Friday, October 8, 2010

Never Let Israel Leave the West Bank

....say the Palestinians. Benny Morris explains, and shows who unintelligent Israel's current moves are.

He's right, sadly.


Victor said...

Having read nearly everything Morris has written, I'm a fan. I think that here, however, he is thinking too strategically, and insufficiently tactically.

Caving in on Obama's settlement construction freeze from the beginning would have established a permanent freeze on settlement building, regardless of Palestinian intransigence. Even if, during negotiations, the Palestinians were shown to be implacable and irreconcilable to the demands of the international community, Israel's settlements would have remained frozen. We see even now that despite an agreement on a temporary 10 month freeze, the US preferred a permanent freeze, regardless of the status of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Obama would have pocketed that concession, and leveraged it into further concessions, not from the Arabs, but from Israel - namely, the dismantling of smaller or distant settlements as a precondition to continued negotiations. The US would have argued that they were simply following Olmert's Disengagement plan. Pressuring Israel to make concessions for peace was the primary focus of Obama's foreign policy team at the outset. Or doesn't anyone remember Samantha Power anymore?

I want to be clear, this was not because Obama or even Power want to destroy Israel. Quite the opposite, they believe their goals will end in peace for everyone. They simply think Israel's current position is unsustainable, similar to how the US and UK unilaterally planned to hand Israel's Negev region to the Arabs in the mid-1950s because they felt the Arab world needed territorial continuity to achieve peace with Israel.

Let's suppose the scenario described by Morris played out. Israel immediately stops settlement construction the moment Obama demands it. Negotiations commence. The Palestinians refuse to give up "right of return". US and EU exert pressure on the PA. Abbas ends negotiations and threatens to dissolve the PA and launches talks with Hamas on a platform of nation unity over "right of return", strengthening his domestic core support. The US and EU realize the Palestinians will never make peace, end all financial and security support for the PA - which Iran would quickly promise to replace - and give Israel a free hand to settling the West Bank? Of course not. Were Israel to resume settlement building at that stage, we would be back to the present situation, despite the Palestinians (yet again) demonstrating their intransigence. Israel would be condemned for acts that undermine the confidence of all parties. The Palestinians would claim they knew all along that Israel would never end the occupation. Malley and Agha would create an alternative narrative to how negotiations broke down, etc.

The settlement freeze was the first of several concessions the Obama Administration intended to pocket from Israel. If the Palestinians reciprocated with a peace treaty, that would be one thing. But Israel concessions were meant to be permanent, regardless of Palestinian behavior. I have no doubt Obama already had a speech prepared using the permanent settlement freeze to declare himself a champion of the Palestinian cause.

Standing firm then, and wearing Obama down when he was at the peak of his power and confidence, and naivete about Mid-East diplomacy, has given Israel more flexibility now, not less.

Say what you will about Netanyahu, but he has managed a complex situation with remarkable dexterity. The man is a diplomatic gymnast. I see Obama as more "over the barrel" and eager for momentum than Netanyahu, which is why we're seeing the Americans send out these letters making significant Israel for a 2 month continuation of the freeze.

I wonder if the Administration is starting to understand that they've given the Palestinians the tools to throw US-Israel relations into crisis on demand - which weakens both the US and Israel.

Anonymous said...

Another point of view on Obama's position and his "generous offer" to Netanjahu from Barry Rubin.

Regards, André

Bryan said...

I would also point out that today is the 25th yahrzeit of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew who was thrown off a cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists who had hijacked the Achille Lauro.

Because, you know, those damn crippled New Jersey Jews, oppressing everyone.

Anonymous said...

as long as Morris writes as a historian I like him, if he does diplomacy I prefer Victor.

as to US guarantees from my reading of Commentary pieces of 1967 I vividly remember how inconvenient the ones in existence concerning the Red Sea happened to turn out to be at the time

i.e. guarantees are good and nice, if at the time they should happen to fit the guarantor's own interest, otherwise they are anything between a letter of intent and toast.

here's Ari Shavit whom I do like as long as he writes as a reporter on the who against whom or with whom right now. When he comes up with his version of diplomacy I am out of my depth.

I think there is no solution, as long as one partner in a negotiation genuinely only wants to grab and has the backing to not get shoved out.

and I am grateful that the Israeli government and thus Israel's population is the way Shavit describes it, i.e. "unable" to deliver the big big chung Victor describes so well


Anonymous said...


I forgot to mention that in Shavit's description Israel's moves don't seem to be lacking in intelligence at all.


Barry Meislin said...

I think there is no solution...

However, one (too often) forgets, that for the Palestinians, there is definitely a solution.

(So does that make them the less intransigent party?....)

RK said...

Like Victor, I've also read almost everything Morris has written, and I share his (post-2000) tragic view of the situation. Here, after noting that the Palestinian position diverges more sharply than the Israeli position from the international consensus (such as it is), he reasonably suggests that the party that walks away due to its inability to stomach the consensus is likely to be the one that suffers diplomatically and argues that it would be best if the Palestinians were to be that party. In response, Victor makes a couple of different points:

First, he seems to suggest that international opinion is immutable and unresponsive to demonstrations of intransigence by the Palestinians. Even if it's the Palestinians who cause the talks to collapse by refusing to budge on the "right of return," people are going to point the finger at Israel anyway when it resumes settlement construction. But while it's true that a large body of opinion is going to blame Israel no matter what (and Morris doesn't suggest otherwise), that just isn't true of the people who actually matter. Agha and Malley wouldn't have to write articles in the NYRB challenging the conventional wisdom about Camp David if it weren't in fact the conventional wisdom that Arafat was responsible for the breakdown there. The consequences of that breakdown were terrible, of course, but it's sometimes forgotten that Israel actually benefited from the fact that there, much more so than right now, the cause of the failure was so plain to see.

Second, he claims that any extension of the settlement freeze would lead to the US demanding a permanent stoppage. Some of his arguments seem so implausible to me that I'm not sure it's worth arguing this in detail (Obama wants to set himself up as a champion of the Palestinian cause? That's a real vote-getter.), but it's important to note that this is unresponsive to Morris's argument. Even if the extended freeze ended up becoming permanent (and there's no evidence of this beyond Victor's bare assertion), that's simply a cost to be weighed against the benefits Morris points to. (Plenty of people here—not just the traditional Left—don't think it's much of a cost at all.) It's unfortunate that the national religious still can't acknowledge the fact that construction in Judea and Samaria can sometimes conflict with Israel's other interests, though the Israeli mainstream (as typified by Yaacov) is quite clear-eyed on the issue.

Anonymous said...

(So does that make them the less intransigent party?....)

judging from female against female office feuds the male boss decides that that it is quite often, especially if he is a weak leader

I have never witnessed one where the boss was female and male on male office feuds tend to be fought without one party (guess which one) maneuvering for the boss to get involved.


chareidilite said...

"Then, with the Palestinians, backed by the ever-zealous Arab states, demanding Israeli acceptance of the "Right of Return," the West—certainly the US—would have backed Netanyahu and chastized the Palestinians for unreasonableness."

The real problem with Benny Morris and others like him is their unsupported belief that events will play out in the real world the same way such events play out in their imagination. This never-ending wishful thinking continues unabated, despite ever-increasing experience to the contrary.