Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dani Dayan

Did the Oslo Accords Kill the Peace Process?

One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

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One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

He wants to ignore the peace process entirely and to loosen restrictions on Palestinians and improve their daily lives without waiting for a negotiated solution. Dayan, an advocate of one shared state for Palestinians and Israelis, is pressing the Israeli government to remove the separation barrier — a looming symbol of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank — that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities. Israelis and Palestinians should be allowed to live wherever they want, he argues, and travel into one another’s territories. …

Many of Israel’s right-wing leadership, including Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, have also thrown their weight behind the plan.

“In general I think that we should try to find ways to make the lives of the Palestinians easier,” Danon said. “That’s something I support.”

The plan has also been well-received by former Israeli defense officials. Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, has publicly backed the plan.

And here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are Lapid’s and Bennett’s:

Ministers have revived two previously rejected proposals that suggest opposite directions for Israel. One, touted by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose hard-line party represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calls for annexing parts of the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

A contrasting proposal made by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday at a national-security conference envisions a military withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuations of Jewish settlements to spur an eventual peace deal.

Whatever their merits, these plans have two main obstacles. The first is the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The Journal’s headline says it all: “Israel Ministers Press for New West Bank Strategy.” Indeed, West Bank strategy. There is no deal to be had with Hamas in Gaza, which essentially has constructed its own state–Somalia instead of Singapore, as Dayan correctly terms it–and which will seek to export its ideology to the West Bank. It’s possible that if the two are truly separate, a deal can be had with the West Bank. The sense of urgency is there anyway, since Israel left Gaza completely but has a far more integrated relationship with the West Bank.

But the other obstacle is the peace process everyone’s running away from. As Rick Richman likes to point out, the peace processers are beholden to this idea that “everybody knows” what a final-status deal would look like. This belief is strangely impervious to evidence.

Or perhaps not so strangely. The longer this dedication to Oslo goes on, the easier it is to at least understand why its adherents can’t bring themselves to quit cold turkey.

There’s always the chance that a confluence of ideas like what took place at Herzliya will change the calculus–that if left, right, and center all push for a grand rethinking of the peace process it might happen. But that’s not been the case in recent years. And the dedication to the status quo, which ignores changes on the ground and keeps policymakers of the future glued to discredited ideas of the past, negates critical thinking and discourages creative solutions. If that doesn’t change, Oslo will continue to be associated with preventing peace, not presaging it.

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Settler Leader’s Wrongheaded Proposal

Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

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Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

First, the obvious: What about the Palestinians? Dayan doesn’t say Israel should give the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria voting rights. If he would, is he not concerned about the demographics at play? If he would not, is he suggesting that the Palestinians should be a permanently stateless people and that Israel would be permanently without clear national borders? He writes that Israeli security should be paramount, but the Judea and Samaria he envisions would be a long-term security nightmare for Israel.

Second, has he thought through the implications to U.S. foreign policy of his proposal? Specifically, he seems to want the U.S.–a principal external force on the peace process–to ignore its own dedication to the right of self-determination for the Palestinians. But that would mean weakening American devotion to the general principle of self-determination, which is a major driving force behind continued American support for Israel. Does Dayan, as a political figure in a country whose right to exist is constantly being questioned by a resurging global anti-Semitism, not just in the Arab states but all over Europe, really want to weaken American support for the idea of a right to self-determination?

Additionally, Dayan writes that the return of the Palestinian refugees from around the Arab world to the Palestinian state would be a major security threat. But he also acknowledges that those Palestinian refugees are treated as second-class citizens in those countries and kept in squalor elsewhere (chiefly by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Should they stay that way? And isn’t a primary goal of Israeli national policy to convince the Palestinians to return to a Palestinian state, not Israel? Humanitarian concerns often clash with security concerns, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the humanitarian concerns altogether–it means we go back to the drawing board and get creative, not give up.

And finally: Dayan claims removing the settlers would be impossible. Why? Today there are no settlers in Gaza. He’s also moving the goal posts; many of the settlements would remain in Israel as part of any final-status agreement. Israel’s critics often dishonestly ignore this when speaking in broad terms about The Settlers. Dayan is making the same mistake, and playing right into their hands.

The fact is, Dayan is right that the current Palestinian leadership prefers the status quo, and are not making the effort needed to secure a deal. He’s also right that a Hamas takeover of all of the future state of Palestine would immediately nullify the peace deal, and anyone who thinks Hamas isn’t still dedicated to Israel’s destruction is not paying attention. But it would be more constructive if Dayan made these critiques of Mideast policy as part of an effort to reform the current structure of the two-state solution in ways that might make it more workable, not less.

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