October 31, 2003

Letters Department UPDATE: My responses

Letters Department

UPDATE: My responses in bold.

Reader BM from Tel Aviv writes in (his comments italicized, portions of my original post that he is reacting to in normal font):

I've been for the most part enjoying your blog since I "discovered" it several months back, mostly for its intelligence and discernment. For the most part.

And here's the complaint! As it seems that intelligence and discernment, in spite of one's best and most earnest efforts, seem to entirely disappear when discussion turns to the Israel- Palestinian issue. Alas, you are not alone.

Two points:

1. "Someone has to move the process ahead despite Arafat's presence. The only person who can do that is Bush. And it appears he simply won't."

This is quite a vague suggestion. What exactly do you propose? American deployment? Internationalization? How does one push a leader to the sidelines when that leader controls the apparatus of the regime? You are, it seems to me, demanding that Bush induce regime change (while leaving Arafat around, which means, practically, in power), and seem to feel that this is not only feasible but something that has not hiterto been attempted (or if attempted, not done in the right way). Had you discussed the pros and cons of getting rid of Arafat, you might have been at least offering a concrete proposal, but ignoring Arafat in Palestine is akin to ignoring Saddam in Iraq.

So how would the following have sounded in January 2003?:

"Someone has to move the Iraqi process ahead despite Saddam's presence. The only person who can do that is Bush. And it appears he simply won't."

What does removing (or sidestepping) Arafat mean for the Palestinians? And was Arafat "sidestepped" between Bush's June 2002 speech and today? Once again, you are not taking into account that Arafat controls the apparatus and sets and implements Palestinian "policy."

So while I would agree that the situation is very frustrating (and I could suggest to you why this is so), I would suggest that you be more specific and rely less on innuendo.

I've already admitted that Arafat presents a very tricky Catch-22 situation. On the one hand--he's epitomizes the quip that the "Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." He appears increasingly irrational and incapable of any intelligent decision-making--quite apart from his degree of involvement in any attacks on Israeli civilians (as opposed to IDF forces in the Occupied Territories).

Would we be better off if he were gone? Of course, particularly if a leader with credibility among the Palestinians was there to replace him. The problem is, we can't willy-nilly, pick and choose what leaders should be in power and which shouldn't. Which merit "regime change" and which don't. Thus America's attempts to marginalize Arafat--rather than egg on the Israelis to outright get rid of him.

And yes, Saddam was a different case. We had a legal right to act per Resolution 1441--unlike the situation with the Palestinian leader in Ramallah where such a legal justification to unseat him doesn't similarly exist.

Worth keeping in mind too, as even senior Israeli leaders like Moshe Yaalon have pointed out, Sharon didn't make life particularly easy for Abu Mazen. To help marginalize Arafat--we should have put more pressure on Sharon as well, particularly in the early stages Abu Mazen's PMship, to make some additional concessions so that the Palestinian street saw results that improved their daily lives.

That would have empowered Abu Mazen a bit and put him in a more viable posture vis-a-vis Arafat. And that's part of the reason I criticize Bush. There wasn't significant follow through post the Aqaba summit to bolster Abu Mazen's position.

2. "I say this is dumb policy. I'd take Yossi Beilin's fervent peace processing efforts over this paralysis any day of the week--especially as the Palis gave up right of return in the Geneva arrangements."

Yes, one becomes desperate and despondent; and fervently seeks whatever flicker of light there might potentially be at the end of a long dark tunel (or imagines one may see it). However:

a) What is the difference between Geneva in October 2003 and Taba in January-February 2001?

There are two main differences. First, and unlike at Taba, the so called "right of return" issue was settled. At Taba, both sides read into the old UNGAR 194 per their respective biases with the Israelis stressing the Palestinians "wishing" to return (per the actual text) to Israel proper (1948 borders) with the Palestinians speaking (per subsequent resolutions) of an inalienable right of return. That critical issue had been left unresolved at Taba.

