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The Israeli Security Barrier and the Chicago Tribune

02/09/2004

Op Eds in The Chicago Tribune make the same old false charges about the Camp David negotiations, this time to justify the current path of the Israeli Fence (security barrier, wall), says Chicago Peace Now president Gidon (Doni) Remba.

The Chicago Tribune has published two pro-fence opinion pieces in this weekend's Perspective section, one by correspondent Ron Grossman , the other by Israel's Midwest Consul General Moshe Ram. While both articles make many good points that I and Peace Now would agree with, they also contain a number of serious errors and misrepresentations, which amount to a great whitewash, especially in Ron Grossman's piece.

I'll highlight a few of the key problems:

1. Ron Grossman describes Israeli peaceniks as being against the barrier. There are relatively small numbers of far left peaceniks who are against the barrier altogether, no matter what the route--mainly associated with groups like Gush Shalom--but as readers on this list well know, Peace Now and Americans for Peace Now are not among them and PN represents the largest peace movement in Israel.

2. My biggest beef with Grossman's piece is his repetition of propaganda about what happened at Camp David--this is the second time this past year that the Trib's Perspective section has published a piece containing such misinformation. I've debunked this account of Camp David in (http://www.chicagopeacenow.org/wws-07.html) "Exploding the Myth About Why Camp David Failed" . Why should this matter now, and why is this issue even being discussed (uncritically) at such great length in a current article about the fence? Because proponents of the fence, which is a unilateral Israeli measure, want to justify the continued avoidance of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. By portraying Arafat and the Palestinians at Camp David in a false light, the better they are able to appear to justify unilateral measures, including those which leave the Palestinians with much less territory than they would have gained through negotiations. So the false Camp David story of Barak and Clinton is being used today to justify Israeli territorial annexation, and Ron Grossman is now party to this injustice, which ill-serves Israel's security and political interests. Second, Grossman's portrayal of negotiations as futile lends apparent support to the claim that Israel should unilaterally impose the route of the fence on the Palestinians, rather than negotiate it, as I, Peace Now and the Geneva Initiative negotiators advocate. I've defended this position in two essays at MEW the first, on the true impact of the fence on the Palestinians - http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000176.htm and the second, my analysis of IDF (res.) Maj-Gen Ya'akov Amidror's essay, "Israel's Security: The Hard-Earned Lessons," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2004, in "Negotiating Israel's Security Fence", at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000161.htm , which supports this view. Amidror wrote the following overlooked and important words:


"While most see no need for a bilateral agreement regarding the fence--after all, it can be built unilaterally, as is currently the case--few take into account that unilateralism is a two-way street. It frees the other side to take certain actions that may be deleterious to Israel's security interests. In this respect, Israel's security would be significantly enhanced if it could reach agreement with the Palestinian side on construction of the fence. Such an agreement might commit Palestinians to take action to prevent, or at least not assist, efforts to destroy the fence and may even win Palestinian commitment to certain security measures that inhibit infiltration. Of course, such an agreement with the Palestinians would come at a price."

Grossman misrepresents the Geneva Initiative as nothing more than a repetition of what Barak and Clinton offered at Camp David, claiming falsely that Arafat rejected a Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, and says, "The last time that offer was on the table, Arafat said 'no'...But Arafat made no counteroffer. He didn't say, 'Yes, but,' or even hint at his idea of a possible peace. ..So why should he even consider the same proposal done up in new packaging?" Why? Because nothing like Geneva's borders were offered at Camp David, Mr. Grossman, and Arafat did much more than hint at his idea of peace at that fateful summit; he put a Palestinian map on the table at Camp David which was closer to what Barak agreed to offer 6 months later at Taba, and it was Barak who said no at Camp David to Arafat's map, not just Arafat who said no to Barak's map. Don't just take it from me--Israel's own chief negotiator, Gilad Sher, confirms all this in his account of the Camp David summit (again, see my summary of what really happened at Camp David at http://www.chicagopeacenow.org/wws-07.html). On every point--dividing sovereignty inequitably in Jerusalem and over the holy sites, Israeli control over the Jordan Valley and the roads from the settlement blocs to the Valley, equal vs. unequal land swaps, the lack or presence of territorial contiguity in the proposed Palestinian state, the size of the Israeli settlement blocs, the Israeli proposals at Taba significantly improved on the inequitable proposals offered by Barak and Clinton at Camp David in 2000, bringing Israel's positions at Taba closer to Arafat and the Palestinians' proposals at Camp David, while Geneva finally brought them to convergence. So, Mr. Grossman, Arafat and the Palestinians would accept the proposed Geneva borders now in negotiations because in fact they were never offered at Camp David, and by the time Israel offered something closer to them at Taba six months later, it was too late--the intifada had been in full swing for 3-4 months, Barak's government was already a minority coalition, new elections were looming, Barak was trailing Sharon by over 20 points in the polls, and both Israelis and Palestinians had lost the trust in one another, and the public support, needed to see peace talks through to success.

