Sunday, September 03, 2023

Diplomacy and peacemaking is not a smooth process. It requires a huge amount of preparation, planning and flexibility. 

It is always illuminating to look behind the scenes of the Oslo process. Gidi Grinstein, the youngest person at Camp David in 2000, is releasing his account of the events that he witnessed as well as his opinions of what to do moving forward to mark the 30th anniversary of Oslo.

His book, "(In)sights: Thirty Years of Peacemaking in the Oslo Process"  is his attempt to set the record straight after so many others gave their own versions of what happened at Camp David. 

Grinstein writes from the perspective of someone who truly wants to see peace. No one can doubt his love of Israel and Zionism - he was part of the team that founded Birthright Israel - but his perspective is decidedly on the Israeli Left.

I found his account fascinating, but perhaps not for the reasons he intended.

Obviously Grinstein tries to spin the events towards his own politics. Instead of giving a straight chronological account of what happened, he spends a great deal of time on the "sausage" behind each negotiating point and then an overview of what has happened since then, along with his own opinions as to where things failed and what Israel should have done instead, in retrospect.

While Grinstein was the junior member at Camp David, he is perhaps the one person with the most knowledge of the big picture. He served as the Secretary and Coordinator of the Israeli Delegation for the Negotiations with the PLO from 1999-2001 under Ehud Barak.

Grinstein admires Barak a great deal, but his description of Barak is of someone who is cold and calculating, who is more than willing to throw his own people under the bus for his own ends. He keeps his own cards close to his vest, so no one working for him has a clear idea of what their goals are. Grinstein extols Barak as "the smartest man in the room" who keeps his people working in a "matrix" of smaller tasks, while only Barak knows his real plan. This means that Barak creates his own backchannels to undermine the people officially working for him when he deems it necessary, he bypasses the chain of command, and he ensures plausible deniability.

Which, when you think about it, is a lot like Yasir Arafat. 

Before he worked for the Prime Minister's office, Grinstein worked for the Economic Cooperation Foundation. The ECF, founded in 1990, was itself one of those backchannels for creating relationships with, and building a peace plan with, the PLO. It was a power that helped bring about the Oslo Accords. 

To me, one of the most jarring parts of the book was where Grinstein describes how the ECF helped end Bibi Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. The ECF, which worked hand in glove with Yitzchak Rabin, opposed Netanyahu - and this Israeli think-tank colluded with the PLO to bring him down. Netanyahu demanded more concessions from the PLO in order to keep the Oslo process going, and the ECF convinced their friends in the PLO to pretend to agree to Netanyahu's demands, prompting him to sign the Hebron Agreement and the Wye River Memorandum based on lies. This caused the right wing of his coalition to revolt and new elections were called that brought Barak into office, just as the ECF intended.

Grinstein seemingly has no compunction about Israelis collaborating with the US and PLO to bring down an Israeli prime minister. The cause of peace justifies all.

Even Grinstein admits that the peace negotiators never really seriously thought about the possibility that Arafat had no intention to really sign a permanent agreement that would end the conflict and what would follow. They became friends with the PLO negotiators, and he lovingly describes how well his team would be treated when they visited Bethlehem or Ramallah and the personal friendships they struck up with the Palestinian team. He mentions and is fully aware of the wave of terror attacks during the 1990s, Arafat's incendiary speeches in Arabic, his actions being fully consistent with his "phased plan" to destroy Israel, but all of that is brushed aside in the pursuit of peace, just as using underhanded methods to bring down an Israeli prime minister is framed as a positive thing.

The only person who predicted the failure of the Oslo process, and that it would lead into war, was US Ambassador to Egypt Daniel Kurtzer, who hosted the negotiators for a Shabbat dinner. He had better insight than the entire Israeli peace delegation, who didn't even consider this.

Barak bet everything on the idea that Arafat could be pressured into signing an agreement. He was wrong. But there is very little hand-wringing on that mistake that brought about the second intifada. In fact, Grinstein emphasizes that Arafat was not the direct instigator of the intifada - even as he admits that Arafat had planned for such an event months ahead of time, and that his own security forces, trained and armed by the US, turned their weapons against Israeli forces in the first days of the fighting. He emphasizes that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount that supposedly triggered the war was fully coordinated with the PA but still doesn't blame the PA for its role - instead noting that the Jerusalem police response to the violence helped escalate it. 

Again, Grinstein isn't blind. But he seems to purposely keep one eye closed. 

Similarly, he emphasizes that, in retrospect, Barak should not have pushed for an all or nothing deal, and worked towards a provisional Palestinian state that could be further refined with later negotiations. This, of course, would have been a huge concession by Israel to recognize a Palestinian state up front. But while he praises the Quartet for employing that idea in their Road Map for Peace, he glosses over that the Palestinian leaders rejected the Road Map out of hand, and have consistently said that they do not want a provisional state. 

Also jarring is that, as far as I can tell, the Israeli peace negotiating teams -- both Track I and Track II - apparently were exclusively made up of non-religious males, overwhelmingly if not exclusively Ashkenazic. He notes that the only Israeli woman at Camp David was a secretary. He never mentions that any of the participants in the many meals hosted in the West Bank or Europe had to make accommodations for kosher food. Most of Israeli society is not represented by these peacemakers, who all seem to believe that they are smarter than anyone else in how to look at the big picture, and not really self-critical when it comes to their miscalculations and false assumptions that led to the failure of the peace process. Diversity was not a priority for these liberals. 

There is a lot of good information in this book, and it is illuminating - sometimes in ways that it is not meant to be. It is not edited well, unfortunately - for example,  it talks extensively about the ECF without explaining what it is, and there are still numerous typos and misspellings (French Premier "Shirak"), it repeats the same anecdotes a couple of times. Hopefully these will be fixed by the time it goes to press. 

The book is planned to be released in Israel in two weeks and in the US in December.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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