Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Empty Gesture

by Ira Sharkansky

Reading the announcements of government officials is more of an art than a science. It is appropriate to weigh the use of certain words rather than others, and take note of what a statement does not say. No one, including those involved in its preparation, can claim certainty as to how it should be read, much less what it can lead to as one statement provokes others from allies and antagonists.

Consider Prime Minister Netanyahu's announcement that his government has agreed to a freeze of new housing construction in the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) for a period of 10 months in an effort to persuade the Palestinians to begin negotiations toward a peace agreement.

While members of the government trumpeted the announcement as a gesture that should move the Palestinians, It did not take long for commentators to declare it a dead letter. Sure enough, within a day ranking Palestinians reiterated their new position that they would only start negotiations when there was a total freeze of construction (homes and other facilities), including the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

What does all this mean?

One interpretation is that it reflects the teething problems of the American president. When he and his secretary of state emphasized the need to freeze settlements, and included Jerusalem in the mandate, they brought the Palestinians to assert a demand they had not made before during 17 years of negotiations.

Another interpretation, not altogether different, is that the talk of negotiations is a game without end played by numerous governments. If officials are wise and have noticed what has happened since Oslo, they should realize that negotiations go nowhere as long as the Palestinians adhere to their mantras of refugee rights and 1967 borders. Since Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas, the chances of an agreement are even less. The Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas is barely holding on to the West Bank, propped up by Americans, Israelis and others. Should Abbas dare to show flexibility, his hold on power would be even more tenuous.

Even though wise leaders may recognize that reality, they cannot admit it, and give up the quest for peace. Who could do that when the future of the Holy Land is at stake? Moreover, there are unwise leaders in the bunch who may really believe in fairies and other delights, like peace between Israel and Palestine. With them beating the drums, and especially if they are the powerful Americans with a popular leader (who no other leader can publicly call naive), then the chorus joins in the pursuit of peace.

The result is that emissaries flit hither and yon, trying one idea after another, all the while gaining publicity and feeding the media's needs for a story. Minor players puff themselves up and offer their services as mediators. It is hard to tell them "no," but it is appropriate to weigh the expressions of "yes" to know if they are anything more than words.

The government's freeze for 10 months appears to be no more than a gesture for the Americans, knowing that it might not be enough to attract the Palestinians.

The gesture has not come smoothly. Netanyahu has distanced himself from one minister who has termed the Obama administration "dreadful."

Among the problems of the freeze is its implementation. The attorney general told the government, during the session when the freeze was approved, that there were not enough building inspectors to enforce it. Things more substantial than curtains will be added to existing structures in the West Bank. And whatever goes up in established settlements against the government's edict is not likely to come down.

Settler leaders have expressed anger. They use the word "traitor" in condemnations of the government's action, symbolic as it may be. We hear of young couples who cannot find housing in the same settlement as their parents. Whether they actually build is yet to be seen. One must reckon with the political influence of the settlers. To ride roughshod over them would be like Barack Obama riding roughshod over insurance companies and physicians while passing his health reform. Such things do not happen in the American democracy, or in the Israeli democracy.

If there was any life in the peace process, it appears that the Barack administration killed it by an ill advised overreach (complete settlement freeze, including Jerusalem). Shimon Schieffer, a respected centrist commentator, used the word "childish" in reference to American efforts. Yosi Beilin, a former foreign minister, former head of the left-wing Meretz Party, and the major voice in the Geneva Initiative, expressed his amazement and worry about American blunders. Beilin's mentor, Shimon Peres, former just about everything in Israeli government and the doyen of the peace camp, said pointedly and publicly to the American president that Jerusalem is Israel.

The terms evil and stupid are not appropriate, but naive is sufficiently polite and accurate. President Obama came on the stage of international politics with a great deal of support in the United States and throughout the world. He has made things worse in the Middle East, and may not be doing better elsewhere.

It is timely to say once again that, compared to other democracies, the United States has a flair for selecting national leaders who can excite popular enthusiasm, but are woefully short on relevant experience. Barack Obama is the flip side of George W. Bush. The circus of presidential primaries, inspiring rhetoric, and a lot of money does not assure a better world.

Enjoy what you think is best, my American friends. The rest of us will do what we can to minimize the damage.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)

Department of Political Science Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Salubrius said...

The revelations of the highest ranking Soviet bloc defector, Major General Ion Mihai Pacepa,in his biography "Red Horizons, etc" and in comments to Front Page Magazine, lead me to believe that the peace process is, and has from the outset, nothing but a charade. According to Pacepa, the "Palestinian People" who demand political self determination is a fictitious concept invented by the Soviet disinformation masters in 1964 when they created the PLO. The term "Palestinian People" appears for the first time in the preamble of the 1964 PLO Charter, drafted in Moscow, and signed by the first 422 members of the Palestinian National Council handpicked by the KGB. Why do this? It reframes the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews from religious jihad to secular nationalism in a quest for political self determination. It was the Romanian dictator Ceausescu, at the urging of the Soviets, who persuaded Arafat to abandon his claim of wanting to annihilate the Jews in Israel in favor of "liberating the Arabs in Israel".

The 1960s and 1970s were the years the Soviets were in the business of creating "liberation organizations", Bolivia 1964 also, Columbia 1965. and in the 70s, The Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia that bombed US airline offices in Europe, and The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine that bombed Israelis.
Brezhnev, according to Pacepa, carried it one step farther when Carter came into office. He suggested to Pacepa that Carter might fall for Yassir Arafat PRETENDING to renounce violence and seek peace negotiations. He persuaded Arafat to do this by telling him that the West would shower him with gold and glory. It did. Billions of dollars and a Nobel prize. Ceausescu warned Arafat that he would have to pretend over and over again.
James Woolsey, former CIA director has been reported as stating that Pacepa is credible. Pacepa's account is also supported by the account of Zahir Muhsein, a member of the PLO executive board. He also has stated that there is no such thing as the "Palestinian People", that the term's use is a political ploy, and there is no quest for political self-determination -- that as soon as the Jews have been wiped out, sovereignty would be turned over to Jordan. Hafez Assad also has stated there was no "Palestinian People"; that prior to 1964 the Arabs in Palestine called themselves "citizens of Greater Syria".

I can't understand why Pacepa's revelations have not received wider attention.

Salubrius said...

The word"been" has been omitted from the text.
The phase should read:
"...the peace process is, and has been from the outset, nothing but a charade."

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