Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arab Revolution shuts down peace process until 2013

The spreading Arab Revolution of the Winter of 2011 has effectively shut down whatever chances there are of an effective peace process in the remainder of Obama's first term. There are two tracks to the peace process, the Palestinian and the Syrian, let us examine in turn how each is affected by the Revolution.

The split between Fatah and Hamas has effectively blocked the Palestinian track from the Palestinian side since the summer of 2007, if not before. The two groups have been in competition for the leadership of the Palestinian people since the founding of Hamas in early 1988. Hamas helped to ensure that Arafat did not make the type of concessions on refugees and Jerusalem to Barak at Camp David in July 2000 that would have been necessary for a peace deal. Hamas, partly as the beneficiary of a protest vote, won the Palestinian internal elections in January 2006. This and the fighting in the summer of 2006 in Gaza and Lebanon prevented any resumption of the peace process that year. In summer 2007 Hamas carried out an anti-PA coup d'etat in Gaza splitting the Palestinian territories. Until this split is ended by either a sufficient political weakening of one of the two parties or a unified leadership, the Palestinians will be unable to negotiate effectively with Israel.  Israel will simply be unwilling to make the far-reaching concessions necessary to match Palestinian concessions in the areas of Jerusalem and borders.

The Likud coalition elected to power in the winter of 2009 was also a stumbling block to peace. Netanyahu is simply unable to conclude an agreement that ends the conflict with the Palestinians. This is because of Likud ideology, the eminence grise of his own 101-year old father who hovers over him mentally like a Dickensian ghost, and the threat of Avigdor Leiberman seizing control of the leadership of the Israeli Right from the Likud.

Netanyahu possibly could have been able to conclude a historic agreement with Syria, if both Damascus and Washington been willing. But the Jewish peace lobby in the U.S. led by J Street is fixated on the Palestinian track. Obama had his hands very full during his first term with domestic matters like the economy and health care and two wars in the Middle East. (Go to Realistic Dove for a early 2009 guest post by me arguing precisely this.) So he made a half-hearted effort at the Palestinian track in 2010 and left it at that. 

Egypt has scheduled elections for six months from now. Until those elections have been held and Jerusalem has a sense of the new leadership in Cairo, it will be unwilling to enter into any serious negotiations entailing the prospect of further territorial concessions. Syria this week became the latest victim or beneficiary of the Arab Revolution that like a slow plague is killing off the region's dictatorships. Bashar al-Assad will not enter into any negotiations until he has put down the revolution in his country or it has put him down. His father ended a perceived threat to the regime by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 with a massacre in Hama that killed between 10,000 and 20,000. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

In 1980 former National Security Council Middle East advisor William Quandt published his account of the Carter administration's Middle East diplomacy, Camp David (the Brookings Institution/UC Press). The introductory chapter laid out the timetable for presidential diplomacy in the Middle East based on a combination of the experience of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations and a knowledge of the political cycle in Washington. Quandt claimed that a president spends his first year learning the ropes. The next two years he has available for diplomacy and by the final year he is obsessed with reelection and unwilling to risk offending the Jewish community. If reelected, he then has his first three years available for diplomacy before he becomes a lame duck. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all proved the validity of this analysis. George Bush sr. convened the Madrid Conference at the end of October 1991 that inaugurated the Washington Talks. But he was too weak in 1992 and Arafat too strong for these talks to go anywhere. Clinton then did not devote himself to Middle East diplomacy until his final year in office, by which time it was too late and he had too little leverage with the various parties. Bush jr. then made a half-hearted effort at diplomacy to appease Tony Blair and King Hussein in 2003, before making another half-hearted attempt in 2007 to satisfy Condi Rice.

Expect the Arab Revolution to prevent any real movement on the peace process in 2011 and the reelection campaign to prevent any real progress in 2012. Lately, Israeli government coalitions have had about a three year lifespan, so Netanyahu's time will probably run out in late 2011 or early 2012. By the time a new Israeli government is up and running the 2012 election will be well underway. This is why presidents must seize their opportunities when presented with them! As Nixon did in October 1973, and Bush sr. did in 1991. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Motives are much less important than actions

Those who are liberals, particularly those from the religious Left or from the "chattering classes" (as Margaret Thatcher used to refer to them) worry much about pure hearts in politicians.  Real politicians, however, worry much more about the ability to deliver.  Historians of American abolitionists from the 1960s to the present have sung the praises of William Lloyd Garrison and his followers because their political sentiments are politically correct today. But that meant that because of the very great changes in racial attitudes between their time and ours, their sentiments were very politically incorrect then. Garrison and his brand of abolitionists remained unpopular until the start of the Civil War.  Their rivals, the Liberty men of the tiny abolitionist Liberty Party were equally as unpopular and only averaged about two percent of the vote during the eight-year lifetime of the party. But the Liberty men at least had the correct impulse to use the ballot box in their cause. The more pragmatic among them, namely Salmon P. Chase, engineered a merger between the Liberty men and splinter groups from the two main parties, the Whigs and the Democrats. Then the professional politicians took over. The moralists within the Liberty Party revived that party rather than merger with the sinners and accomplish something. They were left on the ash heap of history.

