Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Realists Negotiate, Idealists Make War, by Gidon D. Remba

Realists Negotiate, Idealists Make War


Gidon D. Remba
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
December 28, 2006

Negotiations, as a tool for dealing with our enemies, get a bum rap. Hardliners mock them as the feeble crutch of Kumbaya liberals who imagine that if only we talked with our adversaries, everything could be hashed out with a dollop of reason and a gallon of good will. But our foes are truly evil, they cavil. Dialogue with the devil will lead to naught, or worse, to mortal dangers to ourselves and our friends—especially Israel.

It helps to bear in mind the difference between “hawks” and “hardliners.” I’m a selective hawk; sometimes force is both necessary and just. Hardliners, by contrast, are emotionally and ideologically ossified when confronting the threats facing America and Israel. Their response is invariably to scoff at talk and brandish get-tough hit-em-hard panaceas.

But the biggest champions of negotiations aren’t mushy romantic liberals and Birkenstock-clad doves. They are rock-ribbed American and Israeli military strategists, high officers, combat veterans and intelligence analysts. Uber-hawk Donald Rumsfeld, sacked by President Bush for orchestrating our Iraq fiasco, was replaced by former CIA Director Robert Gates, who for two years has urged the US to engage in direct talks with Iran. Gates is noteworthy for his membership in the “realist” camp in foreign policy circles, to which Bush’s father, and his moderate Republican advisors, belong. That’s the school of Republicans and Democrats who, looking at the likely impact of the Iraq war on our fight against Al Qaeda, the regional balance of power between America's Sunni Arab allies and Iran-linked Shias, and our ability to project a credible threat of force against the greater dangers from Iran and North Korea, opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq for purely realist, strategic reasons, even had it been handled competently.

Our new defense chief served on the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the blue-ribbon government panel of ten luminaries chaired by Republican James A. Baker III and Democrat Lee Hamilton. In their report, “The Way Forward: A New Approach,” the panel unanimously recommended to the President and Congress that the US talk to both Iran and Syria, one pillar of a comprehensive new Mideast diplomatic initiative for Arab-Israeli peace and Iraqi national reconciliation. The purpose of such discussions would be to enlist Iranian and Syrian help in stabilizing neighboring Iraq through their Sunni and Shia allies, enabling the US to draw down troops without Iraqi chaos drowning the entire Middle East in a bloodbath—a maelstrom from which no one, including Israel, will emerge unscathed.

The US will need to offer some quid pro quo to Iran and Syria, a package of political, security and economic incentives, in exchange for plucking our chestnuts from the Mesopotamian fire. The more we are prepared to give, the more we can demand from the Iranians and the Syrians, and not just on Iraq, but on other issues of deep concern to us and our allies, not least Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A US opening to Syria will likely pave the way for Israel to resume peace talks with President Bashar Assad, blocked, as Prime Minister Olmert has recently acknowledged, by the opposition of President Bush. At the same time, Syria will be expected to stanch the flow of arms to Hezbollah from Iran and its own storehouses, and cut off support for Hamas militants, showing good faith as negotiations begin (incentives are a two-way street). Israel Radio quoted Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya on December 19 as saying that Assad “has sent a message to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via Germany, in which he offered to crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for a return to negotiations.” Such offers afford Israel and the US the chance to put Assad’s intentions to the test.

A train of moderate Republican and Democratic senators has visited Damascus in recent weeks to test the waters with Assad, notwithstanding the expected howls of protest from the Bush Administration. Incoming Democratic House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), one of Israel’s best friends in Congress, has told JTA that the new Democratic Congress will encourage US contacts with Syria and Iran. Yet the usual suspects in the organized American Jewish community, AIPAC foremost among them, are opposing this and other recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and the Democratic Congress, aligning once again with the most reactionary forces in American and Israeli politics. This despite the fact that 87% of American Jews voted Democratic in the mid-term election, repudiating the Bush Administration’s wildly successful formula for Mideast peace. A majority of Israelis, polls show, favors talking with Syria. In response to my brief in Ha’aretz for a moderate pro-Israel lobby (see http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/2006/11/haaretz-wanted-moderate-pro-israel.html ) AIPAC insisted that its role is “not to advance a prescriptive agenda. It is the voters in Israel and the United States who decide which governments to elect and what policies to follow.” Precisely which voters is AIPAC representing now?

