The Samson complex: Israel again rebuffs peace with the Arab world

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 38 Comments

Washington’s reputation as an “honest broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in tatters after four years of indulging Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence. The Obama administration desperately needs to resurrect a credible peace process.

Faced with a diplomatic impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, seized his chance last week. He extracted from the Arab League an agreement to dust off a decade-old regional plan, the Arab Peace Initiative, declaring the move “a very big step forward”.

Unveiled by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the plan promises Israel normal relations with the whole of the Arab world in return for its acceptance of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, or 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

The new Arab overture, like its antecedent, has raised barely a flicker of interest from Israel. Tzipi Livni, Washington’s sole ally in Netanyahu’s cabinet, predictably lost no time in praising the plan. But the prime minister himself has studiously avoided mentioning it, leaving his aides to dismiss the initiative as a “trick” designed to ensnare Israel in injurious peace talks.

His oblique response serves as a rejoinder to one of the conflict’s most enduring myths. Even before Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, it presented itself as eager for acceptance from the Arab states. This fiction, which continues to shape western perceptions, rests on two pillars.

The first assumes Israeli fervour to engage diplomatically with the Arab world. Or, as Israel’s then-defence minister Moshe Dayan famously told the BBC just days after the end of the Six Day War: “We are awaiting the Arabs’ phone call.”

The second, articulated most clearly by Abba Eban, when he was foreign minister in the early 1970s, castigates the Arabs for “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make peace with Israel.

And yet the historical record suggests the exact opposite. After their humiliation in 1967, the Arab states quickly conceded — at least, privately — that Israel was here to stay and began considering ways to accommodate it.

As Shlomo Ben-Ami, an Israeli historian who was foreign minister during the 2000 Camp David peace talks, observed: when the Arab states called, “Israel’s line was busy, or there was no one on the Israeli side to pick up the phone.”

Such obduracy was confirmed in last month’s disclosure by WikiLeaks of classified US diplomatic cables from that period. In late 1973, a few weeks after the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Arab League quietly offered Israel a regional peace agreement that would recognise its pre-1967 borders. But the Arab states were rebuffed.

According to a cable from January 1975, US diplomats in the Middle East concluded that Israel’s leaders demonstrated “an extraordinary lack of understanding” of Arab intentions, preferring instead to gird “their loins for the fifth, sixth, seventh Israeli-Arab wars”. The cables describe Israel as hellbent on self-destruction, suffering, in the words of US officials, from a “Masada or Samson complex”.

This context should be borne in mind as Israel’s current opposition to peace talks is ascribed solely to the hawkishness of Netanyahu’s government. In truth, this is a pattern of behaviour exhibited by Israel over many decades – or what former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad termed last week Israel’s “occupation gene”.

The Saudi peace initiative of 2002 arrived at a time early in the second intifada when Israelis were terrified by a wave of suicide bombings and the Israeli economy appeared close to collapse. Nonetheless, the then military chief of staff — today’s defence minister — Moshe Yaalon advised that Israel’s highest priority was not negotiations but a military campaign to “sear defeat deep into the Palestinian consciousness”.

At least, the newly revived Arab peace initiative has the advantage that it appears — unlike its predecessor — to have the enthusiastic backing of the White House.

Another difference, doubtless due to pressure from Kerry, is a concession from the Arab states that an agreement on Palestinian statehood will not require Israel to return to the 1967 lines. Approval of “minor” and “comparable” territorial exchanges brings the Arab League into line with the diplomatic positions of Abbas, US President Barack Obama and, ostensibly at least, several previous Israeli prime ministers.

But Netanyahu seems to be opposed even to testing the sincerity of the Arab initiative. His main objection — beyond a general antipathy to any proposal for Palestinian statehood — is reportedly that “minor” land swaps will not be generous enough to ensure Israel keeps all of its settlements.

Netanyahu’s inflexibility is being advanced even as he insists that there must be no preconditions on talks and warns that, without a peace agreement, Israel faces a future as a binational state.