Another critical difference? At Taba sensitive issues related to the status of the Temple Mount were handled more by stressing temporary arrangements rather than reaching final understandings as per Geneva. The Palestinians, per Geneva, actually have sovereignty over the Muslim Holy sites in Jerusalem--albeit with an international presence. Here's the key language that goes beyond Taba.

b) Are you absolutely certain that the Palestinian interlocuters really gave up the right of return (i.e., based on what?)? And if so, what power do they have to implement this politically in Palestine.

Here's the text of the Geneva Accord. The key section on right of return is Article 7. Within that section is an "End of Claims" subsection 7 that reads as follows: "End of Claims: This agreement provides for the permanent and complete resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. No claims may be raised except for those related to the implementation of this agreement." (See also subsection 2 in this section).

This is a highly controversial point. So let's take a slightly closer look.

From the Geneva Accord:

4. Choice of Permanent Place of Residence (PPR)
The solution to the PPR aspect of the refugee problem shall entail an act of informed choice on the part of the refugee to be exercised in accordance with the options and modalities set forth in this agreement. PPR options from which the refugees may choose shall be as follows;
(a) The state of Palestine, in accordance with clause a below.
(b) Areas in Israel being transferred to Palestine in the land swap, following assumption of Palestinian sovereignty, in accordance with clause a below.
(c) Third Countries, in accordance with clause b below.
(d) The state of Israel, in accordance with clause c below.
(e) Present Host countries, in accordance with clause d below.
i. PPR options i and ii shall be the right of all Palestinian refugees and shall be in accordance with the laws of the State of Palestine.
ii. Option iii shall be at the sovereign discretion of third countries and shall be in accordance with numbers that each third country will submit to the International Commission. These numbers shall represent the total number of Palestinian refugees that each third country shall accept.
iii. Option iv shall be at the sovereign discretion of Israel and will be in accordance with a number that Israel will submit to the International Commission. This number shall represent the total number of Palestinian refugees that Israel shall accept. As a basis, Israel will consider the average of the total numbers submitted by the different third countries to the International Commission.
iv. Option v shall be in accordance with the sovereign discretion of present host countries. Where exercised this shall be in the context of prompt and extensive development and rehabilitation programs for the refugee communities.

Note that the specific amount of Palestinian refugees that would theoretically be allowed into '48 Israel is at Israel's sovereign discretion. Yes, a "basis" to get to a number is the average of third country permanent resettlements. But a) that number will likely be pretty token and b) it's merely a "basis" and thus non-binding regardless.

What power do they have to implement this politically in Palestine?

None, of course, right now. But should such an agreement be consummated, the entire international community would have to act as guarantor of the arrangement. Palestinians pursuing irredentist claims re: '48 borders would be heavily marginalized and not gain much support except from radical Islamist circles.

c) But isn't the larger question, the crucial question, one of credibility? We all want to believe, to hope (let's assume). After all, we are all honorable men....But what basis is there to believe anything that emanates from the Palestinian leadership (even those elements of the leadership that are supposedly furthest away from leading)?

And if the response to that question (assuming that I'll not be labeled a racist) is that "in spite of justified doubts one must forge ahead (after all what alternative ist there? etc.)," then can't one rejoin that one is witnessing Oslo a second time, or for that matter acting out Munich redux?

To close, one's opinions reflect one's hopes and perceptions to be sure; but why in this case do normally intelligent people cast all caution to the tendentious winds in the name of hope?

I'm not casting all caution to the wind. I'm saying that Yossi Beilin and his Palestinian interlocuters came up with a quite ingenious potential settlement. Put simply, they pushed beyond Taba without moving purely into the realm of fantasy. I really believe that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians who took the time to read this agreement--should the current atmosphere not be as poisonous today--would likely be in a position to support the document.

It's not some absurd, fantastical document. It's grounded in an entire historical background of negotiations going from Madrid to Oslo to Camp David II to Taba. That's why Sharon was so pissed about it. If it was purely fantasy-land he could have more easily ignored it and it wouldn't have gotten under his skin so much.

Some pretty good points made here. So I'll be blogging a response today or tomorrow.

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