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The results of Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington could be predicted in advance, and in fact I predicted them: much ado about nothing. Olmert had wanted to get the blessing of the United States for his convergence plan (alternatively packaged as "realignment") and a strong commitment from the United States to stop the Iranian nuclear program. In fact, he had originally wanted to asked for $10 Billion in US aid to carry out the convergence or realignment or withdrawal plan. He got none of those things. You would never know that from reading some of the Israeli pundits who accompanied Olmert to Washington. Both Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz and Nahum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot opined that Olmert had gotten more or less everything he asked for. Another story in Yediot was titled Olmert gets Bush's blessing.
In a way it is almost true that Olmert got everything he asked for, because what he asked for was carefully scaled down in advance of the visit to make sure that he didn't ask for anything he would not get. He got a pat on the back and a red carpet welcome, but nobody should be fooled by that. It is less than Mahmud Abbas got in his trips to Washington.
Actually what Olmert got may have been less than nothing. More realistic and correct assessments of what Olmert got were given by the BBC, which gave the headline Bush urges Olmert on Peace Talks, and from the Dallas News, Bush pushes Israeli premier to talk borders with Abbas. The emphasis of the meeting was clear from Israeli TV Channel 1 news as well. Olmert agreed to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas. Only if and when those negotiations fail would the US acquiesce in Israeli withdrawal. The Bush administration would not view it as a final step, but rather as an important step in fulfilling the roadmap, which calls for a negotiated settlement, Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state.
There is no reason, after all, to object to partial Israeli withdrawal, as long as it is just a down payment on further withdrawal, but that was not the way the "convergence" plan was marketed to the Israeli electorate and that was not what Olmert was seeking when he went to Washington. The borders would quite plainly not be the recognized borders of Israel, because nobody would recognize them, and the US is probably not going to pay for much of the withdrawal. Barbara Ferguson was probably close to the mark when she wrote in Arab News that Olmert's plan puts the Bush administration in a quandary. Bush wants to win European (and Arab) backing for tough action against Iran, but the Europeans object to the Israeli unilateral withdrawal plan.
In order to get out of the quandary, the US is pressuring Olmert to negotiate, at the same time, paradoxically, recognizing that there is no government on the other side with which to negotiate. Olmert promoted Abbas to "President" of the Palestinian Authority in his remarks. Every decent person would be gratified if Abbas would or could assert his authority, win a fair peace agreement for the Palestinians and then the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs could live happily ever after.
Realistically, however, most people would have to agree with Sever Plocker's impolite and hardnosed assessment that Abbas has maneuvered himself into being a nonentity, having missed numerous opportunities to assert his authority over the Hamas government.
The Hamas has reiterated that they would never negotiate peace with Israel, but they would be willing to negotiate a renewable truce, in which they would presumably be consolidating their position and preparing for another round of violence. This "truce" would be granted only if Israel withdrew to 1967 borders first. Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh told Danny Rubinstein of Ha'aretz:
Nonetheless, Israel is being compelled by Washington to do its best to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians. That is not a bad thing, but a good thing. Given the reality, Israel will probably go through the motions of doing so. The Israeli government and the Israeli people have largely given up on the possibility of a negotiated peace, and the widespread acceptance of the convergence or realignment or disengagement plan reflects this cynicism. However, in the 6 to 9 months allotted to negotiations, a great many things may change.
The Olmert - Bush summit avoided dealing with reality because reality is unpleasant. Despite American pronouncements about Iran, nobody has a plan for stopping the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon it seems. As for the Palestinian issue, the fine words in the press statements hid a dismal reality. Palestinians are on the verge of civil war, despite denials. Even if a settlement could be negotiated, it is unclear how Abbas or anyone would be able to enforce it in the chaos that prevails in Palestinian society. On the other hand, neither the boycott of the Hamas, nor the virtual siege imposed on Palestinian territories can continue indefinitely. A unilateral convergence plan that makes no provisions for import and export of goods from the West Bank, like the Gaza plan, is doomed to failure. At the same time, it is impossible to see how Israel could acquiesce in the formation of a Palestinian state as required by the road map, if that state is going to be governed by Hamas.