Kerry, meanwhile, has proffered his own warning: there is a two-year deadline to finding a solution to the conflict. Then the Obama administration’s lame-duck period begins.

What follows next is left unstated. But presumably once the US formally abandons the peace process, the current status quo intensifies: a single state ruled over apartheid-style by Israel, with a Palestinian Authority consigned to irrelevance or oblivion.

Whatever his protestations, none of this will overly worry Mr Netanyahu. After all, this is a government that last week found grounds for complaint in Google’s decision to confer the status of “Palestine” on a search engine designation.

The reality is that another round of failed peacemaking will do far more damage to the Palestinians and Washington’s reputation than to an Israel that never intended to pick up the phone in the first place.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook
About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

38 Responses

  1. CloakAndDagger
    May 10, 2013, 9:29 am

    I still don’t understand why Abbas hasn’t taken the case to the ICC yet. What is he waiting for? It’s not as if another shoe is about to drop!

    While the UN recognition is fresh, he should make hay. The longer he waits, the more credibility to the suspicion that he is merely Israel’s puppet. Well, I guess it is well beyond suspicion at this stage…

    • pabelmont
      May 10, 2013, 11:06 am

      As to ICC, he is probably worried that [1] it won’t work (ICC will not receive Palestine or will not handle whatever case Palestine presents) and [2] USA and Israel will again tighten screws on PA (not a small matter for a corrupt and bankrupt PA).

      As to “We are awaiting the Arabs’ phone call”, this is not necessarily a fib — Israel may have been waiting for an abject surrender, although its diplomacy has eschewed any peace whatever with {Palestine, Lebanon, Syria} for so long that Tel-Aviv may never, even in private, have decided what degree of abject-ness would be acceptable. So that, when the phone DID ring (Saudi Arabia 2002), no-one answered.

      Israel has made treaties (“peace”) with Egypt and Jordan, but has a lot of conquering left to do (in its search for water I’d suppose) in regard to P-L-S.

    • gingershot
      May 10, 2013, 11:29 am

      It’s unbelievable to me that Palestinians still allow this Israeli puppet to ‘represent them’.

      It actually makes me mad at the Palestinians – though I know this is the whole point from the Israeli/Neocon side

      The Palestinians should have announced the Kerry farce over and proceeded to the ICC not only before the new settlement announcement yesterday, but before Kerry even won his latest ‘get out of jail free card stall for Israel’

      Palestine needs to take Israel to the ICC now and leave whatever Israel chooses to do or not do up to Israel while Palestine racks up judgement after judgement against Israel and gets them on the books. Duh

      Abbas is the consummate Charlie Brown listening to the eternal Lucy saying she won’t yank the ball away ‘this 2,947th time’

      Fool me once shame on you, fool me 2,947 times, uh, duh, how does the rest of it go?

    • Justpassingby
      May 10, 2013, 12:11 pm

      Unfortuntately then you are a bit naive. Go figure who have kept Abbas in power all these years. Hes in effect a collaborator with the occupier.

    • Hostage
      May 10, 2013, 3:47 pm

      I still don’t understand why Abbas hasn’t taken the case to the ICC yet.

      Why? You’d probably just fall victim to the inevitable propaganda that Abbas still needs to put a cherry on top, before the Prosecutor can do anything. Palestine has already done everything needed to “take their case” to the ICC.

      FYI, much of the international legal community is still trying to figure out why the current ICC Prosecutor hasn’t taken action under the existing Article 12(3) Declaration Palestine filed back in 2009. It formally accepted the jurisdiction of the Court for any and all crimes committed on its territory since July of 2002 and is still in full legal force and effect, until it is formally withdrawn.

