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Peace is not a religion


"Four years of nonstop confrontation has turned the Oslo peace process, or the peace process generally, from a religion for believers -- and I would count myself among those believers -- into a business proposition for pragmatists." --Aaron David Miller, April 25, 2005

"We became a believer in the process for its own sake." --Dennis Ross, April 25, 2005

The saying has it that fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim. It just so happens that even peacemaking itself has accumulated a few fanatics along the way. It's possible to struggle too long and too hard even for the best of causes, if in doing so one loses all perspective.

Aaron David Miller is one such person. The former deputy to U.S. Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross and current head of the Seeds of Peace multi-national youth encounter summer camp in Maine seems to have given too many years to the process to look back with detachment or dispassion.

Normally, I would be loath to criticize him. He has certainly worked hard for a good cause, even to the point of losing the chance to see his children grow up. (That, perhaps, is a criticism.) Like Ross, former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, and former ambassador to Egypt (now ambassador to Israel) Daniel Kurtzer, Miller took more than his share of lumps during the 1990s from the Arab side and even some corners of the Jewish side. (One disreputable publication smeared these four as "a perfidious group of Jewish State Department types who hone their Diaspora credentials by being tough on Israel.")

This past April 25, Miller joined former peace processors Ross, Indyk, and Robert Malley as panelists at a Middle East Institute event in Washington, DC. There, he slammed the U.S. Camp David peace team, including himself:

I think it's critical to gain Israel's trust and confidence, given the existential nature of the problem and the fact that Israel sits on the territory and will do the giving. All of that is true. But far too often, we functioned in this process, for want of a better word, as Israel's lawyer. I say this without any effort to diminish the importance, again, of gaining Israeli trust. Kissinger gained it. Carter gained it, and Baker gained it. And they produced agreements. They were also fairer and tougher. It seems to me a combination of the no surprise policy, not taking Israel's proposals into account and trying to modify them, assuming that it was Israeli generosity, as my friend Rob Malley has said, rather than fairness and workability that should have been the departure point for any proposal, for our evaluation of any proposal with Palestinians and Syrians -- it was not the fact that the Israelis were being so generous. That wasn't the point. We were awestruck, as Dennis has noted, by the forthcoming nature of Barak's proposals. He went further than any Israeli prime minister in Israel's history. Yet using Israel's generosity -- 90-91 percent of the West Bank -- as the departure point rather than the fairness and workability of that percentage created real problems for the United States.

In reply, Dennis Ross made short work of Miller's account:

The standard Aaron uses when he says that Kissinger and Baker and Carter succeeded, nobody was trying to deal with the existential issues of the conflict. We were. We were dealing with Jerusalem, refugees and borders. The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty is a foundation, it's very important, but it wasn't existential. What we were doing with the Syrians was in fact not existential. Dealing with the Palestinians and Israelis on these questions was existential. To somehow say the others succeeded where we failed because they followed different models, I think is open to question, because I think you're comparing too much apples and oranges in terms of what was at stake.

Secondly, the notion that we were Israel's lawyer. I can tell you, Barak said to me on more than one occasion that I was Arafat's lawyer. Why? Because I was always in there making the case for what the Palestinians needed.

As Ross explains it, if American positions looked like Israeli positions, it was because the Arabs declined to put forward compromise proposals of their own:

Go back to 1989. We adopted the Israeli positions then. We adopted the Shamir, under Baker, we adopted Shamir's approach to how we would try to produce negotiations. Why? We did it precisely because in the case of the Arabs, they were operating on very general principle. They would all say, "Accept my principle and we'll see what we can negotiate." They were not prepared to make proposals. So we worked to try to generate Israeli proposals that we would build off of. That gave us a basis on which to do something. If we had been in a situation where we had Arab proposals we could have worked with, the approach might have been different, but we didn't.

Miller's reply, in Monday's Washington Post, was to take his allegation a step further.

Far too often, particularly when it came to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one -- Israel.

This critique should not diminish then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's boldness at Camp David or Yasser Arafat's failure to negotiate seriously there. But the primary issue was neither Barak's generosity nor Arafat's perfidy; instead, the emphasis should have been on assessing, coldly and objectively, what it would take to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. If we knew the gaps were too large (and we suspected they were), we should have resisted Barak's pressure to go for a make-or-break summit and then blame the Palestinians when it failed. What we ended up doing was advocating Israel's positions before, during and after the summit.

