Sunday, April 24, 2011

Elliot Abrams: Netanyahu Should Initiate, not Hunker Down

Elliot Abrams is hardly an enemy of Israel. A high official in the (2nd) Bush administration, he is well versed in the minutiae of Mideast politics and the practicalities of international diplomacy. Last week he wrote a long article in the Weekly Standard - about as supportive of the present Israeli government as any American publication can be - about the dangers facing Israel at the moment, and how Israel should respond. He has no illusions about the international dynamics, nor the untrustworthiness of the Obama adminsitration: when it comes to unilateral Israeli measures:
Sharon decided to act without an agreement with the Palestinians: “I will take these new steps as unilateral steps; I don’t want to be in their hands,” he told me at the time. The theory was simple: If there is no real negotiating partner, try to shape Israel’s future yourself. Don’t wait, and don’t limit yourself to what the Palestinians will agree to right now. But Sharon asked Bush for what he called “ideological compensation” to make up for the lack of actual compensation from the Palestinians for his moves. There would be no peace treaty, no Palestinian concessions, no abandonment of claims by the PLO; instead there was Bush’s endorsement of several critical Israeli positions in his April 14, 2004, letter to Sharon. There Bush addressed both the refugee and settlement issues. He stated that Palestinian refugees had no “right of return” to Israel and would have to find a future and a solution in the eventual state of Palestine, and he argued that a return to the 1949 armistice lines—a term he used in preference to “1967 borders”—was unrealistic given the existence of the major settlement blocks. To Sharon these statements by the president of the United States were critical gains for Israel, and they were soon endorsed by resolutions in both houses of Congress.
But those statements have been forgotten and abandoned by the United States, treated by the Obama administration as if they were some kind of private gesture by Bush in a personal note to Sharon. This devaluation of solemn pledges among allies has been a huge Obama mistake, for it undermines the value not only of past American pledges but of his own future words as well and makes Israel far less likely to take risks for peace.
In spite of this, Abrams says it's time for Israel to return to its standard policy of acting and initiating rather than hunkering down in the hope that the enemy will make mistakes:
But Israel should not be frozen in fear of a Palestinian declaration of independence or recognition at the U.N. and should in fact head it off. Perhaps the next country to recognize an independent Palestine should be Israel.
Israel should say that with this new state of Palestine it has a million practical issues to discuss, beginning with grave border disputes but continuing from customs issues to the management of the Allenby Bridge to possible use of Mediterranean ports. Personal status issues are dangerous and complex: What is the situation of Israelis in areas the state of Palestine views as its own? Is it the Palestinian position that the new state must be Judenrein, a position President Abbas has repeatedly taken? Israel should immediately challenge that position in every possible forum, for it is an indefensible racist view that the EU for one will have to denounce. Israel should demand immediate negotiations on all these complex matters, and remind the world that the dozens of statements “recognizing a Palestinian state” actually do nothing to advance the parties toward the resolution of the issues they face. In fact, commencement of practical negotiations on some of these issues between Israel and “Palestine” might lessen their appeal as great causes and turn them from emotional claims into tedious and detailed bargaining positions.
Israel should start to disentangle itself from governing the West Bank and the Arabs who live in it, and if this cannot be achieved through negotiations with the Palestinians it should be achieved through Israeli-designed unilateral steps that maximize Israeli security interests. One example: passage in the Knesset of a compensation law buying the home of any settler who wishes voluntarily to move back behind the security fence, whether to Green Line Israel or a major settlement. Another: turning additional areas within the West Bank over to the PA for normal daily governance.  Such moves, which signal an intention to change the ultimate pattern of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, do not require abandoning the IDF’s security role there. Nor do they require or accept a total settlement freeze, which would be counterproductive: Whatever the wisdom of a freeze in outlying settlements that will eventually become part of Palestine, to freeze construction in the major blocs that will remain parts of Israel is to send exactly the wrong message.
Israeli officials should explain the policy to the Obama administration and the Europeans (among whom some consequential leaders, like German chancellor Angela Merkel, are still friendly to Israel): It looks like final status negotiations are not on, and anyway they may take forever or may fail. So Israel will act, trying to shape a better future for itself without harming the Palestinians. We won’t wait for them, but nothing we are doing closes off possibilities for future agreements. In fact, reaching those agreements will become easier over time, not harder, if Israel begins to act now. Israel should use as its set of principles the Bush letter of April 14, 2004, in essence demanding that the United States adhere to pledges made about the key issues. No “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees” except to the new state of Palestine; secure and defensible borders for Israel; no full return to the 1949 lines, given the new realities on the ground; final borders to be mutually agreed; Israel as a Jewish democratic state. But Netanyahu will have to act as well as speak, telling both Israelis and foreigners what he will do to begin to shape an outcome where there are no Israelis in over 90 percent of the West Bank. He can maximize the ability of Israel’s friends and supporters, not least in this country, to support Israel if he acts with boldness and principle to guarantee the future safety of the Jewish state.
Read the whole thing. He's right.