      The new Prosecutor has already gone in record shortly after the UN vote on Palestine’s status acknowledging the fact that the 2009 declaration can be used by the Court to conduct investigations and prosecutions and that the Office of the Prosecutor can revisit the issue of prosecuting Israelis. Here’s a link to a video featuring Francis Boyle and an article from Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper which explains all of that:

      * link to youtube.com
      * link to timesofisrael.com

      • Citizen
        May 10, 2013, 5:14 pm

        @ HOSTAGE

        SORRY, I DON’T GET THE POINT OF WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. PLEASE SPELL IT OUT FOR US DUMMIES. THANKS.

      • Hostage
        May 11, 2013, 6:11 am

        SORRY, I DON’T GET THE POINT OF WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. PLEASE SPELL IT OUT FOR US DUMMIES. THANKS.

        The Rome Statute is an agreement between the member states. They have given non-members two ways to trigger the Court’s jurisdiction:
        1) sign-on and become a member of the Court’s legislative body, the Assembly of State Parties and pay dues, participate in election of officials, & make a referral to the Prosecutor;
        or
        2) Remain a non-member and grant the Court jurisdiction via one of the special agreements provided for in Articles 4 and 12 of the Statute.

        Francis Boyle explains in the video that Palestine has already done the latter. Those special agreements can be retroactive to the date the Statute entered into effect in July 2002. Palestine’s declaration accepted the Court’s jurisdiction retroactively, it wasn’t limited to Operation Cast Lead.

        Non-members are able to give notice to withdraw from or terminate those agreements, but remain liable for any crimes committed while they were in force.

        As a minimum the Prosecutor can require a State referral, but the Statute doesn’t prescribe any special formula. Four of the states that are members of both the League of Arab States and the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute are fully represented in the Arab League Secretariat that referred the international fact finding mission report to the Prosecutor.

        So at this point it’s the ICC Prosector’s fault that nothing has been done.

      • CloakAndDagger
        May 10, 2013, 8:10 pm

        Thanks for that, Hostage.

  2. Obsidian
    May 10, 2013, 10:38 am

    No mention by Jonathan that Hamas had rejected the Arab League Initiative last week.

    link to independent.co.uk

    It wouldn’t have hurt to mention that little fact, would it?

    • Justpassingby
      May 10, 2013, 12:16 pm

      They didnt reject it, they rejected the land swaps proposed by arab league. Hamas have offered support for two states many times – Israel on the other hand – have never done so, use Google.

    • Hostage
      May 10, 2013, 3:59 pm

      It wouldn’t have hurt to mention that little fact, would it?

      No so long as you point out that Hamas just re-elected a Politburo Chief who has repeatedly endorsed the UN statehood bid. It’s no secret that the application for UN membership and upgraded observer status both explicitly say that the borders are negotiable and that peace talks should be based upon the 1967 lines as a point of departure.

  3. Blownaway
    May 10, 2013, 11:57 am

    By the time Abbas is done dithering the ICC will be hearing about apartheid not two states. Even then the US will protect israel from any ramifications.

    • Hostage
      May 10, 2013, 4:32 pm

      By the time Abbas is done dithering the ICC will be hearing about apartheid not two states.

      For your information, the written petition that Palestine submitted to the ICJ in the 2003 Wall case said that Israeli officials were criminally liable for the crime of apartheid. See Chapter 10 link to icj-cij.org

      Israel is not a party to the treaties that criminalize apartheid, like the Rome Statute and the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. So the Court couldn’t cite Israel’s violation of an international obligation in that limited respect. Neither of those treaties are the source of international human rights. So the Court simply cited Israel’s violations of the applicable human rights treaties and the UN Charter in exactly the same way it had in the Namibia apartheid case. In its finding of facts, the Court recited a laundry list of acts committed by Israel that just so happen to be prohibited by Article 2 of the Convention on the crime of apartheid.

      Palestine, along with the other members of the Arab League, commissioned their own international fact finding mission report in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. Like the Goldstone report, it repeatedly incorporated the findings of the ICJ Advisory Opinion through detailed references. Unlike the Goldstone report, the Secretary of the Arab League turned over its fact finding report to the ICC Prosecutor during a meeting on the subject in Cairo that was held in late 2009. So the ICC has already heard all about Israeli apartheid. It’s really not a question of whether on not Israeli officials are liable for the crime, only a matter of determining which ones.