In the Middle East the liberals have often felt disappointed by the politicians they have had to rely upon in the peace process. Although most belonged to Ratz or Mapam in the 1970s and 1980s and Meretz in the 1990s, they had to rely on the Labor Party to work as their vehicle. During the 1980s they had to rely upon Shimon Peres, a former hawk and very ambitious and weak politician, and Yitzhak Rabin, a pragmatic hawk until he died. In 1978 Menahem Begin, then prime minister suggested in the Knesset that Peres had become a dove because Rabin was blocking his way to the party leadership and he needed the doves to get around Rabin. President Mitterand of France started his political career on the Right in the Fourth Republic where he became one of the most talented politicians. In the Fifth Republic he suddenly moved to the Left and joined the Socialists. What happened--was it a miraculous conversion? No, he simply decided that he could not compete with Charles de Gaulle for the presidency from the Right. In 1981 he was elected the third president of the Fifth Republic and served for two full terms. Peres was never quite as lucky.

Peres and Rabin competed for twenty years during a period in which the Likud became and stayed the dominant party. Peres had to settle for the lesser prizes of senior ministries: defense minister (1974-77), foreign minister (1986-88) and finance minister (1988-90). Only from mid-1984 until October 1986 was he prime minister in a rotation scheme in a national unity government. He again served as prime minister in 1995-96 for six months following Rabin's murder.

It wasn't until 1993 that Labor could be persuaded to accept the PLO as their negotiating partner for peace rather than Jordan. This was despite Jordan having renounced its roled in 1988. Then in the 1990s liberal doves had to settle for a peace process between Rabin on the Israeli side and Arafat on the Palestinian side. The man who had as defense minister given the order to break the bones of Palestinian rioters in 1988 and the arch-terrorist responsible for the Munich massacre and other atrocities. It was not until January 2005 that the Palestinians chose a leader that most Israelis could stomach, if not exactly admire. And they had to settle for Arik Sharon, the butcher of Beirut, carrying out the withdrawal from Gaza later that year.

No wonder that many liberals were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Bibi Netanyahu and hope that he had reformed since his first premiership in the late 1990s. In American history anti-slavery liberals faced a similar dilemma. Stephen A. Douglas in December 1857 had split the Democrats by opposing President James Buchanan in calling for new elections in Kansas before statehood was granted. Douglas was the champion of the 1850s version of pro-choice--he believed that local whites should determine whether or not a territory should be free or slave. Anti-slavery Republicans on the East Coast wanted  to give Douglas  a free shot at reelecction because of the trouble he could cause among the Democrats. The leader of their party in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, wanted to run a vigorous campaign for the state legislature and be elected by that body as the U.S. senator from Illinois. Lincoln gave his famous "house divided" speech and argued that a live dog was better than a dead lion. Douglas was the dead lion because any feeling for the slave as a human being was dead in his heart. Lincoln modestly placed himself in the role of the live dog.

David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine has argued that Netanyahu is the equivalent of the dead lion, without actually using that metaphor. Today for liberals in Israel the equivalent of William Seward in the 1850s and Lincoln in the 1860s is Tzipi Livni of Kadima. She may be flawed but she is the best that they are going to get for some time. Now she just has to convince Israelis to trust her and to trust the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What has changed in thirty years?

I recently finished reading Yehuda Avner's memoir, The Prime Ministers, which was published last year to some positive reviews. It is a hefty volume of 703 pages not including notes and index.  Avner was a British Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1947 and after the 1948 War of Independence worked briefly on a religious kibbutz in the Galilee before he joined the Israeli foreign service. Eventually, because of his native English, he ended up serving as a wordsmith to four Israeli prime ministers from 1963 to 1983 before he finally became Israel's ambassador to his native country. The years covered in this book were important ones in Israeli history: they included four major wars (1967, 1969-70, 1973, 1982), the peace process between Israel and Egypt in the 1970s and the change in alliance by Israel from France to the United States.

