Jimmy, Don't Go Away Mad...
Our Greatest Former President is at it again. It seems as long as there's an Israel, there'll be Jimmah there to sabotage it. This time, it's with a Washington Post oped explaining how Israel has to make the decisive choice for peace. Carter's basic theory is hoary, and completely contradicted by history and the facts on the ground, but it's worth restating in capsule form, rather than the liquid your Mom used to give you.
Carter believes that Israeli settlements are the great obstacle to peace. That the main reason the Palestinians are, er, violence-prone is the settlements. That Israel, since it refuses to remove the settlements, and is actively engaged in their defense, has yet to make the strategic decision for peace. And that the United States need to lean on Israel harder to make that decision; it's our refusal to do so that has resulted in the current war.
More importantly, since Jimmy's so much smarter than you are, he saw all of this in 1979. If you had only been smart enough to listen to him then... As usual, Jimmy's all about Jimmy.
And now, on to the Fisking.
Last week we observed the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, which spelled out the basic relationships between Israel and its neighbors and led within a few months to the inviolate peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Inviolate, sort of. While there have been no technical violations by Egypt, and the Sinai remains clear of Egyptian tanks, it's being used as a conduit for weapons to Gaza. It's inconceivable that the Egyptian government doesn't know this, or that it's making any serious attempt to stop it. Moreover the cold peace that prevails - the long periods of the absence of an Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv, the hostility in official government newspapers, the refusal of Egyptian professional societies to have anything to do with their Israeli counterparts - all this is a far cry from the peace envisioned at the time, possibly by Sadat himself. So while there's been no war, Camp David I has fallen far short of hopes.
Part of that hope was derived from the calm and relative friendship that prevailed after the successful negotiations at Camp David, those of the Norwegians between Israelis and Palestinians in 1993, and the Palestinian elections of 1996, in which a parliament was formed and Yasser Arafat chosen as president. These were times, although transient, when moderate leadership and sound judgment prevailed, and citizens lived and worked side by side in peace.
Carter characterizes Arafat as "moderate leadership," possessing "sound judgment." As any of us qualified to walk the streets knows, Arafat was anything but moderate, his accession to power merely a step in his plan to go to war. Funny, Carter doesn't mention the offical term that Arafat was to serve.
In each case, radical and violent actions subsequently intruded, exemplified by the assassinations of Sadat and of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and by the unconscionable suicide bombings and other violence that continue today.
Note the third-person quality of the "violent actions." They intrude, like that pinwheel thing from Star Trek. None of the actors actually acts violently, the violence just wanders in from stage left and "intrudes." Note that the assassinations were the work of individuals, unsupported by state apparatus. They both failed to change government policy. The suicide bombings are a deliberate policy of the PA, carried out by multiple terrorist arms. They are, of course, equated with Israel's attempts to defend itself.
It has been recognized that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were a violation of international law and the primary incitement to violence among Palestinians. Our most intense arguments at Camp David were about their existence and potential expansion. The parties agreed that all those in Egypt's Sinai region were to be dismantled, and there was a strong dispute about their growth in the West Bank and Gaza, then comprising about 4,000 settlers. During the first Bush administration, Secretary of State James Baker said, "I don't think there is any greater obstacle to peace than settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an advanced pace," and the president threatened to withhold American financial aid in order to discourage settlement expansion.
It has been recognized by whom? We've been through this before. The settlements are an excuse, a ruse, misdirection left as the quarterback rolls right, and throws the bomb to his open receiver. First acid test: Arafat was murdering Israelis in 1964, well before the 1967 war. Arafat was directly involved in the murders of the children at the Ma'alot kibbutz, inside the Green Line. That the Palestinian Arabs hate the settlers, I have no doubt. That they consider everything east of the Mediterranean a settlement, I have no doubt, either. And James Baker, whatever his virtues in preventing election theft, was no friend of Israel.