But of course the fashion now is to debunk negotiations as pointless, even if it means repeating propaganda and misleading the public about both past and present. You won't get an understanding of the Middle East situation from the Chicago Tribune opinion pages, I'm afraid (although their own editorials on the Middle East are much better than their op-eds). Either you get verbiage like this--Grossman's gross misrepresentations--which is pro-Israel and minimally critical of the Sharon government, or you get Ali Abunimah's anti-peace, anti-Geneva, anti-two-state solution rejectionism--and the very large space in between continues to be left unfilled. I naturally hope to fill it, or to help get pieces published there by others which will do so. In the meantime, you have this Web log and the Chicago Peace Now listserv to keep you informed and to help you cut through the misinformation in the American press.

3. Grossman also misrepresents the history of the Oslo decade in a way that serves his attempt to discredit peace talks: he claims that during the Oslo decade "the violence never stopped". As anyone who is minimally well-informed about the recent history knows, there was a period from mid-1996 until Camp David in mid-2000 during which there were virtually no terror attacks against Israelis, and when security cooperation between the PA and Israel worked extremely well. This was a period during which the PA hoped to achieve a final peace agreement with Israel, and it largely did its part to honor its security commitments, according to Israel's own security officials, until the Camp David summit failed, in no small measure due to Barak's flawed approach to negotiations and his untenable offers. But why give credit where credit is due if you can mislead the public into thinking that Oslo achieved nothing--and that any attempts to renew peace talks will fail and are not worth attempting? Better to paint the history in the colors that suit your politics, and to defend "brute unilateralism" (instead of coordinated unilateral efforts by both sides, or God forbid, a negotiated approach to land-for-peace which incorporates the lessons of Oslo's and Camp David's failures).

The single most important point I have made on this subject is this:

This last defect of the Oslo and Camp David approach to peacemaking is remedied in Geneva and the Road Map, if it were followed properly and enforced by the US. The Road Map recognizes that you can't build or maintain the confidence needed on both sides for successful negotiations if the PA isn't fighting terror and if Israel is allowing settlement outposts to proliferate, and not freezing settlement growth in the "official" settlements. And Geneva addresses this by making clear that all Israeli settlers on the Palestinian side of the fence that would be built today along its agreed border will be removed in the final stage of the process, while all terror groups will be fully disarmed by this point and only a single unified state Palestinian security force will remain under international supervision. And it demonstrates that this is not just empty rhetoric by its proponents' insistence that the Road Map terms be enforced and followed now with regard to settlement outposts, a settlement freeze and the removal of regular settlements, and seriously beginning the disarmament of terror groups, during the first two phases of the Roadmap. We should build the fence now along something like the Geneva line, and at the same time attempt to coordinate Israeli anti-settlement and Palestinian anti-terror steps so that it's clear to both sides that they will gain what they seek from this process and in a reasonably short interval--security and peace for Israelis, viable statehood and independence for Palestinians. Would the PA be willing and able to disarm Hamas and other terror groups under these conditions? Alas, we'll never know. This approach has not been tried at all, and it's clear that Bush has no intention of doing so, certainly not this year, if at all. The absence of real diplomacy and US engagement in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking is a primary reason why Israeli unilateralism is triumphing over negotiations, why terrorists will conclude that violence, not diplomacy, works, and why Israel's security is not what it could be, with a unilaterally imposed fence instead of a fence along a route to which the Palestinian Authority and its security forces would agree, and on which renewed Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation could be anchored. Thank you George Bush and Ariel Sharon for granting a victory to terrorism!