Clearly the peace process was not a theme that Avner considered important. He has a chapter on it in his section on Rabin (which only covers Rabin's first term as prime minister from 1974 to 1977) and a couple of chapters on it in the half of the book that he devotes to Menahem Begin. The book's major themes are the relationship with Washington and the individual personalities of the prime ministers. Whereas I felt that I did learn something about Levi Eshkol, the first prime minister to follow David Ben-Gurion in 1963 and about whom little has been written, I cannot say the same about Golda Meir. A long chapter is devoted to an interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Yet of President Sadat's peace initiative of February 1971 that Meir abruptly rejected we hear nothing. So we have no way of knowing whether or not it was genuine in his opinion. Likewise, Henry Kissinger's separation-of-forces agreements of 1974 are just mentioned in a single sentence in passing.

The real revelation in the book is the story of a meeting between Avner and a childhood friend of Kissinger's who became a noted psycho-analyst. The latter diagnosed Kissinger as suffering from severe problems from his abrupt exile from Germany at age 15 during the Nazi period. Avner illustrates this with an incident where the man calls out to Kissinger using his original German name Heinz. Kissinger pretends to ignore him but with a look of disgust on his face--for the painful memories that the name has dredged up. The psycho-analyst tells Avner that Kissinger is ashamed of his Jewish background and will compensate for it in his shuttle diplomacy by bending over backwards to appease Israel's enemies. Avner advised Rabin of this diagnosis. But it never affected Rabin's personal friendship with Kissinger and Rabin continued to visit him every time he visited Washington. And the two were quite friendly during the signing ceremony for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty at the White House in March 1979.

Fully half the book is devoted to Begin's premiership. Avner relates many telling incidents of Begin's personality that paints the man as friendly with traditional Jews but prickly with both foreign Jews and some secular Israeli Jews. Avner relates several incidents of Begin telling of figures whose government's are sympathetic to Israel such as Margaret Thatcher and her foreign minister, Lord Carrington, as well as Ronald Reagan and Casper Weinberger. Nothing here is really new--there is little of real novelty to reveal about Begin after the wave of biographies that appeared in the late 1970s, after he was elected, and after 1983, when he resigned from office in a severe depression.

Avner relates in great detail the ceremonies that accompanied the start of Sadat's 1977 peace initiative from his reception in Jerusalem to the breakdown of talks in Tel Aviv in January. But then he just relates that the talks broke down and he doesn't take up the story again until the ceremony on the White House lawn in late March 1979. He skips over the trip to Ismailiya in December 1977, the Leeds Castle talks in July 1978 and the Camp David Summit in September 1978 as well as Carter's summit diplomacy in March 1979.

The only topic that is really adequately covered is the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. But the treatment is again not analytical but rather personal and anecdotal. He relates a summit at Johnson's Texas ranch in early 1968, a White House dinner for Rabin in September 1974 when Rabin told a white lie about it being Avner's birthday to cover up the fact that the dinner wasn't kosher (in accordance with Jewish dietary laws).

One gets the feeling that if Avner's career been a couple of decades later he could have happily related the exploits of Shamir, Netanyahu, Barak, and Sharon. But the book would have been much longer because he would have been writing about three Likud premiers and only one Labor premier. It's a pity--Shamir still lacks a biography in either English or Hebrew. Today Netanyahu allows his foreign minister to do his insulting for him. Begin and Meir did it themselves.

If Avner's publisher had possibly been willing, he could have fleshed out the section on Meir and released the book in two volumes about six months or a year apart.  But usually authors are the servants of publishers, not the other way around. This book is recommended for Americans who want anecdotes about the Israeli premiers of this period, but not for Americans interested in the peace process.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Newly-Arrived Ambassador's Reading List for Israel

Having grown tired over the years of newly-arrived American and British ambassadors declaring that they prepared for their new job by reading the historical portions of the Hebrew Bible, I propose the following reading list on Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the peace process. Imagine that you are a newly appointed ambassador to Israel from a European country or have been charged with providing support for a joint American-European peace initiative in the region and suddenly have to understand what makes Israel tick. Because this is the age of Amazon, I’m only providing author’s names and titles—but all the books date from the 1980s and after. I’m assuming reading fluency in English. Some of these books may exist in translation in other languages.
Overview: Howard Sachar, A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time and Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Siege; Colin Schindler, A Short History of Israel. Both these books date from the late 1980s and cover roughly the first century of Zionism from the first settlement to the aftermath of the First Lebanon War. Sachar’s is the definitive history by a prolific American historian of Israel and modern Jewish history; O’Brien’s is a sympathetic narrative by an Irish journalist who started his life as a nationalist and ended up as a unionist, it is also the much shorter version. Read the final chapters of Schindler’s book for the last 20 years.
The Conflict: Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall; Benny Morris, Righteous Victims; and Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace. Shlaim was originally an Iraqi Jew who immigrated to Israel as a child and then moved to London after he established his reputation as a historian. Morris is a British Jew who immigrated to Israel. Both, along with historian Tom Segev, are considered to be part of the New Historians movement of Israelis who began writing a post-Zionist narrative in the mid-1980s. Shlaim’s insight is that David Ben-Gurion quietly adopted Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s doctrine of dealing with the Arabs from behind an iron wall of military might. Morris’s insight is that both the Jews and Arabs consider themselves to be blameless victims of the other side. Ben-Ami was Israeli foreign minister and interior minister during the Camp David II summit. His history deals mostly with the post-1967 period whereas Shlaim and Morris go back to the 1930s.