AKUS said...

On more than one occasion I drew attention on the Guardian's CiF to the idea that a Judenrein West bank is the most racist concept in the world (perhaps with the exception of Saudi Arabia). It was met with silence by those wonderful exponents of a "one -state-solution".

Nevertheless, Abrams is right - it would be a wonderful and justified way to put pressure on the Palestinians in the EU and UN. There is little doubt that the Palestinian position is that its OK for Arabs to live in Israel, but not for Jews to live in a future "Palestine".

Of course, that would also be their loss, as a small reading of history and the economic benefits Jewish communities bring to their host countries would teach them. But like the countries around them, they seem to prefer their misery and backwardness to any dilution of their pure Arab culture.

Somewhat OT, but the thunderous silence and embarrassed foot-shuffling from the EU about what is happening in Syria is quite fascinating. I expect the Palestinians would enjoy the same privilege of being allowed to murder their won without too much interference from the EU. In fact, they have been.

Victor said...

Just a minute. Sharon's gaza disengagement failed to extract permanent guarantees from one American administration to another, much less created an atmosphere hospitable to final status negotiations by creating a rejectionist islamist safe haven off limits to the IDF.

So, Israel very clearly and obviously needs to try it all again? So that the next Administration can ignore whatever promises Obama makes today in the future interests of "regional peace"?

There is no tangible gain to be had from taking any of the steps Abrams suggests. If the GA resolution fails in September the Palestinians will be forced back into negotiations by year's end anyway.

Victor said...

A meaningful Israeli unilateralism would entail relinquishing authority over approving housing construction in the territories. I'm all for watching those fireworks.

Anonymous said...

Victor, I can think of one unilateral act that would have a good impact. Reconquer Gaza. Everyone claims Israel occupies it anyway so Israel might as well have the benefits as well as the responsibilities. It also shows the ongoing process is not just one way. Also ends all this siege and flotilla nonsense and brings security to the South.


Anonymous said...

He's advocating that Israel should fall back to its minimal positions and abandon everything else.

In one sense that step is foreshadowed by the many statements that Netanyahu himself had made to the effect that many of Israels policies are precisely nothing more than negotiating positions. Continuing with positions that the govt of Israel does not itself have principled belief in seems cruel, especially in the eyes of others who don't share the Israeli point of view.

But he fails, I think, to grasp the implications of his suggestion. Negotiations will not become easier, but in fact impossible because there will be nothing left to negotiate. The Palestinians will continue to demand more, their international friends will continue with their delegitimization efforts, and Israel will have run out of room to menuver.

The best argument in favor of this is that it's the road we're on anyway. May as well get to the end of it if anything new is going to become possible.

In fact that's the argument he's presenting, though more elegantly. He's saying that Israel should be like the soccer player who lines up with the other team during a penalty kick, hoping if nothing else to at least confuse the issue.

I'm all for creative thinking, but this is more like bungee jumping without a bungee.