But during the past two administrations in Washington and with massive financial and political incentives from the Israeli government, the number of new settlers has skyrocketed, with many settlements protected by military forces and connected to others by secure highways. An impenetrable fence is hastily being built, often through Palestinian lands.
Yes, they have expanded, but the main settlement bloc in Gush Etzion and near Bethlehem were Jewish prior to 1948. The moral hazard of rolling the military dice only works one way, in Carter's world. Making good Arab losses, while guaranteeing their gains poses no threat that they'll try the same thing again. The reason, Mr. Carter, that the settlements are protected by military force is that if they weren't Palestinians would kill every man, woman and child inhabiting them. The secure highways exist because commuting is hard enough without having to place bets as to where the bullet holes in your windshield are going to show up that evening. The fence damn well better be impenetrable. Funny that he doesn't have a problem with the fence around Gaza.
We Camp David alumni discussed the "road map for peace," published in April 2003 by the United States, Great Britain, Russia and the United Nations, and agreed that it encompasses almost exactly the same proposals expressed in previous proclamations and peace agreements, including dismantling the settlements. The Israeli cabinet rejected a number of its key provisions, the Palestinians have not been able to find a negotiating partner acceptable to Israel and the United States and have failed to control violence, and the other three sponsors are effectively excluded from any role in the relatively dormant process.
Of course, the ultimate disposition has to be about the same under any plan. But here, he makes the problem out to be the Israelis, when in fact, it's the Palestinians who don't recognize Israel. This is so well understood, so well documented, so plain as Plains, that only willful ignorance (or an infatuation with Mr. Arafat) could explain Carter's point of view here. The Road map nowhere calls for the dismantling of all settlements. Where the line runs is supposed to be a matter for negotiation. The Palestinians haven't failed to find an acceptable negotiating partner, they haven't tried - it's been Arafat all the time. And Arafat isn't a problem becuase he "failed to control violence," he's a problem because he actively foments it as a strategy. The other three sponsors, of course, would be just as happy if Israel dropped off the map altogether, and might even be willing to facilitate the process.
Today, except for the fact that the Palestinian issue has become one of the foremost causes of international terrorism, our strategic interests are much less involved in the Israeli-Palestinian violence. There seems to be no urgency in resolving the relatively localized dispute, with harsh crackdowns from the Israeli military and abhorrent terrorist acts perpetrated by Palestinians who claim to have no hope for freedom and justice.
Simple moral equivalence. I wouldn't even bother, except that you never know who's reading. The Palestinians deliberately encourage their children to kill themselves and to murder and main as many Israeli of whatever age as they can. The Israelis use lightweight bombs to avoid killing civilians, and put their own soldiers at risk in Jenin to minimize "civilian" casualties.
Confident that our support is unshakable, Israeli leaders eventually began to assert their independence, and real American influence has reached its lowest ebb in 50 years.
Let's list the things Israel hasn't done because of American pressure: fully invade the PA areas; kill Arafat; exile Arafat; dissolve the PA. Israel is constantly being told by Foggy Bottom not to defend itself. If Israel really is sure that our support is "unshakeable," its behavior is humane to the point of suicidal insanity.
No matter what leaders the Palestinians might choose, how fervent American interest might be or how great the hatred and bloodshed might become, there remains one basic choice, and only the Israelis can make it:
Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbors, or do we want to retain our settlements in the occupied territories of the Palestinians?
The Israelis have already made this choice. Except for the Gush Etzion bloc, and possibly Ariel, Israel was willing to give back the whole damn thing to Arafat and his merry band of killers. All our neighbors? Syria couldn't care less about where the third-generation descendent of a 1948 refugee sleeps. What does Syria have to fo with this? Lebanon, either. Having gotten their country back, they immediately turned control of it over to Hizbollah. If there are still Arabs living in Lebanese refugee camps after 55 years, that's because Lebanon can't get over 1948. So what chance to we have with 1967?
It is true that it takes two to make peace. The problem with Carter is that he can't, or won't, tell which side has actually made the right decisions.