The Holocaust: Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews; Tom Segev, The Seventh Million. Davidowicz’s history dates from 1976 (so I lied—sue me!) and is dated as far as its revelations about Hitler’s pathology towards the Jews, but it is the standard history of the Holocaust used in Jewish history courses. Segev’s book is on the Israeli reaction to the news of the Holocaust. This is important both because Israel partly owes its existence to the Holocaust and because this is how many Israelis relate to Europe.

Politics—the Party System and the Labor Party: Any standard textbook used on Israeli politics will do, but I personally recommend those by Gregory Mahler, Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State; and Don Peretz and Gideon Doron, The Government and Politics of Israel: Third Ed. Mahler provides a couple of chapters of historical overview so that if you don’t have time to read the above books this would be the one to choose. Asher Arian’s The Politics of Israel: The Second Republic is also good on coalitions. On Labor read Neil Lochery’s Labor: In the Shadow of the Likud—written in 1997, the name said it all. A good biography of Ehud Barak has yet to be written, but read Michael Bar-Zohar’s 2007 biography of Shimon Peres for a history of the Labor Party in the 1970s through the 1990s. Bar-Zohar is a former Labor MK and confidante of Peres.

On the Likud:  The best book is Colin Schindler, The Land Beyond Promise: Israel, Likud and the Zionist Dream. Schindler is a British expert on Israeli politics. For a good update on Likud ideology straight from the horse’s mouth read Benjamin Netanyahu, A Durable Peace (this is the 2000 update of his earlier A Place Among the Nations). There are many biographies of the first Likud leader, Menahem Begin, but that by Amos Perlmutter, The Life and Times of Menachem Begin is the best because of its detailed account of his role as underground leader. Begin is to the Likud what Ronald Reagan is to American conservatives in the Republican Party. There are no biographies of Begin’s successor, Yitzhak Shamir, in English or Hebrew (there is one in French) but you can read Shamir’s memoir, Summing Up, which does a good job of covering his time as premier. On Sharon read Nir Hefez et al. Ariel Sharon: A Life and Mark Matthews, The Lost Years: Bush, Sharon and Failure in the Middle East.

On Camp David II and the peace process: Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace; Itamar Rabinovich, Waging Peace: Israel and the Arabs; William Quandt, The Peace Process; Aaron D. Miller, The Much Too Promised Land.. Ross, a former State Dept. official in the Ford, Reagan George Bush, and Clinton administrations provides a meeting-by-meeting account of the peace process from 1993-2001 and a brief overview of Middle East diplomacy in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington during the Clinton administration and academic expert on Syria, provides an issue-oriented account of the peace process in the 1990s. Quandt, a former National Security Council Middle East expert during the Carter administration provides an account of the peace process from 1967 to the present. Every time it looks like a new Democratic president might be elected, Quandt publishes a new edition of his book by updating it and thinning out some of the earlier chapters. Miller, who worked under Ross in several U.S. administrations provides a detailed critique of the diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and James Baker and why they succeeded and why Clinton failed to advance the peace process.

On the settlements: Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, Lords of the Land: Israel’s War Over the Settlements, 1967-2007; and the annual report from Peace Now on settlement activity in the territories.

On Northern Ireland and Israel: Thomas Mitchell, When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East. This is an academic overview of the Northern Ireland and Oslo peace processes and lessons derived from both for future Mideast peace makers. Northern Ireland's conflict is the closest conflict in origins and details to that in the Middle East and both the British and Irish have promoted it as a model for the Middle East peace process.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Israeli Interlocutor with the Palestinians Part III

In February 1983 the Kahan Commission, appointed by Begin under pressure by the Israeli peace movement and Labor following the massacres, held Sharon unfit to serve as defense minister and Eitan to serve as chief of staff. Sharon became minister without portfolio and spent the next fourteen and a half years in internal "exile" filling minor posts in Likud governments. Begin went into a deep depression and retired from politics in September 1983.

