Commentary Magazine


Topic: Where Bush

Five Tips for Effective Peace-Processing

The New York Times reported yesterday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally, announced:

“We feel we are in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Abbas said. “What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step.” Aides have said that Mr. Abbas, who said recently that he did not wish to run again for the Palestinian leadership, is dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process.

Dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process?

Six months ago, lack of movement was not cause for concern but part of the plan. After Abbas met with President Obama on May 28, the Washington Post reported the new strategy: wait for things that Abbas knew would never happen.

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze. … So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. …

Instead, [Abbas] says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”

The current “difficult situation” is not the result of any deterioration in the good life in the West Bank. On the contrary, that situation has improved since May, as the Netanyahu government has dismantled checkpoints and administrative barriers to economic activity. The difficult situation is rather the result of an Obama diplomatic process that will be studied for years as a lesson in self-propelled hoisting.

Here is how Robert Satloff, in a perceptive presentation for the Washington Institute, describes what happened:

Where Bush was willing to reach quiet, practical, de facto, but very real understandings with Israel on settlement activity, Obama would deny that such understandings ever existed and demand something that no Israeli government could deliver (and, as a result, what no Palestinian leader since the years of the Oslo Accords had ever insisted on): an absolute, 100 percent, not-one-brick freeze on construction in any non-Arab site in either the West Bank or Jerusalem.

* * *

What Netanyahu offered the United States on settlements was certainly constructive and helpful but probably did not merit the accolade “unprecedented,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem. Here, the failing was the administration’s unwillingness to accept the original understandings on settlement activity reached by Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. If those understandings had not existed, then Bibi’s offer would have been, in a sense, unprecedented, but everyone — Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs — knew that the Sharon-Bush understandings did exist. Washington was caught in a web of its own making.

Lessons for future Diplomacy 101 students: (1) do not renege on understandings with another country, even though they were reached before you took office; (2) do not deny that an understanding existed when everyone knows it existed; (3) try to build on what your predecessor achieved, instead of denying he achieved anything; and (4) do not slowly squeeze allies (save that for adversaries).

One other tip: do not start your peace process by reneging, denying, and squeezing one side while giving the other side the impression that all it needs to do is sit back and watch you do it. It will create a difficult situation.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally, announced:

“We feel we are in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Abbas said. “What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step.” Aides have said that Mr. Abbas, who said recently that he did not wish to run again for the Palestinian leadership, is dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process.

Dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process?

Six months ago, lack of movement was not cause for concern but part of the plan. After Abbas met with President Obama on May 28, the Washington Post reported the new strategy: wait for things that Abbas knew would never happen.

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze. … So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. …

Instead, [Abbas] says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”

The current “difficult situation” is not the result of any deterioration in the good life in the West Bank. On the contrary, that situation has improved since May, as the Netanyahu government has dismantled checkpoints and administrative barriers to economic activity. The difficult situation is rather the result of an Obama diplomatic process that will be studied for years as a lesson in self-propelled hoisting.

Here is how Robert Satloff, in a perceptive presentation for the Washington Institute, describes what happened:

Where Bush was willing to reach quiet, practical, de facto, but very real understandings with Israel on settlement activity, Obama would deny that such understandings ever existed and demand something that no Israeli government could deliver (and, as a result, what no Palestinian leader since the years of the Oslo Accords had ever insisted on): an absolute, 100 percent, not-one-brick freeze on construction in any non-Arab site in either the West Bank or Jerusalem.

* * *

What Netanyahu offered the United States on settlements was certainly constructive and helpful but probably did not merit the accolade “unprecedented,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem. Here, the failing was the administration’s unwillingness to accept the original understandings on settlement activity reached by Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. If those understandings had not existed, then Bibi’s offer would have been, in a sense, unprecedented, but everyone — Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs — knew that the Sharon-Bush understandings did exist. Washington was caught in a web of its own making.

Lessons for future Diplomacy 101 students: (1) do not renege on understandings with another country, even though they were reached before you took office; (2) do not deny that an understanding existed when everyone knows it existed; (3) try to build on what your predecessor achieved, instead of denying he achieved anything; and (4) do not slowly squeeze allies (save that for adversaries).

One other tip: do not start your peace process by reneging, denying, and squeezing one side while giving the other side the impression that all it needs to do is sit back and watch you do it. It will create a difficult situation.

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