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.


Y. Ben-David said...

Hard to believe that an intelligent man like Dr Avishai buys, at face value, statements like that where Abbas says he doesn't want an army. Abbas says one thing to people like Dr Avishai, and another to his own people, such as his comment that the creation of Israel was the greatest crime in the history of mankind. Do you really think he will make suicidal concessions like giving up the right of return of the refugees to the biggest criminals in history?
For heaven's sake, his multiple and overlapping "security forces" are one of the biggest employers in the Palestinian Authority! Do you really think "pride" would allow their leaders to not have any army? Where is there another Arab country that doesn't have an army? Would HAMAS or other potential jihadist leaders of the Palestinians be bound by such a ridiculouus committment? It is just incredible that people can take nonsensicle declarations like this at face value. Lenin called well-meaning foreigners who swallowed his propaganda "useful idiots". It is hard to believe that people haven't learned this lesson.

Potter said...

BA- it seems like you are appeasing some hard-liners here to make your point. So be it. But "the Holocaust" is used imprecisely, without particularity, and sometimes loosely to make a point these days like it or not. And so too "apartheid". Though the situation in Israel is not South African apartheid exactly ( goodness how could it be?), that comes to mind with the occupation and attitudes in Israel. The definitions are broadening so that these words are not only used for the situations that gave birth to them. You can argue about it.

Also, when you say:

But, broadly speaking, what would any reasonable security arrangements look like if you were concerned about past Palestinian violence?

What should be taken into account also is Israeli violence.

Palestinians need a whole state. Yes there can and should be mutual apologies, sincere ones, reconciliation- and forgiveness ( speaking of Mandela). But Palestinians also need security.

Netanyau, by skipping the Mandela funeral, continues to disappoint. But I don't expect anything more from him.

Anonymous said...

A few observations:
Israel depends disproportionately on US support: economic, diplomatic, and military.
Our power has been in relative decline since 1945.
As Lord Palmerston put it over 150 years ago, England has no permanent friends and no perpetual enemies. It has permanent and perpetual interests.

Bibi keeps on playing this poker game with no upside when he ought to have locked in the winnings years (decades) ago.

Make peace, you fools.

by the way, Professor, what are you offering Abbas in exchange for your wish list? Remember, you ought to want happy Palestinians, not sour revisionists.