Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Abbas The Palestinians' Mandela?

Some of the following, my first new post on TPM, is borrowed from my post last week.

The question may seem fatuous on its face. In his lifetime, Mandela had to insist he was not a saint, but a sinner. Abbas has no doubters. Mandela was the leader; Abbas, the follower; yet Mandela poured your tea, while Abbas presses a buzzer to have an aide light (and ration) his cigarettes. In his death, Mandela filled a stadium with global leaders and common people. For Abbas, a legacy of this kind seems improbable: a negotiator is not a liberator.

Moreover, the question suggests parallels between Apartheid and the Occupation that are, at best, forced. Israel, even Greater Israel, is not a privileged minority enriching itself on the labor of a racially despised majority. On the contrary, the Zionists worked from the start toward separation, to revive the Hebrew language; settlement hurt Palestinian workers as a by-product of the drive toward economic self-sufficiency. To this day, if most Israelis could just saw their land and global technology businesses off from Palestine, and float out toward Cyprus, they would. Their racism, if that’s the word for it, derives from generations of violence.

But all of this is beside the point, now. The real question is whether Abbas, with Mandela-like courage and grace, was prepared to both confront the Occupation and yet renounce terror, face down his own nationalist radicals, and advocate for diplomatic pathways and (mainly) non-violent resistance.

In this sense, Abbas has been deeply underestimated. Abbas—an impoverished refugee from Safed—began as a student in Damascus and then became a PLO cadre. He was romanced by Soviet ideology and blandishments; but by 1977, he was calling for meetings with Israeli peace forces. He turned to reconciliation with the Gulf states and the West. In a way, this kind of thing was harder to dare when at large, surrounded by terrorist assassins, than in prison.

Once the PA was formed, and he began negotiating in its name, Abbas was prepared to demand for Palestine only what he was prepared to give. He focused on building state institutions. Consider his 1995 deal with Yossi Beilin, signed the week before Yitzhak Rabin was killed, which could still be a model for a final status agreement. This record of compromise continues.

Last week, Palestinian negotiators directed by Abbas were said to have rejected General John Allen's security proposals for a Palestinian state. But, broadly speaking, what would any reasonable security arrangements look like if you were concerned about past Palestinian violence? Palestine would have to be "nonmilitarized"—a strong police force, to maintain law and order, but no heavy weapons at all: no tanks, missiles, etc., or any way of acquiring them.

But there would be much more. The Palestinian border with Jordan, through which missiles and heavy armaments might be smuggled, would have to be patrolled by international forces, probably from NATO, with a strong contingent of Americans. Third, there would have to be a procedural guarantee that no foreign army would be able to enter Palestine, and its government would not be permitted to enter into any military agreement with a country that does not recognize Israel. Fourth, Israel would have the right to defend itself beyond the borders of a Palestinian state—say, against land forces massing on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

There is more still. Israel would reserve the right to hot pursuit of terrorists across the new borders. Israel would be allowed access to airspace over Palestine; overflight would be essential for training and reconnaissance. Seventh, the Israel Defense Forces would have rights to disproportionate use of telecommunications spectrum (though commercial rights would be equalized under international law). Finally, Palestine and Israel would have to cooperate in a greater Jerusalem municipality and in sharing information regarding terrorism on both sides of the border.

In fact, Abbas already agreed to all of these things, in his 2008 negotiations with Ehud Olmert. “We don’t need a Palestinian army,” Abbas told me emphatically. “We don’t want an air force or tanks or rockets.” He insisted that the whole matter had been worked out with Gen. James Jones, who eventually became Obama’s national security adviser. “The file on security was closed,” he told me. “We do not claim it was an agreement, but the file was finalized.”

Nobody outside of the negotiations can know yet just what Allen proposed. But I invite you to listen to my January, 2011 conversation with Abbas in its entirety, and judge for yourself if Israelis can expect a partner more committed to reciprocity. Indeed, the real question is not whether Abbas is the Palestinians’ Mandela, but whether Netanyahu, who skipped Mandela’s funeral, can rise to the occasion provided by John Kerry and become Israel’s de Klerk—and if not, whether the various Israeli de Klerks waiting in the wings have a reasonable shot at regaining power.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Exclusive: Olmert Slams Bibi On Iran, Palestine

This appeared yesterday in The New Yorker website

“The attacks on the Administration’s action plan about Iran are certainly premature,” Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel, wrote me in a series of e-mails, not long after the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (known as the P5-plus-1) struck a deal with Iran, trading some sanctions relief for a suspension of its nuclear program. One of those attacks came from Olmert’s successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the agreement a “historic mistake.” Olmert disagreed. “It’s too early to pass any judgment on how this understanding will be implemented. The use of force should always be the last resort, and we are very far from it.” And, he added, in a clear reference to Netanyahu, “the personal attacks against President Obama and Secretary Kerry are totally unacceptable.” 

Olmert has been out of power for nearly five years now, but he represents a resilient bloc in Israeli politics that even thoughtful American journalists tend to ignore when depicting Netanyahu’s response to the Iran deal as a standoff between the Israeli government and the White House, as if Israel had no strong voices supporting the Obama Administration. Groups advocating for Greater Israel certainly want to see Obama’s Iran initiative fail, and are eager to treat him as naïve if the mullahs’ regime and its centrifuges are left standing; when regional threats seem imminent, settler activity seems merely defiant.