      • Citizen
        May 10, 2013, 5:17 pm

        @ HOSTAGE

        Is there anything on this at all in the US mainstream media? Just asking.

      • Hostage
        May 11, 2013, 4:50 am

        Is there anything on this at all in the US mainstream media?

        No, I’ve never stumbled across anything but hasbara in the US press.

  4. Binyamin in Orangeburg
    May 10, 2013, 12:17 pm

    I would welcome a cite for the Yaalon quote. I couldn’t find it on the internet, and the right-wingers deny he ever said it. link to thestar.com

  5. Ramzi Jaber
    May 10, 2013, 12:27 pm

    Time to dissolve the PA.
    Time for Mr. Abbas to resign.
    Time for all of us to demand the release of Mr. Barghouti.
    Time for Secretary Kerry to accelerate his 2-year timeline and declare the 2SS officially dead NOW.
    Time to formalize the 1S1P1V – one state, one person, one vote.
    Time to demand our right to vote in the DEMOCRATIC State of the Holy Land!

  6. DICKERSON3870
    May 10, 2013, 12:54 pm

    RE: “Even before Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, it presented itself as eager for acceptance from the Arab states. This fiction, which continues to shape western perceptions, rests on two pillars. The first assumes Israeli fervour to engage diplomatically with the Arab world.” ~ Cook

    MY COMMENT: Any “Israeli fervor to engage diplomatically” with the Arab world is (and has always been) just a PR stunt. The “Iron Wall” strategy as adopted by Likudnik Israel rejects the notion of Israel’s seeking acceptance from the Arab states. Pursuant to the “Iron Wall” strategy, Jews are to unilaterally decide Israel’s borders and defend them with the strongest security possible.

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Iron Wall (essay)]:

    “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)” is an essay written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923. It was originally published in Russian, the language in which Jabotinsky wrote for the Russian press.[1]
    He wrote the essay after the British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill prohibited Zionist settlement on the east bank of the Jordan River, and formed the Zionist Revisionist party after writing it.[2]
    Jabotinsky argued that the Palestinian Arabs would not agree to a Jewish majority in Palestine, and that “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”[1] The only solution to achieve peace and a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, he argued, would be for Jews to unilaterally decide its borders and defend them with the strongest security possible.

    • References
    1.^ a b Jabotinsky, Ze’ev (4 November 1923). “The Iron Wall”. – link to jabotinsky.org
    2.^ Zionist Freedom Alliance – Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky – link to zfa.org.il

    • External links
    Lustick, Ian S. (2007). “Abandoning the Iron Wall: Israel and ‘The Middle Eastern Muck'”. Middle East Policy (Middle East Policy Council) (Fall 2007). – link to mepc.org

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

    ENTIRE ‘IRON WALL’ ESSAY: “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)”, By Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1923 – link to marxists.de

  7. DICKERSON3870
    May 10, 2013, 1:03 pm

    RE: “Whatever his protestations, none of this will overly worry Mr Netanyahu… The reality is that another round of failed peacemaking will do far more damage to the Palestinians and Washington’s reputation than to an Israel that never intended to pick up the phone in the first place.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    JOEL KOVEL (1-20-13):

    . . . As with everyone I know of in official political culture, Friedman assumes that Israel is a rational actor on the international stage who will obey the calculus of reward and punishment that regulates the conduct of normal states. The presumption is that if you tell it the truth, and even pull back US support, it will get the message, reflect, and change its ways. But Israel is not a normal state, except superficially. It will make adjustments, pulling back here, co-operating there, making nice when necessary, crafting its message using a powerful propaganda apparatus employing the most up-to-date social science. But this is simply tactical and no more predicts or explains the behavior of the Zionist state than an individual sociopath can be explained by the fact that he obeys traffic signals while driving to the scene of his crime. . .