Nonetheless, at some time in the near future, Israel going to go ahead with a disengagement plan of some sort in the West Bank. The nature of this plan keeps changing. At one time there was talk of dismantling 60-70 settlements. Now there are guarded comments about a lesser number. In some versions the IDF will remain, in some versions it will not remain. In some versions there will be settlements beyond the fence, in other versions there will be no settlements beyond the fence. To some, this plan makes no sense. US Zionist groups greeted Ehud Olmert with advertisements urging him to abandon the plan. In the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby notes that Zionist stalwarts like Joseph Farah have given up on Israel because of our "weakness." He comments:
To some American Zionists who were raised on nearly two generations of Begin-Shamir-Nethanyahu-Sharon (old model Sharon) rhetoric about terrorism, Israeli acceptance of unilateral disengagement is incomprehensible. To many, perhaps most, Israelis, it seems like the only way. Those who favor disengagement and those who favor a negotiated settlement together form a majority. Those who oppose giving up any land at all are now a minority. We are not all traitors and self-hating Jews, and we don't do it because we are cowards or because we are not smart enough to understand the need for "victory" as some insist.
To paraphrase Jacoby, Israel's friends in the USA need to be told some truths that are more apparent from here then from there:
However, none of the above arguments, as legitimate and cogent as they may be, can provide an excuse for continuing the occupation indefinitely and for expansion of the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank. Moreover, none of those arguments provide the real motive for most Zionist opposition to disengagement. Suppose that Israel were to propose to dismantle all the settlements and keep the IDF in the West Bank as an occupying force as the Western allies occupied Germany after World War II, with no territorial claims. Those who oppose convergence on supposed security grounds would still oppose it even then. They could no longer claim that Israel was capitulating to terror or that a Hamas state was going to be formed in the territories. In fact, it would be much easier to handle security without the settlements, but they would continue to claim that Israel cannot give up the land. However, most Israelis concluded that we need that land like we need a hole in the head.
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Replies: 13 comments
It is not often I get the chance to read an article that so well explains the rationale for Ehud Olmertâ€™s convergence plan as Ami Asseroffâ€™s article, â€śOlmert in Washington: a Guide to the Perplexed.â€ť in the context of the undisputed challenges Israel faces.
Mr. Asseroff makes a good case for convergence.
Ted Belman of Israpundit, to which Mr. Asseroff makes reference to, also presents his anti-convergence and Israel from the Jordan to sea position, well reasoned and thoughtful as ever.
As with any two well reasoned positions in conflict, one can find flaws or weaknesses in the reasoning of both, once reasoning strays from the certainty of facts to informed opinion and conjecture as to the negative consequences flowing from the otherâ€™s opposing view and the positives flowing from their own views.
I am however more inclined to Ted Belman's critique of Mr. Asseroffâ€™s submission and Ted Belman's position for it is closer to my thinking on the matter.
Two very significant facts (though there are a number of others) regarding the Gaza pullout that make a compelling argument against convergence are:
1. The critics of disengagement from Gaza were proven correct for Gaza has become a magnet for radical Islam. Whether they are radical Islamist purists or radical Palestinians even more radicalized by the influx of radicals, Israel is in greater danger today from Palestinian terrorism then ever before.
It takes no genius to figure out that if Israel retreats from the West Bank, the same will happen there as happened in Gaza.
2. Israel cut itself a deep wound in forcing about 8,000 Jews from Gaza and no doubt in spite of Israelâ€™s best intentions far too many of those dislocated Jews have yet to be fully integrated within Israel proper and restored to the life they had.
Israel obviously did not have the ability to deal with the 8,000 Gazans and restore them as they had planned.
If they cannot do it with 8,000, how are they going to do it with 30 thousand or more?
