Friday, October 22, 2004

Republican Jewish Attack Ads Push Spinning into Sinning, by Gidon D. Remba

Republican Jewish Attack Ads Push Spinning into Sinning


Gidon D. Remba

Published by Jews for Kerry, October 22, 2004

An anti-Democratic attack ad run in the Jewish press by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) attempts to smear Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and the Democratic Party with distortions about their views on Israel. The RJC, which describes itself as the “sole voice of Jewish Republicans to Republican decision makers and the Jewish community,” and boasts such board members as President George W. Bush’s former spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, seeks to portray Kerry and the Democratic Party as failing to stand up for Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorism, as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.

The ad, which culls statements attributed to various Democrats from the last ten years, often relies on misleading quotes taken out of context, twisted to convey the opposite of their speakers’ plain meaning. And it attempts to demonize the Democrats by tarring Kerry and his party through association with extreme statements made by a handful of politicians whose views have been roundly repudiated by the Democratic mainstream and by Senator Kerry himself, a crucial fact that the Republican Jewish Coalition conceals from its audience. A former top Republican strategist has said of President George W. Bush’s senior campaign advisor Karl Rove that his “goal is never just to win, it is to destroy your opponent, [use] character assassination, whatever it takes. There is almost nothing Karl would not do. For example, religion was not part of Karl’s life but he viewed it as a political tool to be manipulated.” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2004) The Republican Jewish Coalition has followed the lead of its non-Jewish Republican mentors.

For dishonesty, this ad indeed surpasses Rove himself: the insinuation that leading Democrats, including John Kerry, are anti-Semitic rises to the level of libel. The RJC brandishes quotes from two Democrats, including Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), which suggest that Jews pushed the US into war with Iraq against America’s own national interests for Israel’s sake. But, in the first place, Democratic congressional leaders—including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—excoriated Moran, as did the National Jewish Democratic Council. Democratic as well as Republican Jewish members of Congress called on Moran to resign. Moran then apologized repeatedly and withdrew his statement.

And in the second place, grouping Democratic leaders like Kerry together with Jim Moran is a highly dishonest way of insinuating that all Democrats share Moran’s bigotry. Were Democrats willing to use such reprehensible methods, the RJC’s own tactics could easily have been aimed against Republicans to even more devastating effect. Democrats can easily cite blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements by various prominent Republicans, while pretending that such remarks had not been rejected by the party’s mainstream. It was, after all, President George H. Walker Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker (still an important advisor to George W. Bush) who famously said: “F*** the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” Republican President Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism is legendary. Patrick Buchanan, who worked for three Republican presidents and ran in the Republican presidential primaries three times, has praised Hitler, denied that thousands of Jews were gassed at Treblinka, and defended Nazi war criminals. He has also referred to Capitol Hill as “Israeli-occupied territory” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Oct. 20, 1990), and was outspoken last year in charging that Jewish officials in the Bush Administration are “colluding with Israel” to “ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in our national interests.”

But such offensive anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks—whether from Buchanan or from Moran —are irrelevant to the Bush-Kerry contest. Neither Buchanan nor Moran are representative of their parties. Both are, rather, embarrassments to their parties — as is a Republican Jewish ad which seeks to discredit the Democrats by associating their leadership with an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel fringe. Such dishonesty serves only to distract American Jews from the real issues we face as we go to the polls. It serves as a smokescreen designed to deflect us from thinking seriously about the differences between Kerry and Bush, and about which of them is really better for Israel and America.

On one issue after another—Democratic and Republican positions on Israel’s security barrier, targeted killing of terrorists, negotiating with Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, US aid to Israel, anti-Semitism and blaming Jews for the war in Iraq—the Republican Jewish Coalition ad campaign bears only the most tenuous relationship to the truth.

Kerry and Bush on Israel’s Security Barrier

The Republican Jewish Coalition claims that “Senator John Kerry incredibly questioned Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism by condemning Israel’s construction of a security fence and calling it a ‘barrier to peace.’” In fact, Kerry has consistently and strongly supported Israel’s right to build a security fence. He has described Israel’s barrier as “a fence necessary to the security of Israel until they have a partner to be able to negotiate” (New York Times transcript, February 29, 2004) and has affirmed his support for the security fence repeatedly in public forums. Following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in February, Senator Kerry issued the following statement: “It is ironic that this act of terror takes place on the eve of consideration by the International Court of Justice of Israel's security fence. The Court does not have and should not accept jurisdiction over this case. Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self defense. No nation can stand by while its children are blown up at pizza parlors and on buses. … The fence only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.” (February 23, 2004)

President Bush himself, moreover, has voiced concerns about the fence. In a White House press conference Bush said: "I think the wall is a problem and I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank. And I will continue to discuss this issue very clearly with the prime minister [Ariel Sharon]." (July 27, 2003, Jerusalem Post)

Kerry, Dean and Bush: Moral Equivalency Between Israel and Terrorists?

The Republican Jewish Coalition charges that former governor Howard Dean called Hamas terrorists “soldiers,” to which the RJC retorts: “No Gov. Dean, they aren’t soldiers; they are terrorists.”

