‘NYT’ beats a dead horse

Bernard Avishai’s article in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine reviews the status of the negotiations between Abbas and Olmert in 2008. At the time Olmert was a lame duck under threat of indictment for corruption and running a government revving up to go to war with Gaza! (This is the same Olmert so seriously unserious about reaching an agreement that a year earlier he refused to discuss final-status issues in preparation for Annapolis or at Annapolis; Abbas should never have gone.)

As for Avishai’s article, which is getting a lot of press, its first premise is wrong—that the state of the negotiations in 2008 was just about ready to roll. It wasn’t. Ariel and Maale Adumim settlements are not “minor” sticking points; Israel has no business in those places, but Olmert whined that he couldn’t get rid of the settlers, so, please, let him keep those big settlements in the heart of Palestine. And, again, Olmert was on his way out and couldn’t make any such deal, which he surely well knew; he was just playing, I’d say, perhaps to burnish his legacy with some positive content for the memoir he would inevitably write (and, yes, he’s written it; it was just published in Israel).

Olmert comes from a long line of Israeli fakers. Indeed, doesn’t this one recall the Holy Barak Offer of 2000 at Camp David (you know, when Barak offered Arafat “everything” and Arafat repaid him by starting the intifada, as in “there is no Palestinian partner for peace”), a talking point that has since been thoroughly discredited?

Second false premise, which Avishai pretty much leaves out of his article: that, by implication, an agreement is possible with the obstructionist Netanyahu and his government, though I think the word “Netanyahu” comes up only twice in the article. (There’s really nowhere to go with talk of “peace process” once you acknowledge the Netanyahu/Lieberman problem, so best to avoid it.)

Noam Sheizaf parses this out quite smartly at +972 and demurs with Avishai that there is any point in the US initiating another round of “peace process” at this time. Remember, too, that Israel will happily latch on to meaningless negotiations because they make it look as if Israel is engaged—at no cost. Why give them that and why do it to the Palestinians (again)?

So where ought we to go next?

Sheizaf asks and answers the question:

So, what should the US do? In my opinion, the answer is not much, at least for the time being. As recent events taught us, there are limits to the ability to shape the Middle East’s politics from the Oval Office. The US should take a step back, and most importantly, let Jerusalem face the consequences of the occupation by gradually lifting the diplomatic shield it provides Israel with. It should be done in a smart enough way not to hurt the administration politically, but the message needs to be clear: If Israel continues to hold on to the West Bank, it will become more and more isolated. With time, this message would resonate with policy makers and with the Jewish public.

Precisely. That would mean, for example, voting yes (okay, abstention would be good, too) on a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements as illegal—technically speaking, the resolution simply echoes official US policy. It does not “delegitimize” Israel, even if it does delegitimize the Greater Israel colonial project. And why would Israel then continue to become even more isolated than it is already—because the US is pulling it support (still a whopping hypothetical), because the story of Israeli colonialism is getting out, because the discourse is expanding in the media, because of BDS.

Lest anyone think that this is what Thomas Friedman has in mind when he says that the US should “walk away” because “both sides” are neither ready nor interested (the equivalence lie that pro-Israel people like to use), think again. Friedman has never given any indication that his notion of “walking away” has any consequences for Israel. Until Friedman talks explicitly about “lifting the diplomatic shield” or cutting aid, assume that he means, let the powerful party (Israel) continue to play at business as usual without any other US interference.

Those, like Avishai, Hendrik Hertzberg (in the New Yorker) and Jeffrey Goldberg, who are pushing for renewed “peace process,” are covering for Israel. If the game of “peace process” is being played, one can pretend that the Israelis are interested, even when they’re not. The answer should be, No dice; game over.

In the aftermath of Egypt, it will be something of a day of reckoning when the resolution on settlements comes before the Security Council. What better way to give the lie to the newfound US embrace of democracy and freedom than to veto it?

And, by contrast, what better way to turn the page at last on this sorry history of support for occupation and colonialism than to vote yes (or, at the least for starters, to abstain)?

