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

May 09, 2003

Fisking Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross has retired from peacemaking and landed with Robert Satloff's Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Given the sloppiness of Ross's work, I wonder how he got such a prestigious position. No mind. Let's critique his work.
In the last week the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians appeared to be improving. The Palestinians approved Mahmoud Abbas as their first-ever prime minister, and he declared that terrorism threatened to destroy the Palestinian cause — language one never heard from Yasir Arafat. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel reiterated his understanding that it would take painful concessions by Israel to achieve peace, including a willingness to part with areas central to Jewish history like Bethlehem, Shilo and Beit El. And Secretary of State Colin Powell is on his way to Jerusalem to promote President Bush's "road map" toward a peacefully coexisting Israel and Palestine.
True, as Ross notes, that one never heard Yasir Arafat saying that violence was counterproductive. So then why did Ross put so much stock in Arafat for eight years if Arafat never acknowledged that violence was not the way to achieve the PA's goals. It's nice for Ross to make this observation now, but why didn't he make it - and force Clinton to act upon it - during the 90's?

Still I suppose even a little progress is preferable to none at all. So what if Abbas, just a few weeks ago, said that he considered Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza legitimate targets? Well we'll just ignore the inconvenient stuff.
But these hopeful signs were accompanied by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and an Israeli incursion in Gaza, which yet again left noncombatants dead on both sides. Then Mr. Abbas was stymied by Mr. Arafat and other Palestinian leaders over his plans to reorganize the Palestinian security services. And aides to Mr. Sharon said Israel was unlikely to commit to the road map until after he meets with President Bush in a few weeks.
Here's one of those annoying equivalences. "...noncombatants dead on both sides." Yes but which side targeted the noncombatants? And which side hides its combatants among noncombatants?
Are we watching yet another brief moment of opportunity undone by Palestinian terrorism and Israeli reprisal? Perhaps not — we are at a promising stage because the interests of the Israelis and Palestinians have greatly converged. But everyone involved must recognize what is possible and what is not. These shared concerns of the leaders on both sides only involve stopping the current Intifadah. We must focus on changes in the near-term reality, not a lasting peace that would require concessions neither side can make now.
Despite what Ross implies here it's not up to both leaders to stop the intifadah. That is the responsibility of Abbas alone. And no, I don't buy excuses such as "our police can't do their jobs until the Israelis retreat." Israel's retreated before only to watch terrorism increase. There is plenty of work the PA can do even with Israel around. (The PA, it should be noted, has little difficulty rooting out those they thinking are helping Israel.)
Mr. Sharon knows that Israel's economic woes cannot be overcome so long as the daily struggle with the Palestinians goes on. Nor can the Israeli Defense Force stay in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank indefinitely. It is not only that Israel's army, largely made up of reserves, is being sapped in terms of manpower and morale, but also that the Palestinians' hostility toward Israel will continue as long as they feel the cities are under siege.
I get the impression that morale is not a problem among Israeli reservists. Why suggest it? And is the hostility the result of the "siege" or is it the result of an orchestrated hate campaign? Did the level of hate go down when Netanyahu was Prime Minister and there were few if any closures?
Thus neither prime minister is focused on the endgame of peacemaking right now. Mr. Abbas has no authority to make concessions on issues like the control of Jerusalem, borders and refugees. To gain credibility on tackling these core questions, he has to show that he can reform the Palestinian Authority and reduce Israeli control of Palestinian lives. Ariel Sharon, for his part, won't consider addressing the major issues until he knows that he has a partner who will truly dismantle all the terrorism networks in the Palestinian areas. None of this will happen overnight.
As IMRA notes, Abbas claims he has no authorization to compromise on the right of return ever. Given that admission, it's hard to see where building trust will help.
Moreover, the absence of clear measuring sticks for judging performance will leave each side in a position to claim it has done what was required, no matter the reality. For example, the Palestinians are supposed to make arrests and dismantle terrorist groups. But how many people should be arrested, and who are the key targets? What does the essential terrorist network consist of, and does it include the Dawa — the social support structure of the terrorist group Hamas?

On the Israeli side, what is the real number of illegal settler outposts? Israel is supposed to withdraw to its defense force positions of September 2000, but where exactly were they?
Terrorist infrastructure clearly includes the "social services" branch of Hamas. No distinction necessary. And this lack of specificity is one of the failures of Oslo. Of course the PA even ignored its obvious obligations. So it's not clear that adding specificity to the Road Map will bring any improvement in PA compliance.
The two sides need to be clear on what each is going to do, where it is going to do it, how it is going to do it, and when it is going to do it. Can they come to an agreement on their own? I doubt it. From my long experience dealing with the two sides, I know that the potential for using the same language to mean different things existed even in the best of times of dialogue and cooperation. Now, in a very hostile environment, the potential to talk past each other and inadvertently create profound misunderstandings is even greater. It is already visible in the debate over "confronting" Hamas — with Palestinians feeling this means persuasion, the Israelis that it means physical destruction.

Israeli expectations must be reconciled with Palestinian capacities — and that will happen only with American help. Mr. Powell has the best chance of success this weekend if he puts his emphasis on near-term specifics. His success at getting the two sides to agree on what to do now will determine whether the road map is a genuine path toward peace or yet another Middle Eastern cul-de-sac.
And if this is to work, Powell must bring pressure to bear on the PA that controlling Hamas means destroying it. Persuasion is long past. In the past whenever Arafat tried to co-opt Hamas, his apologists - in the media and in the diplomatic - would excuse it as Arafat trying to moderate Hamas. But these agreements always included permission for Hamas to strike at Jews in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. So the PA was violating its commitment to end violence by entering into those agreements. It was up to the world to condemn him for it. The world didn't then. Now there's no choice. Hamas must be destroyed. And the United States must bring pressure to bear to make that happen.
Cross posted on IsraPundit and David's Israel Blog.