But in the interview quoted by the RJC, Dean was in fact defending Israel’s right to engage in targeted killings of Hamas terrorists. The full quote (CNN Transcript, Sept. 10, 2003) shows that he regards Hamas as aggressors who are waging war on Israel. In describing Hamas terrorists as soldiers, Dean was taking a strongly pro-Israel stance as against the anti-Israel “human rights” organizations who claim that when Israel kills a suspected terrorist, it is engaging in an “illegal extra-judicial execution” of a civilian. Some human rights groups claim that suspected Palestinian terrorists are civilians who should be arrested and proven guilty of terrorism in a court of law before they can be deprived of their right to life. Dean, rightly, will have none of this. Hamas terrorists are soldiers, combatants in a war against Israel, insisted Dean, and therefore Israel can legitimately target them for killing.

John Kerry holds the same view. When asked whether he supported Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Rantisi, he declared: “I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terror against it. Hamas is a terrorist, brutal organization.” (“Meet the Press,” NBC, April 18, 2004)

By contrast, many members of the Bush Administration have been critical of Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders. For example, the Bush Administration's ambassador to the United Nations at the time, John D. Negroponte, told the UN Security Council that "the United States was 'deeply troubled' by the killing of Sheik Yassin and believed Israel's action had escalated tensions in the region" (New York Times, March 26, 2004). And when asked about Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin, White House spokesman Scott McClellan remarked, “We are deeply troubled by this morning's actions in Gaza.” (Reuters, March 23, 2004) The conservative National Review opined: “The Bush administration's initial reaction to Israel's act of self-defense has been mealy-mouthed, pathetic, and morally offensive. ... Why … won't the Bush White House proudly stand side-by-side with Israel as a strategic ally against a radical Islamic jihad?” (March 22, 2004)

Bush and Kerry on Arafat: Terrorist or Statesman?

The Republican Jewish Coalition charges that Kerry called Arafat a “statesman” in 1997 “despite Arafat’s past and continued support for terrorists who have killed both Americans and Israelis.” But in 1997 many leading politicians on all sides, both in America and in Israel, paid compliments to Arafat, at least in public. As recently as April 2002 President Bush himself “said he would not label Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat a terrorist … despite a week of devastating suicide bombings within Israeli cities. The president said that Arafat's involvement in negotiating a peace settlement prevented him from designating him a terrorist” (UPI/United Press International, April 1, 2002). Since the failure of all efforts to end the intifada that year, both Bush and Kerry have changed their stance on Arafat. The RJC ignores Kerry’s many negative statements on Arafat since then. Kerry, like Bush, has ruled out Arafat as a legitimate negotiating partner for Israel. In March, 2004 he said, "As far as I'm concerned he's an outlaw to the peace process...and he's proved himself to be irrelevant" (Associated Press, March 10, 2004).

Carter and Negotiating with Palestinian Terrorists

Under the heading “Moral Equivalency Between Israel and Terrorists,” the RJC upbraids former President Jimmy Carter for criticizing President George W. Bush, in Carter’s words, for making “no effort to have a balanced negotiating position between Israel and Palestinians.” The Jewish Republicans responded: “President Carter, you should know that there is no negotiating with terrorists.” But President Carter didn’t advocate negotiating with terrorists; he advocated negotiating with Palestinians. Unless you assume that all Palestinians are terrorists, the charge is baseless.

The RJC overlooks a host of inconvenient facts:

*A number of Palestinian leaders have been sharply critical of both terrorism and the intifada, including Mohammed Dahlan, the former Gaza security chief to whom thousands of Palestinian security forces in Gaza remain loyal.

*Polls consistently show that 69% of Israeli Jews favor negotiating with the Palestinian Authority (see the most recent opinion survey by Tel Aviv University, as reported in Ha’aretz, Oct. 20, 2004).

*Three major Israeli political parties—Labor, Meretz-Yahad and the centrist Shinui which is part of Sharon’s coalition government and the third largest party in the Knesset—support negotiations with Palestinians now in order to reach a cease-fire.

*Even the Bush Administration has reportedly encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to negotiate with any Palestinian leader who is able and willing to take security responsibility from areas that Israel plans to evacuate under the Israeli government’s disengagement plan. (Ha’aretz, May 31, 2004) And the Bush Administration continues to stand behind its own peace plan, the Road Map, which involves a return to negotiations by Israel with a reformed Palestinian leadership.

So Carter’s advocacy of negotiations with Palestinians is widely held among Israeli Jews, and by the Bush Administration itself. It is decidedly not the same as “negotiating with terrorists,” as the RJC maintains.

Has Bush’s War in Iraq Helped or Hurt the War on Terror?

Jewish Republicans have run a smear campaign against John Kerry and the Democrats to distract American Jews from thinking about the really serious question at stake in this election: Has President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq helped or hurt American and Israeli national security? Prominent Israeli security analysts, including Major General (ret.) Shlomo Brom at the highly respected Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, believe Bush’s war in Iraq, and diplomatic incompetence, have harmed the security of both countries, sabotaging the war on international terror (Associated Press, October 11, 2004).

Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as chief US Middle East envoy under both Republican and Democratic administrations, charges in his memoir, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, that “The [Bush] administration…ultimately failed to act in a way that made it possible for” Palestinian moderates opposed to terror to remain in power, strengthening Arafat and contributing to the failure of its own Road Map peace plan. John Kerry has proposed a smarter, more comprehensive approach to the war on terror, combining an ideological campaign and major public diplomacy push in the Muslim world against extremist Islam and in support of moderate Muslims and Arabs, along with an expansion of US Special Forces. This will enable the US to confront “jihadists in nations where large or conspicuous U.S. incursions are politically impossible—i.e., most of the approximately 60 countries where Al Qaeda operates.” Kerry will prosecute a more effective “classic counterinsurgency campaign where political and military measures reinforce one another against a shadowy and dispersed enemy.” (“Kerry Would Fight Terrorism Better,” The New Republic, Oct. 25, 2004) He will pursue a more engaged approach to diplomacy in the region, and many believe he can do a better job than Bush in moving towards an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps that is what scares the Republican Jewish Coalition: enough to promote their candidate with an outrageously duplicitous ad.

Gidon D. Remba, a political analyst specializing in the Arab-Israel conflict, is currently co-editing an anthology titled From Gaza to Jerusalem: A New Road to Middle East Peace? He served as Senior Foreign Press Editor in the Israel Prime Minister's Office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.

His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Tikkun: A Bi-Monthly Critique of Jewish Politics, Culture and Society, Chicago Jewish News, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, JUF News and other periodicals. He has appeared as a featured guest on various radio interview programs devoted to the Middle East, including National Public Radio’s Worldview.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Why Camp David and Oslo Failed: Myth and Reality, by Gidon D. Remba

September 24, 2004

We continue to hear the familiar canard that the Palestinians made no counter-offer at Camp David in response to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's unprecedented concessions. This myth arose from the self-serving story put out by Barak and President Clinton in an attempt to place the entire blame for the summit's failure on Arafat. It was accepted uncritically by much of the American and Israeli media at the time. Since then, fuller, more accurate accounts of the negotiations have recently emerged. These more nuanced accounts of the ill-fated Camp David summit and the failure of the Oslo peace process suggest that the story of the nay-saying Arafat is part fact and part fiction.

Contrary to popular belief and American-Israeli spin, the Palestinians did in fact make a counter-offer at Camp David, according to a new blow-by-blow account published in Israel by former Israeli prime minister Barak’s own chief negotiator, Gilad Sher. It was Barak who rejected the Palestinian proposal, only to come much closer to Palestinian positions six months later in the final belated round of peace talks at Taba. In Just Beyond Reach: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations 1999-2001, Sher reports that on July 21, 2000 the Palestinians presented a map at Camp David consenting to Israel’s annexation of settlements in 2.5% of the West Bank and a more equitable division of Jerusalem, in exchange for an equal land swap from within Israel. At Taba, the Palestinian map proffered on January 23, 2001 showed a 3.5% Israeli annexation, reports Sher, compared with an Israeli offer reflecting a 5% annexation. Sher notes that “this [Palestinian] map was a great improvement over what had been presented to us six months previously at Camp David. The improvement was in its being based on the principle of [settlement] blocs, rather than isolated settlements.” American readers will find his testimony in Charles Enderlin’s Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002, which evolved from interviews with the negotiators aired nationwide in a PBS Frontline TV documentary.

President Bill Clinton, in his memoir, My Life, documents a second Palestinian counter-offer from Arafat at Camp David. The Palestinian leader proposed a division of sovereignty in Jerusalem whereby the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City would become part of Israel, while the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif with its mosques would become part of the Palestinian state. This idea was adopted five months later in Clinton’s December 2000 bridging proposal, accepted (albeit with some reservations) by the Barak government as a basis for the Taba talks. Clinton reports that on the sixth day of the Camp David summit, July 16, “Arafat gave me a letter that seemed to say that if he was satisfied with the Jerusalem question, I could make the final call on how much land the Israelis kept for settlements and what constituted a fair land swap. I took the letter to Barak and spent a lot of time talking to him…Eventually Barak agreed that Arafat’s letter might mean something.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross, chief US peace negotiator under the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations, amplifies on the Arafat counter-offer in his just published memoir, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, dubbing it “a serious counterproposal from the Palestinians.” Barak’s rejection of Arafat’s Camp David proposal meant that any possible concord over territory, settlements and Palestinian statehood was overshadowed by discord over the fate of the holy city, on which the summit foundered. With two Palestinian counter-offers now on record from no less than three unimpeachable American and Israeli sources, it is increasingly apparent that the facile tale often told about the failure of the peace process—“Barak made a generous offer and Arafat said no and responded with terror”—is more the artifice of spin doctors than the fruit of historiography.

