Commentary Magazine


Topic: negotiator

The Return of “Defensible Borders”?

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

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Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

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Honest Broker, Anyone?

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

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A Snow Job

Saturday night there had been a promising report. Promising, if you agree with the ever-growing “kill the bill” crowd, which includes everyone but the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a marathon negotiating session Friday with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in a hectic bid to persuade the last holdout to sign onto the health-care reform bill ahead of a key deadline Saturday morning. . . Nelson left a meeting in Reid’s office, telling reporters, “There’s no deal.”

The sanest statement to come out of Capitol Hill this week had been from Nelson, who declared: “Harry has some time frames he is thinking about. . . But I don’t have a deadline. To me, you have to get it right.” That suggested that Nelson was either a cagey negotiator intent on maximizing his leverage or that he was bent on upsetting the entire apple cart, pushing through the Christmas deadline, and forcing Congress to face the voters. It turns out he was the former.

As morning dawned in snow-blanketed D.C. news reports buzzed that Nelson had come around. Nothing like some Medicaid funding to buy off the Nebraska holdout. The so-called manager’s amendment with the abortion language and nearly four hundred more pages of other decisive language appeared early Saturday morning, but still with no CBO scoring. Aides and activists are scrambling to read and understand the language. It appears as though states will be allowed to opt out of coverage for abortion services (provided they aren’t otherwise legally required to fund abortions). However, taxpayer money will still be used to subsidize those purchasing insurance that covers abortion services in states that don’t opt out. If so, Nelson has abandoned his pro-life allies.

Aside from all the details and the mind-numbing irresponsibility of the entire undertaking, it is the legislative maneuvering which is most striking. The process suggests just how afraid of the voters the Democrats must be. If the timing plays out as planned, a final cloture vote may come in the middle of the night on Monday. Now, if they can’t vote in broad daylight on a weekday after allowing the public to view the bill for a few days, then really, how awful must it be?

UPDATE: Nelson sold out his pro-life allies but Rep. Bart Stupak may not do the same.

Saturday night there had been a promising report. Promising, if you agree with the ever-growing “kill the bill” crowd, which includes everyone but the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a marathon negotiating session Friday with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in a hectic bid to persuade the last holdout to sign onto the health-care reform bill ahead of a key deadline Saturday morning. . . Nelson left a meeting in Reid’s office, telling reporters, “There’s no deal.”

The sanest statement to come out of Capitol Hill this week had been from Nelson, who declared: “Harry has some time frames he is thinking about. . . But I don’t have a deadline. To me, you have to get it right.” That suggested that Nelson was either a cagey negotiator intent on maximizing his leverage or that he was bent on upsetting the entire apple cart, pushing through the Christmas deadline, and forcing Congress to face the voters. It turns out he was the former.

As morning dawned in snow-blanketed D.C. news reports buzzed that Nelson had come around. Nothing like some Medicaid funding to buy off the Nebraska holdout. The so-called manager’s amendment with the abortion language and nearly four hundred more pages of other decisive language appeared early Saturday morning, but still with no CBO scoring. Aides and activists are scrambling to read and understand the language. It appears as though states will be allowed to opt out of coverage for abortion services (provided they aren’t otherwise legally required to fund abortions). However, taxpayer money will still be used to subsidize those purchasing insurance that covers abortion services in states that don’t opt out. If so, Nelson has abandoned his pro-life allies.

Aside from all the details and the mind-numbing irresponsibility of the entire undertaking, it is the legislative maneuvering which is most striking. The process suggests just how afraid of the voters the Democrats must be. If the timing plays out as planned, a final cloture vote may come in the middle of the night on Monday. Now, if they can’t vote in broad daylight on a weekday after allowing the public to view the bill for a few days, then really, how awful must it be?

UPDATE: Nelson sold out his pro-life allies but Rep. Bart Stupak may not do the same.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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A New Iranian Leader, A More Dangerous Iran

Yesterday, Ali Larijani was elected speaker of the Iranian parliament. In his new perch, the country’s former chief nuclear negotiator is bound to cause grief for his old rival, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The vote on Wednesday was not even close: Larijani walked away with all but 31 of the 263 votes cast as he defeated the incumbent, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel. The margin of victory signals that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supported Larijani, and with the backing of the clerics, the new speaker will be able to remake the political landscape in Tehran. So expect a period of turbulence in the internal workings of the Islamic Republic. There is already widespread discontent with Ahmadinejad’s policies–especially the economic ones–and Larijani now has the means to stir up trouble. The country, at this moment, has two strong operators pitted against each other in the run up to next June’s presidential elections.

What does this mean for us? The new speaker is by far the more pragmatic of the pair. His emergence, however, is not good for the international community. Larijani’s election is bound to result in added pressure on Washington–coming from Russia, China, and Europe, not to mention the “nonaligned” states–to begin new diplomatic initiatives to see if the Iranians will stop their enrichment of uranium. Yet Larijani is just as hardline as Ahmadinejad when it comes to this issue (just moments after his swearing in, he threatened to cut back Tehran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency).