Permit me a bit of license with friend Shakespeare (the Shylock speech about Jews):

Hath not a [Palestinian] eyes? hath not a [Palestinian] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a [Jew] is?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.

Honestly, if not now already, then when?

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 39 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Ilene omits the conspicuous point of Avishai’s that is that the US should ACTIVELY mediate the bridging of the divides that are incidental compared to the status of divide a decade ago.

    This is genuinely close.

    Nothing like what Olmert and Abbas discussed will happen with Netanyahu in office. To make a change requires an electoral effort, which must be preceded by a persuasion effort.

    BDS makes that persuasion effort that much more difficult.

    If it is a fact that the positions articulated by the PLO and Kadima are close (I think it is a fact), and that the single-state approach through BDS is distant (and involves a great amount of immoral isolation and risk), it is both imprudent and frankly cruel, to compel Palestinians to wait and wait and wait and wait on the changing whimsy of prevailing dissent.

    Any proposal they can articulate requires ratification. Nothing will be imposed on the Israeli or Palestinian people. They will either consent to the proposal or reject it.

    • Diane Mason says:

      Richard, I think what you correctly see as the key to Avishai’s article – i.e. the active mediation of the U.S. to bridge the divide – is also the weak spot of Avishai’s article.

      Avishai says everything is possible if Obama truly engages. But Obama is not going to engage on this issue in the second half of a first term in office, because he wants a second term. Nothing we have seen of Obama so far suggests that he would give up the chance of re-election on a point of principle. Right now, he is so scared of losing the “pro-Israel” crowd in our internal politics that doesn’t even dare withhold his veto on a UNSC resolution that has specifically been written to reflect US stated policy on the settlements! He’s certainly not going to dirty his hands on really controversial stuff like dividing Jerusalem.

      He is not going to bridge this gap. So all the good outcomes that Avishai sees from his bridging the gap, are moot. It is no good saying that X Y & Z will result from Obama doing A B & C, when there is no prospect of Obama doing A B & C. At that point, X Y & Z are just hot air.

      Obama will not consider doing A B & C until he has a second term in his pocket, at which point X Y & Z will be a distant memory. The rest of the world is moving on, certainly the Middle East is. The situation is not going to stay still and wait for Obama to arrive at a place where he can present a bridging proposal without fear of what the Friends of Israel can do to his re-election prospects.

      • I think the presence of the Netanyahu government is the primary obstacle. In the context of kadima in power, I expect that Obama would be right in it.

        I regard the effort to negotiate a peace as primary, and therefore regard the means to that end of electing Kadima (the only current party with votes) as also critical.

        And, to accomplish that requires calm persuasion.

        Threats, animosity, rocket fire, BDS, elects Netanyahu, sadly.

        • Colin Murray says:

          I think the presence of the Netanyahu government is the primary obstacle.

          This is liberal Zionist delusion of the most pitiable and tiresome sort. Israeli leadership to the left of Netanyahu have had plenty of opportunities to ink a just final status agreement, but they chose not to. Their administrations chose instead, every last one of them, to plant more Jewish colonies in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

          It is clear from the PA documents and other source material that no Palestinian offer was ever going to be good enough. They were being strung out, played. It was always going to be just out of reach. The ‘peace process’ benefited Israel colonial interests both by keeping Palestinian resistance mollified and involved external parties like the US from peering too closely at incessant Israeli crimes committed during the colonization process. That’s why Israelis refuse to stop building colonies during negotiations. The negotiations were there to facilitate their construction.

        • Israeli governments to the left of Netanyahu have never been this close to peace that confidently results in actual peace.

        • talknic says:

          Richard Witty February 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm

          “I think the presence of the Netanyahu government is the primary obstacle.”

          Every Israeli Government has been the obstacle

          The unwitting ignorance of the Israeli people in general is the obstacle.

          Successive Israeli Government LIES and the either willingness to propagate them or the unwillingness to verify them, has been and still is the obstacle.

        • Citizen says:

          The settlements have expanded every year since 1967 regardless of any Israeli administration–is that when Netanyahu first came to power?