These three testimonials by Arafat skeptics suggest that the Palestinian leader’s behavior at Camp David defies the familiar narrative of Arafat as chief saboteur of peace. But even had Barak been willing to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram—an improbable concession given widespread opposition among Israeli Jews—Arafat was unwilling to compromise on the demand for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian right of refugee return to Israel, a principle that is overwhelmingly unacceptable to Jews. Sher maintains that most Palestinian negotiators—but probably not Arafat—would have accepted, and would today accept, a face-saving creative formula on the refugee issue, while strictly limiting the number of refugees that would be allowed to return according to Israel’s sovereign discretion. In the end, the Arafat-as-demon fixation has led to a wholesale flight from negotiations of every kind with any Palestinians. But Israeli disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank can’t work without the rehabilitation of a Palestinian partner from the current crop of democratic reformers and pragmatists.

When Barak failed to achieve a peace accord at Camp David, he sought to place exclusive blame on Arafat for the summit’s outcome. President Clinton rallied behind the Israeli leader in the hope of boosting Barak’s sagging political fortunes back home with early elections increasingly likely. The summit took place on the eve of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. As the Clinton Administration entered the US election season, with Vice President Gore as the party’s candidate, Clinton could ill afford that the summit’s breakdown would be viewed as the product of mismanagement of his Administration’s Middle East diplomacy. Both Barak and Clinton desperately needed the fault to be Arafat’s—who alone was not at risk of losing power at the polls in the coming months. Barak soon declared that Arafat was not a partner for negotiations of any kind, a mantra that was quickly adopted by Sharon and the right, whose long-standing anti-Oslo policies it suited just fine.

Arafat’s proposed 2.5% annexation was of course no more viable an opening proposal at Camp David than Barak’s 12%, or the 8% which followed it. Viability, after all, in a negotiation, means the likelihood that the other side will accept a proposal, and that both sides will ultimately be able to generate adequate public support needed for realizing a treaty embodying it. But there was every reason for Barak to have believed his Camp David proposals on Jerusalem and territory were not viable from the standpoint of Palestinian politics, and could not gain acceptance by the other side. A few weeks before Camp David, Major General Amos Malka, then chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, reviewed MI’s picture of Arafat's positions for the Israeli cabinet. In a recent interview in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Malka recounts telling the assembled ministers that “there was no chance that [Arafat] would compromise on 90 percent of the territories or even on 93 percent. He is not a real-estate trader, and he is not going to stop midway. Barak said to me: ‘You are telling me that if I offer him 90 percent, he isn't going to take it? I don't accept your assessment.’ I said to him that indeed, there is no chance that he would accept it.”

Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, who commanded Israeli forces in Gaza in the mid-nineties and became military secretary to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and head of his “Peace Administration,” explained in an interview in Ha’aretz:

"The Palestinians entered into the Oslo agreement on the understanding that through diplomacy, they could attain the goal they had set themselves since 1988: a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital [with one-for-one land swaps to accommodate Israeli annexation of settlement blocs near the Green Line]. In their view, their great concession was their willingness to make do with 23 percent of the land of Palestine [Israel and the territories]. They thought a solution would be found to the problem of the right of return by means of a trick that would remove its sting. From their point of view, any proposal that fell short of this would not enable them to make concessions on other issues."

In the weeks before Camp David, when asked by a journalist about Barak’s non-negotiable “red lines,” which included a refusal to negotiate based on the 1967 lines or to divide sovereignty in Jerusalem, Arafat responded in a press conference with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem was designed to explore the feasibility of a summit:

“Why did [Barak] implement [UN Security Council] Resolution 425 in South Lebanon? [Israel unilaterally withdrew all the way to the international border between Lebanon and Israel in May 2000, two months before the Camp David summit.] Why did [Israel fully] implement Resolution 242 with the Egyptians and the Jordanians? [Israel relinquished all of the Sinai as part of its peace treaty with Egypt.] Even with Syria [in the Syrian-Israeli negotiations prior to Camp David] they committed themselves to the restoration of all the territories and the evacuation of all the settlements, as was the case in the Sinai…”

Arafat said much the same thing to Clinton at Camp David about why he is unwilling to agree to Israeli sovereignty in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or over the Muslim holy sites in the Temple Mount/Haram A-Sharif: “The Egyptians insisted on getting the last kilometer of the Sinai at Taba. Between Israel and Lebanon, there are heated discussions about each house in the village of Rajar in South Lebanon. And I’m supposed to give up on Jerusalem?” Dennis Ross reports that most of the American peace team (himself excluded) believed “that the Palestinians were entitled to 100% of the territory” with equal land swaps, not only “on the basis of right, but on the basis that every other Arab negotiating partner had gotten 100 percent. Why should the Palestinians be different?” Unsurprisingly, Arafat recognized the precedents set in all previous peace talks and territorial arrangements between Israel and Arab states. This hardly reflected an unwillingness on Arafat’s part to make peace with Israel or to reach agreements with it, as many now suppose, but rather an insistence on negotiating based on Israel’s own prior conduct.

