Monday, May 4, 2009

Olmert's Unprecedented Offer

Ehud Olmert has been telling anyone who will still listen that he and Mahmoud Abbas were "very close" to a settlement this past fall; that he presented the PA president a deal and map--in his words, a more generous offer than any ever made by an Israeli prime minister, and that Abbas "refused to sign."

Sources close to their conversations have now filled in the essential details of their talks. Journalists take note: If anything about the following account is mistaken, then it is up to Olmert, the putative maker of the offer, to confirm or deny things, point by point. The idea that these are delicate diplomatic negotiations, and must remain secret, is ridiculous. We are not speaking here about two private people negotiating the price of a rug in the bazaar.

Olmert and Abbas had little standing among their own citizens when they took on these talks; for both, negotiating was a kind of ongoing photo-op. Yet every clause of what Olmert offered has a moral idea behind it--therefore a public consequence to it. If Abbas rejected something, we should all have the chance to judge if we would have, too. Israeli politics are still suffering from Ehud Barak's warped account of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Then, too, Yasir Arafat was presumably made an offer of unprecedented generosity and he rejected it. The resulting meme was: "Israel offered Palestinians everything, and Palestinians came back with violence." This meme was not quarantined in time, and it has infected the talk of Israeli voters, journalists, and American "supporters" ever since.

HERE ARE THE details of Olmert's offer:

Prologue: Sources say there was never a document, formal or informal, presented to Abbas. Everything offered by Olmert was offered orally and provisionally, and with the specific proviso that Olmert's ideas were not endorsed either by Foreign Minister Livni or Defense Minister Barak.

1. Olmert offered an Israeli withdrawal from 96% of the West Bank, but he did not include Jerusalem in this calculation. Israel would compensate Palestine with a land swap amounting to 4% of Israeli territory: 2.5% would be Israeli land in the Negev added to the Gaza Strip, while 1.5% of Israeli land would be the area devoted to a land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized.

(Note: Since Jerusalem was not included in the land calculation, Palestinians plausibly argue that withdrawal would really be from 94%. They argue, moreover, that the 1.5% devoted to a land bridge would actually be Israeli controlled. But leaving aside the arguable specifics of the withdrawal, it is clear from these numbers that Olmert--unlike Barak at Camp David in the summer of 2000--accepted the principle enshrined in the offer of the Arab League in 2002, that any deal would be based on the 1967 borders, that is, on the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force; that land would be exchanged 1:1. This is a principle which must be preserved in any final deal.)

2. Israel would, in return for the land given to Palestine, annex the territory of the major settlement blocs (including Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron, and Alfe Menashe), the Gush Etzion bloc, the town of Ariel in the Samarian hills, the land between Maale Adumim and East Jerusalem, and the towns hugging the 1967 border near Jerusalem, Har Adar and Givat Zeev.

(Note: A glance at a map shows that to retain especially Kiryat Arba, Ariel, and the territory between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, Israel would require sovereign roads and land bridges that cut the Palestinian state into four enclaves, two north of Jerusalem and two south of it, while cutting East Jerusalem from the descent to the Dead Sea. More important, these annexations would leave the most ruthless Israeli settlers in isolated pockets that are bound to become targets for ruthless insurgents on the Palestinian side. The only possible justification for these annexations is the Israeli government's distaste for confronting the settlers; defending them after a deal would serve as justification for all kinds of military escalations.)

3. Israel agrees to accept up to 30,000 refugees within its 1967 border. But this is a humanitarian gesture only. It does not in any way imply that Israel endorses the Palestinians "right of return."

(Note: The number itself is not very different from what was agreed to in the Taba Agreement and the Geneva Initiative. Those agreements recognized the Palestinian "right of return" in principle, but presented "modalities" for actualizing this right through resettlement in the Palestinian state and financial compensation. No Palestinian leader can come away from a negotiation without this principle being recognized; to abandon the right of return is something like denying the suffering of Palestinian refugees since 1948; indeed, the agreement of PA people to fulfill this right without returning to Haifa, Jaffa, and Acco was a major concession. For his part, Olmert once told me that he will never accept the right of return, since it implies that Israel was born in a great act of cruelty. But being cruel does not always make one wrong, and having a right does not mean actualizing it without regard to other rights. The Arab League Plan states that there must be an "agreed" solution for the refugees. It is time that all sides adopted the Taba and Geneva formulation as a way of meeting the conditions of the Plan, which Olmert did not.)

