Did Condolezza Rice almost get Arab-Israeli peace?
Condi, no doubt, like all devoted Mideast peace processors, believes that differences between Hamas & the Palestine Authority are fundamental, rather than superficial ones far more of form than substance. In the event, the 1,027-for-one swap Israel made for Gilad Shalit has given Hamas a boost among Palestinians. The Palestine Authority, for its part, is making a second end-run around the vaunted peace process by asking the UN's cultural backwater, UNESCO, to admit the PA as a full member; if 2/3 of UNESCO's 193 members so vote, the PA is in. And the US would be out, required by law to deny funds to any UN entity admitting the Palestinians to full membership without a peace settlement with Israel. (G. W. Bush naively brought the US back into UNESCO in 2003 after a long hiatus--Reagan had taken the US out of the body, which is virulently anti-US & anti-Israel.)
Her dream deal was the Ehud Olmert offer PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected twice, the second time despite a face-to-face personal appeal by President George W. Bush. Olmert's BAFO: 94.2 percent of the West Bank, with compensatory land swaps of Israeli territory to match the 5.8 percent; shared sovereignty over holy places with an international committee to oversee this; a divided Jerusalem, with a shared city council in the Holy City; allowing 5,000 Palestinians to return to Israel. Abbas rejected all this, saying he couldn't tell 4 million Palestinians that only 5,000 could return--this despite the fact that well under 100,000 of the original 1948 refugees (of the war the Arabs started) are alive.
Rice was agog with all this, thinking it the "best deal ever," as she recounts telling the news to her deputy, Steven Hadley:
After dinner, I hurried back to the hotel and related the details to [her advisers]—minus the proposal on an international committee to oversee the Holy sites. I trusted my advisors, but a slip of the tongue on that one would have been devastating to Olmert. “You must not tell anyone,” I said sternly, knowing that they wouldn’t. Then I called Steve Hadley and told him that I had some extraordinary news but didn’t feel comfortable—even on a secure phone—repeating what I’d heard from Olmert. After all, I was in an Israeli hotel; one never knew who might be listening. “Tell the President he was right about Olmert. He wants a deal. And frankly, he might die trying to get one,” I said, recalling that Yitzhak Rabin had been killed for offering far less. I hung up the phone and looked out my window at the Holy City. Maybe, just maybe, we could get this done.
The next day I went to see Abbas and asked to see him in the little dining room adjacent to his office. I sketched out the details of Olmert’s proposal and told him how the prime minister wanted to proceed. Abbas started negotiating immediately. “I can’t tell four million Palestinians that only five thousand of them can go home,” he said.
I demurred, saying that he should make his concerns known to the prime minister. “Are you ready to talk with him alone?” I asked. Abbas said that he would but could not appoint a trusted agent—he wanted to do this himself. I sensed that the internal politics of the Fatah party were such that he could not sidestep Abu Alaa, a power in his own right and sometimes a rival within the party. This is going to be a problem, I realized. But just get them together, and see what happens—one step at a time.
Sadly, it speaks volumes that Rice feared that Israeli PM Olmert might be assassinated as Yitzhak Rabin was in 1995, by a rightist opponent of the deal. Yet Rice did not seem to wonder if Abbas would have been assassinated for bringing a deal back without a full right of return, despite a long, dolorous history of Palestinians proposing peace having been killed. Indeed, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton & Israeli PM Ehud Barak in 2000 at Camp David that if he signed the deal Barak offered--almost as generous, but also without a full Palestinian right of return--he would be killed. Indeed he would have.
Rice can count on American Jews, who are very liberal, to endorse her view.
And (as always, re Palestinians) there is even worse. Israel has replaced mendacious Palestinian history texts with accurate ones, in East Jerusalem Arab schools. So what did Palestinian "parents" do? Smuggle the dishonest Arab edition into their schools, so as to sabotage Israeli efforts to educate Palestinian children as to the true roles of Jew & Arab in Mideast history. The truth, after all, would undercut Palestinian efforts to energize hatred of Jews, Israel & America; lies enable armed struggle to destroy the Jewish state.
And the Palestinians have added yet another precondition to talks--yes, a PRE-condition: release of terror leaders, notably, one especially charismatic West Bank mass murderer; not to worry, as Palestinians once again celebrate killing Jews. The ostensible basis for this is that prior Israeli PM Olmert hinted he might release them, as if this should be binding upon his successor. Palestinians even reject as insensitive to Muslims--get this--Israeli scientists participating in a brain disease conference in Australia. Reports have Hamas in Gaza receiving smuggled Russian anti-aircraft missiles from Libya's huge but compromised arsenal.
And for its (contemptible) part, Turkey will continue its anti-Israel crusade, despite Israel having come in to help victims of Turkey's recent major earthquake. (Israel, for its part, is responding, by forming a closer defense partnership with Cyprus, Turkey's nemesis.)
This New York Sun editorial (yes, the NY Sun has been revived online) presents a hard-headed vision of a possible Arab-Israeli peace, one based on far sounder (not hard) understanding of the underlying conflict--that it is existential, not a dispute over land. Rice and her fellow peace processors do not get this. As America retreats from the Mideast, its regional and global influence will wane, including on Arab-Israeli matters. This is a consequence to which President Obama at minimum seems oblivious or, worse, indifferent. (Or worse, he intends same.)
Former Bush 43 senior official Robert Blackwill & former Clinton senior official Walter Slocombe view Israel as a strategic asset, often under-appreciated by the US:
We do not deny that there are costs to the United States, in the Arab world and elsewhere, for its support of Israel, as there are costs to U.S. support of other beleaguered — and sometime imperfect — friends, including West Berlin in the Cold War, Kuwait in 1990-91 and Taiwan today.
But the long-standing U.S. commitment to Israel has not prevented development of close ties with Arab nations, which understand — however much they disagree with U.S. support for Israel — that they benefit from a good relationship with the United States on other issues. Nor has it made the Arab oil-exporting states any less conscious of their own economic and strategic interest in a reasonably stable flow of oil to world markets, or their eagerness to buy first-class military equipment from the United States or to enjoy the benefits of U.S. protection against Iranian or other aggression.
Would Saudi Arabia's policies toward the United States, for example, be markedly different if Washington entered into a sustained crisis with Israel over the Palestine issue? Would Riyadh lower the price of oil? Would it stop hedging its regional bets concerning U.S. attempts to coerce Iran into freezing its nuclear weapons programs? Would it regard current U.S. policy toward Afghanistan more positively? Would it view American democracy promotion in the Middle East more favorably? Would it be more inclined to reform its internal governmental processes to be more in line with U.S. preferences? No.
In sum, we believe that Israel's substantial contributions to U.S. interests are an underappreciated aspect of this relationship and deserve equal billing to shared values and historical responsibility as rationales for American support of Israel.
Rice, Obama and others could do worse than follow their advice.
Bottom Line. Condi Rice's Mideast peace efforts virtually mirrored those of the Clinton & Obama administrations. One may fairly presume that working for a liberal President she would have pressed Israel even harder, as Team Obama has done. This is not because Rice hates Israel or Jews. She is a decent person. But she is an inveterate Mideast "peace process" true believer. And thus she believes that if Israel only makes all concessions the Palestinians seek, save for an open right of return, peace would follow. Yet Abbas made clear last month at the UN that a Jewish state itself is a flat non-starter. Peace processors do not get this. So they keep leaning on Israel, as far as a given President and the state of American politics permits.
They will continue to fail, as Israel simply does not have a partner for peace who could sell enough Palestinians on the idea. They may never have one.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Foreign Policy, Conservative Politics