    SOURCE – link to mondoweiss.net

    • James Canning
      May 13, 2013, 7:53 pm

      Dickerson – – Netanyahu is only too well aware he has numerous stooges in the US Congress, only too keen to do his bidding. And to scr*w the Palestinians.

  8. seafoid
    May 10, 2013, 3:24 pm

    “According to a cable from January 1975, US diplomats in the Middle East concluded that Israel’s leaders demonstrated “an extraordinary lack of understanding” of Arab intentions, preferring instead to gird “their loins for the fifth, sixth, seventh Israeli-Arab wars”. The cables describe Israel as hellbent on self-destruction, suffering, in the words of US officials, from a “Masada or Samson complex”

    That was when the US was still run by officials who understood the world. Reagan took over and everything changed.

    40 years on Israel is in deep s***.

    • Citizen
      May 10, 2013, 5:19 pm

      Reagan totally ignored, and worked against any fairness in the I-P situation. What a shallow creep he was.

      • seafoid
        May 11, 2013, 5:16 am

        The Zionists can’t do anything without backroom deals and loads of money. None of it is natural.

        It’s like expecting Charles Ramsey, the man who rescued the women in Cleveland, to side with the guy who raped them.

        Do the right thing, Israel.

      • James Canning
        May 13, 2013, 7:50 pm

        @Citizen – – Don’t forget Alexander Haig, Jr. Haig concealed from the American defence secretary, the fact Israel was going to invade Lebanaon.

    • James Canning
      May 13, 2013, 7:51 pm

      @Seafoid – – And Reagan got into the White House, in part due to the scamming of the American people (all the cr*p about “America held hostage”).

  9. Hostage
    May 10, 2013, 4:54 pm

    Jonathan cites a cable from January 1975 and discusses the 2001 Arab Peace Initiative and its recent revival in a slightly modified form.

    But he should have also mentioned that the 1975 cable wasn’t limited to the subject of the Israeli “Masada or Samson complex”. It illustrated that the Arabs had already offered to base negotiations on the 1967 borders long before 2001:

    4. The Arab decision in Algiers to give de facto recognition to Israel in its 1967 borders was perhaps a mistake. To announce, before negotiations start, what is your final position is usually not a good bargaining tactic. It did give the Israelis, however, almost everything they have asked for since 1948.

    link to wikileaks.org

    • James Canning
      May 13, 2013, 7:48 pm

      @Hostage – – Important PR angle comes into play, at least normally. But how many US newspapers continue to claim, falsely, that the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s existence?

  10. Mike_Konrad
    May 10, 2013, 6:12 pm

    I still don’t understand why Abbas hasn’t taken the case to the ICC yet. What is he waiting for? It’s not as if another shoe is about to drop!

    The reason the Palestinians do not go to International Courts is because the PLO ALSO committed a lot of war crimes. This is not a black white issue.

    • Hostage
      May 11, 2013, 11:02 am

      The reason the Palestinians do not go to International Courts is because the PLO ALSO committed a lot of war crimes. This is not a black white issue.

      That’s a completely mistaken view of the Rome Statute Article 12(3) process. In the Laurent Gbagbo case, the Appeals Chamber rejected the argument that States could somehow limit the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction or investigations of the crimes listed in Article 5 by only referring specific situations that would be subject to the Article 12(3) declaration. The Court ruled that States can only accept the Courts full jurisdiction under the terms of Article 12(3). Here is a link to the Judgment: link to icc-cpi.int

      So the Declaration of the Palestinian National Authority recognizing the Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, dated January 21, 2009 cannot be limited in scope to only those crimes committed by Israelis – and no attempt was made to do that.

      Here is the full text:

      Declaration recognizing the Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court

      In conformity with Article 12, paragraph 3 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Government of Palestine hereby recognizes the jurisdiction of the Court for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the authors and accomplices of acts committed on the territory of Palestine since 1 July 2002.

      As a consequence, the Government of Palestine will cooperate with the Court without delay or exception, in conformity with Chapter IX of the Statute.