One can only wonder why Barak arrogantly ignored this familiar history, some of which he himself had been responsible for. Indeed, the Egyptian-Israeli peace process which culminated in the Camp David Accords of 1978, owed its success in no small measure to then Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s commitment to President Sadat’s deputy, prior to Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, that Israel would return the entire Sinai peninsula to Egypt—a full withdrawal—in exchange for a full peace. That commitment was reiterated by Prime Minister Begin during Sadat’s Jerusalem visit. Both Clinton and Ross report that Rabin made a similar offer to Clinton regarding peace with Syria; Barak’s own territorial offer to Syrian president Asad in the negotiations preceding Camp David, involving a virtually complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights, did not seriously deviate from this principle. Yet Barak managed somehow to pretend that all these precedents would be ignored when the Palestinian turn finally came.

Agreement or Bust?

General Malka has stated that it was the assessment of Military Intelligence, shared with Barak well before Camp David, that to do a peace deal Arafat required Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram. Dennis Ross reports that at a meeting in Washington, D.C. on April 11, 2000 to discuss the final status summit over which Barak importuned Clinton, the Israeli leader acknowledged that he could “not see how a deal could be done on Jerusalem now… he did not see his public or theirs capable of compromise at this stage on Jerusalem.” At the same time, Barak was insistent that the summit would be predicated on “an end-of-conflict deal—with no more claims.” Ross objected: “But there was a logical inconsistency in [Barak’s] approach…How could he proclaim that all claims and grievances were [to be] resolved [by the final accord he sought to negotiate at a summit] when differences would all be riveted on Jerusalem?” Both before and during the summit, Barak was warned by Israeli security and intelligence officials that Arafat regarded himself as representing the entire Muslim world over the mosques on the Temple Mount/Haram.

If Barak was unwilling, or politically unable, to divide sovereignty in Jerusalem and over the holy sites in a way that would allow Arafat to save face before the Muslim world, one can join Ross in wondering why he insisted on an all-or-nothing, make-or-break summit, and failed to adequately explore possible alternatives to a final comprehensive agreement. To be sure, none of the leaders—American, Palestinian or Israeli—were interested at this juncture in another small-scale limited interim agreement. But a nonbelligerency accord resolving the issues of territory, settlements and Palestinian statehood, allowing Israel to erect a border fence on an agreed international line, might well have been doable. Such an agreement would have left the question of final sovereignty over the Jerusalem holy sites and the resolution of the refugee problem in abeyance for future state-to-state talks. For Barak, who had opposed Oslo from the outset and eschewed most interim steps and confidence-building measures, such an arrangement was out of the question. But it clearly would have been far more advantageous to Israel from a political and security vantage point than a go-for-broke summit with no fallback options, where the only alternative, as Barak repeatedly emphasized, was a violent conflagration—in his own ironic metaphor, “collision with the iceberg.” Barak’s navigation of the Israeli ship of state—his Titanic—left much to be desired.

A solution on Jerusalem’s holy sites and the refugees may be more likely with the more pragmatic negotiators who surround Arafat, the next generation of Palestinian leadership, many of whom Clinton, Ross and Sher agree would have braved the necessary compromises on the level of symbolism and principle, allowing for a mutually acceptable practical solution. This logic militates against Barak’s push for a binary black-or-white peace-or-war outcome, his quest to reveal Arafat as either “the Palestinian Sadat” or a terrorist still bent on Israel’s destruction. Barak, Arafat and Clinton, it can only be said, all egregiously misread the strategic tea leaves.

Barak had been publicly warned by various prominent figures in the Israeli political and security establishment, including cabinet ministers Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon and Yossi Sarid and MI chief General Amos Malka, that Arafat could not sign a final status peace agreement with him based on his proposals. In his The Jerusalem Problem: The Struggle for Permanent Status, Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist and advisor to Israel’s Foreign Minister during the negotiations, elaborates: These ministers presciently believed that “it would be best to make do with an interim agreement or with an arrangement that excluded Jerusalem…[They] claimed that the Jerusalem question would be difficult to solve and that discussing it would bring the entire track to a dead end.” Moreover, “a careful reading of Gilad Sher’s book, notes Klein, “reveals that its author tried, throughout the negotiations, to promote ideas that had one common denominator: the achievement of something less than a permanent settlement. He sought to postpone the permanent settlement as a whole…and to put off certain issues in the permanent settlement, such as Jerusalem and the refugee problem, or to set aside agreeing on parts of these last two issues.”