4. Jerusalem: Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. This would resolve all points of contention except for the disposition of the Old City, the so-called "holy basin." The latter would be subject to a trusteeship of four countries: Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

(Note: Of all of Olmert's reported offers, this seems to me the most creative and morally intelligent. The old city is, in effect, an international museum. The question of sovereignty is really a question of custodianship. It seems unimaginable that the mosques on the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) would ever be removed from the administration of the Muslim Waqf (religious administration). Nor would the Church of the Holy Sepulcher be removed from the administration of the various churches that have negotiated custodianship over generations. Nor would the Wailing Wall be removed from custodianship of the Israeli government. Making access open to all, and sovereignty something more international, is merely calling the grass green. And what would redeem our religions more than an all-sided willingness to share rather than to war? Finally, Saudi presence in the city's custodianship would not only establish a presence for the Arab League, but invite further Saudi investment in Jerusalem tourism, which will be Palestine's leading "export" sector for a generation.)

Olmert, it is true, cannot now make policy any more the leaders of the Geneva Initiative could. Out of power is out of power. But his offer provides yet another confirmation of the utilitarian calculus upon which any deal can be based.

Then again, the fate of his offer, and the political constraints surrounding it, prove once again that the time has passed for more negotiations. The time has come, rather, for the U.S. to fully embrace the Arab League Plan, fill in its blanks with derivatives from this calculus, rally Europe and the UN Security Council to its version of the Plan, and present it to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a comprehensive package (international forces in Jerusalem, defense pact with Israel, investment plan for Palestine, etc.). The Plan should then be put to a referendum in both Israel and Palestine. Is it not obvious that this (and only this) can work, and that every day we do not install the Plan is another we drift toward Balkan style civil war and ethnic cleansing?


Y. Ben-David said...

On the contrary, IMPLEMENTING this bizarre, unworkable "peace agreement" is a recipe for "Balkan style civil war and ethnic cleansing". Who is going to control Jerusalem in this deluded plan? Where on earth has a city with divided sovereignity and unclear divisions of authority ever been "shared" according to the dreams of the Left that wants Israel out of the Holy City for its own reasons? (Remember Cold War Berlin? Nicosia, Cyprus?). Saudi Arabia is one of the prime sources of antisemitic propaganda in the world today. They hate Jews and they hate Israel and yet you think they can be given a hand in administering the city? What if Jews are attacked going to the Kotel? Will the UN Security Coucil or some body including the 4 powers mentioned (Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the US) then have to be convened, at their own leisure, in order to decide on action to restore order. The Arabs have said over and over that the Jews never had a Temple so why would they put themselves out in order to preserve Jewish access to it?

Then again we have the myth that somehow the Arabs will insist on Israel recognizing the so-called "Palestinian Right of Return", but they will not insist on it being implemented. Who do you think your fooling? Even if they did, then Israel's accepting of it is not only an admission of "cruelty" which you limit it to, it is an admission that the creation of Israel was a CRIME. Abbas himself said on a recent Naqba Day that the "creation of Israel was the greatest crime in the history of mankind". That is what the Palestinians are told and that is what they believe. So signing a scrap of paper admitting that and then saying it has no consquences is meaningless. It is a Pandora's Box.

Then, of course, there is the question of who is going to represent the Palestinian...HAMAS, FATAH or some combination of both? HAMAS says it will never recognize Israel and Muhammed Dahlan said FATAH also says the same thing. So which Palestinians are going to stick their neck out and make the necessary concessions without getting a bullet in the head?

The US can not impose the solution you like on either side (this is solution that we are repeatedly told "everyone knows the terms of"). Not going to happen. I don't believe the people of the United States, mostly Christians and pro-Israel are going to stand back and take a hand in destroying Jerusalem which is what your plan means. The Christians would be the first to suffer. Those of us who oppose this suicidal scheme will do everything in power to convince those in Israel and the US and other countries that this will not pass.

Dan Mano said...

It is very patronizing to decide for the Palestinians what "rights" they would insist on and which they will let go.

All Palestinian leaders realized their right of return, when we brought them back from Tunisia. They cannot and will abandon it. this is the core of their existence.

Unfortunately if a plan as you suggest would be implemented, it would be just a start for re-negotiations, it will take a year or two until the refugees would find a new excuse for a new Intifada, rockets on small towns, later maybe on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv...

The UN/EU will support the "poor people" fighting for their right and you would probably write an article justifying them.

Every time an Arab leader refuses to another "generous" deal offered by a blinded Israeli prime minister, I feel relieved. We lost the courage to say the truth - it is a zero sum game and we need to win it (or maybe we already did).

Sam Abady said...

