January 15, 2005

Peace Process Watch

I'm not terribly concerned about Arik Sharon's decision to cut off contact with the P.A. just as Abbas assumes its Presidency. This plays well to the broad center-right swaths of post-al Aqsa intifada Israeli politics--signaling that Abbas won't benefit from some artificial honeymoon short of real moves to assert control over the PA's security apparatus. Meantime, truth be told, Abbas could benefit from some time spent consolidating his position post-election (more tenuous than the results show) and ensuring he's got his own backyard in better order. In fact, a Sharon-Abbas summit, right out of the gates, would have accomplished little and proven, mostly, political theater. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if Sharon's move to suspend contacts was communicated to Abbas through back-channels well before the public announcement. Let's see how things stand two to three months out into Abbas' Presidency.

Posted by Gregory at January 15, 2005 04:45 PM

Back on topic, why would anybody think that Sharon would allow peace for israel? He never has before.

Peace would involve lots of hard issues to negotiate. And it would result in much less in international donations. Israel gets far more money when people can believe that israel's existence is threatened. Get a peace and they're more like just another nation. The economy would collapse just when they had a lot of new stresses.

Sharon is Arafat's syzygy. Unlikely to get anything close to peace while he's alive. But then, what if he makes peaceful noises and symbolic actions, and dies the way Rabin did? Maybe there could be peace after all. Sharon a martyr to the peace process? Stranger things have happened.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 03:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agree completely with Greg's remarks. Neither Sharon nor Abbas benefits from too close an embrace right now. They've each gotten about as much mileage out of their initial gestures as they're going to get right now. Time to call it off.

If Abbas is to be anything other than a rather ineffectual transition figure, some of the guys close to him have got to establish some street cred while also asserting some effective authority. Sharon's move gives them some breathing space to do that.

In simplistic terms, putting public engagement to one side reduces the power of the extremists. Abbas can't make progress if his public engagement with Sharon is at the mercy of single outrages by either Israeli settlers or the IDF. Sharon can't make progress on his side if a single suicide bomber or Gaza rocket can derail public engagement with Abbas. So they both need some separation if the entire process isn't going to be subject to hijacking by extremists on both sides.

With the "unity" government in Israel, Sharon now has more lattitude from within the group of government ministers to play good cop (e.g. Peres or another of the "peace" types), bad cop (e.g. Sharon or another of the "hardliner" types) to multiple audiences: Palestinians, Israelis and the international community. That also allows Sharon to be good cop some of the time.

Abbas needs a similar structure, where he can be bad cop some of the time. It's already clear that if he has to play good cop all the time he's not going to build the necessary credibility as a leader with the Palestinians. BTW, this is just a truism for all political leaders in terms of playing different domestic and international audiences. We could make similar observations about George Bush and the leading members of his administration.

Problem for the Palestinians when Arafat was a one man show -- he was good cop and bad cop all rolled into one depending on the issue, timing and audience. Setting to one side the not inconsiderable issue of whether Arafat ever wanted to achieve a peace with Israel, he wasn't likely to make much progress when the structure identified the whole range of political positions and responses in a single personality.

As Greg says, the important thing is what's playing at the kibuiki theater in a few months. I'm watching most closely the two agendas on which the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to be able to cooperate (whether or not that cooperation is visible): the withdrawal from Gaza and the refugee diaspora.

We don't hear much from the Quartet and the Western media about the latter. They were the ones who were most shattered by Arafat's death. And they're understandably terrified they're going to be sacrificed to the expediency of a deal with Israel.

If Abbas makes some progress stabilizing some of the native West Bank and Gaza types, his more radical opponents will start looking for where they can change the political balance. Jordan and the camps in Lebanon would be places I'd at least try to start stirring up trouble if I were in their shoes.

Posted by: nadezhda at January 16, 2005 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think y'all are trying too hard.

It'd be a whole lot easier (and shorter, not to mention clearer and one heckuva lot more honest) if you don't insist on ignoring the consistently stated goals---not to mention the actions---of the Palestinian leadership.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at January 16, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sharon's move can also be seen as simpatico to what Abbas claims to have as the better angels of his nature. Consider if there'd been no adverse response from Sharon to these latest (post-election) murders?

Posted by: Neon Tom at January 17, 2005 12:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Barry.

There is no point in talking to Abu Mazen since he and the Palestinians themselves are not genuinely interested in peace. Their stated goal is to replace Israel completely with a Palestinian state, the only disagreement is how to accomplish that best.

The Palestinians need to feel a real downside for not negotiating in good faith (a two state solution). This means they have to lose territory or have the genuine threat of it. Michael Collins and the Nationalists made a bargain with the Brits precisely because they saw the downside, which was no Ireland at ALL.

The Palestinians frankly need to lose some substantial territory, permanently, for there to be any willingness to have much beyond a cold truce. I just don't see that happening now.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 17, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is a statist issue.

Substantial territory? Hell Jim, The PM ought to wake up tomorrow, call Kofi and say: " You know what? They're a country. Whaddaya need me to do?"

Wait about six weeks, then, after the (inevitable) next (innocent civilian) bombing in Tel Aviv, declare war (statist action). Once the war is over, you can seperate out the legal issues to your advantage. Problem solved. AND we can finally move off of this nonsense non-problem.

But.... the Israelis never seem to want to take this step. Which, unfortunately, leads me to think that J Thomas might have an excellent point...