In The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement, 1996-2004, Barak’s Justice Minister Yossi Beilin describes his efforts to persuade the Israeli prime minister to develop a fallback option in the event that a final agreement proved elusive. Barak is said to have approved of this tack for a time, but clearly abandoned it—unwisely—as he orchestrated the end-game for the Camp David summit. On July 8, 2000, Beilin handed Barak a detailed proposal for just such an “alternative to a framework agreement, in case it turned out that the preferred agreement could not be concluded.” Under the partial agreement suggested by Beilin, both sides would commit to some general principles for the permanent agreement, but

"in the meantime, the third [Israeli] withdrawal [from the West Bank] would be carried out; and on January 1, 2001, Israel would recognize the Palestinian state on all the territories (comprising Area A and B) then in Palestinian hands [representing 42% of the West Bank]; from that point the negotiations would continue between the two states. A multinational force would supervise the border crossings and operate alongside the IDF, which would remain in Area C, still under Israeli control. The Palestinian side would commit to combat terror and violence, and the Israeli side would commit to freezing settlements, in accord with Rabin’s negotiations with Arafat…[C]ommittees would be established to deal with everyday matters related to the city of Jerusalem, while negotiations on the city’s future would begin as soon as the interim agreement was signed, to determine a special status for the Holy Basin—the half-square-mile area that contains sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians."

After reviewing Beilin’s proposal, Barak summarily rejected it later the same day, insisting that the Palestinians will “prefer it to the painful permanent settlement”—a settlement which Barak, had he listened to Israeli military intelligence and to his more realistic Cabinet ministers, would have known was not within reach at this stage. Concludes Beilin: “Ehud Barak was about to swing on the trapeze without a safety net, because I was still holding his safety net I my hand.”

Nor was it the case that only Israeli politicians sought to avoid a risky lunge for the brass ring of a final agreement. “There were also Palestinian political leaders who called for deferring the subject of Jerusalem,” notes Klein, including PLO Executive Committee Secretary Abu Mazen, who “estimated that the gaps between the two sides were unbridgeable.” He believed the Palestinians should sign an interim agreement on Jerusalem, and until concluding a permanent status accord over the city, he felt that the Palestinians should work to strengthen their position in the eastern Arab sector. Klein notes that “At the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, members of the Palestinian leadership demanded that Israel prepare an alternate program in case a permanent settlement, or a framework agreement for the permanent settlement, was not achieved.”

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Ben Kaspit reports that Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti was among those Palestinians who urged Israeli leaders to pursue a near-term interim agreement to stave off a collapse of the peace process into bloodshed:

In the night between 14 and 15 May 2000, on the eve of Nakba Day and before Camp David, Yossi Beilin sat at Larom Hotel in Jerusalem. Opposite him were Marwan Barghouti, Fares Kadoura and Mamduh Nofel, the three most prominent leaders of Fateh and the Tanzim in the West Bank. “If we don’t reach an agreement by September,” said Barghouti and his colleagues to Beilin, “horrible violence will break out. The situation is like a pressure cooker. You are making a laughing stock out of us. We represent the people in the street, the Tanzim, the released prisoners. We promised our people results, and we brought them nothing. The Hamas is rearing its head. Arafat has become the mayor of Gaza. Israel got everything: international recognition, a growing economy, a financial boom, an opening to the Arab world. We got a visa to Washington for Arafat and that’s it. You keep on expropriating and settling. Only an agreement, even a partial one, can save the situation.”

Beilin adds further to this account, recounting Barghouti’s skepticism over Arafat’s ability to conclude a permanent agreement with Barak by September 2000: “In Netanyahu’s time,” complained Barghouti, “we could say: this rightist government opposes peace and when a Labor government comes to power it will resume the process. Today we have nothing to say to the street. Everything is stuck, and it is because of your government…There is no framework agreement, no third phase [of the redeployment/withdrawals from the West Bank]…But if prisoners are released, the settlements frozen, and the interim agreement implemented, the situation on the ground could calm down even if there were no permanent settlement. If that does not happen, and a permanent agreement is not signed, the disappointment and the frustration are liable to lead to an explosion.” Mamduh Nofel added that “the Palestinian people are disappointed with Barak because…he does not keep agreements, is continuing with the settlements, and is not releasing [Palestinian] prisoners. The fact that he has not transferred Abu Dis, Azariyeh, and Anata [three Palestinian villages] is seen as an admission of his inability to carry out what he has promised. ‘Rabin was a man of honor. He signed and he did. Arafat trusted him. He does not trust Barak to the same extent.’”

The Palestinian Resort to Violence

The “history” of the Palestinian resort to violence, as told by many Jews today, equally illustrates the adage, “truth is the first casualty in war.” The popular slogan that Israel tried land for peace and got only war and terror is doubly misleading. After failing to stem their violent assaults in Oslo’s early years, Arafat’s forces effectively reined in the terrorists and cooperated on security with Israel for the three years leading up to Camp David, according to Israel’s own security officials at the time. In fact, Israel suffered only a single casualty from Palestinian terrorism from October 1997 until October 2000, when suicide attacks resumed in the months following Camp David’s collapse and the outbreak of the intifada.

But Israel never stood up to the radical Jewish Greater Land of Israel movement, continuing to build settlements at breakneck speed and to strengthen its hold in areas where millions of Palestinians live and seek an independent state. And far from having granted Palestinians real mastery over their own lives, Israel allowed them full control over only 18% of the West Bank during the Oslo decade. It gave little land even in Oslo’s heyday, and got much peace and security from 1997 until late 2000 when the final status peace talks crashed, due not only to Arafat’s intransigence and complicity in violence but to Barak’s own flawed negotiating strategy.