Whether or not Jeff Goldberg has access to Bibi’s strategic thinkers, speaks with authority in understanding Bibi’s psychology, his sincerity, etc. is a side show and irrelevant.

Avishai raises the unassailable point – albeit obvious -- that any strategic analysis must account for the possible consequences of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and measure those consequences against Iran’s having nuclear bombs. That is the starting and ending point of my analysis.

If history is precedent, then Avishai’s supposition fails. Saddam did not retaliate when Israel destroyed Osirak, built by the French, and Baschar did not retaliate when Israel destroyed the Syrian reactor at al-Kibar built by the North Koreans and financed by Iran. Plus, who cares what El-Barradi says, he does not speak for Hosni Mubarak and never has.

Avishai’s unstated premise is that Iran can be deterred. To the contrary, statements by Iranian leaders lead to the opposite conclusion. They have been crystal clear that Iran cannot be deterred because Iran is not nationalist, it is Islamist. The Iranian regime exists to serve the ummah, not the Iranian nation. That is why it is an apocalyptic regime – Ahmadinejad thinks he is the mahdi -- and that is what makes it so dangerous. Hence, Iran will unleash nuclear holocaust on Israel as soon as it acquires the capability to do so. Iran’s fajar and shahab missiles can deliver bombs to all of Israel, and Iran is prepared to sacrifice millions from Israel’s counterstrike.

Look at the evidence. In the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who ruled Iran from 1979 to 1989: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

Ahmadinejad invokes Khomeni’s words above relentlessly. For those who diminish Ahmadinejad’s importance, look at the words of Iran’s “pragmatic conservative,” Ayatollah Rafsanjani: "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has … use of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world. In other words, Israel would be destroyed in a nuclear exchange, but Iran would survive."

Iran is not deterred by national self-interest as the Soviets were. As Bernard Lewis points out: "MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [Iran’s leaders] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights."

Avishai lampoons what he characterizes as an invalid importation to the Middle East of the failed Dulles/McNamara domino theory. We don’t need to label the paradigm to understand that, should Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, the Muslim world will be Finlandized. In Europe today, with its growing Muslim populations, this process is already underway, except we don’t call it Finlandization but Islamization.

Again, look at the empirical evidence. Iran captured fifteen British sailors and marines in a naked act of military aggression and held them hostage, forcing a female hostage to shed her British uniform and parade before the cameras in a chador. Did the Royal Navy immediately retaliate? Did it even threaten retaliation? No. Indeed, the European Union turned down Britain’s request to freeze Iranian imports, or even to threaten a freeze of imports. And what did the U.N. do? The Security Council expressed “grave concern” about this act of military aggression against Britain.

As John Bolton noted, the Iranians were testing the British by this act of war, and the British balked. Ahmadinejad then reaped the additional benefit of presenting himself as a powerful benefactor by releasing the hostages, even as Iran fomented more attacks against British forces in Basra.

Just imagine the kowtowing to Ahmadinejad when he has a nuclear arsenal behind him. Remember, Shahab 3 missiles can reach Europe. Iran already has the largest missile force in the Middle East. And as we saw at al-Kibar, Iran is working cheek by jowl with North Korea, the world’s chief offensive missile proliferator. Iran’s Shahab 4 missiles, once completed, will be able to reach the U.S. It need not bomb our cities. One 100 kiloton bomb detonated in the upper atmosphere can unleash an electromagnetic pulse that would cripple the U.S. and Canada.

Hence, I disagree with Avishai’s essentially cavalier attitude toward Iranian nuclear blackmail. Iran, the chief state sponsor of terrorism, is only too willing to give nuclear weapons to terror groups it now supplies with rockets and IEDs. Ahmadinejad doesn’t need Shahab 4s to unleash nuclear terror against us. Iran will do as it has done historically, act through proxies – even Sunni proxies like Hamas – and engage in taqqiyah by brazenly denying ties to the terrorists on its payroll and trained just outside Tehran.

Even Obama, criticized for his naïveté in engaging the Iranian leadership without preconditions, stressed that “under no circumstances can Iran ever be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.”

One fact above all others trumps Avishai’s analysis: Rafsanjani is correct. Israel cannot survive a nuclear strike, even if it can counterstrike with nuclear-tipped Jericho missiles and inflict monumental damage on Iran.

Therefore, Bibi and Obama are correct and Avishai is incorrect. Everything must be done to stop Iran from manufacturing or acquiring nuclear weapons because the consequences are far worse than the possible consequences of a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Samuel A. Abady, J.D.
Bronxville, New York

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