Hardliners trot out aborted peace talks as if they prove negotiations irredeemably hopeless. Yet when war fails to achieve many of its aims at a reasonable cost—as for the US in Iraq, Vietnam a generation before, and Israel (twice) in Lebanon—the war-mongers rarely conclude that military action has proven futile, impotent to solve our problems. Instead, they call for war again, now on a grander scale (next stop Iran and Syria), imagining that if only we change our martial tactics or strategy, throwing bigger and better munitions at our enemies, arms will prove themselves in the next round. Never do they suggest that negotiations fell short because external conditions, specific leaders, or a faulty approach imposed obstacles, so that when one or more of these is changed, bargaining might hold greater promise. They would revolutionize tactics and strategy so the next armed clash might bring us nearer to victory. But never would they make such bold changes to raise the odds that the next negotiation meets with greater success, perhaps preventing the next war.

Hardliners blame national conflicts on efforts to solve them (see the “Oslo caused the intifada” mantra) rather than on the underlying grievances which keep them aflame. For hardliners, the lesson of the failed Oslo peace process is that one can’t negotiate with Palestinians; not now, not ever, or not until they become, well, Finns (in Sharon advisor Dov Weissglas’ famous phrase, a stand-in for “peace-loving liberal Jeffersonian democrats”). But for realists, the lesson is: change the program. Radically rethink our approach to negotiations. Revamp our tactics and strategy, the actions we take, and neglect to take, before, during and after we bargain for peace. Revise our demands of the other side, and our expectations of third parties. Create stronger incentives for constructive moves by our opponent, and disincentives against bad acts, building a regime of accountability with trusted outside arbiters.

Israeli and American realists, and now the illustrious Iraq Study Group, have offered a series of dramatic innovations to the way we bargain for peace and security with Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Palestinians; most, if not all, have yet to be tried. Just ask former CIA analyst and National Security Council Senior Director Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, whose New York Times op-ed recounting public information on post-9/11 US-Iranian cooperation against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was heavily censored last week by the Bush White House. Said Leverett: “They don’t want us to say how many opportunities this administration has missed to put relations with Iran on a better track.” (see http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/22/opinion/22precede.html )

Peace talks are a grand idea, Israeli author Amos Oz once quipped, if only we’d really try them. But with Olmert’s unpopular government facing mounting regional security threats from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Hamas, with few answers, and a chastened Bush Administration seeking in its final act a way out of the Mideast morass, the realists may finally get another chance. But only after the idealists make a “grave and deteriorating” situation worse. And by then it may well be too late.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/ He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ha'aretz: Wanted: A Moderate Pro-Israel Lobby

Wanted: A Moderate Pro-Israel Lobby


Gidon D. Remba

As published in Ha’aretz, November 17, 2006

I am a member of AIPAC, the premier American pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC plays a vital role in bolstering America’s alliance with the Jewish state, from galvanizing Congressional backing for US military and economic aid to marshaling moral and political support for its right to self-defense. But AIPAC has not always defined “support for Israel” the way many American Jews and Israelis do.

AIPAC claims that it champions the policies of the elected Israeli government, whatever they may be. But it does not faithfully live up to this promise: over the past twenty years, it has supported right-wing governments in Israel whole-heartedly, while being half-hearted, or worse, about the policies of left-wing administrations. And when Israel is ruled from the right, AIPAC’s credo makes supporting Israel synonymous with lining up behind policies which many American Jews—and often the other half or more of the Israeli public—think baneful for Israel’s quest for peace and security.

Indeed, AIPAC sometimes tries to be more Israeli than the Israeli government, urging American Jews and their elected representatives in Washington to oppose moderate, responsible positions on Israel, while hewing to the hardest line on the Israeli and American Jewish political spectrum. Earlier this year, following the Hamas electoral earthquake in the Palestinian Authority, AIPAC wrote and championed a bill called the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which fortunately failed to become the law of the land.

This bill called not only for sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but for a sweeping and unprecedented boycott of Fatah and PLO officials like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his allies in the Palestinian Legislative Council. In contrast to Hamas, Abbas advocates peace and negotiations with Israel and opposes terrorism and violence. He merits support, not sanctions.

Furthermore, the bill incorporated a laundry list of pie-in-the-sky conditions for removing the new sanctions that were unrelated to Hamas or to stopping terror. It would have blocked the US from aiding or dealing with any part of the Palestinian leadership even were Hamas sent packing. It deprived the President of a national security waiver (common to other sanctions legislation) for special circumstances when such flexibility is deemed essential for safeguarding American security interests. And after US intelligence agencies failed to predict Hamas’ electoral victory, the bill virtually barred the CIA from operating covertly in the Palestinian arena to gather intelligence on Islamic extremists, another blow to US and Israeli national security.

The bill was so blunt an instrument it might well have strengthened Hamas, spawning greater anarchy and chaos in the West Bank and Gaza, escalating the security threats facing both Israel and the U.S. in the region. Indeed, the Bush Administration itself strenuously opposed the AIPAC-backed House bill. It would have hamstrung U.S. efforts to ensure that Abbas “can fulfill his duties as president, prevent Hamas from taking over the rest of the P.A. and the PLO, and prevail in any confrontation with Hamas,” according to a memo sent by the Administration to Congress. Nor did the bill’s follies end there.

