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

May 06, 2003

Joseph's Challenge

Below, Joseph chides us contributors for not looking enough at the opposition. So he introduces us to an article at the Israeli Policy Forum (IPF) website. Though he calls the article "thoughtful," I respectfully disagree. It is ripe for a fisking.

Before I start, though, it's necessary to remember that in 1997 IPF commissioned a poll that purported to show that American Jews favored "moderate" pressure being applied to Israel to make then-PM Netanyahu more flexible. At the time the issue was the Hebron Accord, for which Israel got American approval to determine unilaterally what would be an acceptable size of land to be turned over to the PA. Clinton (and Albright) betrayed that promise and sided with Arafat when he complained that the size of the land Netanyahu had decided to give was "insulting." The Washington Post and New York Times were, of course, all too happy to write articles on how a pro-Israel group was supporting pressure on Israel.

Remember at the time Arafat was still a "partner for peace." This begs the question: when did IPF change its view of Arafat? If they didn't see that Arafat was incapable of making peace in advance of July 2000, why should we accept their view that the change to Abu Mazen represents "nothing short of a minor earthquake" and that Mazen himself "represents at least a solid prospect for a credible negotiating partner."

True Abu Mazen is not Arafat and may not have the quantities of blood on his hands that Arafat does, but that doesn't mean that he is clean or even close to it. In America or Europe a Holocaust denier is considered beyond the pale politically. Only when it comes to Israel does a Holocaust denier - and one who earned his PhD denying the Holocaust - become a "moderate" or a "peace partner." It also doesn't mean that he is a "solid prospect"; just a better one than Arafat. Of course that's sort of like saying that the Baltimore Orioles have a better chance of winning the World Series than the Detroit Tigers do. But that doesn't mean that either has a credible chance of doing so.

Enough with the ad hominem stuff, let's get to the serious stuff...

IPF brings up three objections to the road map and dismisses them all.
Criticism One: The roadmap is lopsided in favor of the Palestinians.
IPF's rebuttal (in part)
It is ludicrous to claim this is lopsided in favor of the Palestinians when they have to do the vast majority of the initial work. Plus, as Bush has made clear, if the violence doesn’t stop, the process will never move forward. Withdrawals and concessions won’t be expected of Israel if the Palestinians don’t do their utmost to end terrorism. And if terrorism resumes in this performance-based program, the process stops. Unlike the Oslo process, there are built-in penalties for the absence of compliance. To quote the text, “Non-compliance with obligations will impede progress.”

My critique: Starting with the last first, IPF claims: "Unlike the Oslo process, there are built-in penalties for the absence of compliance. To quote the text, 'Non-compliance with obligations will impede progress.'” Did I miss something? What exactly is the penalty here? And what if, like Oslo, the Quartet deems the PA to be in compliance against Israeli claims? What then? Israel will be held as the non-complier.

Look at this past weekend when America called for Israel to give more freedom to the PA. Did the PA do anything to earn it? Sorry but I don't see how this is supposed to reassure me.

But the bigger problem is that the PA is asked to abide its ten year old commitments. In return Israel is asked to do things that were never part of a previous agreement. Most noticeably Israel is asked to withdraw from certain areas. "Settlement" building was never expressly prohibited by the Oslo Accords except in certain specific areas of Gaza. So in return for finally keeping a ten year old commitment, Israel is asked to do more than it committed to? That's why the agreement favors the PA.

In addition, Judge Abraham Sofaer, former legal adviser to the State Department, points out in Commentary (and as republished in OpinionJournal) the timetable in the Road Map is so accelerated that there will be pressure to certify the PA in compliance in order to get to the Israel obligations even if the the PA still hasn't met its commitments.
Criticism Two: The roadmap is an international, Quartet creation, one that deviates from the Bush vision of June 24, 2002.
IPF's rebuttal (in part)

Wrong. This document belongs to none other than George W. Bush. When opponents of the initiative warn that it doesn’t “stick to the Bush vision” it’s a monumental slight to a President that has assumed personal property of the roadmap. Through successive drafts of this document, the Bush administration insisted on improvements that provided additional security safeguards for Israel.

The proper degree of international participation is essential in this process. Arab pressure on the Palestinian Authority can only help them combat the terrorists within, and one failure of the Oslo Accords was that multi-lateral initiatives addressing regional issues between Arabs and Israelis were left on the backburner. The roadmap learns from this failure by making the neighboring Arabs part of the process.
My critique: This is classic misdirection. First of all while claiming that the Road Map is American and not European, IPF then argues that international participation is necessary. Second it doesn't address the problem that the Road Map contradicts the President's speech of last June. (The speech itself contained contradictory elements that are hard to resolve.)

Last June President Bush called for a PA that was free from terror. Yet as IPF noted, the President considers Abu Mazen "a mand dedicated to peace," despite his funding of the Munich Olympic massacre, his Holocaust denial and his recent statements condoning the killing of civilians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Mohammed Dahlan is even more implicated in terror. It's one thing to say that these guys aren't perfect but we have to deal with them; it's another to whitewash their records and change them into latter day Gandhis.
Criticism Three: The roadmap is a prize for terror, and doesn’t punish Arafat enough.
IPF's rebuttal:
There is no prize for terror in a process that goes nowhere without an end to violence. Arafat has been punished rather than rewarded by the international community's shoving a prime minister down his throat, the greatest political defeat he has ever suffered. Involving an Abu Mazen-led government in the roadmap process will show Palestinians that a pragmatic, non-violent strategy that recognizes Israel’s grievances is beneficial, while Arafat’s terror-oriented strategy leads them nowhere.

The promotion of Abu Mazen is only the first step out the door for Arafat, a move that 50% of Palestinians see as “an erosion in Arafat's status and authority,” according to PSR.
It's true that Abu Mazen's appointment as Prime Minister represents “an erosion in Arafat's status and authority,” but is it significant. Robert Satloff doesn't think so. After agreeing with Abu Mazen on Abu Mazen's role, there were pictures of Arafat smiling. If Arafat's happy, that suggests that he feels that he's pulled another one over on the purposely naive international community.
Finally, the IPF offers one last general critique:
Critics that focus on the details of the roadmap are wrongheaded because they treat the roadmap as if it were a final peace treaty. The roadmap is just what its title says – a guide. It is not an imposed solution, but rather a framework for returning the parties to the negotiating table through the cessation of violence.
This is not entirely true. When the roadmap calls for an eventual end to "settlements" this is problematic. It is in fact anticipating an end to the process. The PA, at the very least, believes that settlements include Maale Adumim, French Hill, Gush Etzion and Gilo. I don't believe that most Israelis believe this to be the case. During the Oslo years the PA has justified violence against Israeli civilians by claiming that the existence of settlements is a form of violence or a violation of Oslo. As long as there was no clause - and to my knowledge there is none - that specifies that Israel need not return fully to its 1967 "Auschwitz" borders, this too is a recipe for disaster.
And if the IPF thinks that only right wingers it can dismiss question the Road Map, it should read what former Oslophile, Barry Rubin, writes about it.