  2. marc b. says:

    the NYT is only useful as a barometer of the opinion of a narrow class of interests. oh, and it has entertaining lifestyles/arts sections in its Sunday edition. beyond that, it is a rag, the writing and analysis in numerous other mainstream publications putting Sanger/Friedman/Bonner et al. to shame. see e.g. LRB, NYRB, TLS etc.

    i like the bastardized shakespeare quote. you could try a similar exercise with the NYT Sunday magazine article on the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland, exchanging Israel and Jewish in place of Ireland and Catholic, both the institution of the church and the institution of zionism being serial abusers with no interest in acknowledgement of guilt or reform.

  3. Surcouf says:

    The desire by the likes of Avishai, Hertzberg, Goldberg and others to revive the so-called “Peace Process” has nothing to do with the aim of achieving meaningful and lasting results. They know full well that as long as the Israeli polity remains in the control of Right-wing Likudniks plus Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas supporters no agreement can ever be found with the Palestinians.

    So why bother with reviving the negotiations? Well, without negotiations, the isolation of Israel on the world stage will only grow. The nakedness of Israeli aggressions on the Palestinian population, be it within Israel proper or in the OT, will be seen for what it is – a racist supremacist enterprise aiming to subjugate other human beings. And this is exactly what they fear. The only thing that the negotiations have accomplished so far is to provide cover for the continuation of the Zionist project of dispossession of Palestinian rights and land.

    The events in Egypt have only made their call for renewed negotiations more urgent, and desperate, as they can all foresee that a future Egyptian government, in tuned with its population, will be less, not more, amenable to American and Israeli agenda towards Palestinians. The supporters of renewed talks understand that Israeli governments had it good until now and that the power dynamic is shifting away from Israel. The responses by the current Israeli government in the coming weeks and months will show if it understands that the power dynamic has changed. But don’t hold your breath!

    • Citizen says:

      Should we hold our breath until the US government will show it understands the power dynamic has changed? Our current government waited until it was clear Murbarak’s thugs had done their best to cow the Egyptian Street with the contrary result, a “too late” showing now absorbed by the whole Middle East and even many Americans who never thought about US foreign policy at all. And what’s the US government doing now in Yemen, for example? Training the tyrannical puppet government there to more effectively manhandle the disgruntled masses there. Our WH & Congress & MSM continue the relentless slogan, “Better the evil you know, than the evil you don’t know,” aka
      He’s a monster to his own people, but he’s OUR monster.” And the new boogyman is the MB. This has always been the stance of Israel, but it’s not the traditional stance of the USA–at the very least, not so blatently, and never before in internet times where the government filter is not conclusive on its (even semi-) inquiring subjects.

      • Citizen says:

        Preempt Iran, preempt the MB, preempt Sharia Law, preempt “them fighting us over here,” preempt the Caliphate, preempt the goy world eternally wishing to kill Jews. Clean that door knob again, clean it a thousand times a day. You never know when you could catch a bug. Does this describe reasonable caution, or a future where normalcy has lost all meaning? A world gone insane literally.

      • Surcouf says:

        Citizen – the conduct of the Obama administration in regards to supporting the pro-democracy protesters has been little more than lukewarm initially, shameful at times when the regime was hitting back, and playing catch-up when it was clear where the momentum was, and as you said: a “too late” showing now absorbed by the whole Middle East.

        Some analysts and pundits have pointed out to possible internal conflicts between the White House and the Mrs. Clinton’s State Department as for in what direction the American response should go, the “Wisner Affair” being an example of that conflict. Apparently Obama was mad as hell when he heard of Wisner’s comments in Germany about Mubarak and instructed John Kerry to hit the Sunday shows to neutralize the effect. If anything, this only demonstrates the power struggle taking place right now within the top echelons of the Obama administration.