Posted by: Art Wellesley at January 17, 2005 02:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem, Art, with military conquest and annexation, besides prevailing views of international law, is that it increases the number of non-Jews under Israeli dominion. Leading, ultimately, to the inevitable demographic time bomb.

I suppose they could go the full ethnic cleansing route -- maybe round people up, based on ethnicity, and put them in camps. That'd solve the problem. Well, maybe not, because you'd have to guard and feed them. Any ideas for a 'final solution' to that problem?

The Gordian knot can't be untied. The logical solution -- a big wall on the 1967 boundary -- is not remotely feasible in Israel. The alternative: annexation, and the creation of a unified secular state, is also impossible in Israel. So what's left? Hoping they'll go away, or stop being mad about encroachments on their lands hasn't worked over the last 50+ years, and shows no sign of working in the future.

Israel has already learned that being the victor isn't enough. It has to find a just way to deal with those it defeated. And no, they're not going to make it easy . . .

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 17, 2005 05:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think J Thomas knows what he is talking about.

"Peace would involve lots of hard issues to negotiate. And it would result in much less in international donations. Israel gets far more money when people can believe that israel's existence is threatened. Get a peace and they're more like just another nation. The economy would collapse just when they had a lot of new stresses."

This describes the Palestinians to a 'T'. Israel doesn't get "international donations". It gets US aid. Period. It doesn't get Canadian, French, Swedish, Belgian, EU, Japanese, etc., aid. And that aid won't be stopped if they make peace with the Palestinians. On the contrary, the US will probably sweeten the deal for peace.

The Palestinians, OTOH, get huges amounts of aid from numerous sources, with the EU being the largest donor by far. They get the largest amount of aid per capita in the world. And when peace does come, they will truly 'be like any other nation'. They will be expected to actually govern responsibly, live up to international agreements, and yes, create a stable economy. And when they become a country like all the rest, and are compared to all the rest, it will become apparent that they really aren't the worst off at all. Not even close. And when they are no longer the poster child of the UN, that will mean that maybe some of their aid will go elsewhere.

They will get massive amounts of money when they negotiate a peace. Thirty billion dollars was the figure for compensation for the refugees in Barak's offer. They'll probably get similar in any future deal. Let's hope it actually gets to the people it is supposed to benefit, unlike so much of the money that found its way into the accounts of Arafat and his cronies.

Regarding Israel and "being like any other nation", I think it is something they have been yearning for since they became a nation in 1948. But they have never been allowed to be.

Posted by: David at January 17, 2005 08:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In response to those who reject the possibility of anything positive coming fom the Palestinians, I certainly recognize that the odds of getting anything resembling peace are pretty slim, but they're better than they were. Both Sharon and Abbas have some strong short-term and long-term incentives to at least explore ways of moving the relationship onto a different footing.

The "Palestinians" -- both leaders and the general population -- are no more monolithic than the "Israelis" on either objectives or process. Arafat's departure from the scene opens up scenarios for different dynamics to take effect. One possible scenario -- not probable but at least possible -- is that some of those different Palestinian forces will have an opportunity to emerge in a way that was simply not possible with Arafat still around.

David is spot on regarding the incentives for the Palestinians presented by their problems with external donor financing. To say that "donor fatigue" has set in is an understatement. The Palestinians are totally dependent on around $2 billion a year from outside sources for about half their GDP. That level of funding has dried up.

The PA's increased difficulties raising funds is one of the pressures for coming to some accommodations with the Israelis. Arafat's departure from the scene makes more donors willing to consider extending their generosity for another (brief) period until implementable deals with Israel are forthcoming. But the Palestinians are on a very short leash. It gets harder and harder to organize donor conferences for the Palestinians.

The Gaza withdrawal is the first major test. The Palestinians have to get foreign assistance for Gaza to pay for their side of the withdrawal process and to set up whatever in the way of running day-to-day operations will be put in place once the Israelis aren't doing things. That funding isn't going to happen unless the Palestinians get their act together (and BTW unless the Egyptians are willing to act as a sort of guarantor for the donor community that the Palestinians will live up to their side of the bargain).

With Arafat no longer personal "treasurer" of the Palestinian cause, there are also fewer opportunities for the current leadership to play the backdoor games that kept a lot of them afloat personally. The amount of pressure from donors for transparency and accounting for their funds has become enormous. The scandal over the location and size of Arafat's pots of hidden treasure, and who can get their hands on them, has made the donors all that much more leery of giving the Palestinians a penny.

Ironically, the PA itself has actually made quite a lot of progress in recent years when it comes to accounting for official funding to official PA operations. For funding official operations, the PA probably now has the best accounting and transparency mechanisms in the Arab world -- albeit an indictment of the wider governance problem of the Arab regimes, but nonetheless the PA has been working on the problem. The only reason why -- the donors' funding is increasingly conditioned on transparency and accountability.

As for money for refugees, the $30 billion mentioned by David from Israel would be topped up by a lot of international funding. Donors would be more than delighted to help the refugees if that meant they weren't going to have to face pressures to pay for the PA and the camps, year after year, at previous levels. Given the track record under Arafat, I don't think we're likely to see the Palestinians being given charge of managing funds that are supposed to provide benefits to individual refugees.

Posted by: nadezhda at January 17, 2005 03:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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