Plus, Israel has to consider events in Syria and Egypt. Over the next months and years, events in those countries will take place against a backdrop of ..... what? I think it would be better if that were a backdrop of relative quiet rather than one in which the Palestinians see themselves having a momentum for final victory.

Unless that's no longer what they're after. Has there been any sign of that?

NormanF said...

Eliot Abrams is wrong and so are you.

Israel abandonment of Yesha would result in a Hamas takeover.

The PA regime is only kept in power by IDF bayonets.

The moment its withdrawn, the PA falls.

I don't know why Abrams and you can't see the obvious.

The Arabs don't want peace with Israel. If the murder of Yosef Ben Livnat today doesn't send you a pointed message about the prospects for peace in our lifetime then you are a fool.

An Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state would serve as a trigger for another Middle East war.

Silke said...

there had been three years without terror.

ah yes?

what about that highly pregnant woman and the other passengers in that car? what about the soldier murdered at the Lebanese border? what about the shooting from Gaza.

All of it no terror?

well, maybe by American Standards ...

ah in the next paragraph he mentions them

periodically lobbed rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel

they just lobbed them those cute little exploding toys.

the rest is such a gossipy back and forth which I can't take seriously from a guy who plays down the amount of terror Israel is exposed to and his whole piece argues on the basis that the Palestinians are people whose word can be relied upon. Why does a writer in a magazine leaning to the presumably Israel-friendly right expect to achieve by making terror look less severe than it is. That it isn't as bad as the 2nd intifada? Certainly that would be a strange standard to apply.

The famous Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais (I think it was he who taught Ben Gurion to stand on his head) says somewhere only a movement that can be reversed is a good one ...

Feldenkrais definitely hasn't been a politician, actually he was a physicist but he sure knew more than probably anybody else about movements.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

"Read the whole thing. He's right."

Yaacov, I really liked Right to Exist, even though I could see that you still had not abandoned your previous luftmentschen dreams of peace and acceptance of some faulty conclusions about Jewish malfeasance towards Arabs. And you still disappoint me, when you make comments like that.

Judea and Samaria constitute dispute territories. They are not intrinsically Arab and for some of us, not even an Israeli government has the moral right to tell Jews they can't live anywhere they want there on former Ottoman and Mandate State land or land that was purchased. What Abrams suggests is a prescription for aiding the Arab war of attrition against Jews.

Barry Meislin said...

So that the next Administration can ignore whatever promises Obama makes today in the future interests of "regional peace"?

I really wouldn't worry about future administrations.

Obama doesn't even bother keeping his own promises.

(To be sure, incredible as it may seem, there are people who still believe what he says....)

File under: "This way to the egress!"

Saul Lieberman said...

File this under "Lets do X, then the world will know that Israeli really, really (10x? I don't remember how many we are up to) wants peace."

Yaacov -- which steps are you endorsing and to what outcome?

Silke said...


me thinks Abbas largely agrees with you ;-)

though he seems not have been very accurate in describing what went on starting with the length of the telephone conversations.

But maybe by complaining about Obama Abbas is in reality trying to endear himself to him, because surely, if Abbas complains about Obama, Obama must be the greatest friend Israel ever had.

(I don't think Abbas has any real plan, he just behaves like Zola claimed those fin de si├Ęcle maitresses behaved in order to keep their lovers enthralled.)

but most wondrous in that piece for me is how Sarcozy acts - does he really think anybody is going to believe those Grande Nation gestures he comes up with?

Barry Meislin said...

Silke, it's just a ploy to get some more cash.

You know, play hard to get. (How do you say that in German? In Yiddish?)

Barry Meislin said...

Another ploy to get more funding:,7340,L-4060008,00.html

And who knows? Maybe they mean it. And maybe they don't.

After all, they're a very flexible people....

Silke said...

and reliably unreliable

except when it comes to new additions to Arabian Nights, the stories of which were actually told by a woman to a man who threatened to execute her, if she shouldn't manage to keep him enthralled.

a cute little fact that somehow is IMHO not ever given its proper weight when "experts" wax lyrical about that cultural "achievement".