The saga of the bill’s demise has become the butt of a new controversy sparked by the initiative of three of America’s leading center-left Zionist groups—Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom—and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to explore with philanthropist George Soros and others the possibility of forming a moderate, pro-Israel American Jewish lobby in Washington. These groups have worked to change the terms of AIPAC’s House bill, for which they now stand accused, by AIPAC partisans, of irresponsibly opposing “legislation penalizing the Palestinians for putting their government in the hands of terrorists.” They came together, charge the critics, “in an ad hoc coalition to shield the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority from Congressional sanctions.” In fact, all the groups supported sanctions against Hamas, but not the AIPAC bill’s more sweeping bid to ostracize all Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act was not scuttled by a cabal of left-wing American Jewish Benedict Arnolds, but by AIPAC’s own overreaching ultra-hawkish House bill which was not amended along the lines requested by the Bush Administration. To no one’s surprise, it proved difficult to reconcile with the Senate legislation favored by the administration. Nor is the battle over; AIPAC is mobilizing still to pass the “anti-terrorism” act. Will it now encourage the US and Israel to seize the opening of a new Palestinian technocrat government to help Israel achieve a truce and progress towards a two-state solution? Or will it continue to throw unreasonable obstacles in the way? Few expect AIPAC to fight for a US-Israeli peace initiative with Syria or the Palestinians when it is needed most, creating incentives for curbing Hezbollah and Hamas militants and isolating Iran. We must, to prevent a new and more ruinous war.

A new pro-Israel umbrella group or resource center would likely work in tandem with AIPAC for the same robust American backing for Israel’s military, economic and diplomatic needs, as its constituent groups have long done. But when AIPAC sabotages the mission of dovish Israeli governments, or of a US president collaborating with them; when it flexes its political muscles to push Congress to adopt reckless legislation which jeopardizes the chance for a future Arab-Israeli peace; when it marches in lock step off the cliff with a pro-settlement Israeli coalition opposed even to the most cautious peace probes with Israel’s Arab neighbors, a new Israel lobby could actively work to give voice to the many American Jews who see eye-to-eye with the sensible and the sane.

I’m going to continue contributing to AIPAC, an indispensable bulwark for Israel. But that won’t stop me from helping other Jewish organizations and a pro-Israel American Jewish citizens’ lobby that is in better synch with my pragmatic Zionist outlook, my centrist American politics, my commitment to the progressive values of the Jewish tradition, and to the policies I am convinced Israel’s welfare and America’s own national security demand.

Gidon D. Remba, a veteran Chicago-based Israel activist, is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Chronicle, where he writes a column on Israel.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Response to Abunimah's "One State Solution"

A Response to Abunimah's "One State Solution"
November 13, 2006

Voice of the People
Chicago Tribune

To the Editor:

Ali Abunimah’s “South Africa seen as model for Palestine” rests on faulty assumptions. Abunimah claims that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the territories where Palestinians “wanted” to create a state “has rendered separation impossible” and that “neither Palestinians nor Israelis are willing to give up enough of the country that they love.” In fact, polls have consistently shown that most Israelis and Palestinians are willing to divide the land equitably based on proposals like the Geneva Initiative which would create a Palestinian state in the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank.

The problem is not an unwillingness to divide the land, but how to build mutual trust, end the violence and create a bridge to peace. That requires US leadership, a willingness by President Bush to invest significant political capital into a sustained diplomatic initiative to negotiate a truce and oversee steps towards fashioning two secure and viable states. That kind of leadership—displayed successfully before in the Arab-Israeli arena by numerous Republican and Democratic presidents from Ford, Carter, and Clinton to Bush’s own father—has been sorely lacking in the Bush Administration. For the last six years, President Bush has adopted an irresponsible hands-off approach towards Arab-Israeli diplomacy and a misguided faith in Mideast regime change wars.

Abunimah maintains that Israel’s chosen solution is “unilateral separation” which he insists will “wall Palestinians into impoverished ghettos” liked the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. In fact, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the support of most of Hamas, are seeking to negotiate an agreement which will lead to an armistice, the agreed removal of dozens of West Bank settlements, and the creation of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state in most of the West Bank. This would serve as a first step on the way to a permanent peace treaty and an international economic development campaign for Palestine.

Finally, Abunimah imagines that the persistent wishes of the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians to live in their own nation-states can be satisfied in a single multiethnic country which would replace Israel and Palestine. But when they have not disintegrated through ethnic and religious power struggles, such Middle Eastern polities have often collapsed into sectarian strife and bloody civil wars: see Iraq.