...Abbas's visit to Washington this week will offer an opportunity to begin this process, perhaps with the same kind of letter of assurance on core Palestinian needs that President Bush gave to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last year on Israeli needs. Beyond this, once Gaza withdrawal is secured and Palestinians can effectively control terrorism and violence, the administration must recalibrate its role -- lawyering now for both sides: Palestinians need a settlements freeze and a pathway to permanent-status negotiations; Israelis need a comprehensive end to Palestinian terrorism, violence and incitement.

If the administration is prepared to be tough, fair, and an advocate for both Israelis and Palestinians, it may find itself with a real opportunity not only to make Gaza work but also to move on and lay the basis for two states living alongside one another in peace and security. None of this will come quickly or easily, but then nothing of real value in life usually does. Just ask Kissinger, Carter and Baker.

Miller is admirably frank about "Arafat's perfidy," in his words. But when he says that the peace process is "a religion for believers," he's not kidding. Sustaining that faith means, among other things, believing that is it possible to have a peace agreement without a willing and able Palestinian leadership. Miller squares this circle by denouncing himself, the rest of the U.S. peace team, and President Bill Clinton as Israeli dupes, in not so many words.

Could it be that the harsh realities of the region's political and security affairs are so disappointing to those cursed with high ideals that in the end, they can't square the circle, and must simply invent a new, more hopeful substitute for reality? On Middle Eastern affairs, the old dichotomy of hawks and doves is no longer relevant. Today's divide is between ostriches and owls. You can stick your head in the sand, or you can keep your eyes open and face facts.

Here is what Miller won't tell you, because it runs contrary to his faith. Mahmoud Abbas' visit to Washington will not achieve any lasting result. In the progression of Palestinian leaders -- from Haj Amin al-Husseini to Ahmad Shuqayri to Yasser Arafat to Abbas himself -- he is the most moderate, and the least powerful. After the recent municipal elections, Hamas is now ensconced in the Palestinian power structure. Once, top Palestinian leaders were unwilling to make peace with Israel. Now, the top Palestinian leader is simply unable. We have a long, long time to wait for peace.

This outcome is disappointing almost beyond the power of words to say. But in the meantime, I don't think I'll be joining the fanatics who have decided to scapegoat precisely those who worked hardest to make peace come about. Sorry, Aaron. This is where I get off the peace train.


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000354.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 15 comments

Fundamentalist Jews and Christians, say some times that they believe in the coming of the messiah (first or second accordingly) just as they believe they are sitting with you and talking to you. That is when you do sit down to a conversation with one of them.
Is there a parallel to that at the peace camp?

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/24/2005 12:18 PM CST

Dennis Roos is guilty of 1)not having managed correctly the situation before and during Camp David 2)lying sistematically afterwards to cover his sheer incompetence. Aaron miller is right and is very honest in his saying. But nobody wants to believe him because the reputation of Dennis Ross must be preserved to not loose a key witness in the building of the legend of the "last opportunity for peace" lost by Arafat in Camp David. Arafat said "no" in Camp David to the same thinks that have said no before. Perhaps Arafat would have said "no" to a reasonable proposal but it never appeared. Dennis Roos SHOULD HAVE NOT ALLOW BARAK TO GO TO CAMP DAVID WITH THE PROPOSAL HE WENT. If Barak cannot go with anything else, the summit should have been not celebrated. This is the truth apart from "Arafat's perfidy". Since in Taba Arafat rejected much more, it can be said that he would have rejected the same in Camp David (I am not so sure but more informed people than me think so) but the truth is the truth and Dennis Ross is not a good friend of truth. Perhaps the peace was impossible but Dennis Ross ignorance and advocacy for Israel made it double impossible. Arafat has been already crucified because of Camp David (perhaps he should for Taba) but Barak and Ross will replace him when independent historians go in depth. Probably we must wait until Ross lies stop to be instrumental for sustaining the legend of Barak's "concessions" in Camp David. I stop because I am praying in the desert since the more I said this the less I am believed.