        Another example of how that changing power dynamic triggered by the events in Egypt is being played out in Washington was the statement made by James Steinberg of the State Department on the question of the US using its veto on the UNSC resolution about the illegality of Israeli settlements. What was the need to make such public announcement now other than wanting to corner Obama and prevent beforehand the possibility of the US to abstain on the vote. The Israeli interests lost on the Egypt question but they made sure they wouldn’t in the UNSC. Or maybe this is just my Machiavellian mind running wild…

    • piotr says:

      I think that Avishai, Hertzberg etc. do not want Lidud-G (genuine) and Yisrael Beitenu in power, but Likud-F (fake).

      As it is, two state solution, one state solution, there is no difference because there is no solution. And the situation is not stable. There is a big analogy with mortgage boom in USA, Britain, Spain etc. As long as it lasts, it is so enormously convenient that no rational forces can convince the decision makers — governments, banks, consumers — that it better to stop the fun earlier when it will cause less pain.

      Israel’s position is excellent: full supremacy. Position of Israeli liberals — not so much. You guys know that deep down, or perhaps not so deep they are supremacists too, but they are unenthusiastic supremacists, almost ready to be diagnosed as self-hating degenerate elements, enemies of the people. Forget Palestinians. THEY need a different political dynamics, and they have a forlorn hope that America will force Israel to change.

  4. MHughes976 says:

    If Avishai is saying that ‘serious negotiation towards 2ss remains possible’ I don’t think Cohen fully refutes him. She’s right to say that he minimises differences that were really quite major, but it could be replied that the whole nature of serious negotiations is to overcome major difficulties. She’s right to say that Olmert’s insincerity and Netanyahu’s overt obstructionism have never been overcome but it could be replied that this only shows that if someone were to negotiate sincerely and open-mindedly an agreement would be reached. I think that 2ss is hideously unfair but I still think it may have a few more flickers of life than the average doorknob does.

    • marc b. says:

      the 2ss solution is only possible to the extent that israel has the will to put the settlers in their place. from my perspective, i don’t see a solution on the immediate horizon without more bloodshed and trauma, regardless of whether it takes the form of separate jewish and palestinian states, or a truly democratic single state.

      • Citizen says:

        Here’s two alternative solutions put forth by an Israeli think tank trying to think outside the box of 2ss or 1s:
        link to jpost.com

        • marc b. says:

          i just got around to reading the jpost link, citizen. i would disagree with your characterization of the proposals as ‘altnernate solutions’ to the 2ss/1s dichotomy. the underlying purpose of the proposals seems to be the establishment of some form of interim resolution of the conflict, e.g. temporary demarcation of borders between israeli and palestinian territories, in order to counter the [correct] impression that israel is intentionally undermining the peace process, the 2ss still being the ultimate, permanent goal.

      • Potsherd2 says:

        Far from having the will to put the settlers in their place, the Israeli government is more and more becoming settler-dominated. The latest proposal of the Education Minister is to ship Israeli schoolchildren to Hebron, to visit the “holy place.”

        link to haaretz.com

  5. pabelmont says:

    This analysis (or Sheizaf’s) is exactly right. The issue is one of externalities for Israel.

    There can be no peace acceptable both to Israel and to the Palestinian people as matters stand. (I say nothing of what might be acceptable to the now apparently deeply corrupt and non-representative PA/PLO.)

    How do matters stand? They stand with a USA-imposed international consensus-in-action to do nothing to change externalities for Israel. This must change. USA’s state department’s recent words about the proposed Palestinian UNSC resolution do not suggest change from that quarter. (Nothing embarrasses those people.)

    If the UNSC with USA support, or the UNGA without USA support, can impose almost any sort of sanctions-based demand that Israel remove all 550,000 settlers and demolish the wall and all the settlements, I believe it would constitute the sort of change in externalities which would permit (and require) Israel to re-think its greater-Israel project.

    Turkey and the South Americans and some Muslim states (but maybe not those with unpleasant USA-dependent dictators) might join such a BDS action at state level. It is said that more states recognized Palestine in 1988 than (then) recognized Israel. If some of those which recognize Palestine NOW will risk trade relations with Israel to make a BDS-statement, there might be progress.