4. Grossman misleadingly describes the history of the Oslo period, grossly overstating Israeli concessions in a way that leads the reader to conclude that the Palestinians were truly offered land for peace by Israel in the years prior to Camp David, and simply did not keep their end of the deal. He writes in a section aptly titled "Land for No Peace" that "The Israelis progressively withdrew from Gaza and the most populous sections of the West Bank, according to the talks' formula of trading land for peace. By the end of the decade, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians were living in towns and villages administered by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had banked his political future on a commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet the violence never stopped." In fact, as anyone who is minimally informed on this history knows, Israel withdrew IDF forces only from Area A, representing just 18% of the West Bank. IDF forces remained in "the most populous sections of the West Bank" that Grossman refers to, even while the PA was granted only "civil authority" over most of the Palestinian population. This meant that the PA was responsible for collecting their garbage, educating them and providing them with social services; but not for security, which remained in the IDF's hands. So Israel did not provide land for no peace, as Grossman claims; it provided minimal land--much less than Grossman admits--and did in fact get a long period of peace and security until Camp David failed. But of course this right-wing propaganda now serves Grossman's endorsement of brute unilateralism. At least he is honest enough to admit that when Sharon says that the present route of the fence won't prejudice future negotiations about where Israel will end and Palestine will begin, "If that isn't sophistry, it's a close relative. Political realism suggests that whither the wall goes, so goes the border."

5. Moshe Ram's piece is mostly an unobjectionable defense of the idea of a barrier, which makes a good case for Israel's need for a fence to protect its citizens from suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism. But it too has a few problems. Ram writes: "Saving lives is the sole reason for this endeavor..." Obviously, this is the sophistry that even Grossman alludes to. Clearly saving lives is not the sole reason, since if security were the only reason for the fence and its currently planned route, it would not be annexing some settlements to Israel, and it would be built along a route that is best for Israel's security, shorter, easier to defend, with less troops, and more cost-effectively, both up front and in ongoing maintenance costs. But the second problem with Ram's piece is more serious. He writes: The fence will be needed until the Palestinian leadership, with the full support of the Palestinian people, completely rejects terrorism as a means of achieving political objectives." But why should the Palestinian leadership give up terrorism as a means of achieving political objectives when it's clear that Israel is likely to remove West Bank and Gaza settlements for the first time ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords a decade ago--not as a result of peace talks, but of Palestinian terrorism? If you really want the Palestinians to abandon terrorism, then don't capitulate to it, by evacuating territory and settlements in exchange for nothing. And don't release hundreds of prisoners to Hezbollah, proving that you yield to force and terror, but release them to moderates like Abu Mazen who want to negotiate peace with Israel. Go back to the peace table, with reasonable offers and a sensible approach, and hold the Palestinians' feet to the fire in implementing a peace treaty in which both sides know that compliance means getting everything that has been agreed to on all the issues that have fueled this conflict for decades. But then Israel's feet will have to be held to the fire as well. Put in place a US-led multinational force to monitor the compliance of both sides, and withdraw and evacuate settlements only as the Palestinians live up to their security commitments over the 30-month period suggested in the Geneva terms. Sharon and Bush are far more responsible than the Israeli left for the victory of terrorism by their disdain for negotiations, and the failure of the US to become seriously engaged in efforts to enable the Roadmap to succeed. Upon leaving the Aqaba summit last year which kicked off the Roadmap, Bush promised to "ride herd" on both sides to call them on lack of compliance, but he never even saddled up. Now we are left with brute unilateralism, and media sophistry like Grossman's designed to justify it and deceive the public that there is no partner to negotiate with on the Palestinian side, and nothing to negotiate about. So, many in the Arab world will believe that terrorism works, not peace talks with Israel. And that is bad not only for Israel's long-term security, but for American security as well. We have Sharon and Bush to thank for that.
Gidon (Doni) Remba
President, Chicago Peace Now
Email: dremba@comcast.net
www.chicagopeacenow.org

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Replies: 1 Comment

As I have remarked elsewhere, the Camp David negotiations are like a projective test. There are not enough data, so what each person sees depends on what they believe.

However, the main issue was not who said what at which negotiations, but rather the outbreak of violence, which in fact began during the Naqba demonstrations in May of 2000. That was just about the time Barak had agreed to cede Abu Dis as a Palestinian capital.

A further sticking point of the negotiations, perhaps the major one, were the differences of opinion on Right of Return. However, that is neither here nor there. The fact is, that it is the violence that made the negotiations irrelevant, and it is because of the violence that the wall (fence, barrier) is being built.
Ami Isseroff

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 02/09/2004 11:56 AM CST


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