Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Israel: From "Painful Concessions" To "Serious Self-Reflection" (Updated)

Back in 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made it clear that the time was right for peace:

The Israeli Prime Minister reiterated his readiness to recognise a Palestinian state and to make "painful concessions" in return for "real peace". But he hedged on whether he would evacuate Jewish settlements. That reluctance prompted the Palestinians and the Israeli left to question his sincerity.

The victory of Anglo-American forces in Iraq, Mr Sharon said in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, had created an opportunity that did not exist before. "The Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think." He added: "I am 75. I feel that my goal and my purpose are to bring this nation to peace and security. I think that this is something that I have to leave behind me."

"Painful concessions" became the catchphrase that would be repeated over and over by both Sharon and then by Olmert, just as evacuating the Israeli settlements has become the concession de jure for Israel to make (the Disengagement having been a mere appetizer).

Then, Israelis were told by their leaders what would have to be done to proceed further on the evasive road to peace.

Now we have gone from evasive to invasive as Israel now finds itself lectured by the US not only that it simply has not done enough, but that it needs a political time-out, while it sits in the corner and considers what it really should be doing--under the tutelage of Obama.

Obama informed the meeting of Jewish leaders that he himself has created an opportunity that not only did not exist before, but may not come again:

Mr. Ben-Ami (of J Street) said in an interview that the president ‘’did a masterful job of pushing while hugging.’’ Mr. Obama spoke of a ‘’rock-solid strategic alliance with Israel,’’ he said, but also strongly defended his call for Israel to stop building Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. He said Mr. Obama argued that he is the right man, at the right time, to press for a lasting Middle East peace agreement.

“He was very humble about it, not bragging, not talking himself up, but just being clear that there’s a set of assets that he brings,’’ Mr. Ben-Ami said. “That somebody with his ability to speak to the Muslim world, the political capital that he brings internationally as well as domestically – that isn’t going to come around all that often, and we have a narrow window before time runs out. He was very clear that this is a moment that has to be seized and he intends to seize it.’’

Marty Peretz notes the air of condescension:

It is, after all, they whose country is the target of an armed and ideological cyclone that Obama has done precious little to ease. He brought nothing back from Riyadh and Cairo, absolutely nothing except the conviction of the Arab leaders that they need do nothing but sit and wait until the president squeezes one concession after another out of Jerusalem.

William Kristol, on the other hand, notes the absurdity:

“Serious self-reflection!” It’s really good that Barack Obama is reminding the leaders and people of Israel to engage in that. I hope they’re up to it. After all, what do Israelis know about reflecting on, and living with, the life and death consequences of political decisions? What do Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon -- either as individuals or as leaders -- know about war and peace? These are guys -- and the Israelis are a people -- who just coast along, taking an easy path, never debating, never thinking, never questioning, never second-guessing...and never making or asking their fellow citizens to make sacrifices.

This comes from the new leader of the US [leader of the Free World? (gulp)] whose inexperience becomes more apparent as his approval numbers sink.

Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod, on the other hand -- they’re seriously self-reflective individuals. Look at their wide experiences at peace and in war. Look how they’ve had to grapple with life and death decisions for decades. For them, it’s not just talk and spin and positioning. The American president and his advisors -- they’ve made personal sacrifices, they’ve come to grips with the tough choices over their decades of accomplishment in public life. They’ve got the standing to lecture the people and leaders of Israel on the need for self-reflection.

What it boils down to is that while Obama may be the president of the United States--a position that he earned politically--that does not mean that Obama has earned the right to lecture another country about its very survival, an issue that both the leaders and people have struggled with for decades.

Obama's amateurish remarks will gain him no points on the international stage.

UPDATE: Rick Richman gives a little history that perhaps Obama should reflect on:

After the Palestinians rejected an offer of a state at Camp David in 2000, rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2001, and conducted a terror war against Israeli civilians from September 2000-2002, Israel nevertheless agreed in 2003 to the “Performance-Based Roadmap” for the creation of a Palestinian state, despite reservations about the manner in which that plan would actually be implemented.

In 2003 and thereafter, Israel ceased all settlement activity — as it understood that Phase I Roadmap obligation (no new settlements; no building outside settlement boundaries; no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements) — and believed American officials agreed with its interpretation of that obligation.

In 2004, after the Palestinian Authority failed to meet its own Phase I Roadmap obligation (sustained efforts to dismantle terrorist groups and infrastructure), Israel nevertheless proposed to dismantle every existing settlement in Gaza (not just “outposts”), remove every Israeli soldier, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority — in exchange for a written American commitment to defensible borders and retention of the major settlement blocs necessary to insure them.

In 2005, after receiving the American commitment, Israel proceeded to carry out the Gaza disengagement, despite the political and social upheaval within Israel it caused, including the break-up of the ruling party and nationwide demonstrations, and - at State Department insistence - further dismantled four settlements (not just “outposts”) in the West Bank as well, to demonstrate the disengagement would be “Gaza First,” not “Gaza Last.”

In 2006, after the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group to control their government, Israelis nevertheless re-elected Kadima on a platform of “convergence” (the new name for withdrawal from the West Bank), and would have carried it out but for the attacks by Hamas from Gaza and Hezbollah from Lebanon that caused two wars and finally convinced Israelis further withdrawals were insane.

In 2007, despite the Palestinian failure to carry out its Phase I dismantlement obligation, and its categorical rejection of Phase II (a state with provisional sovereignty before Phase III final status negotiations), Israel agreed to proceed immediately to final status negotiations once again under the “Annapolis Process.”

Throughout 2008, Israel negotiated with its “peace partner” under the accelerated process, and offered 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) for a state, with concessions on other major issues, all of which were rejected.

During this eight-year period, the Palestinian concessions (aka reciprocal “progress”) can be enumerated more briefly: zero.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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