But equally powerful groups advocating for Global Israel—business, academic, and professional leaders who fear, not implausibly, that the occupation will leave them globally isolated, not unlike the Tehran bazaar—want the Obama Administration to succeed. Indeed, the leaders of Global Israel believe that picking a fight with Obama and the P5-plus-1 is a bigger strategic danger to Israel than an Iranian nuclear program. Over seventy percent of Israelis believe the P5-plus-1 deal will not end Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, but seventy per cent also say that America is still “Israel’s most loyal and important ally.”

Olmert knows something about the “tough neighborhood” Netanyahu likes to claim as his patrimony. Olmert also knows about preëmpting a neighbor’s nuclear ambitions. During his tenure, the I.D.F. launched a number of military operations: against Hezbollah, in Lebanon, in July, 2006, soon after he came into office; against Hamas, in Gaza, just as he was leaving, in December, 2008. In September, 2007, Olmert ordered his Air Force to bomb what Israel had determined was a plutonium reactor in the Deir al-Zour region of Syria. Secretary Kerry is in Jerusalem today, presenting Netanyahu with General John Allen’s proposals for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, should a Palestinian state arise. Olmert worked with General James Jones on just such an American plan in 2008.

But Olmert is also a former Likud politician for whom Netanyahu’s strident reaction to the Iran deal was a familiar play: you mobilize AIPAC and its congressional allies because any defrosting of American relations with Iran undermines Netanyahu’s claim to regional vigilance and indispensability. Acknowledging the relaxation of an “existential threat” might lead the Americans to focus on other sources of regional instability, like, say, the occupation of the West Bank. Netanyahu fancies himself the new Churchill. To Olmert, he sounds more and more like Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

Read the entire article on The New Yorker site 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Abbas Rejects U.S. Security Proposals--Or Not?

According to Reuters, Palestinian negotiators have rejected General John Allen's security proposals for a Palestinian state. What would reasonable security arrangements look like?

First, Palestine would have to be "nonmilitarized"--a strong police force, to maintain law and order, but no heavy weapons at all: no tanks, missiles, etc., or any way of acquiring them.

Two, the Palestinian border with Jordan, through which missiles and heavy armaments might be smuggled, would have to be patrolled by international forces, probably from NATO, with a strong contingent of Americans.

Three, there would have to be a procedural guarantee that no foreign army would be able to enter Palestine, and its government would not be permitted to enter into any military agreement with a country that does not recognize Israel.

Fourth, Israel would have the right to defend itself beyond the borders of a Palestinian state—say, against land forces massing on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Fifth, Israel would reserve the right to hot pursuit of terrorists across the new borders.

Sixth, Israel would be allowed access to airspace over Palestine; overflight would be essential for training and reconnaissance.

Seventh, the Israel Defense Forces would have rights to disproportionate use of telecommunications spectrum (though commercial rights would be equalized under international law).

Eighth, Palestine and Israel would have to cooperate in a greater Jerusalem municipality and in sharing information regarding terrorism on both sides of the border.

Could Palestine possibly agree to such far-reaching proposals? For the record, President Abbas already has agreed to them, in his 2008 negotiations with Ehud Olmert.

“We don’t need a Palestinian army,” Abbas told me emphatically. “We don’t want an air force or tanks or rockets.” He insisted that the whole matter had been worked out with Gen. James Jones, who eventually became Obama’s national security adviser. “The file on security was closed,” he told me. “We do not claim it was an agreement, but the file was finalized.”

Nobody outside of the negotiations can know yet what Allen proposed. But let it not be said, as Israel's "friends in Washington no doubt will say, that Palestinian bargaining to get to a reasonable deal with Netanyahu is proof of bad faith.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Another Anniversary

This blog is marking two events this week. The first is an anniversary of sorts. I began at the start of the Annapolis Conference, in November of 2007. Since then, the blog has seen six years, 529 posts (if this one counts), and 109,803 unique visitors (though not all at once, to be sure). It is humbling to think about so much connection--also about the privilege of living at a time when desktop technology magically enables it. Writers like to pretend that they expect to be paid attention to. I still find this wonderful.

The second event is the closing of Open Zion, to which I have devoted most of my incidental writing and surplus attention for the past couple of years (and my gratitude to Peter Beinart for his tireless work and crack leadership).
Some of us considered trying to keep that site going; but I've decided to return my attention to this space, which feels more intimate and allows for shorter takes and greater eclecticism. I shall be, again, asking guest writers to contribute, especially from Jerusalem, to which I return in a couple of weeks. I shall also be posting most political commentaries simultaneously on Talking Points Memo's "TPM Cafe," which Josh Marshall has just revived with the steady hand that's made TPM the default home for undogmatic Democratic liberals.

So if you've been a subscriber to this blog in the past, but have given it up because my posts seemed redundant to Open Zion, I invite you to try it again--and share this invitation with anyone you feel would be interested in it, too.