Israel should have learned already that Israel suffered far worse than a paper cut by removing the Gazan Jews.
Not only would trying to uproot 30 thousand plus Jews from the West Bank be analogous to cutting itself right to the bone, some would say Israel would be severing its own limbs.
Posted by Bill Narvey @ 05/25/2006 06:44 PM CST
"Gaza has become a magnet for radical Islam"
"Israel is in greater danger today from Palestinian terrorism then ever before."
"Israel obviously did not have the ability to deal with the 8,000 Gazans and restore them as they had planned"
Posted by Micha @ 05/26/2006 04:01 AM CST
It seems to me there are several options:
1) To remain in the west bank the way the right wing wants and continue ruling over the Palestinians directly or indirectly.
2) To unilateraly withdraw on the assumption that although the lines of withdrawl willnot be recognized as a border internationaly, Israel's situation will be unchanged or even improved with regard to the threat to its democracy/zionism, its ability to deal with terrorism militarily, and its diplomatic and economic condition. In short, that there will be more stability than now. Supporters of full withdrawl and peace might reason that such withdrawl could be a stepping stone to future negotiations with a Palestinian state if and when it gets its act together.
3) Withdrawl followed by international force creating stability in the west bank.
4) Agreeing to negotiate with Abu Mazen despite the fact that he will not give up the right of return prior to negotiations and willnot dismantle terrorist organizations and some level of terrorism is likely to continue. The assumption here is that peace can be reached with Abu Mazen (without the right of return) if Israel itself is willing to offer withdrawl to the 67 borders (or equivalent), and that after such peace is reached the Palestinians will accept it and Abu Mazen will then be able to build a non terroristic Palestinian state next to Israel.
All options are difficult, risky and full of potential problems. Which is the better choice? Which is the likely one to occur? How can one be promoted over the other? I'm not sure.
Posted by Micha @ 05/26/2006 04:58 AM CST
I'm not familiar with "Ted Belman" or "Israpundit". Can Bill Narvey enlighten us about this "Jordan to the Sea" position?
As far as I can see, for this to work as a Zionist solution, either the Palestinians would have to be ethnically cleansed from the entire area or they would have to remain in situ without democratic rights.
Which is he proposing? The Serbian or South African model?
Posted by Chris @ 05/26/2006 02:35 PM CST
I suggest you google Israpundit. It is a terrific weblog site that posts excellent articles and draws many insightful and well stated comments and opinions. You should add it to your favorites for easy acceess.
Ted Belman is the editor of Israpundit and he posts a number of his own articles to his blog as well as providing commentary in respect of other's articles that he posts.
It is well worth the time to check it out.
Posted by Bill Narvey @ 05/27/2006 02:17 AM CST
To respond to your counter points to my comments:
1. I have to rely on news reports from sources I consider credible. My comment that Gaza is becoming a magnet for radicals and so too will the West Bank is based on my understanding of those reports.
To add to that both Egypt and Jordan have been impacted by the radicalism, be it the Palestinian or radicals influxing within Gaza and within the West Bank.
3. If you want to call Israel's failure to deal with the 8,000 Gazans torn from their homes ineptitude as opposed to and inability, have it your way. The net result is the same. If they are inept handling 8,000 Gazans being removed from their homes, what hope does Israel have in handling the 30 thousand plus Israelis that the convergence plan requires be removed from disbanded settlements?
As for your critique of Ami Isseroff's submission, you have conclude by confessing your uncertainty whether convergence or holding fast is the way to go, because either option is fraught with risks.
Of course any option carries with it risks, however fence sitting does not aid the debate and it certainly does not aid the Israeli government to be paralyzed by indecision.
Take a position and fight for your view to prevail!
In my view, Olmert's convergence plan gets Israel no further ahead and probably puts it even more behind the eight ball.
Posted by Bill Narvey @ 05/27/2006 04:16 AM CST
"1. I have to rely on news reports from sources I consider credible. My comment that Gaza is becoming a magnet for radicals and so too will the West Bank is based on my understanding of those reports."
