Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk begins his book on the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy with the initial focus on brokering peace between Israel and Syria, then led by Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez. Assad’s demand was a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a full peace. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was open to it both because he wanted real peace with Syria–Israel already had a longstanding peace agreement with Egypt, a certain level of cooperation with Lebanese officials and armed forces, and a relationship with Jordan that was a peace agreement in all but name, which was finally signed in 1994–and because he thought it would encourage the Palestinians to want peace as well.
He was right about the latter point, though the Palestinians would end up hijacking the entire process and peace with Syria never happened. But ahead of a trip to Washington to meet with Clinton, Rabin wanted to know how the U.S. would guarantee the peace, as Indyk phrases it, “especially in the event of Asad’s death.” Would Clinton put American troops on the Golan, if it came to that and Israel was proscribed by the peace agreement from sending its own troops? Clinton asked Colin Powell for his advice. Indyk recounts the exchange:
In 1974, when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were locked in an internal battle for the leadership of the Labor party and the Israeli premiership, Rabin reached out for an unlikely endorsement. “A declaration of support from Arik matters more than one from anyone else,” Rabin told the journalist Uri Dan, referring to the Likud’s Ariel Sharon. Dan relayed the request to Sharon, and Sharon agreed; he got up from his meeting with Dan, went over to a phone booth in the hotel lobby, and began calling journalists to tell them.
The endorsement made headlines, and Rabin became prime minister. Though that incident took place soon after the Yom Kippur War and years before Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement, there is a cultural aspect to this story that remains relevant in 2013. To most of the world the there isn’t much difference between a “peacemaker” and a “peacenik”; to Israelis there is a Grand Canyon between them. And although the political parties are reversed, this distinction goes a long way to explaining the seeming indispensability of Ehud Barak to the man that took over the Likud after Sharon left it: Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.
Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:
If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.
The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:
We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?
These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.
The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.