Saturday, March 21, 2015

No Better Time for Peace than the Present

Charles Krauthammer has been an influential voice in American politics for 35 years.  He worked for the Carter administration (psychiatric planning), became a speechwriter for Walter Mondale, and in 1981 he joined The New Republic as an editor and writer.  He is credited with identifying and articulating the "Reagan Doctrine," which has had purchase in foreign policy circles. He has won a "National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism" and a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He was a panelist on the PBS weekly roundtable Inside Washington (1990-2013).

Over the years he has drifted to the war-mongering right.  For the past decade he has been an analyst and commentator at Fox News. His book Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics was on the New York Times best seller list for 22 weeks (number one for 10 weeks).  In 2006, the Financial Times named him the most influential commentator in America.

Influential commentators can cause harm with poor formulation of issues.  Krauthammer recently caused mischief by arguing that now is not a time for peace in Israel/Palestine, and we shouldn't expect Israel's government to work for peace.

Krauthammer's Counter-Productive and False Case for Bibi

On Thursday March 19, 2015, Krauthammer published an article in the Washington Post and The National Review arguing aggressively that the prospects for peace in Israel/Palestine are dead; and not--he wants us to understand--because Netanyahu has declared that no Palestinian State will emerge on his watch, but rather because the Palestinians have unreasonably rejected "their own state--with its capital in Jerusalem and every Israeli settlement in the new Palestine uprooted." No peace in our time, but not because of Bibi, says the byline in the National Review.

Here is Krauthammer:
... There would be no peace and no Palestinian state if Isaac Herzog were prime minister either. Or Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert for that matter. The latter two were (non-Likud) prime ministers who offered the Palestinians their own state — with its capital in Jerusalem and every Israeli settlement in the new Palestine uprooted — only to be rudely rejected.... The fundamental reality remains: This generation of Palestinian leadership — from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas — has never and will never sign its name to a final peace settlement dividing the land with a Jewish state.
.... [T]here is a second reason a peace agreement is impossible: the supreme instability of the entire Middle East. .... From Mali to Iraq, everything is in flux. Amid this mayhem, by what magic would the West Bank, riven by a bitter Fatah–Hamas rivalry, be an island of stability? What would give any Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement even a modicum of durability?   ...
Peace awaits three things. Eventual Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state. A Palestinian leader willing to sign a deal based on that premise. A modicum of regional stability that allows Israel to risk the potentially fatal withdrawals such a deal would entail. 
I believe such a day will come. But there is zero chance it comes now or even soon. That’s essentially what Netanyahu said Thursday in explaining — and softening — his no-Palestinian-state statement. ...  Blaming Netanyahu for banishing peace, however, is mindless. 

No, Blaming Netanyahu for Banishing Peace is Not "Mindless"

The main point Krauthammer makes, that Palestinians would never accept a division of the land with Israelis, is a false premise.  If Palestinians were offered their own state, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and every Israeli West Bank Settlement uprooted, they would accept that.  If such an offer were made the prospects for peace would skyrocket.

Krauthammer is not serious.  At no point were the Palestinians offered such a deal.  Ron Pundak and Yair Hirshfeld initiated the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians in 1993.  The Oslo Principles contemplated an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, gradual devolution of economic power to the Palestinians, and international economic assistance to the nascent Palestinian entity in Gaza.  But as we know, Netanyahu railed against Oslo from the start and has undermined it at every turn.  He contributed to the poisonous atmosphere that resulted in Rabin's assassination in 1995.  He has been unequivocal that Jerusalem remain Israel's undivided capital and that Israel will not retreat from any of the settlements in the West Bank.  He is fully committed to continue the settlement process.  To the extent that Olmert and Barak were willing to compromise, it's clear Netanyahu is not willing to make such compromises.  So what's Krauthammer talking about?

After invading and occupying Gaza, the West Bank, and Golan in 1967, successive Israeli governments have refused to abandon settlements, or to halt settlement activity, without a final end-of-conflict agreement.

Here is Hussein Agha in a 2010 interview with the Middle East Policy Council:
I do not think there is an Israeli government anymore that is willing to give up Israel’s material assets on the West Bank without concluding an end-of-conflict agreement. Whether the assets are theirs or not is not the point; they are in possession of them. If they do not get an end of the conflict in return, why should they risk giving these assets up and reducing their maneuverability and their chance to have as much control over security as they want? They are on record since the Barak government that an end of-conflict agreement that ends Palestinian claims is what they expect in return for acquiescing to a Palestinian state. 
Netanyahu and Krauthammer seem to accept this formulation: it's inherent in their "peace cannot be achieved while the region is in turmoil" approach. But allowing turmoil to stand in the way of discussing a vision for peace is not helpful. It sets up an impossible problem. The region is unstable and security is a concern, but occupation and ongoing settlement make matters much worse.  At the same time Israel's ongoing settlement activity gradually makes the formation of a separate Palestinian State impossible.