The phrase "becoming a magnet" sound more like a rhetorical device that an informed claim. If your sources are right wing they have an interest to create a certain image.
"both Egypt and Jordan have been impacted by the radicalism" -- the whole muslim world is being imapcted by radicalism for quite some time for internal reasons. RadicalIslamis does not come frooutside. I hope you don't suggest Israel conquers Jordan and Egypt to stop Islamic radicalism.
"1. We will have to agree to disagree as to whether the pullout from Gaza made the Palestinians more of a threat to Israel than before. One thing we can agree on I think is that the pullout from Gaza did not make the Palestinians any less of a threat to Israelis, which was one of the primary objectives Sharon had."
Sharon's stated objective was not to reduce terrorism. I've given an account of the military situation before an after the withdrawl. Under these circumstances we can see that the situation has improved with regard to attacks against soldiers and settlers, but not for people living next to Gaza inside Israel. None has died as of yet, but the Kassam attacks must be dealt with in some way. If all other options failed a military option should not be excluded, but the diplomatic option should be explored. In any case the military options of Israel remain unchangedsince before the withdrawl. the settlements did not protect Israel from kassams, except by providing an alternative target.
"3. If you want to call Israel's failure to deal with the 8,000 Gazans torn from their homes ineptitude as opposed to and inability, have it your way. The net result is the same. If they are inept handling 8,000 Gazans being removed from their homes, what hope does Israel have in handling the 30 thousand plus Israelis that the convergence plan requires be removed from disbanded settlements?"
As I said, Israel took in larger quantities of immigrants under more difficult circumstances. The settlers have an interest to create trauma for themselves and for Israel. They have succeeded only with the first.
If youcannot guess my opinions based on what I've written then I have succeeded. I believe in laying down the issues in all their complexity, not denying the difficulty of the dilemmas involved in these decisions.
I do have a position and have fought for it. But I believe the discussion should be dialectic.
Here is one hint. The right wing option of continued occupation is not a solution.
I do not believe an international force willbe useful without negotiations for peace.
I also believe that Israel should make a credible offer to the Palestinians based on the 67 borders (similar to Geneva).
ĂŤ believe Israel should be willing to negotiate with the Hamas, and to see if we can get some real ceasefire. The Hamas may be open to something like that.
Ordinarily I would say that we should negotiate with Abbasm despite his weakness. But I'm not certain if the risks of failed negotiations will not be worse. I'm also not certain how far the Israel government or public will be willing to go. What they want, and not what I want is after all the important factor.'
Considering that unilateral withdrawl is the direction Israel seems to be going, and unilateral withdrawl isinsufficient, the question is whether its implimintation will cause more harm than good. I tend to think that if no other alternative is offered because of the political reality, withdrawl is better than continued occupation. But at this stage it is more important to speak of the flaws than of the positive side. So long as there is option to improve the given choices.
I'd like to hear what Ami thinks.
The right in Israel has always avoided making the choices while sinking deeper into the territories without dealing with the democratic/demographic question.
Posted by Micha @ 05/27/2006 07:43 PM CST
Bill, I asked a simple question. Please answer it. Does the "Israel from Jordan to the Sea" proposal you support involve expelling or disenfranchising Palestinians? Logically it has to be one or the other. I had a quick look at Israpundit, but they are not upfront about their "programme".
Micha, as far as I can see the Right in Israel has avoided nothing except being upfront about their real agenda, which has always been to achieve the "Jordan to the Sea" proposal above. Continued settlement and encroachment is part of the programme; you see the settlements as an problem while others see them as an opportunity.
Posted by Chris @ 05/28/2006 02:37 PM CST
I checked Israpudit again and found this:-
"Israel should annex the West Bank and Gaza, and expel the two-legged locusts."
I guess that just about sums it up. Nice plan. Nice people.
