Roger Cohen has another op-ed in the New York Times (The Fierce Urgency of Peace
), advising on the right way to deal with Israel, based on a “Bipartisan Statement on U.S. Middle East Peacemaking.”
One problem is that before even getting to the report itself, one has to wade through the inaccuracies of the report's introduction, which Cohen unquestioningly passes on to us:
Deploring “seven years of absenteeism” under the Bush administration, they call for intense American mediation in pursuit of a two-state solution
Seven years of absenteeism?
It would have been unfathomable that four months after 9/11, the United States would commence a war on terrorism by insisting that its closest Middle East ally try to make peace with a man who was writing checks to suicide bombers.One might suggest that in the midst of what the Obama claims is the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression, maybe there are other issues that should take priority for his undivided attention.
But going a step further--the claim of seven years of absenteeism is simply not true:
Far from ignoring the Arab-Israeli issue, Bush did the following: (1) became in 2002 the first U.S. president to endorse a Palestinian state as a matter of official policy; (2) translated the policy in 2003 into a Road Map approved by the UN, the EU, Russia, the Palestinian Authority and Israel; (3) negotiated with Israel in 2004 on the Gaza Disengagement Deal (and got West Bank settlements dismantled to demonstrate it would not stop with Gaza); (4) supported a Palestinian election in 2005 to endorse a new leader pledged to dismantling terrorist groups; (5) permitted all parties to participate in the 2006 elections to give Palestinians a choice between the “peace partner” party and the premier terrorist group; (6) scuttled the first two phases of the Road Map in 2007, in order to keep the process going, even after the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group; (7) convened a worldwide conference in Annapolis in 2007 to begin a year-long period of final status negotiations; and (8) had his Secretary of State make umpteen trips in 2006-2008 to push the negotiations.One can only hope that these mandarins--as Cohen refers to them--have a better grasp of the Middle East than they do of recent American History. More to the point, what is the chance that the lack of objectivity and out right politicizing they demonstrate against the Bush administration will manifest itself in their retread of the two-state solution, leading to a second Palestinian state.
Let's not forget that the chair of this group is Brent Scowcroft, who--as I have blogged about many times--made a truly bizarre statement about the Middle East during a discussion noted in The Washington Post in October 2005:
Scowcroft, in his interview, discussed an argument over Iraq he had two years ago with Condoleezza Rice, then-national security adviser and current secretary of state. "She says we're going to democratize Iraq, and I said, 'Condi, you're not going to democratize Iraq,' and she said, 'You know, you're just stuck in the old days,' and she comes back to this thing that we've tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth," he said. The article stated that with a "barely perceptible note of satisfaction," Scowcroft added: "But we've had fifty years of peace." [emphasis added]Fifty years of peace in the Middle East?
Now let's see. Between 1953 and 2003, here are the Mideast wars we can think of off the top of our head: the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the two Palestinian intifadas against Israel, the Algerian Civil War, the Yemen Civil War and two Sudanese civil wars. That doesn't even count acts of terror against non-Mideastern countries, from the Iranian invasion of the U.S. Embassy to the attacks of 9/11.
What do you call someone who describes this as "50 years of peace"? A "realist."
Actually, the Middle East is even more violent than Taranto's list for the past 50 years
. Raphael Patai, in an updated chapter in his bookThe Arab Mind
has his own list of Arab conflicts--not including Israel--taking into account just during the 13 years
from 1970 to 1983:
1. Intermittent disputes involving border warfare and assassinations between South Yemen on the one hand, and North Yemen and Saudi Arabia, on the other since the early 1970's. A brief but fierce border war between the two Yemens took place as recently as March, 1979.
2. A major and bloody, albeit brief, conflict between Jordan and Palestinian guerrillas in 1970, complicated by Syrian intervention.
3. Fighting between the Kurds and the Iraqis, which lasted several years.
4. A bloody conflict between Northern and Southern Sudan, 1956-1972.
5. Clashes between South Yemen and Oman, linked to the Dhofar rebellion, 1972-1976.
6. A tripartite conflict between Algeria on the one hand and Morocco and Mauritania, on the other, over the control of the former Spanish Sahara, beginning in 1976 and subsequently transformed into guerrilla warfare against Morocco by the Polisario, the freedom fighters of the Western Sahara, supported by Algeria and Libya, which was still in progress in 1982.
7. Intermittent hostility, and actual border fighting, including air attacks, between Egypt and Libya in 1977.
8. The Lebanese civil war, which began in 1975, involving two outside parties, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization, still unresolved in early 1982.
9. The invasion of Chad by Libya in 1980.
10. The war between Iraq and Iran, which began in the fall of 1980, in which Iraq is supported by Jordan and Iran by Syria, making it in effect, an inter-Arab conflict. It was still in progress in early 1982.
11. In February, 1982, a conflict flared up between the Syrian government and Muslim fundamentalists in the Syrian city of Hama, in which several thousands were killed and major parts of Hama were destroyed. [p.357-358]
Do these 'mandarins' really believe that these intra-Muslim wars and conflicts are due to Israel--assuming that, unlike Scowcroft, they are actually aware of the nature of the region?
Let's go a step further--the website TheReligionOfPeace.com
tracks the Islamist attacks since 9-11 and thus far, according to its list there have been12,614 deaths and injuries from those attacks.