Global leaders cannot agree that Iran poses a threat even when its president continually speaks about worldwide conflagration and the destruction of the “stinking corpse” that is Israel. There will certainly be even less unity now that it appears that Khamenei has endorsed a more moderate-sounding politician. Iran is still the threat today that it was in the beginning of this week. The only thing that is different is that at this time, with a more capable leader asserting himself, the country will be better able to achieve dangerous goals.

Yesterday, Ali Larijani was elected speaker of the Iranian parliament. In his new perch, the country’s former chief nuclear negotiator is bound to cause grief for his old rival, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The vote on Wednesday was not even close: Larijani walked away with all but 31 of the 263 votes cast as he defeated the incumbent, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel. The margin of victory signals that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supported Larijani, and with the backing of the clerics, the new speaker will be able to remake the political landscape in Tehran. So expect a period of turbulence in the internal workings of the Islamic Republic. There is already widespread discontent with Ahmadinejad’s policies–especially the economic ones–and Larijani now has the means to stir up trouble. The country, at this moment, has two strong operators pitted against each other in the run up to next June’s presidential elections.

What does this mean for us? The new speaker is by far the more pragmatic of the pair. His emergence, however, is not good for the international community. Larijani’s election is bound to result in added pressure on Washington–coming from Russia, China, and Europe, not to mention the “nonaligned” states–to begin new diplomatic initiatives to see if the Iranians will stop their enrichment of uranium. Yet Larijani is just as hardline as Ahmadinejad when it comes to this issue (just moments after his swearing in, he threatened to cut back Tehran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency).

Global leaders cannot agree that Iran poses a threat even when its president continually speaks about worldwide conflagration and the destruction of the “stinking corpse” that is Israel. There will certainly be even less unity now that it appears that Khamenei has endorsed a more moderate-sounding politician. Iran is still the threat today that it was in the beginning of this week. The only thing that is different is that at this time, with a more capable leader asserting himself, the country will be better able to achieve dangerous goals.

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Fascinating, What Does it Portend?

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

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The Wrong Rebuttal

A major sticking point has arisen in the run-up to the not-much-anticipated Annapolis conference: as a precondition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat created a stir when he announced that the Palestinians would do no such thing, arguing that, “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.”

Naturally, Erekat is wrong. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak intimated, every country with a cross, crescent, or religious phrase on its national flag, to varying extremes, traces its national identity to religious/cultural roots. Moreover, Israel’s use of the term “Jewish state” hardly connotes theocracy, as Erekat deceptively implies, but rather the state’s ethno-cultural identity. In this vein, former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar once compared Israel’s being Jewish to France’s being French.

Yet these rebuttals all seem a little too neat. After all, we don’t find France demanding recognition of its French identity—least of all from its adversaries—as Israel continues to do. Indeed, nobody contests that France is French by virtue of a population that is overwhelmingly French.

Olmert should operate with similar confidence regarding Israel’s ethno-cultural character, which is Jewish by virtue of a population that is mostly Jewish. Of course, in this context, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is code for renouncing the “right of return,” by which four million Palestinians would be permitted to repatriate to Israel. But if Olmert wishes to prevent this outcome, he’d be better served dealing in terms that affirm Israel’s sovereignty, rather than subjecting its pre-existent character to Palestinian acquiescence. Sovereignty encompasses the right of a state to secure its borders—and determine who can and cannot enter. When Palestinians are asked to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” they are granted an undue voice in affirming Israel’s internal character—a strike against Israeli sovereignty that Israel bizarrely invites. Israel is a Jewish state, whether or not Erekat admits it.

So long as any Israeli-Palestinian peace process aims to create two sovereign states, Israel’s “Jewish character” must be seen as a matter for Israelis alone to define and determine. For this reason, Olmert would be best served arriving at the Annapolis conference ready to talk about security arrangements and final borders—ones that guarantee total sovereignty for Israelis and Palestinians over their own affairs.

A major sticking point has arisen in the run-up to the not-much-anticipated Annapolis conference: as a precondition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat created a stir when he announced that the Palestinians would do no such thing, arguing that, “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.”

Naturally, Erekat is wrong. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak intimated, every country with a cross, crescent, or religious phrase on its national flag, to varying extremes, traces its national identity to religious/cultural roots. Moreover, Israel’s use of the term “Jewish state” hardly connotes theocracy, as Erekat deceptively implies, but rather the state’s ethno-cultural identity. In this vein, former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar once compared Israel’s being Jewish to France’s being French.

Yet these rebuttals all seem a little too neat. After all, we don’t find France demanding recognition of its French identity—least of all from its adversaries—as Israel continues to do. Indeed, nobody contests that France is French by virtue of a population that is overwhelmingly French.