Gidon D. Remba

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Remba Responds to Tilly's Criticisms in "The One State Solution"

Gidon D. Remba Responds to Jennifer Tilly’s The One-State Solution Criticisms of His Essay in the Nation on Israel and the New Anti-Semitism

In "Anti-Semitism—New or Old? An Exchange," (The Nation, April 12, 2004), I responded to Oxford scholar Brian Klug’s “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism.” While I agreed that advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism is not inherently anti-Semitic, and describe conditions under which binationalism is consistent with the basic 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 maintained that much binational advocacy among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left represents a species of political rhetoric which would, if 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 (and now Iraq). 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 unpracticable, at worst apt to sweep Palestinians and Israelis down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno.

Klug’s rejoinder, while acknowledging some of my points, side-stepped the central questions: What are the criteria for appropriate use of the term “anti-Semitism”? And does contemporary Muslim and Arab violence against European Jews, and leftist and Arab rhetoric advocating the elimination of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Arab-majority state, share enough features with classical anti-Semitism to be reasonably considered a form of racism against Jews—even if it lacks some features of the classical phenomenon? Klug also mistakenly attributed to me a willingness to define anti-Semitism solely through reliance on dictionaries, a charge belied by my text. Finally, while he questioned whether I had fairly described the binational Palestinian-Israeli state likely to arise if the wishes of many anti-Zionist critics were realized, he offered no real counter-arguments to show that Israeli Jews’ human, political and civil rights would be fully respected in an Arab-majority binational state (particularly one created against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews).

My essay 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, charging me with the view that “‘binational advocacy’ is indeed ‘inherently anti-Jewish racism.’” When I reject the overweening optimism of the European left that a binational “secular democratic” state—particularly one coercively imposed on Israeli Jews by means of economic sanctions and boycotts against Israel—will vouchsafe their basic human and political rights, and am skeptical that Arab majority oppression and domination of an Israeli Jewish minority is avoidable under such circumstances, she charges me with “transparent racial stereotyping” and “demonizing” of the Arabs. Instead, my skepticism is born of the inescapable fact that nowhere in the Arab world does a state yet exist in which the human and civil rights of minorities are respected, or in which citizens are truly equal or free, not even remotely to the degree that they are in Western societies. Realism about the prospects for liberal democracy and human rights in Arab society hardly amounts to demonization or racial stereotyping of Arabs. Moreover, Tilly completely ignores the crucial distinction I introduced between coercive and consensual binationalism.

Finally, Tilly (who studiously ignores my position in Peace Now and my public criticism of many Israeli policies) trots out the ritual claim that the rejection of one-state arguments as anti-Semitic “equates the Jewish state with Jewish people and regards any criticism of the state (or its Jewishness) as anti-Semitic per se.” Setting aside the absurdity of Tilly’s contention that I or others who reject certain species of one-state proposals as leading to anti-Jewish discrimination equate all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the issue at stake is not “mere criticism” of the Jewishness of the state. The issue is rather wholesale proposals to coercively deprive Israeli Jews of national sovereignty and the likely fate of the Israeli Jewish community were such proposals realized (and the fact that such proposals effectively empower Palestinian nationalism without acknowledging this fact). This is a far cry from “criticism of the Jewishness of the state,” which I myself share in some respects, as evidenced in my essay "What is Zionism? A Peace Now Vision: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.” (Read the essay at www.chicagopeacenow.org/frame_wiz-complete.html )

In “What is Zionism?,” I explore the meaning of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, articulating principles for a progressive Zionism. The essay defends the view that it is both possible, morally and practically, for Israel to be a Jewish state and a state of equal citizens where the civil, political and economic rights of the non-Jewish Arab minority are accorded fully equal respect. It articulates this position through an examination of the Zionism of Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, and Israel’s (former) Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, among others. In defending a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I suggest that it is incumbent on progressive Zionists and Palestinian nationalists alike to work towards the creation of two states which should seek to evolve a common civic egalitarian public culture to complement the particularistic aspects of their national cultures. Both should draw from their own cultures in the articulation of the common public culture to be shared by Jews and Arabs in Palestine-Israel.

For a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to succeed, I hold that both Israelis and Palestinians must begin to overcome the zero-sum game thinking inherent in nineteenth-century mythologies of nationalism and the absolutely sovereign nation-state. The kind of future Palestinians and Israelis should begin to construct is neither a single "bi-national" state, nor a conventional two-state arrangement, but an alternative in between, a third way, evolving over time, and by mutual consent. It must begin as two nation-states, which is the unmistakable will of both peoples, and evolve towards nation-states in a regional confederation. Both peoples would maintain continued allegiance to their own nation-states, largely self-governing, but start to move toward devolving some elements of national sovereignty into a cooperative supra-national regional political structure, with some similarities to the European Union.