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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clinton blames Netanyahu for lack of peace (updated)

From Foreign Policy:
Who's to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers today on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, gave an extensive recounting of the deterioration in the Middle East peace process since he pressed both parties to agree to a final settlement at Camp David in 2000. He said there are two main reasons for the lack of a comprehensive peace today: the reluctance of the Netanyahu administration to accept the terms of the Camp David deal and a demographic shift in Israel that is making the Israeli public less amenable to peace.
"The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination and [Ariel] Sharon's stroke," Clinton said.
Sharon had decided he needed to build a new centrist coalition, so he created the Kadima party and gained the support of leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert. He was working toward a consensus for a peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. But that effort was scuttled when the Likud party returned to power.
This is a bit of wishful thinking on Clinton's part. Sharon's goal in giving up Gaza was to help strengthen Israel's hold on the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,and this is why he was so keen on the letter from Bush that said that  the 1967 borders are a non-starter. I do not believe that Sharon would have been nearly as generous as Barak was before him and as Olmert was afterwards.
"[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it," Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.
 From all publicly available information, the Olmert offer in 2008 went even beyond the Clinton parameters, and the Palestinian Arabs kept on asking for more. So on this point I am calling BS - the PalArabs might have told Clinton this but it is not true.
But the Israeli government has drifted a long way from the Ehud Barak-led government that came so close to peace in 2000, Clinton said, and any new negotiations with the Netanyahu government are now on starkly different terms -- terms that the Palestinians are unlikely to accept.
"For reasons that even after all these years I still don't know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted," he said. "But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine."
The reason is simple, and it is the same reason that Abbas didn't accept any peace offers as well - because in the end, they want to ensure that they can continue to make more claims against Israel even after "peace." Whether it is the "right to return" or a demand for 1947 borders or whatever, there has been no desire on the Palestinian Arab side to truly end the conflict.
The Netanyahu government has received all of the assurances previous Israeli governments said they wanted but now won't accept those terms to make peace, Clinton said.
"Now that they have those things, they don't seem so important to this current Israeli government, partly because it's a different country," said Clinton. "In the interim, you've had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them."
The Russian aliyah took place before Camp David. However, one thing is true - the Russian Jews know a thing or two about dealing with totalitarianism, and they recognize it in the Palestinian Arab leadership and their partners in Hamas. They know the tricks and the subterfuge that they experienced firsthand.
Clinton then repeated his assertions made at last year's conference that Israeli society can be divided into demographic groups that have various levels of enthusiasm for making peace.
"The most pro-peace Israelis are the Arabs; second the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis that were born there; third, the Ashkenazi of long-standing, the European Jews who came there around the time of Israel's founding," Clinton said. "The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they're supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they're not encumbered by the historical record."
Clinton has fallen into the lazy trap of regarding all Jewish residents of the territories as being religious Jews from Brooklyn!
Clinton affirmed that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the U.N. Security Council for member-state status, because the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace, making a final status agreement more difficult, Clinton said.
"That's what happened. Every American needs to know this. That's how we got to where we are," Clinton said. "The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu's government's continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he's just not going to give up the West Bank."
Why is Israel the only state in the world who is not allowed to change its politics to the right? After all, Netanyahu and his coalition did get more votes than their opponents. That is what would be considered  a mandate in any other democratic context.

Turkey can decide on a whim to shut down diplomatic relations with other countries and to start threatening them. People aren't thrilled but no one says that Turkey must always adhere to the most dovish of its previous behaviors. Nations change, populations change, opinions change. And between Camp David and today there was a little matter called an intifada, that was enthusiastically embraced by the majority of Palestinian Arab society until they started losing. That is what made Israeli society move to the right, far more than anything else. To blame Netanyahu means to blame Israel for electing him. (And he has moved his positions leftward as well since he's been elected.)

This is why the goalposts were moved - the majority of Israelis were not comfortable with the direction that Kadima was going in giving up rights of Jewish self-determination.

Clinton is not stupid, and I respect him. But this analysis smacks more of egomania and nostalgia, a refusal to admit that it was Palestinian Arab terror that pushed Israel to the right - terror that was Arafat's strategic choice instead of accepting the Camp David offer. He doesn't even mention the slight problem of a split government between Gaza and Ramallah, and the terrorists that control 40% of the population.

Clinton wants to turn back the clock and pretend that nothing has changed in the past eleven years. It would be nice, but it is fantasy.

UPDATE: read the comments - there are some very good ones.

Also Elliot Abrams slams Clinton in The Weekly Standard.
The errors and misstatements in Clinton’s interview with bloggers are sufficient to change his reputation from that of a firm supporter of Israel into that of a firm supporter of Israelis who agree with his twisted version of the facts. Clinton simply blames the Israeli right for killing peace efforts. He appears entirely—in fact, embarrassingly— unaware of what has actually happened to the Israeli right over the last ten years, where the change has been extraordinary.
(h/t Noah)