His successor was Yitzhak Shamir, a former leader of the Lehi underground movement and foreign minister under Begin. Shamir spent the next nine years making sure that settlement continued without stop on the West Bank--he met little resistance from Labor--and that no peace plan got anywhere. In 1992 after losing an election Shamir retired from politics and his designated successor, Moshe Arens, suprised everyone by retiring as well.

Shamir's successor then became an Arens protege, a scion, of a distinguished Revisionist and Israeli family, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu. Sharon would spend the remaining fourteen years of his political life attempting to outflank Netanyahu from the right or the left. He joined Netanyahu in attacking the Oslo peace process. Netanyahu appointed him foreign minister in October 1998 on the eve of the Wye Plantation Summit to fortify his own right flank. Bibi signed a deal but upon returning to Israel lacked the clout to sell it to his coalition. His government collapsed and Sharon emerged as leader of the Likud, a prize he had sought since founding it a quarter century before.

In July 2000 the Camp David Summit ended with no agreement and Clinton failed to produce bridging proposals. Arafat prepared the Palestinians for a major uprising by stocking up on medical and food supplies, something that the Palestinian leadership had not done in 1936 or in 1948. Netanyahu, who had resigned his Knesset seat, looked to be preparing a comeback. The Likud voted in the Knesset for a law that would allow Netanyahu to become prime minister without being a deputy. Sharon needed to act quickly. He sought and won permission from Prime Minister Ehud Barak to visit the Temple Mount with a police escort at the end of September 2000. The visit lasted about an hour and provoked some minor clashes with Palestinian worshippers on the Mount. Arafat quickly exploited this to touch off the Al-Aksa (named for one of the two mosques on the Mount) Intifada. Barak called an election for prime minister for February 2001. Sharon handily won and then had to clean up the mess that he had helped to make.

The Al-Aksa Intifada quickly devolved into a contest between the Islamists of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Fatah Al-Aksa Brigades to see who could mount the bloodiest terrorist incidents. Unlike the mid-1990s, the Islamists no longer needed to fear any temporary jailing by Arafat. Arafat quickly returned to his true metier as leader of the "armed struggle." Attempts by Washington and Cairo to intervene got nowhere because Arafat was determined to improve his bargaining leverage and his popularity, seriously eroded due to the nature of his regime, and Jerusalem was determined to not allow Arafat to gain any advantage.

Sharon gradually adopted two main tactics. The first was "targeted killings" a euphemism for assassination of Palestinian terrorist and political leaders. The other was invasion of the areas of the West Bank from which the IDF had withdrawn in the mid-1990s under Oslo. After a major terrorist bombing in Netanya on March 27, 1992, Sharon sent the IDF back into the cities of the West Bank to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Unlike in 1982, this time he had the complete sympathy of the American president who despised Arafat. After reestablishing control Sharon adopted the separation strategy proposed by Labor, but changed the boundaries. The separation barrier, a combination of electrified fence and high brick walls, ran along the Palestinian side of the green line or border and occasionally deep into the West Bank to include settlements like Ariel.

Sharon, who believed that a Palestinian state should consist of less than half the territory of the West Bank, began using the language of the Israeli Center-Left. He spoke of occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians. And he prepared a redeployment of the Israeli military to politically more defensible lines--he would withdraw from Gaza, abandoning the settlers who had lived there for a quarter century. And he abandoned four settlements in northern Samaria. The Likud bulked at this plan and Sharon had to turn to Labor for the Knesset votes necessary to win approval. The IDF carried out the redeployment in August 2005. Sharon then withdrew from the party, which he had founded thirty years before, two months later. Two months after that he suffered a massive stroke and his political career was over.

Sharon, except for the length of his political career, is typical of many of Israel's military politicians. He in many ways serves as a role model for military politicians in the Likud and Kadima such as Shlomo Mofaz and Moshe "Boogie" Ya’alon. Dayan had his first encounters with Palestinians fifteen years before Sharon in 1938-39 as did Yigal Allon. Ehud Barak had his about fifteen years after Sharon's in the late 1960s. His role in the assassination of Palestinian terrorist leaders in Beirut in 1973 helped to make his military career and establish him as Israel's most decorated soldier.

