem. He knows about this poll because he tried to pass off the same sentiments in my own blog (he seems to shadow progressive bloggers).

I'm very interested in creating some sort of panel to analyze the positions of the candidates vis a vis the I-P conflict. The goal would be to move the policy statemens incrementally in a slightly more progressive direction. Alternately, we could get a group of liberal Jews together to disseminate what we think a reasonable campaign platform should be on the issue & challenge candidates to respond.

Let me know what you think of this idea, Bernard via e mail or here.

bar_kochba132 said...

Richard lives in Seattle, I live in Israel. What I said about the polls is correct, what he said is wrong. And NO ONE in Israel talks about "sharing", they talk about "DIVIDING" Jerusalem, which even Meron Benveniste has said is impossible.

Reader said...

Jerusalem is a city holy to three major religions. It must be shared.

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