Posted by Aleph @ 05/25/2005 09:39 PM CST

And what could Barak offer to Arafat, that is more then that? What could he have offered that is more then a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza strip + east Jerusalem?
Anything more then that will be in Israel proper, anything more then that will be and is our neck. Arafat backed down on the issues of ending the conflict and putting substance in the claim that the Palestinians had acknowledged the RIGHT of the state of Israel to exist. Even Miler acknowledges that Arafat betrayed, perfidy. Miller is only more hard-core left then Ross; as such he has the need to hold on to some of the deep convictions of his ideological identity, which Arafat had shattered. In this case, that there is some blame in the west/U.S./Israel/democracy side of the equation.

As for Denis Ross becoming an advocate of Israel. Here the story is simple, following the onset of the Palestinian mass murder campaign, begun a defamation campaign delegitimizing the very right of Israel to exist. On this issue there is a board consensus in the Israeli public and the Jewish world – the Jewish state of Israel has a right to exist - !
This is agreed by Sharon, Peres, Netanyahu, Ross and Miller, and even Bailing.
We, the Israeli public, did not support the peace process year after year to cancel ourselves from existence.

At the same time Miller should be commended for his ‘seeds of peace’ operation. Pushing peace forwards when all hope is gone is a remarkable act of courage, faith and commitment.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/26/2005 11:58 AM CST

Dear Dvar,

I have had this conversation many times so I hope you excuse me if I go directly to the crux of it. There are two separate questions here. The first is if Arafat would have accepted anything below full ROR (or as you put it, if Arafat would have accepted something less than Israel destruction). I have come to the conclusion that the posibilities were infinitesimal and this makes the rest of the conversation rather academic. However, for the sake of historical truth I continue my argument.

What Barak offered in Camp David is something very similar to the map that you can find in this very website. Barak is also a lyer and a completely unreliable person (remember what did to Ben Ami) so from a historical point of view, the differences between this map and what he supposedly offered in Camp David must be still proofed and in the while the expresion "something very similar" is for me generous. In this map you will see the strap along Jordan, the palestinian territory eroded in the four cardinal directions and divided in three by two tentacles, etc... Part of the Jordan strap was "temporary" but Netaniahu interpretation of Oslo has given a new meaning to "temporary" ("to be negociated at some point in the future depending on the caprice of Israel"). This map was known before Camp David and even an improvement of 10% (that is stated in this website that was offered in CD) do not deserve a summit with the president of USA himself. So they went there and offered the palestinians a thing that they already knew and have informally rejected before the summit (with an hipothetical improvement of a 10%), Arafat said "no" as everybody sane would have anticipated, and Barak and Ross blamed Arafat for having rejected and "extraordinary offer". That's the story of Camp David.

If you ask me what Barak should have offered, my answer is "what he offered in Taba" (you also have a map in this website). Probably the outcome would have been the same but at least they would have done everything on their hands. Ross never presured Barak in anything, accepted his changes of position without complaining and embarked his president in a ridiculous summit with 0% posibilities for succes. Not happy with all this, he embark himself in a cover-up of his incompetency by joining Barak's boat of lies where he has been sailing since then. To say now that Miller is naiv and lyes because he have ideological prejudices gives Ross indignity to new summits of shame.

All this is apart from the discussion about who destroyed more Oslo (if Hamas or Netaniahu) and is apart from the discussion if there Israel public opinion would have accepted Taba offers or if Palestinian street would have been able of let aside ROR, or all the other controversial issues.

Posted by Aleph @ 05/26/2005 03:43 PM CST

I’m all for the crux of the matter Aleph.
But did you touch the crux?
Ben Ami never challenged Barak on Camp David and Taba.
As for “temporary”? Whether or not Netanyahu had a different definition of the word, he was not a part of the negotiations; he wasn’t even in the opposition by then.
Maps? You got yours, I got mine:


My view on Gush Shalom and their credibility was well demonstrated in the blog on the AUT. Those maps are highly unreliable, they allocate to Israel something that looks more like 30% (if not 40%) then the 10% mentioned about Camp David.
I have no idea what this peace of defamation is doing in a Zionist site, nor do I understand what an anti-Semitic expression ‘apartheid wall’ does here either.