Except during Oslo in the 1990s and in 2008, most Israeli leaders have only dealt with Palestinians, either directly or indirectly, on the battlefield. In this they resemble Andrew Jackson who dealt with American Indians from 1788 until 1837, mostly on the battlefield or in one-sided peace negotiations. Jackson, like Sharon, also exceeded his orders in invading foreign territory in Florida in 1817. But unlike with Sharon, it helped his career. Maybe we can count Sharon's fourteen years in minor posts as a major advancement. Jackson, unlike Sharon, was able to carry out his dream of removing the natives. Sharon could only plan for this when he was a staff officer in Northern Command in the late 1950s.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Israel's Locutor with the Palestinians Part II

Sharon wasted his first three years in Israeli politics because he still schemed to become chief of staff. Having resigned from the Knesset to hold a reserve commission as general, he was forced to form his own party in 1976 as a vehicle for furthering his own career. In this he was a pioneer for many other generals. In 1977 Sharon's two-seat Shlomzion faction was absorbed into the Herut wing of the Likud and Sharon became minister of agriculture. Although Sharon's father was a skilled agronomist, and he was himself a rancher, he used his cabinet seat mainly to head up Israel's colonization of the West Bank. For the next four years Sharon headed the cabinet committee on settlements.

During Labor's last decade of rule, from 1967-77, it created a number of settlements in two types of places in the territories. The first were in strategic areas that Labor wanted Israel to control such as Sharm al-Sheikh at the tip of Sinai, on the Golan Heights, and in the Jordan Valley. These were meant to guard against military threats to Israel by commanding the approach routes. The second were in areas like the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Etzion Block where Jews had lived before the 1948 war but then been expelled. Labor governments also permitted a few settlements as faits accomplis by religious Zionist settlers such as Kiryat Arba outside Hebron in 1968 and Kadumim in 1974. In these cases the settlers carefully exploited rifts in the governing coalition.

Sharon became the champion of the settlement movement over the next four years. He sat down regularly with figures from Gush Emunim (the Block of the Faithful) with maps of the West Bank to plan new settlements. Israel's farmers were orphans under Sharon's ministry, but the settlers finally had a father. Settlements sprang up on the West Bank like mushrooms after a spring rain. And this "mushroom cloud" became as toxic to Israeli politics and Israel's international standing over time as a real mushroom cloud that leaves radiation to poison the atmosphere.

Prime Minister Menahem Begin appointed Sharon as his minister of defense in his second government in 1981, despite having earlier joked about Sharon surrounding Begin's office with tanks. Sharon immediately began preparing carefully for his next encounter with the Palestinians. He sat down with Chief of Staff Raphael "Raful" Eitan and began preparing plans for an invasion of Lebanon to uproot the PLO infrastructure in that country. Sharon's opportunity finally came when a dissident Palestinian organization, the Fatah Revolutionary Cells or Abu Nidal Organization, assassinated Israel's ambassador to Britain in London. Sharon told Begin he would only go forty kilometers (about 25 miles) north of the international border and that he would avoid the Syrians stationed in eastern Lebanon. Sharon lied on both counts. Within weeks Sharon's tanks were besieging Beirut. Begin was forced to make excuses to President Reagan, America's most pro-Israel president before Clinton. Sharon thought that he had destroyed the PLO and ended his duel with the Palestinians.

Even before the PLO was expelled from Jordan by the Jordanian army in 1970-71, it had begun to establish itself in southern Lebanon along the Israeli border. Its presence was guaranteed by inter-Arab agreements such as the Melkert Treaty of 1969 and the Cairo Agreement of 1972 that allowed it to use this area, dubbed Fatahland by Israel, to launch raids into Israel. The process was speeded up after the expulsion. Simultaneously the PLO established itself in West Beirut near the Mediterranean Sea by establishing a headquarters. This small area of Beirut became the de facto capital of a state-within-a state (like the Vatican within Italy). In April 1975 after the PLO fired on a bus full of Phalangists in Beirut the Lebanese Civil War began with the Christians on one side and the Palestinians and Muslims on the other.

Sharon had planned to reorder the politics of the region by reordering the politics of Lebanon. He would put Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel in power as president of Lebanon, expel the Palestinian military presence from Lebanon and teach Syria's military a lesson. Although the IAF destroyed the Syrian air force worse than it had destroyed the Egyptian air force in 1967, and driven Syrian tanks from southern Lebanon, Syria was not finished. Syria plotted with its Lebanese assets, including those in the Maronite community, to assassinate Gemayel. Gemayel was killed in a huge explosion. Sharon then allowed the Phalange militia into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut to make sure that no guerrillas remained behind. Seeking revenge for past Palestinian massacres and for the death of their leader, the Lebanese conducted their own reprisal raid according to Lebanese rules. Sharon was collateral damage of the Syrian bomb.