The outline of a vision that Palestinians and Israelis can buy into is a necessary pre-requisite to ending the conflict.  No one suggests that Israel give up on its security concerns, or that it evacuate the West Bank tomorrow. Israel can and will maintain its security presence in the West Bank and Gaza for as long as necessary.  But there has to be a vision for peace that both sides can buy into, and peace-makers must be eager to work towards that vision, not a way from it.

Netanyahu, of course, is not alone in lacking a vision for peace.  Peace with the Palestinians was not under discussion during the just completed Israeli election campaign. Israelis feel that the status quo is tolerable and reasonably safe behind their separation wall, IDF cordons, military occupation, and police patrols. Palestinians don't feel so safe.

Krauthammer points to the lack of Palestinian elections as an excuse for Netanyahu not engaging in peace talks.  But a year ago the Palestinian Authority and Hamas formed a unity government and announced they would hold elections in September 2014.  In response Netanyahu walked out on the peace talks; a Hamas affiliated faction then kidnapped and murdered three Yeshiva students in the West Bank and Israel arrested every Hamas connected person they could get their hands on—on the pretext of “searching for the boys” when the evidence was clear they were dead from the start; and when Hamas retaliated with rockets from Gaza, Israel killed 2200, destroyed 10,000 buildings, 18,000 housing units, displaced 500,000 people, left 100,000 homeless, and leveled Gaza’s infrastructure. To say, in light of all that, that the problem is Abbas not having elections is perverse.

It’s false for Krauthammer to say that “any Arab-Israeli peace settlement would require Israel to make dangerous and inherently irreversible territorial concessions on the West Bank in return for promises and guarantees.” It requires no such thing. What is required from Israel--if there are to be two states-- is a) a commitment to peace; b) an agreement on final boundaries; c) no more settlement activity aimed at making the emergence of a Palestinian state impossible; d) a commitment to share Jerusalem in some manner; e) a commitment to jointly develop and share infrastructure (water, wastewater, energy, roads, telecommunications, busing, trains, business infrastructure); f) agreement on how to handle the existing settlements; and g) concrete steps to make the life of Palestinians better. None of these things require a change in security arrangements before it’s safe to change them.

Netanyahu is on the wrong side of every one of these issues:  he makes no commitment to peace, he vows the boundary will always be the Jordan river, he continues to steal Palestinian land, water, and resources, he vows not to abandon any settlements, and he is taking concrete steps to make the life of Palestinians worse instead of better.

Noone is saying Israel should rely or trust on "outside guarantees."  Israel will provide its own security. What people are saying is: stop treating the Palestinians like shit.  Netanyahu is not about to.

Krauthammer ends with a final red herring: Palestinian acceptance of a “Jewish State.” The truth is Palestinians have accepted Israel as a state. So has the Arab League. If there is a Palestinian state that emerges, Jews will have a solid majority in Israel which guarantees the “Jewish” nature of their state. There is the issue of minority rights in Israel—but that’s a civil rights struggle that can be tackled without civil war.  If Israel is serious about two states, the need for Arabs to accept Israel as a “Jewish” state becomes moot. Israel will be Jewish.  On the other hand if there is no second state that emerges—highly likely at this point—then Israel/Palestine can’t be “Jewish” without also being an apartheid ethnocracy.  


  1. The only ray of hope in these scenarios is that Netanyahu is a believer of the "shifting sands," view of history. His ideology is shaped by self-interest rather than deeply held beliefs.
    That is a good thing in the middle east. It is the true believers amongst Jews, Muslims, and Secularists that are more likely to go to war (or rather send the young to war.) Peace requires diplomacy which ultimately requires compromise and thus the "selling out of principles." I don't believe that Netanyahu has any principles to sell out and just needs an equally mendacious figure amongst the Palestinians to partner with him.

  2. Thank you, Don: That is an optimistic take on Netanyahu. I do believe Abbas is "mendacious" enough to accept a Palestinian state based on the Green Line, with land swaps for most settlements, and a shared capital in Jerusalem. I don't think there is a politician in Israel today who could deliver such a deal. Whether Abbas could remains to be seen. Ben-Amy gave a strong speech at the J-Street conference last night sticking to 2SS. He is asking for pressure to be brought on Israel. I agree with him that the ball is in their court, i.e., I don't think it's a situation of "but for the lack of a peace partner." For now, it looks like Israel will continue to settle...