Israel’s caprices? No such thing! We have legitimate security concerns for the well being of our citizenry.

And neither Netanyaho nor Hamas destroyed Oslo. Netanyaho was out of power; Hamas was locked in Arafat’s Jails. Arafat opened their doors as and unleashed them on us along with his Tanzim.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/26/2005 08:43 PM CST

I do not have any maps. I just trust the maps of this site because I think this site is build by honest people who search truth as painful as it can be. I have been in this blog you link and what is told there is not the naked truth. It shows a kind of evolution in Barak's position that never existed during Camp David. It mixes CD abd Taba that are two different thinks and happened in two completely different moments of the conflict. Nobody will never know what would have happened if Kissinger would have been in CD instead of Dennis Ross; and Golda Meir, Ben Gurion or Itzaak Rabin instead of Barak. "What if..." is a useless game. It happened what it hapenned and History will judge on its time. I hope peace will come at some point and I hope to see it. Shalom.

Posted by Aleph @ 05/26/2005 09:51 PM CST

I trust the people of this site and there intentions as well. But those are Gush Shalom maps, an extremist anti-Zionist anti-Semite organization that is willing to bend and twist the truth to advance its racist political agenda.
I brought you a link to show the Dennis Ross maps, whom I trust, not to start a what if debate.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/27/2005 12:17 PM CST

Some comments for everyone.

- I disociate myself and MidEastWeb disociates itself from the remark that Gush Shalom are "antisemites." Uri Avnery is not an antisemite. LOL. There are antisemites around, but they aren't them.

- Regarding maps and negotiations - please see my comment at the supernatural blog article.

Reading Dennis Ross's book, I think the point is, that Miller is not telling the truth. The US was not acting as Israel's lawyer. Throughout the negotiations, according to Ross at least, the US was acting as "lawyer" for each side in turn, and making each side concede a bit for the other.

Other maps are at http://www.mideastweb.org/lastmaps.htm. Those are the "antisemitic" maps of Gush Shalom, which they got from FMEP, which they got from Palestinians or possibly Israelis in the case of the last map. That last map is pretty good even in the FMEP Gush Shalom version. The problem was not maps IMO. The showstopper was the Palestinian insistence on Right of Return.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 06/01/2005 10:43 AM CST

There are a lot of points to cover here so I’ll focus on few.
1) The fact that the Israeli gov. didn’t dispute these maps doesn’t mean they are accurate. This is simply another blunder by our forging ministry Hasbra directors.
2) Ami, you’ve emphasized that the division caused by the temporary held regions does not constitute Bantustans. But Gush - Shalom do call them as such. This is where their anti Semitism manifest itself. Apartheid, Nazism, racism, ethnic cleansing, these are the monsters of our era. Modern day anti Semites wouldn’t accuse Jews of drinking the blood of Christian boy for Passover. Instead they will accuse the Jewish state of those very things. Thus dehumanize and delegitimize with monstrous lies the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist and the right of Jews for life and liberty. And Gush Shalom does all that. They regard every measure we take that saves lives from terrorism as war crime, thus allowing only to be slaughtered from one mass murder attack to the other.
3) Didn’t Barak accept the Clinton offer?
4) Do Gush Shalom and other Anti Zionists organizations also bother to emphasize that no formal maps where presented to the parties, (something which makes the maps debate academic or less), or is it just a practice of Zionist like yourself and supernatural blog?

I hope I made my arguments clear, and excuse my cynicism towards the end.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 06/01/2005 07:30 PM CST

It seems to me naive to imagine that any of the commentators be they politicians or senior officials would do anything other than describe events in a manner that enhances their performance.
However Netanyahu is interesting as I recall he stated on TV (BBC / CNN) very clearly that his opening statements were his "maximalist" position, and it was up to the other side to engage with him and through negotiation reach a point where both sides arrived at a mutually acceptable position. What he was not prepared to do, was to tell the other side what he was prepared to trade at the outset. My recollection is that the media, and Palestinians, found this very difficult as they expected an Israeli politician to be very open and candid about where the bottom line was. Also that Natanyahu found the presumption that he would be so open quite amusing. I remember him laughing at the naivety of the media.
It would support the claim that the Palestinians were not willing to actually engage in meaningful negotiations.
The problem remains that far too much emphasis is placed upon the talks, and not enough on the implementation of any treaty. As I think I have asked before, "What happens once "peace" breaks out?". Increasingly I believe that there will be another war between Israel and Palestine after the establishment of a state of Palestine.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/01/2005 09:38 PM CST