Col. Arieli explains that the Palestinians “did not give up terrorism in order to get a redeployment here and a redeployment there. The cessation of terror was conditioned from the start on achieving their [national] goal. Therefore, when they understood that Israel did not intend to bring them there [through negotiations], they returned to terrorism. The members of the Peace Administration knew from the start that there was no chance of Yasser Arafat becoming the Israeli security services' subcontractor in exchange for anything less than a state in the 1967 borders, with border adjustments and exchanges of territory.”

Palestinians turned to violence not in response to Israel’s “generous” offers at Camp David, as the conventional trope has it. Rather, as the chasm deepened between the high hopes kindled by Oslo for occupation’s end and the dismal reality of the 90’s, Palestinian faith in a negotiated solution gradually waned. At the same time, support for violence as a means of coercing Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza rose steadily, peaking after the failure of the long overdue final status talks at Camp David, according to Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki.

Dennis Ross reports in his memoir that in the year before Camp David, then IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Shaul Mofaz (now Sharon’s Defense Minister) and Admiral Ami Ayalon, head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, implored him to drop US efforts to reach a Syrian-Israeli peace treaty and “put all our emphasis on reaching an agreement with the Palestinians—and to convince Barak of the importance of this.” “Both feared,” Ross writes, “that at some point Palestinian frustrations, especially on the street over corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the failure of Oslo to end the Israeli occupation, would boil over and there would be an eruption of violence. Once that happened, support within the Israeli public for a deal with the Palestinians would disappear.”

Monday, April 12, 2004

The Nation: "Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: An Exchange"

“Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: An Exchange,” The Nation, April 12, 2004

Gidon D. Remba


In this 1,200-word essay published in the Nation, I respond to Oxford scholar Brian Klug’s “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism.” While I agree that advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism is not inherently anti-Semitic, and describe conditions under which binationalism could be consistent with the basic political and human rights of Israeli Jews, I take Klug to task for his failure to recognize the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left.

I maintain that much binational advocacy among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left represents a species of political rhetoric which would, if coercively realized in a unitary “democratic” state, result in an arrangement whereby Palestinians will form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, recapitulating the tragic fates of failed multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia. As a form of anti-Jewish discrimination, it thus satisfies standard definitions of anti-Semitism, directed against Israeli Jews. I believe that a binational Palestinian-Israeli polity will have a reasonable likelihood of respecting the human rights of Palestinians and Israeli Jews only if it arises by mutual consent to confederate two working liberal democratic Israeli and Palestinian states. Any other approach to binationalism is at best naïve and impracticable, at worst apt to sweep Palestinians and Israelis down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno.

This essay has been reprinted in various places and was translated into German and published in Europe. It prompted a three-page attack in a new book by political scientist Virginia Tilly, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Tilly, who regards Israel an “apartheid state” which “still relies on ethnic cleansing for its preservation,” and who unashamedly places all blame for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Zionism and Israel, egregiously misreads my arguments.

Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: A Reply to Brian Klug

Gidon D. Remba

As Published in The Nation, April 12, 2004

Recent writings on anti-Semitism by a number of prominent authors have suggested that Jews are confronting a new brand of anti-Jewish vitriol and violence that is distinct from classical anti-Semitism because it cloaks itself in the increasingly acceptable politics of anti-Zionism. Evidence that much anti-Zionism, and rhetoric which demonizes Israel, is anti-Semitism in disguise, and the sense of panic that pervades much of the writing on this subject, seem to have so irked Brian Klug (“The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism,” Feb. 2) that he rejects out of hand the idea that Jews are confronting a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Klug is right to take issue with one claim made by many commentators on the “new anti-Semitism.” Advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not inherently anti-Semitic. Both can, and have been, advanced in ways that acknowledge the intense need that many Jews, both in Israel and around the world, feel for a strong, secure Israel—for example, in proposals for a binational confederal regime which might evolve by mutual consent from two working democratic states at peace, Israel and Palestine, modeled in some respects on the European Union. But in his zealous effort to reject the logic of the “new anti-Semitism” writers, Klug refuses to admit the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left.

In Klug’s eyes, neither the anti-Zionist rhetoric nor the attacks of recent years on Jewish synagogues and individuals in Europe and the Middle East stem from “racist stereotyping” of Jews. Rather, they are directed, albeit misguidedly, at Jews as representatives of the State of Israel. Klug points out that Israeli leaders, inspired by the Zionist premise that all Jews are members of the Jewish people, have made every effort to portray Israel as an expression of Jews worldwide. So it should come as no surprise, the argument goes, that some in the Arab and Muslim communities who take offense at Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would take Jews personally to task, even targeting them for violent retribution. Klug informs us that when anti-Jewish, anti-Israel attitudes are motivated by a predominantly anti-Western, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist political perspective—even invoking “general principles of justice and human rights”—such animus towards Israel and Jews does not reflect “anti-Semitic prejudice.”

