The Process Begun at Oslo Was Never about Peace, Only about Israeli Concessions

Sept. 14 2018

Having worked to craft Middle East policy in both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, Douglas Feith saw up close much of the unfolding negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords and those that followed. From early on, he concluded that the term “peace process” really described nothing of the sort, but rather a framework by which Israel withdrew unilaterally from territories and hoped for the best. Feith writes:

[A]t the end of August 1993, the first Oslo agreement—known as the Declaration of Principles (DOP) —was published. There were a few vague words in the preamble about striving for peaceful coexistence, but in the operative sections there were no actual peace promises. The DOP said simply that Israel would withdraw from parts of the territories and transfer responsibilities to the Arab party. The Arab party, labeled “the Arab team representing the Palestinian people,” said only that it would take over whatever Israel relinquished.

The DOP was an exchange of land for nothing. But immediately after it became public, Yasir Arafat wanted Israel to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Rabin said he would do that only if Arafat promised peace and renounced terrorism, commitments that were absent from the DOP.

The PLO and the Israeli government then spent a week-and-a-half negotiating side letters on peace and recognition. During those days, journalists asked Israeli officials what would happen if there were no agreement on the side letters. The officials said the DOP would be implemented anyway. That was revealing. It showed that the Israeli government was determined to make territorial withdrawals whether or not Arafat made a commitment to peace. . . .

The second President Bush brought a different attitude to the subject, Feith continues, even if his administration didn’t necessarily translate that attitude into policy:

In National Security Council meetings [in 2001, Secretary of State Colin] Powell made his case for why the president should meet with Arafat to revive the Oslo process. The vice-president [Richard Cheney] opposed Powell, arguing that 9/11 required the U.S. government to take a principled position against terrorism. The second intifada was underway. Not only was Arafat failing to prevent terrorism against Israelis, but his security forces were themselves often the perpetrators.

Then, in January 2002, the Israeli navy captured the Karine A, [a vessel on its way to Palestinian Authority territory], and briefed U.S. officials on its cargo of Iranian arms. Israel’s defense minister said the shipment violated Oslo. This was the very month when President Bush spoke about the special danger of countries that both support terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction. He called those countries the “axis of evil” and named Iran as one of them. . . . That put the final nail in the coffin of Arafat’s reputation as a statesman and peace partner.

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More about: George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Oslo Accords, Peace Process, Richard Cheney, Yasir Arafat

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics