THE ISRAEL REPORTJuly/August 2000
Black Box: Agreements Secretly Arrived at Camp David will Disserve Peace, Undermine Democratic Processes in U.S., Israel
The secrecy imposed on this week's summit meeting at Camp David will not only keep the press and the public in the dark about portentous deals being cooked up there by President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Palestinians' Yasser Arafat. It has as well the effect of denying an appropriate role to legislators in the U.S. Congress and Israel's Knesset who share with their respective executive branches a responsibility for the implementation of any accords that may emerge.
The transparent calculation on the part of both Messrs. Clinton and Barak is that, by so doing, they can present these legislators with a fait accompli -- a take-it-or-leave-it deal that cannot, in fact, be refused lest the alternative be war.
Abuse of PowerThis stratagem is ill-advised on two counts: First, it sows the seeds for future, possibly highly undesirable, difficulties by building a fragile peace accord on extremely dubious foundations. For example, commitments involving many tens of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer outlays over a decade or more simply cannot be executed by President Clinton alone. Not only is he a lame duck blithely creating bills that will come due long after he is gone. If those who will have the responsibility for paying those bills are not -- as one of the principal champions of bipartisanship in foreign policy matters, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, famously put it -- in on the "take-offs," not just the crash landings, it is entirely possible that getting those expensive commitments honored will prove to be problematic.
This is especially true if things don't work out as currently hoped. For example, if the Palestinian state that will be created by dint of these agreements turns out to be more heavily armed, closely aligned with Iran, Iraq, Libya and other threatening Arab states and unreconciled to peaceful coexistence with Israel, will U.S. lawmakers blithely approve what will likely become multi-billion dollar subsidies?
Alternatively, how will Congress react if Israel's sale to Communist China of a strategically worrisome Phalcon airborne early warning aircraft -- which Prime Minister Barak announced yesterday had been "suspended indefinitely," not cancelled -- is ultimately unsuspended and delivered to the PRC? Will legislators feel as though they have been subjected to a bait-and-switch routine, poisoning the proverbial well at a time they are being asked to approve massive new transfers of sophisticated U.S. weaponry to the Jewish State?
Second, by allowing the present negotiations to take place under the shadow of Palestinian threats to declare the creation of their new state unilaterally and amidst violence, if necessary, and by selling any agreements that emerge on the grounds that they are the only alternative to war, the United States is effectively legitimating Arafat's oft-repeated threat to engage in "jihad" to accomplish his purposes. As two excellent essays by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer and Knesset Member Limor Livnat that have appeared over the past two days in the Washington Post and New York Times, respectively, make clear, there can be no real, let alone any durable, peace consummated with such an interlocutor.
The Hefley LetterThe ominous implications of both the substance and the procedural aspects of the negotiations now underway at Camp David has prompted Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, to circulate a letter for his colleagues' signature. It warns President Clinton of real congressional concerns over the future status of Jerusalem and the relocation of Palestinian refugees and undue U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions on these and other fronts. The latter include notably "territorial concessions which would have irreversible repercussions...[insofar as they]. would prevent Israel from defending itself in the event of war."
The Hefley letter concludes: "We urge you not to make any commitment for the U.S. Congress before details of the agreement, the financial repercussions, and U.S. obligations are discussed with the Congress. All this must take place prior to any final signing."
A similar appeal has been issued recently in Israel by Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusnik who is now a Member of the Knesset. Last week, Mr. Sharansky resigned his position as Interior Minister in the Barak government over his opposition to the Prime Minister's refusal to consult even with his own cabinet, let alone to forge a broader consensus in the Israeli body politic more generally, before offering momentous concessions to the Palestinians. Sharansky's resignation, in turn, prompted the withdrawal of not only his own Yisra'el Ba'aliyah Party, but two others from the governing coalition. These actions led to the Prime Minister receiving a minority of 52 votes in the parliament on a no-confidence motion taken just before he headed to the U.S. for the present summit.
Policy by PollThe Prime Minister and President Clinton have responded by simply dismissing these democratic expressions of opposition to the manner and content of their diplomacy. The two men -- and their shared political operatives (notably James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum -- are creatures of the polls. They blithely assert that Barak enjoys the support of the majority of Israelis for his "peace" policies and is, therefore, free to proceed however he sees fit.
While polling is hardly the best basis for judging the consistency of such policies with either Israel's or America's long-term security interests, it is noteworthy that even by this measure, the Camp David II summitry is in trouble. According to a release from one of the most knowledgeable observers of U.S.-Israeli relations, former Israeli embassy official Yoram Ettinger, "a poll taken on July 7, 2000 by Market Watch -- owned by Prime Minister Barak's brother, Avinoam, and by Shay Reuveni, a former Netanyahu's advisor," reveals that:
"[By a 62% to 36% margin], the Israeli people do not believe that Arafat aims at a genuine peace with Israel.
The Bottom LineThere are many reasons for concern about the summit now underway. American diplomatic history has shown the folly of diplomacy based upon "secret agreements, secretly arrived at" -- or even agreements that ultimately will be made public, but that are fashioned in secrecy because they cannot stand the light of day and must, therefore, be presented as faits accomplis. What is more, the Israeli concessions and U.S. commitments being brokered in the Camp David "black box" are grievously ill-advised from a substantive perspective. Israel will be transformed from a strong and self-reliant ally into a ward of an unreliable American ally.
The headlong rush by Messrs. Clinton and Barak to abuse their executive powers to fashion such deals without securing in advance the majority of their respective legislatures is, in short, a formula for disaster. Whether these deals are subsequently approved by the two countries' legislative bodies, out of a sense that there is no real alternative, or rejected in light of their manifest defects, the result is predictable. It will be to embolden Israel's enemies in the region, if not actually to encourage them to believe that the piecemeal destruction of the Jewish State is now continuing apace and will be underwritten by the United States.
Rep. Hefley is to be commended for his courage in insisting upon Congress' prerogatives now, before the legislative branch is presented with another Clintonian fait accompli. His colleagues who profess a concern over Israel's security, to say nothing of the necessary functioning of U.S. constitutional checks and balances, should join him in his call for real, two-way consultations about the content of the Camp David II accord before any agreement is finalized."
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