In February 1983 the Kahan Commission, appointed by Begin under pressure by the Israeli peace movement and Labor following the massacres, held Sharon unfit to serve as defense minister and Eitan to serve as chief of staff.  It ruled that Israel bore indirect responsibility for the massacre; Begin refused to accept that Israel bore any responsibility whatever for it.  Sharon became minister without portfolio and spent the next fourteen and a half years in internal "exile" filling minor posts in Likud governments. Begin went into a deep depression and retired from politics in September 1983.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Israel's chief interlocutors with the Palestinians Part I

Ariel "Arik" Sharon's first practical introduction to the Palestinian problem came at the age of 24 when he was picked to lead an elite unit of individualist soldiers, many misfits in the IDF, in implementing Israel's strategy of reprisal raids. Sharon had been raised in a Revisionist Party (forerunner of the Likud) family in a Mapai (forerunner of the Labor Party) settlement in the Plain of Sharon, from which he would later take his name. He joined the prestate Hagana militia at age 15 and was badly wounded at the First Battle of Latrun in May 1948. He had quit the army to become a full time student of Middle Eastern History at the Hebrew University shortly before being picked.

Sharon spent the next three years personally leading raids into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He also was responsible with integrating his commando Unit 101 with a paratroop company to produce Israel's first Paratroop Battalion. On one of the raids in the village of Kibya, Sharon had his men dynamite the homes of the villagers. Although his soldiers called in Arabic for the occupants to come out many remained in hiding out of fear and were killed in the blasts. Some 69 people died and Sharon's reputation was established both within Israel and with the Palestinians.

From May 1948, when the civil war phase of the Israeli War of Independence ended, until June 1967, the Palestinians virtually disappeared as independent actors from international politics. There only collective role was in a series of guerrilla operations from 1953 to 1956 and again from 1965 to 1967. Israel, reacting to a series of Palestinian incursions raided the Gaza Strip in early 1953 and dynamited a police station. The Egyptian government reacted by setting up training camps in Gaza to train Palestinian volunteers in guerrilla warfare. Colonel Nasser used the raids to establish Egypt's position as the leader of the Arab resistance against Israel and within Egypt to outmaneuver General Naguib, the figurehead leader of the Egyptian Revolution. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion used the raids as a middle-finger salute against the international community and to establish a reputation as a protector of Israel's vulnerable immigrant communities and collective settlements that were often the target of the raids.

Sharon, having won the patronage of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, the latter first as chief of staff in the 1950s and then as defense minister a decade later, had risen from major to major general. They had kept others from ejecting him from the army for his recklessness, insubordination, and quarrelsome nature. They saw in him both patriotism and military genius. In 1965, like Erwin Rommel, he transferred from the infantry to armor and became a master of the new (for him) form of warfare. After leading a division in the conquest of the Sinai in June 1967 he became the next head of Southern Command. In this role he had his next encounter with the Palestinians in 1971.

Israel's first political interaction with Palestinians since the mandate came as occupiers in 1967. Yasir Arafat returned to the West Bank in 1967 and for several months tried to set up a guerrilla resistance there while managing to stay one step ahead of the IDF. From 1967 to 1970 most of Israel's military interaction with the Palestinians took place along the Jordan River as the Palestinians had set themselves up along the East Bank as a state within a state. Expelled by King Hussein in September 1970 when they defied his authority, they then moved to southern Lebanon, Fatahland. Gaza was a backwater.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) had established a number of cells within the crowded refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. From there they mounted attacks on the small Israeli settlements, populated by Arabic-speaking Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, that surrounded the Strip. Sharon was determined to use whatever methods were necessary to stamp out these attacks. He used rather vigorous interrogation methods and deported the families of those involved in guerrilla activity. Several of his subordinate commanders made their anxieties about his methods known up the chain of command. Gaza was temporarily transferred from the Southern Command to the Central Command. But Sharon had stamped out the insurgency.

In July 1973 Sharon was forced to retire from the IDF after failing to be promoted up the next step. He blamed it on his political sympathies. There is something to this--Ezer Weizman, the former commander of the Israel Air Force, was promoted to deputy chief of staff but was never made chief of staff and quit in frustration. Sharon's failure to win promotion was probably due in equal parts to his personality and politics. In September he had his revenge by forcing four right-of-center parties to combine to form the Likud (union in Hebrew). Sharon joined the Liberal wing of the Likud to avoid competing with Weizman in Herut.

