"The fatal flaw of the Oslo process," writes New Republic publisher Martin Peretz in the magazine’s June 26 issue, "is process. Israel committed itself to an extended sequence of negotiation and concession, while what was expected of the Palestinians was mostly that they show up and mutter empty formulas of reassurance."
Michael Gove recently described in the Times of London the iron law of peace processes supervised by the Great Powers: any contested prize is divided down the middle regardless of the merits of the claims. The division of Czechoslavakia is the model. If only one side is giving, and the process is extended over enough stages, eventually the other side receives just about everything.
No one understood this better than Hafez al Assad After each new Israeli concession, Assad found a pretext to terminate negotiations. The next round invariably began at the point of the latest Israeli concession, and concluded with Israel conceding half of the increasingly small differences between its position and Assad’s unchanging maximalist demands. Over the years, Assad thus managed to secure Israeli agreement to the return of the entire Golan Heights, without making a single concession.
Yasir Arafat has learned the same lesson. Rescued from bankruptcy and near oblivion by the Oslo process, within three years he found himself absolute sovereign over 95% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. Those gains are long forgotten, and the Palestinians have convinced themselves that they have received nothing. Back to ground zero.
Today, according to almost all credible reports, Prime Minister Barak is willing to cede 85-95% of the West Bank, including the Jordan River Valley, without agreement on the most contentious issues – the Palestinian right of return and Jerusalem. Water experts warn of no water to drink within 11 months, and yet Israel is prepared to hand over vital West Bank acquifiers and grant the Palestinian state riparian rights to the Jordan River.
The greatest internal threat to Israel is demographic: the rapid growth of the Israeli Arab population that openly identifies today as Palestinians. The Israeli Arab population already holds the determinative votes on the most vital issues of Israeli security, and yet Barak is said to be ready to accept 100,000 Palestinian refugees – refugees who have been raised for fifty years on murderous hatred of the Jewish state.
Worst of all, the process will not lead to peace. Indeed, writes Gove, embracing the peace process is the surest way to ensure war will never end. As long as issues are left unresolved to a later date, Arafat has a constant incentive to threaten war. This week the Palestinian army (not police force) conducted military operations in anticipation of the declaration of statehood.
Maj. General Amos Malka, head of military intelligence, warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week of likely Palestinian attacks on settlements. He also told the Committee that Arafat will not sign a document declaring the end of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, leaving us wondering what this process has been about.
Barak knows as well as anyone that peace is not in the cards. Shortly after forming a government, he told Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, at a meeting of major American Jewish leaders, that it would be ridiculous to expect the Palestinians to remove the calls for Israel’s destruction from their textbooks. Peace will have to wait for future generations.
If so, Klein wondered, why the rush to give away land necessary for our defense. Barak told him that giving territory to the Palestinians will motivate them to act responsibly and begin the process of reconciliation.
A nice theory. But a nation should not bet its very survival on theories. (Remember how every political science expert in the country assured us that direct elections of the prime minister would end the power of smaller parties.)
Indeed an opposite theory is far more plausible. The PA kleptocracy will have a vested interest in distracting its own population by continually fanning the flames of hatred, just as Assad needed confrontation with Israel to divert the Syrian population from his regime’s failures. And with the Palestinian army now in a position to completely disrupt Israeli mobilization in the event of war, the temptation for an all-out Arab attack has been greatly increased.
After a year of the Barak government, there are not many who still share his supreme confidence in his unique analytical powers. Israeli strategy has become a source of puzzlement in the eyes of the world. American Senators and Congressmen sympathetic to Israel and American Jewish leaders are increasingly unable to discern the nature of that strategy.
The Jewish leaders I spoke to on a recent trip to America were left shaking their heads by the Prime Minister’s penchant for unsolicited "good will" gestures – like voting to transfer Abu Dis to full Palestinian control while Israeli troops were under fire by Palestinian militia. Perhaps Barak seeks to confuse Arafat with unsolicited presents for nothing in return.
Martin Peretz’s attitude towards the Oslo process is one indicia of the growing wonderment of those who care about Israel. Once a cautious supporter of the Oslo Accords, today he calls them a "mistake." Once he saluted Shimon Peres has the most literate head of state in the world. Today he refers to him as "Shimon Peres, the French intellectual," [and] father of this `what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is yours’ process."
In the end, Barak principal achievement may be creating national unity, though not perhaps the type intended.. Ran Cohen of Meretz said on television this week that "when the full extent of Barak’s concessions become known, not only will the Israeli Right be in shock, but the Left as well."
As war weary as we may be, the vast majority of the country is not yet prepared to commit suicide for peace.