There are several problems with this picture. First, there is a centuries-old legacy of anti-Semitism motivated not mainly by religious, ultra-nationalist or fascist prejudices and myths, but very largely by political, social and economic competition, by a lofty adherence to universalism and equal rights, to anti-clericalism and anti-capitalism, among some portions of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century left—an anti-Semitism of the left, “the socialism of fools.” This strain of modern anti-Semitism owes its provenance as much to some of the Enlightenment’s founders as it does to animosities unleashed by the emancipation of European Jewry, the integration of Jews into the economic and political life of the European states.

Second, racism is commonly defined as prejudice or wrongful discrimination against a racial or ethnic group, fed by false stereotypes; anti-Semitism as unwarranted “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” (Merriam- Webster Dictionary). It follows that anti-Semitism is a form of racism towards Jews, whereby unwarranted hostility or wrongful discrimination, based on false, vilifying beliefs, is aimed at Jews as a group, or towards individual Jews as members of that group. That the primary source of these beliefs and practices lies in their adherents’ economic and political interests or cultures in no way vitiates their anti-Semitic character.

The reductio ad absurdum of Klug’s characterization of anti-Semitism becomes apparent in his idiosyncratic insistence that acts widely regarded as anti-Semitic hate crimes are not anti-Semitic simply because they are prompted in part by anger over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Klug maintains that “the evidence suggests that the perpetrators of the anti-Jewish attacks in France were animated by political outrage, not bigotry. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry itself, most of the incidents were a protest against inequities in the occupied territories.” European Commission President Romano Prodi is only the latest of many EU leaders, including five European Interior Ministers, who have publicly affirmed that they view such acts as anti-Semitic. Klug seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. He admits that anti-Semitism “without a doubt … would not be spreading within Muslim communities in Europe were it not for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but then denies that anti-Jewish attacks by Muslims in Europe are anti-Semitic.

If Klug is right, EU leaders are mistaken in outlawing politically motivated violent acts against innocent Jews and Muslims as instances of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racism. They should presumably treat such acts as nothing more than breaches of the criminal laws of assault, battery, arson, which happen to be animated by political passions. Klug’s constricted view would instantly redefine as merely “reprehensible, but not anti-Semitic” the hatred many nineteenth-century Europeans harbored towards Jews on the basis of the generalization that Jews were rich bankers and exploitive money-lenders. This hatred inspired anti-Jewish pogroms, quotas and restrictions in employment and education, and political support for anti-Semitic political parties in various European states. Yet Klug’s linguistic legerdemain would define it away at the stroke of a pen. And wasn’t the stereotyping of Jews in Europe—which “exceeded the evidence,” but did not rise to an “a priori prejudice,” in Klug’s idiom—rooted in the actual prevalence of Jews in trade and finance, much as the faulty inference that all Jews are responsible for Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians is rooted in the fact that Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, and in the solidarity that most Diaspora Jews—even those who dissent from the policies of Ariel Sharon—feel towards that state and its people?

Klug tries to show that some element he identifies as essential to classical anti-Semitism (“a priori prejudice”) is missing from those species of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective that are held up by many Jews as paradigm cases of the new anti-Semitism. Yet this ignores the real question: whether the “new anti-Semitism” shares enough features with its classical progenitor to be characterized as “anti-Semitism.”

Klug’s willingness to sanction all forms of anti-Zionism and binational advocacy—to deny that any species of this rhetoric is inherently anti-Jewish racism—sweeps under the rug two overriding, and deeply troubling, facts. First, Arab and Palestinian anti-Zionist binationalists, and their fellow travelers on the Western left, often propose, with overweening optimism, a unitary “democratic” state as an alternative to a two-state formula. In this arrangement, Palestinians will inevitably form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, most likely recapitulating the tragic fates of multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Much binational advocacy, among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left, is thus malign and coercive, a fig leaf for depriving Israeli Jews of their basic civil and human rights in a new Arab state. In this regard, it is anti-Jewish discrimination, satisfying standard definitions of anti-Semitism as a form of racism against Israeli Jews.

Second, in those cases where Western leftists advocate a vague, naïve anti-Zionist binationalism—where their intent is not to subordinate Israeli Jews in an Arab state but to express an idealistic commitment to egalitarianism and post-nationalism as a practical program for Jews and Palestinians here and now—the real-world effect of their beguiling fantasy is to lend aid and comfort to coercive binationalism. Their blandishments stoke the frenzy of resistance to genuine two-state peace efforts, accelerating the transformation of Israel into a pariah state, fueling the campaign to realize a malign binationalist nightmare. Such misbegotten noble intentions will help pave the road to perdition, bolstering the Israeli right, feeding Jewish fear and paranoia, and Arab chauvinist triumphalism. If successful, they will sweep Israelis and Palestinians down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno, engulfing them in the great and intimate flames of civil war.

The writer, President of Chicago Peace Now, the Illinois-Indiana Chapter of Americans for Peace Now, is a political analyst on the Arab-Israel conflict.