Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Star Wars Summit IV: A New Hope?

"A New Hope", announce the Israeli headlines, in an unwitting echo of George Lucas. Will we open this most recent "window of opportunity"? Will we fall through and splat on the pavement? Reflections on this questionable occasion:

  • Sharon is to meet Abu Mazen and other leaders to declare an end to years of vicious Israeli-Palestinian violence and a renunciation of terror, and to inaugurate a new era of peace and reconciliation. This is the first such momentous event since... a year and a half ago.

    Remember this?

  • Condi Rice has hit on the formula for a successful secretary of state visit: Come only after the parties have already worked everything out by themselves.

  • Reaching a ceasefire before starting diplomatic negotiations is exactly in accordance with the position Sharon has taken since he was first elected almost exactly four years ago. (See what the Guardian's cartoonist thought then!) The critics said it couldn't be done - a ceasefire was impossible without first negotiating a political settlement. There is no such thing as a military victory over terrorism, they insisted. Will they admit their error?

  • In fact, Israel defeated the intifada through a combination of intensive military operations, cautious diplomacy, and persistent fence-building. The Israeli public showed unexpected stamina in the face of unrelenting assaults, and ultimately the Palestinians tired first. The situation would be nearly ideal - if Israel hadn't also unilaterally decided to concede significant territorial and strategic assets, setting dangerous precedents and undermining its negotiating position. We have a talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. (See my analysis of the disengagement plan.)

  • Israelis - and foreign observers - constantly agonized over whether Arafat was part of the problem, or the only Palestinian leader who could possibly be part of a solution. I hope this question has finally been definitively settled. Whether Abu Mazen can move towards a solution remains to be seen, though.

  • A ceasefire is welcome - or is it? If the "ceasefire" means that Hamas and its fellow terrorhoids will retain their weapons, ready at any moment to return them to duty; that hundreds of imprisoned terrorists will be released from years of incarceration, freshly trained and motivated to return to action; that our enemies will be freed from the pressure of constant Israeli assault to concentrate on rebuilding their capabilities - then in the long run we will be no better off than we were, and this is nothing more than a temporary respite until the next round of warfare. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back?

  • Looking back, the collapse of the intifada resulted most directly from the deaths of our enemy's leaders: Israel's killing of Hamas leaders Yassin and Rantisi, and the recent demise of Arafat. Remember the scaremongering after Yassin was killed? "He'll kill more in death than he did alive!" cried our enemies. "It may have been right, but it was also stupid," warned our friends. In fact, it severely crippled Hamas. If we had only done it sooner?

  • It is human nature to assume that things will continue as they are. During the height of the terror assault, we could hardly imagine that it could end, and had no consensus as to how. Now that it's (essentially) over, we easily pontificate about new eras and peaceful solutions, as if it couldn't just as easily be reignited. Let's stay cautious, shall we? If we've learned no other lessons from the failed Oslo process, at least that one? Please?

  • Nothing that is said today will change one essential fact: There is no basis today for agreement on final-status arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians. The divisions remain in place on all the fundamentals. No Palestinian leader can compromise on the return of refugees, the holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere, territorial contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank, the removal of all Jewish settlements, even (apparently) recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. And no Israeli leader can concede those points, at least not sufficiently. At best, we can look forward to the quasi-stability of a medium-term stalemate, while diplomatic pressure and sporadic violence continue in some form or other. Whatever happens in Sharm, it won't bring peace.

  • I predicted in November that "There will be no Palestinian state". Looking back, do I stand by that prediction? True, Abu Mazen has regularly spoken of aspirations for statehood, but under what conditions? I can't envision the Palestinians declaring statehood with only Gaza and a few Samaritan hilltops in their hands. That would be tantamount to admitting defeat on their larger goals. All in all, I think my analysis stands.

  • Sharon is the first Israeli leader in memory not to kowtow to the Egyptians, seeking them out and groveling for their approval. Mubarak has eventually come around himself. Israel should not have to forefeit its self-respect to stroke Egypt's, and Sharon deserves credit for this change.

  • Egypt and Jordan apparently plan to return their ambassadors after withdrawing them after October 2001. They should not be allowed to reap benefits for simply doing what their peace treaties with Israel commit them to doing anyway.

  • Anyone else notice how Miss Rice referred to "President Abbas"? The Oslo Accords stipulated that the head of the Palestinian Authority would be referred to in English as Chairman (finessing the fact that the Arabic title, ra'is, usually means president), and the U.S. was always careful to refer to Chairman Arafat. What's changed with Abbas? Is this a deliberate change in policy?

  • Summits sure ain't what they used to be! Remember when a summit meant Kennedy-Khrushchev, Nixon-Brezhnev, Reagan-Gorbachev? Sharon-Abbas-Abdullah-Mubarak is an important regional powwow, but a summit? I think not.


Jack said...

It is far too early to make any real predictions. The situation is far too fluid, I am very curious to see what happens.

Zman Biur said...


It's never to early to make predictions. It's just too early to know if they'll pan out. But that's always the case, if you ask me.

As always, let's hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.