    • Citizen says:

      But they will also be risking trade relations with the USA–the USA does not care about its own trade suffering when supporting Israel is concerned. This matter is just another example of how practically our foreign policy is not tied to an economic policy in the our own best interests. But, what they hey, the USA is in such great economic shape…

  6. sherbrsi says:

    Forget about the actors, examine the offers. That is what the Palestine Papers reveal to us. No Israeli leader has been willing to give up on the West Bank. Settlements like Ariel are not mere outposts, they directly invalidate any Palestinian contiguity. Besides allowing any political authority, the Israelis cannot even let go off the bare minimum required for an independent and physical Palestinian state. What they have been trying to sell as a peace plan is more or less a glorified status quo.

    The peace process is destined to failure each and every time. Avishai and other faux-liberal Zionists like him have a vested interest in keeping illusions of progress alive, meanwhile casting a blind eye towards the ever expanding facts on the ground that speak for themselves on the issue of Israeli sincerity and generosity. I think the public has lost appetite of this charade and isn’t going to buy it anymore despite the best efforts of these propagandists. Sooner or later people are going to ask why the American government gave billions to the Zionist regime and could not even secure a basic settlement freeze. Israel is becoming increasingly expensive and taxing to “secure” and coddle into “making peace.” If such historical callousness that they are known for is kept up, they stand more to lose than just legitimacy.

    • Citizen says:

      “Sooner or later?” The US regime, AIPAC, and Israel have good reason to believe it will always be later. All governments operate on a short-term basis. If nothing else, History tells us that.

  7. ig says:

    Well said, Ilene. Bravo.

    Ira

  8. Walid says:

    Avishai’s detailed elaborations on the sellout of the Palestinians’ rights by Abbas were not new and reviving the peace process for a 2 ss based on the Abbas giveaways is not realistic. As mentioned, all this talk of restarting negotiations by Avishai and others is really about protecting Israel. On another thread here, Slater also discussed the Abbas giveaways as a fait-accompli. Zionist smoke and mirrors .

    • “sell-out”. He was negotiating a proposal for the Palestinian people and Israeli people to consider and ratify or reject.

      The condemnation of that is the sell-out, prohibiting the Palestinian people from the opportunity to decide.

      • Koshiro says:

        Can I ask you a question? Why do you believe that this hypothetical Olmert-Abbas peace deal would be subject to a referendum of Palestinians? Olmert certainly wasn’t operating from this assumption, he was putting the gun to Abbas’ head and saying “sign!”, in a manner of speaking.
        Has any Israeli or Palestinian politician ever positively confirmed that a peace deal would be subject to a referendum?

        • It takes a government to sign a treaty. A leader is only the proposer. Any treaty would have to be ratified the knesset as well, and the knesset has legislated that a peace treaty with Palestine would have to be ratified by the Israeli populace, parallel to the proposed sequence in Palestine.

        • Koshiro says:

          That did not answer the question in the slightest.

      • Walid says:

        Richard, that “selling-out” deal would have been one that Palestinian people coud not have accepted. You and Avishai considering a deal in which 100,000 on a total of 5 million being allowed to return over 10 years as an opportunity is nothing short of rubbing salt into the wound. You guys are disappointed at how close you came with Abbas at concluding a non-deal that in your minds would have resolved the conflict. The only thing these Olmert-Abbas talks that reached Avishai’s ear did was to expose Abbas and the rest of his PA for being the collaborationists that they are. The Palestinian people may be desperate for peace but they’re not stupid and the waiting game the Zionists have been playing all these years will eventually blow up in their faces.

        • Koshiro says:

          Not that Israel has offered to accept anywhere near 100,000 refugees. Last I heard, Olmert has offered the number 5000, which is functionally equivalent to 0. He probably picked the smallest number which would still bamboozle Israel fans into believing it was not functionally equivalent to 0.

  9. Les says:

    Who prevented Abbas from resigning along with the rest of the newly resigned PLO leadership?

    • Colin Murray says:

      I don’t have the citation handy, but I read recently that he wanted to resign some years ago but was told that US/EU funding to the PA would cease if he stepped down, presumably the reason being that there wasn’t a reliably compliant replacement ready. It could be that the simplest answer is correct: he wants to milk US/EU taxpayer-filled PA coffers as long as he can and his subordinates are expendable if their departure can buy him a little more time.