Dennis Ross is a lier. He is not "someone who explains things in a way that enhances his performance" but someone who "lies on purpose all the time to cover-up his wrong doings and incompetence". I will never get tired of recomending "The truth about Camp David" from Clayton Swisher. Nation Books. New York 2004. There you will find something which smells as truth much more that Ross self-flattering and self-indulgent blah-blah. Now we have only Swisher (who is nobody and saw nothing) and Miller (who is a peace fanatic blinded by his fanatism) contradicting Ross but when time goes by and students in universities engage the issue, truth will arise. Arafat image will probably not improve at all but Barak and Ross will be very damaged.

Posted by Aleph @ 06/03/2005 06:02 PM CST

Aleph: In the dialogue with Clayton Swisher some time ago he stated that we would hear from him again. Interestingly he is one of the founders of AAPER (together with George Naggiar) which seems to present itself as a counter to AIPAC. His stated views are that US policy re: Israel is actively detrimental to US interests. It is therefore not surprising that his accounts of the various engagements between Israel , Palestine & US are rather slanted to say the least, and that his assessment of the roles of Dennis Ross amongst others is particularly biased.
I feel that we should afford Mr. Swisher's book all the credibility that we assign to AIPAC publications rather than consider it to be a product of independent & objective research.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/06/2005 11:03 AM CST

Rod : I really deplore all the things this person is doing in his private life because it provoques the reaction you have. I think he is overwelmed by his own discoveries and wants to "do something". I have been reading you for sometime and you are an erudite in many things and a person with a lot of knowledge. You must read it. You will be not disapointed at all. Recently I have aknowledged some critics about the book by saying that he has a poor understanding about the reasons behind Israel diplomacy. I agree with this up to a certain point but this is a critic to how he find more resonable palestinian representative behaviour than the one of their counterparts. Nobody so far has said "in page xx he said yy and is false". And is a book of facts. Forget who he is. You have criteria enough to read the book without risking yourself of being cheated. You can read in two or three days. And it will give a different perspective of what happened in Camp David and you will see Dennis Ross in a completely different way. Sorry for insisting on that but it has become my obsession since I hate this kind of people like Ross who is at his home giving lessons to everybody after having screwed up for more than a decade. Why Assad in the door of death went to Geneva to say "no"? Ross explanation is absurd and does not fit with anything known about Assad. This is the litmus.

Note : I must include here "Ami's objection" that perhaps the peace was imposible anyway so Ross only screwed up something that was already screwed up by reality. However if someone does something wrong, is wrong done independently of the circumstances.

Posted by Aleph @ 06/07/2005 12:50 AM CST

Aleph: I think you should be cautious about awarding Mr. Swisher so much credibility. His book, like many others before, purports to provide an insight that is denied to mere mortals like ourselves, and ascribes blame. Mr. Swisher sought to establish his credibility by claiming certain experience. However, it is telling that he omitted his involvement in AAPER, the specifics of his post-graduate studies and his stated prejudices.
I suggest that we consider both Dennis Ross and Mr. Swisher with the same degree of cynicism, and recognise that both of them are seeking to present themselves and their cause in a favourable light. Both have careers and lifestyles they need support through consultancies, public speaking, writing, etc.
I have worked with politicians at various levels for years, and I have to say that all of them are economically with the truth to some extent - just like all of us. You also need to recognise that many 3rd world figures arrive with often bizarre perspectives and expectations that deny any possibility for progress. Senior advisers - civil servants - like Ross have to work around these and often deploy tactics that we might consider dishonest. It's sadly all part of the patchwork of international politics.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/07/2005 10:36 AM CST

Ok. 50% and stand-by for more about.

Posted by Aleph @ 06/10/2005 02:19 AM CST

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