Israel Report

April 2002         

Why Powell Will Fail

by Avi Bell - April 15, 2002
As Secretary of State Colin Powell presses the latest American diplomatic effort to end the Palestinian-Israeli phase of the Arab-Israeli war, there is only one certainty. Like his predecessors, Powell will fail.

Powell will fail not for any lack of skill or authority. Nor is it certain that Powell will fail to reach agreement on a cease-fire; after all, as the old joke goes, quitting terrorism is easy for Yasser Arafat – he has done it hundreds of times. Rather, Powell will fail because the policy he seeks to implement has already failed, and will continue to fail in the future.

American policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has developed gradually over the past two decades, but its underpinnings have been clear for more than a decade. The US aims at creating peace between Israel and the Palestinians (and the larger Arab world) by having Israel turn over most or all of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the US shared the Israeli position that any Palestinian self-rule would involve shared Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty rather than Palestinian statehood, and that the PLO's terrorism rendered it ineligible for negotiations.

However, the failure of the autonomy talks in the early 1980s, together with the lack of a viable Palestinian negotiating partner, led the US to endorse direct negotiations with Yasser Arafat's PLO in 1988. The US-PLO dialogue ended in 1990 when the PLO persisted in its terrorist path, but was subsequently revived in 1993, when Israel revealed the results of its own secret negotiations with the PLO in Oslo.

During the years of the Oslo process, led by Israel's Left, the United States gradually came to endorse the creation of a PLO state as the preferred fate of the West Bank and Gaza. This trend culminated in the second Bush administration's statement endorsing the "vision" of a Palestinian state, and its vote supporting that "vision" in Security Council resolution 1402.

Yet, in the meantime, the evidence has mounted that the US policy is based upon quicksand. In the battle between the Left and Right, it turns out that both were correct: there is no one to talk to but the PLO, and the PLO cannot be talked to. This contradiction means that there is no way to reach peace by turning over the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians. Either there is no one to whom it can be turned over (because there is no alternative to the PLO) or a turnover will not result in peace (because a turnover to the PLO will create a terrorist state at war with Israel).

SOME MEDIA wags have blamed the rise in Palestinian-Israeli violence on the low diplomatic profile of the Bush administration. But, of course, the Palestinian war on Israel started at the height of the Clinton administration’s involvement in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Others insist upon pressing forward with the PLO because no other Palestinian party has the ability to deliver peace. This may be true enough, but the PLO will not deliver the peace.

One is reminded of Woody Allen's joke in Annie Hall. A man pleads for help from his psychiatrist, "Doc, my brother's crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken."

"Well, why don’t you turn him in?" asks the doctor. The man replies, "I would, but I need the eggs."

Israel needs the eggs of peace. That does not make Arafat's PLO a chicken.

The only way out of this conundrum is a rejection of the failed US/Israeli policy model. Since a turning over of territory to the Palestinians will result in a terrorist state and violence rather than peace, the US must examine the alternatives that do not involve negotiating with the PLO or the creation of a full-fledged PLO terrorist state.

There is no shortage of possibilities that have been suggested over the years:

While not offering the instant peace of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' New Middle East and New World Order, all of the options above are likely to result in a better day to day life for Palestinian and Israeli civilians, a reduction on the strains on Israel's security and democracy, and a greater chance for eventual peace when the Arab world finally accepts the legitimacy of Israel and the justice of the Jewish right to statehood in the ancient Jewish homeland. And nothing prevents revisiting the arrangements should more auspicious negotiating conditions present themselves.

But until US policy shifts tracks, there can be no progress. No amount of political alchemy can change Arafat from a terrorist into a statesman, no matter how many times the "experts" of Foggy Bottom and Ramat Aviv demand peace now.

The writer is an attorney and co-chairman of the lawyer's Committee for Democracy in the Middle East.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post


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