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