No Negotiations Under Fire
The State Department probably thinks it is helping Israel by moving heaven and earth to shore up the phony-cease-fire and kick-start frozen negotiations, even as the shooting continues. They probably think that anything that makes the two sides talk will keep them from shooting too much. They are wrong.
The State Department probably thinks it is helping Israel by moving heaven and earth to shore up the phony-cease-fire and kick-start frozen negotiations, even as the shooting continues. They probably think that anything that makes the two sides talk will keep them from shooting too much. They are wrong. By accepting the principle of “third party monitors” (read Americans, probably the CIA) and hinting strongly that negotiations should resume BEFORE the violence stops, the State Department is encouraging Palestinian violence and likely hastening the day that Israel has to make a serious move to destroy both Yasser Arafat and the PA.
As recently as last month, Secretary Powell said that stopping the violence didn’t require discussion; Arafat had only to stop it. Likely true, but why should he have stopped? Barak’s breathtaking offer from last summer is off the table. If Arafat came to talk now he could only find less than he had previously rejected. Since he couldn’t afford that, he had two choices – to use violence to wear Israel down and produce a new offer borne of weakness, not strength; or to use violence to induce the State Department to pressure Israel into a new and better offer.
The first didn’t work. The war Arafat started in October created an unusually broad and tenacious political consensus in Israel. If Israel’s strategic goal includes “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” the promise of UN Resolution 242, Israelis from left to center to right now agree that Arafat is not the right partner and negotiations with him, particularly under fire, are not the mechanism.
The second is percolating. The State Department, with far less patience than the Israeli public, can’t pressure Arafat to stop the violence and won’t let Israel make him pay. Even as the Secretary said publicly that Israel was right to insist that the violence stop before negotiations could resume, none of the pressures Israel tried to affect Palestinian behavior were deemed acceptable to the “striped pants crowd.” Withholding tax money, building houses on disputed territory, keeping Palestinians from working in Israel, demolishing buildings used to hide gunfighters, blowing up military headquarters and targeting terrorists Arafat refused to arrest were all publicly and nastily called “counterproductive.”
This leaves Israel in a tight spot. Israelis have spent the better part of ten months taking heavy civilian casualties: mortars, suicide bombers, snipers and the incitement spewing from Palestinian leaders that ensures that another generation of Palestinians will hate Jews and be ready to kill them at every opportunity. But Israel’s government nonetheless continues to walk a fine line between punishing terrorism and leaving the door open for the day the Palestinians realize that violence will not benefit their cause.
One important reason for Israeli restraint is that on the fundamental point no negotiations under fire the US has stood firmly with Israel, and it would be wrong for our government to abandon an ally and a principled position out of frustration. If we split on this, the Israeli government will soon have to choose between what the US says it wants and Israel’s sovereign obligation to protect its citizens and its homeland. Israel could find itself taking action against the Palestinian Authority over our objection. The choice for Israel would be ugly, and the State Department would do well for all of us not to force it.