Olmert should operate with similar confidence regarding Israel’s ethno-cultural character, which is Jewish by virtue of a population that is mostly Jewish. Of course, in this context, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is code for renouncing the “right of return,” by which four million Palestinians would be permitted to repatriate to Israel. But if Olmert wishes to prevent this outcome, he’d be better served dealing in terms that affirm Israel’s sovereignty, rather than subjecting its pre-existent character to Palestinian acquiescence. Sovereignty encompasses the right of a state to secure its borders—and determine who can and cannot enter. When Palestinians are asked to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” they are granted an undue voice in affirming Israel’s internal character—a strike against Israeli sovereignty that Israel bizarrely invites. Israel is a Jewish state, whether or not Erekat admits it.

So long as any Israeli-Palestinian peace process aims to create two sovereign states, Israel’s “Jewish character” must be seen as a matter for Israelis alone to define and determine. For this reason, Olmert would be best served arriving at the Annapolis conference ready to talk about security arrangements and final borders—ones that guarantee total sovereignty for Israelis and Palestinians over their own affairs.

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Don’t Believe Your Ears

Saeb Erekat, the longstanding Palestinian negotiator, announced on Israeli radio today that the Palestinians will not accept Israel as a “Jewish state” (never mind that it already is)—that description carrying with it, of course, a prohibition on Israel’s being flooded with the millions of descendants of the Arabs who left Palestine before and during the 1948 War of Independence, people currently languishing under the awful custodianship of UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Erekat is legendary for what could politely be called his casual relationship to the truth. In one of his finer moments, in 2002, he was shrieking to every Western reporter who would listen that the IDF had slaughtered over 500 civilians in Jenin and buried them in mass graves (the reporters not only were listening but believing, and thereafter not caring very much at having been lied to). But all of that unpleasantness is so much water under the bridge at this point. Erekat is a favorite of the press corps, and little things like false accusations of a massacre should never be permitted to undercut future media appearances.

And so today, in refusing to assent to the existence of something that is already real—a Jewish homeland—he said that “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.” I wonder if Erekat is familiar with the two largest states in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia and Iran—that do exactly that, and in far more sensational fashion than liberal, democratic Israel? Are any of the journalists who routinely make themselves the receptacles for Erekat’s garbage going to ask him, in his next media appearance (occurring moments from now, I feel safe predicting) to explain this strange proposition? It is amazing that this clown continues to command attention from journalists.

Saeb Erekat, the longstanding Palestinian negotiator, announced on Israeli radio today that the Palestinians will not accept Israel as a “Jewish state” (never mind that it already is)—that description carrying with it, of course, a prohibition on Israel’s being flooded with the millions of descendants of the Arabs who left Palestine before and during the 1948 War of Independence, people currently languishing under the awful custodianship of UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Erekat is legendary for what could politely be called his casual relationship to the truth. In one of his finer moments, in 2002, he was shrieking to every Western reporter who would listen that the IDF had slaughtered over 500 civilians in Jenin and buried them in mass graves (the reporters not only were listening but believing, and thereafter not caring very much at having been lied to). But all of that unpleasantness is so much water under the bridge at this point. Erekat is a favorite of the press corps, and little things like false accusations of a massacre should never be permitted to undercut future media appearances.

And so today, in refusing to assent to the existence of something that is already real—a Jewish homeland—he said that “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.” I wonder if Erekat is familiar with the two largest states in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia and Iran—that do exactly that, and in far more sensational fashion than liberal, democratic Israel? Are any of the journalists who routinely make themselves the receptacles for Erekat’s garbage going to ask him, in his next media appearance (occurring moments from now, I feel safe predicting) to explain this strange proposition? It is amazing that this clown continues to command attention from journalists.

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Squeezing Iran

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

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The Dangers of Patience

On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

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On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

What’s next? Well, American policymakers will undoubtedly confront Kim Jong Il with . . . more patience. For his part, Kim seems to have a more robust strategy for dealing with us. Last week, for the first time in fifteen years, he showed off missile systems in a military parade. There were three new systems, but what caught analysts’ attention was a new intermediate-range ballistic missile with a maximum range of 4,000 kilometers. It can reach the American territory of Guam. Kim’s Taepodong-2 missile—though not yet deployed—will be able to reach America’s West Coast with a nuclear payload.

So perhaps it would be a good time to start paying attention to Pyongyang’s leader. As Kim Myong Chol, often described as North Korea’s “unofficial spokesman,” wrote at the beginning of this year, “Kim is now one click away from torching the skyscrapers of New York.” This is an exaggeration: at this particular moment, the worst the North Korean leader could do is to incinerate Anchorage or Honolulu. But if North Korea’s arms development continues at this pace, in five to seven years, Kim’s technicians will be able to miniaturize nuclear weapons, mate them to missiles, and deploy them in a launch vehicle that can reach any point in North America.

Perhaps we should move the White House to Bermuda.

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