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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 04, 2003

Playing hardball (Ted Belman)

The path to real peace and not "peace".

After emerging from a meeting with Sharon, Mitzna had this to say,
We are a centrist party that asks itself daily, what is the correct way to extricate Israel from its deep distress. It's not a question of left versus right. The real question is, what is the alternative to a government policy that has led Israel for two years now, and has brought us to a grave reality that immediately and directly endangers the state of Israel.
How about that for an inversion of reality. For Labour time starts when Sharon took over the government with an intafada on its hands. Forgotton is, who created the problem that lead to the violence in the first place.

Ha’aretz reports
What to many Israelis seems the most obvious option - an all-hawk government banding the right-centrist Likud together with ultra-Orthodox, settler-advocate, and far-right parties - is the one that Sharon seems to desire the least. Although affording him at least 69 seats, a relatively comfortable Knesset margin, the prize comes with a catch, the ideology-driven National Union and its dour leader Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman, who shot to prominence as the parliamentary enforcer of Sharon's Likud rival Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to scuttle any Sharon bid to extend concessions to the Palestinians to pave the way for peace talks.

Lieberman's ultra-rightist National Union is the progenitor of the concept of "voluntary transfer of Palestinians" - widely seen as code for forced expulsion.

Thus a right –centrist Likud is considered “all hawk” and ”voluntary transfer” is considered a euphamism for “forced expulsion”.

Labour continues to bang the drum of abandoning settlements and making other unilateral concessions as the path to peace, whereas the alternative policy, is the current policy of no concessions until violence is ended and PA transformed. In other words, Labour wants to concede defeat to the Palestinians before negotiations start and Likud wants the PA to concede defeat before negotiations start.

To my mind Oslo was a process of unilateral withdrawal. True, we negotiated for conditions but never bothered to enforce them. In addition, the PA agreed to the deal without an agreement from Israel to desist in the settlement activity let alone abandon them. Now Labour wants to do it again, this time without an agreement and with a gratuitous concession to abandon certain settlements. It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

When the US was trying to negotiate an agreement to end the Vietnam War, the parties wrangled for months on the shape of the negotiating table. Why so? Because who ever gave in on the point was signalling that they could be relied upon to give in first later on.

Negotiations are basically adverserial with each side striving to get as much as they can. Whoever is stronger gets more of what they want. Whoever is in a greater rush gets less. Whoever gives first gets less and whoever is intransigent gets more. These are the facts of life, or if you will, negotiations.

The only obligation Israel has according to Oslo is to negotiate. The PA has the same obligation but opted for violence instead. They recognized that the Oslo Accords rendered them impotant to get more than Israel was willing to give them. Even so, Barak offered them 97%. Still not enough because their end game was the destruction of Israel.

All proposals being put forward since are to give the Palestinians more than Oslo gave them and even more than Barak offered them. Even the US, our friend, is pushing for a better deal for them. So much for upholding agreements and the rule of law. If anything, because of the intafada, the Palestinians should get less than what Barak offered them, in part to penalize them (terrorism will cost you, it is not a free shot) and in part as a consequence of the new reality,( Israel is endangered more than it thought).

Sharon has to decide if he is going to roll with the punches to deflect the blows and as a result come out with a better result for going along or he is going to be intransigent in resisting the pressure. It is far from certain that such intransigence in the end won’t get Israel a better result than going along. Afterall what is the US prepared to do to get Israel to make concessions. Remember there is an election starting this year.