The Israeli Right had foundered for a decade. It consisted mainly of two parties: Herut, successor both to the Revisionist Party of Vladimir "Ze'ev" Jabotinsky and to the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground, representing the nationalist right; and the Liberal Party, successor to Haim Weizmann's General Zionists, representing the small businessmen of the economic right. In 1965 Herut and the Liberals had formed an electoral pact known as Gahal (Herut-Liberal Block in Hebrew).  In 1966 Shmuel Tamir, a former Irgun commander and very successful lawyer was forced out of Herut by Begin for challenging him and formed the Free Center Party. And in 1968 when Rafi combined with Mapai and Ahdut Ha'Avoda on the Left to form the Israel Labor Party, David Ben-Gurion remained outside out of spite and formed the State List. Sharon by combining these four parties made something that was greater than the sum of their parts.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Israelis are honest in Washington

J Street, the liberal pro-Israel and pro-peace lobby, is now holding its second conference, having held its first in October 2009. I attended the first out of both curiosity and a desire to support the organization by making a strong first showing at its first conference. Because of both my schedule and my wallet I'm forced to watch the conference by video feed from its website. I watched some of the panels by live stream on Sunday and then watched most of the recorded sessions from Sunday and Monday today. The conference ends today with a lobbying day of congressional offices. Having attended an AIPAC conference in 1995 during the Oslo conference and the J Street conference in 2009, what struck me about the former was that it was mostly intended to fire up the troops and allow politicians to compete in kissing up to the Israeli lobby. J Street instead of just conducting workshops on messaging and the upcoming election cycle in the U.S., attempted to educate its supporters about the conflict by inviting members of the Palestinian government and the Israeli Knesset to the conference to serve on panels.

Nachman Shai, a former academic expert on the Israeli nuclear deterrent and now an MK for Kadima, was very open. "There is no chance for electoral reform or for a constitution with the coalition parties." This means that Israel is incapable of producing the type of party system that will produce the two-party coalitions that ran the peace process in Dublin. It was these coalitions that allowed the dominant party to give up Ireland's constitutional claim to Northern Ireland. Israel has the much tougher task of giving up a physical occupation and hundreds of settlements after 43 years.

Oren Magnezy, a former aide to Ariel Sharon who is now an MK in Kadima was honest about Israeli decision making. "We work at an emotional level when making decisions. Its a lot about messaging. We have an obligation to reach Israelis in the Center who aren't liberals or Left like J-Street." Another Kadima MK, Yoel Hasson said, "Not all Israelis want peace. Some don't want it because they know the price that must be paid for peace and they don't want to pay it."

Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion analyst, was blunt: "The Left is toxic in Israel right now. Israelis don't like to think in the long term. This is a problem. They need a leader with a vision." She cited a polling survey to claim that 45% of Israeli Jews self identify as Right, 27% as Center, and 17% as Left. She claimed that those in the Center behave much more like the Left than like the Right when it comes to the solution to the Conflict. She also said that a larger percentage of Kadima supporters than Labor supporters listed peace as their top concern in politics. Here is a link to an article by her on her presentation at the blog 972.

"Among young people the dominant sentiments are nationalism, patriotism, and Zionism," according to Scheindlin. "This is the narrative of resignation." They grew up in the last decade with the failure of Camp David and the Al-Aksa Intifada as well as with two wars. They are volatile and could drift to the Center or even the Left depending upon how events unfold.

Daniel Ben-Simon, a Labor MK, saw the split in Labor as positive. "A month ago Labor moved to the opposition. Before I was between Israel Beitenu (Israel is Our Home--a right-wing party supported mostly by Russian immigrants) and the most radical members of the Likud. I felt like a hostage! Now Labor is like a family--no quarrels, no factions." I guess he grew up in a small family.

Shai said, "We need Labor on the Left. Otherwise we are not in the Center. We need the Left back and to weaken the Right. We need fifty seats between Kadima, Labor and Meretz so that we can attract the moderate Right into a coalition."  Labor now has eight seats and Meretz only three; polls show Labor receiving about the same number of seats in the next election.  Kadima has 28 seats and is polling at about 31 seats. 

The MK panel of Kadima and Labor MKs thought that any type of boycott of Israeli products was bad, rather it was only of products made by settlers in the West Bank or from Israel proper. "Any boycott of the West Bank is bad because it unites all the settlers," said Yoel Hasson.

The problem is that Hamas wants to delay any solution of the conflict until it is a clear majority among the Palestinians and can negotiate for peace on its terms. It will therefore carry out actions that will help keep the Israeli Right strong during the next election.

Israeli doves are expecting J Street to work as a deus ex machina to deliver Washington to impose a peace agreement on the Israelis and Palestinians. But as former Chief Negotiator for the Middle East Dennis Ross said in a plenary speech, "For peace to succeed the parties have to own it; to own it they have to invest in it." In other words Washington cannot do for Jerusalem and Ramallah what they cannot do for themselves.  Ross knows this from personal experience over eight years in the Clinton administration and a career in three previous administrations as well as his present job in this administration.