  10. annie says:

    the framing in avishai’s article grosses me out. for a little exercise in futility i’m going to grab just one paragraph and copy it, then tell you how it reads to me, just for the hell of it. you might as well skip this entire comment because nothing about it is original.

    here’s the 2nd paragraph of the article (we only got one freebie in respite, the first. the rest of the article is trife garbage jammed packed w/lying bullshit. pardon my french)

    In Israel, by contrast, there is fear . Whatever their doubts about how Egypt and Jordan were ruled, most Israelis counted on the Mubarak and Hashemite regimes, if not as true allies then at least as stable neighbors committed to the peace treaties they signed. Israelis understand that their occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza are sources of rage in the Arab street, but many have come to believe that the peace process is futile — especially since President Obama seems to have despaired of achieving meaningful negotiations — and they fear democracy will bring Islamists to power, or at least encourage anti-Israeli politicians. They feel a strategic pillar has been kicked from under them, and the regional unrest only strengthens their sense that they must defend themselves against, rather than make peace with, the Palestinians.

    jews in israel live in fear (i’m shocked). they ‘understand’ the occupation is a sources of rage in the Arab street (those friggin raging arabs are at it again). ‘ especially since’ (code: ‘because of’) Obama ‘seems’ (code: it appears to me, apparently, but that’s not a total commitment so i don’t want to appear to be blaming obama but golly, i will anyway) to have despaired of achieving meaningful negotiations (cough, he despaired, gave up, he’s a quitter..so much hope snuffed out because of him) the peace process is futile (code: kapoot, and it’s not our fault either)

    jews in israel are in fear democracy will bring Islamists to power or at least (at the very minimum, which is unreasonable because it is only because we live in fear we have to be burdened by punishing palestinians and their nasty stone throwing children) encourage (find , nurture and promote) anti-Israeli politicians .

    a strategic pillar has been kicked from under them damnit! this kind of regional unrest calls of for a strengthening of all defenses, how is anyone to make peace w/palestinians under these circumstances?

    end

    the next paragraph had a real doozy. the “Palestine Papers” (in quotes no less!) were unfocused and confusing, (i’m so confused!!) and the achievements of the negotiators were lost in the excitement generated in the streets of Tunis and Cairo

    so many grand achievements in the palestine papers and they all went up in a puff of confusing revolutionary smoke./ NOT

  11. yourstruly says:

    even before this miracle on the nile, it’[s doubtful that the palestinian people would have gone for a 2ss, especially if it doesn’t include the right of return. What’s more, in the aftermath of those 18 days in Liberation Square, there’s even less chance that palestinians will accept a 2ss. Why would they at a time when the aftershocks of the egyptian revolution are being felt throughout the region? As several MW commentators have mentioned, the most important project for attaining justice for palestine is for Egypt to open the gates to & fro rafah for the palestinian people.

  12. ToivoS says:

    Over the last 20 years, first Arafat then Abbas made a number of concessions to the Israelis in those never ending negotiations called the “peace process”. The Israelis agreed to nothing. But do notice the pattern that has emerged — the Palestinian side threw out a large number of ideas on things that they would be willing to concede. Have you noticed a pattern here? At each step it is understood that the earlier concessions that the Palestinian negotiators offered become the base line for future negotiations. That is, their un-reciprocated concessions are accepted by Israel (and, of course, the American “even handed” intermediates) and become the starting point for the next round of negotiations. Israel gives nothing, the Palestinians give more and more. This process must stop.

    The next round of negotiations must begin with the 1967 borders and the ROR as the base line. All 500,000 thousand settlers in the WB will be negotiating chips, not just the 50,000 Olmert agreed to. This is the new reality that has left Israel in such a panic over the last month.

  13. talknic says:

    FACT: Any negotiation is an attempt to force the Palestinians to forgo some of their legitimate and legal rights to the advantage of the aggressor.