Posted by Chris @ 05/28/2006 03:01 PM CST
Chris, it would have been convenient if all right wing israelis or all Israelis were racists. But the way the occupation worked was not by being upfront as you think. It worked by avoiding the discussion of the fact that the Palestinians did not have Israeli citizenship. On the one hand the moderate right-wing never annexed the territories, which means that legally it was not part of Israel. But on the other hand for Israelis the distinction between the territories and regular democratic Israel was obfuscated completely. There was no border, no seperate designation on maps, Jews and Arabs lived and worked on both sides, and seemed content. Any discussion of withdrawl was not in the context of civil rights but in the context of land for peace (like with Egypt), peace offers rejected by the arabs, security and terrorism, and the question of the historical connection between Jews and the land of Israel in general. Even you could not help but slip into that pointless discussion. many Israelis were not realy aware that the the Arabs in the territories had no citizenship, or that there was anything wrong except the fact that the arabs did not like us and used terrorism against us often in order to remove the Jews from all of Israel/Palestine. There were no seperate water fountains, or seperate toilates. Even the peace camp was caught in this discussion, because they were talking about peace, which meant that the discussion revolved about the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace instead of their civic status. Furthermore, there was an element of delay: peace negotiations, waiting for the Palestinians to accept Israel, improved security and so forth. The right also floated not serious alternatives to withdrawl, unlikely to be accepted.
The discussion was never upfront. Even now it is not.
Posted by Micha @ 05/29/2006 01:15 AM CST
I should add that I'm not denying that Israelis embraced their ignorance, and were happy not to deal with the question of the citizenship of the Palestinians. But still it was a game of obfuscation. Never was there an upfront discussion on this issue, the Israelis never made a clear choice on the subject. They never chose a system of second class citizenship or segregation. Not choosing was their choice. the de facto results were he same.
Posted by Micha @ 05/29/2006 02:00 AM CST
I think you misread my comment, which I probably phrased with insufficient clarity. My comment was precisely that the Israeli right had avoided being upfront.
There is clearly a significant group of people, dating back to before the establishment of Israel, who want to see a Jewish state from the Jordan to the sea, and the settlements are surely a part of their plan. What may be at issue is the extent to which Labour have colluded in this or turned a blind eye. Whether the discussion is about land-for-peace or two-states, building settlements on occupied land can only really be part of a project of colonisation - particularly after the settlements in the Sinai were demolished this must have been clear.
So my argument was that the Right have been implementing a moreorless conscious plan which the centre and some of the left have chosen to ignore, and the Right have therefore set the agenda over the past 40 years or so, leading to the current situation.
I may have missed a point or two you were making regarding the citizenship issue; please clarify if so.
Posted by Chris @ 05/30/2006 03:20 PM CST
Chris, if the avarage Israeli did not understand the difference between the state of israel and the occupied territories, than building settlements in the territories was as much colonization as building in Tel-Aviv.
Israelis understood that the Arabs wanted land in exchange for peace, and were willing to demolish settlements in Sinai to accoplish peace with the Egyptians. But consider the payment of a similar price in the territories not worth while either because they did not believe peace was offered or possible, or because they didn't think it was worth it (or both). One of the reasons for building the settlements was to prevent future withdrawl for peace, which might have been considered by the more pragmatic elements in Israeli society: because in Israel then the difference between the moderate right and left was that the left was pragmatic and the right more committed to national integrity of the land of Israel. It was never about conquest or expansion or colonization. In that sense it was a little bit like Algeria which was perceived as part of France rather than as a distant colonial possession. In any case, both sides rarely thought about it in terms of controlling a Palestinian population without equal civic rights, until later. And if and when they did they avoided thinking about it. Dan Meridor, former Likud member and current supporter of withdrawl says that Begin was concerned that Israel will be like Rhodezia (spl?). But it was only in the late 90's and early 2000's that he and Olmert started thinking that withdrawl was necessary. Strange.
Posted by Micha @ 05/30/2006 04:13 PM CST
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