According to its detailed list of Islamist Terror Attacks in 2008,
these attacks during the year 2008 took place in 41 different countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Chechnya, China, Dagestan, Denmark, Dubai, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Gaza, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ingushetia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA and Yemen.
Do the mandarins believe that these attacks will stop once their 'peace agreement' is foisted upon Israel?
The necessary comprimises to make this work are:
•Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap, to take into account areas heavily populated by Israelis in the West Bank;[Peace is supposed to be achieved by creating a state for Palestinians who have never had their own state and so far have demonstated a distinct inability to govern themselves--and this is supposed to add to the stability of the region?]
•A solution to the refugee problem consistent with the two-state solution, that does not entail a general right of return, addresses the Palestinian refugees' sense of injustice, and provides them with meaningful financial compensation as well as resettlement assistance; [what exactly is a resettlement "that does not entail a general right of return"? That is left unsaid. ]
•Jerusalem as home to both capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, with special arrangements for the Old City providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;[This is an idea that neatly avoids addressing the issue of the Temple Mount--will Jews have unimpeded access there? Will the wakf now stop destroying archaeological finds?]
•A non-militarized Palestinian state, together with security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty, and a U.S.-led multinational force to ensure a peaceful transitional security period. This coalition peacekeeping structure, under UN mandate, would feature American leadership of a NATO force supplemented by Jordanians, Egyptians and Israelis. We can envision a five-year, renewable mandate with the objective of achieving full Palestinian domination of security affairs on the Palestine side of the line within 15 years.[Just how many years is this force supposed to remain? After all, we all know how well the UN force has been in Lebanon preventing Hezbollah from re-arming itself]
The point is, these mandarins are merely government officials who want one more shot in imposing an agreement without regards to the political, historical and cultural realities of the area--and Roger Cohen is cut from the same cloth.
For example, they all promote the idea of talking to Hamas: to provide inducements "in ways that might help clarify the movement’s views and test its behavior"--because their charter expressing their desire to destroy Israel and their continued bombing of schools is not clear enough. They claim that isolating Hamas makes it stronger, as if uniting Hamas and Fatah would not result in Abbas and Fatah being overpowered--politically if not militarily.
The animus these people have towards Israel is transparent. They are certainly entitled to their opinion. However, they are not entitled to allow their animus to direct them to give bad advice to President Obama.
That is why it is not surprising that there are other experts who disagree with both Roger Cohen and the report.
Now there are indications that other voices closer to home are joining the chorus, from unexpected places during a February meeting Obama had with Clinton and George Mitchell and Mideast experts
Among them was Robert Malley, an Obama adviser during the campaign until he was let go. At the time, he was viewed with suspicion by the Jewish community. In the February meeting, he opposed the aggressive approach that Cohen and the report favor.
According to Mally:
"The basic agreement, I think, is that none of us is going to recommend, and, in fact, all us will recommend against, rushing towards a grand, comprehensive, end-of-conflict deal between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "I think you will hear that we don't think that the time is ripe at this point for an end-of-conflict, comprehensive agreement between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people."
Malley said that all of the parameters that guided the Clinton administration's peace efforts in the 1990s have shifted. He said there are no longer two coherent entities that could sign a peace treaty, if one were forged. He noted Israel's election next Tuesday, with polls showing hardliner and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the frontrunner. But Malley also cited the fact that there is no longer a national Palestinian movement with which to negotiate.
Another adviser there was Aaron David Miller, who recently wrote a piece for Newsweek entitled If Obama Is Serious He should get tough with Israel
. He was also an advisor to 6 different Secretaries of State from 1978-2003.
According to Miller:
"This region, as best I can understand it, hates big ideas. Particularly those big ideas imposed, crafted or orchestrated from outside. And frankly, transformative diplomacy was the essence of the previous administration's approach to this region. Regime change, democratization, grand bargains, grand rhetoric, one-size-fits-all," he said.
Instead, Miller called for "transactional diplomacy" based on small, pragmatic steps like getting Israel to open up Gaza for reconstruction efforts. Miller said President Obama should save his "big ideas" for dealing with the economic crisis in the United States, and take small, incremental steps in the Middle East.
These comments come from 2 people who would have been expected to advise Obama to pursue an aggressive approach imposing a peace agreement on Israel.
The third adviser, Robert Satloff, the Executive Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy advised Obama:
"Don't pursue the peace process for the wrong reasons. Don't pursue the peace process for illusionary, romantic reasons. The peace process is not a solution to the problem of global terrorism. The peace process will not dry up recruits to al-Qaida in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia," he said.
Satloff said the Obama administration should also learn from the mistakes of past U.S. administrations and not try to look for a "perfect" Palestinian leader.
"Don't play the Palestinian leadership game," he said. "Don't try to identify, pick, and put on a pedestal our chosen Palestinian leader. We have tried this. This is always a losing effort."
The point Satloff makes about the illusory effects that a comprehensive peace in the Middle East will provide dovetails with a separate article Malley co-wrote entitled How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East
. There, Malley goes so far as to suggest:
basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution.
Considering the where Mally and Miller are coming from--namely the same position as Cohen and the report--their advice should be taken at least as seriously as the report suggestions.
Whether Obama agrees, only time will tell.
As for Cohen, he should realize that "The Fierce Urgency of Peace" should not lend itself to skipping over the facts.