      This declaration, made for an indeterminate duration, will enter into force upon its signature.

      Material supplementary to and supporting this declaration will be provided shortly in a separate communication.

      Signed in The Hague, the Netherlands, 21 January 2009
      For the Government of Palestine
      Ali Khashan
      Minister of Justice

      link to iccforum.com

      So Abbas has already given the ICC written permission to investigate and prosecute any crime committed by the PLO in Palestine since 1 July 2002.

    • James Canning
      May 13, 2013, 7:46 pm

      Mike – – Obama, and Kerry, have asked the Palestinian leadership not to go to the ICC.

  11. Keith
    May 10, 2013, 6:38 pm

    “Washington’s reputation as an “honest broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in tatters….”

    I am really sick to death of comments like this. It is so irritating for Cook to formally pretend that Uncle Sam has an “honest broker” reputation to jeopardize, a feeble attempt to ineffectually imply that Washington should act to uphold some bogus image. Who’s kidding who? Best to cut the crap and engage in straight talk. The empire can never be an honest broker and everyone who isn’t willfully stupid knows it, particularly when it concerns Israel. I for one am glad that Israel scuttled this so called initiative so that we won’t have to endure farcical “negotiations.”

  12. seafoid
    May 11, 2013, 3:33 am

    Israel can’t pursue peace. The system is set to status quo. There are 700k settlers and the story is over. The Palestinians lost.

    Israel is like a big city built on a garbage tip . The city is very impressive and has decent infrastructure but deep underground there is a methane concentration. City hall has banned all discussion of it. It is sunny and great weather for a barbeque. There is nothing to worry about…….

    • James Canning
      May 13, 2013, 7:45 pm

      @seafoid – – Why do you buy the narrative sold by the illegal Jewish colonists in the West Bank? 700,000 illegal Jews in West Bank. So what?

  13. seafoid
    May 11, 2013, 3:50 am

    I think the fact that israel is nominally jewish.probably gave the oppression 20 to 30 years more than it would otherwise have had. The problem is that over that bonus period most of what could have been identified as jewish thinking in israel was destroyed. The transition will be really painful. It is not like there is anyone even remotely capable in Israeli politics.

  14. NickJOCW
    May 11, 2013, 6:54 am

    The notion that something has to be done and Obama is somehow culpable for not doing it is worthy of scrutiny. We live in a post-mechanistic world where it is no longer possible accurately to predict what will happen on a broader canvas when we do this or that. What many criticise as Obama’s inaction or meaningless gestures has, over time, allowed the issue of Israeli activities in Palestine to become a topic open to much wider debate and concern than was the case only a few years ago. In fact, it is arguable that despite the relentless construction of illegal settlements and the oppression of the indigenous people, Israel is a good deal more vulnerable today that she was three or four years ago, and her vulnerability increases as the number of criticisms and reactive gestures mount from all directions. Although the cohorts are still dispatched to respond to explicit negativity, the fact of the matter is that no country actively supports what Israel is doing. That means she currently enjoys less support than fascism in the early part of the last century. It seems to me quite appropriate for Obama to back away from direct involvement and leave matters largely in the hands of the international community and the younger generation of Israelis. Obviously no one will be allowed to attack Israel militarily, that would be counter productive and it also means Israel must be deterred from attacking anyone else and thereby provoking a military response leading to the same end. That’s a delicate balancing act, particularly with all the other distractions in the area and on the wider canvas, and from my perspective he is managing it pretty well.

  15. James Canning
    May 13, 2013, 7:43 pm

    Important piece.

    Even Yassir Arafat, four decades ago, could see Israel was “here to stay” and that a deal needed to be made.

    Conceivably, Israel could achieve through the stupidity of its own leaders, what the Arabs saw as highly unlikely.

  16. James Canning
    May 13, 2013, 7:56 pm

    Wow. Foolish US officials complained that Google put “Palestine” into its search engine? What horses’ arses.

Leave a Reply