In their November 21 Washington Post opinion column, “Middle East Priorities for January 21,” two foreign policy “realists,” Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, argue that “the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention” from the incoming Obama administration. The pair claims that President George W. Bush’s successor should address perceptions of injustice to the Palestinian Arabs.
Brzezinski and Scowcroft call for the new United States administration to promote what the Palestinian leadership repeatedly has rejected. Scowcroft, national security adviser to former Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Brzezinski, who held the post under President Jimmy Carter, say that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be based roughly on “the 1967 borders,” compensation for Palestinian Arab refugees, Jerusalem serving as the capital for two separate nations, and a non-militarized Palestinian state.
In order to deal with Israeli security concerns, the authors recommend international peacekeepers replace Israeli forces in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
The authors acknowledge, then discount, leadership questions, including the Fatah/Hamas rivalry and Israeli elections scheduled for February 10. They nevertheless assert that strong U.S. leadership could overcome internal Palestinian and Israeli divisions.
Failure of imagination
And Brzezinski and Scowcroft further claim that “if the peace process begins to gain momentum, it is difficult to imagine that Hamas will want to be left out ….”
This is “realism”? Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections not only because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement was seen as corrupt and inefficient, but also because voters accepted Hamas’ claim to be better at “resistance” – that is, in conducting anti-Israeli terrorism. In 2007, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip in five days of fighting. Israeli intelligence reportedly doubts Fatah could hang on to the West Bank absent the heavy Israel presence.
Brzezinski omits his own experience, that American leadership can prod Arabs and Israelis but not replace them when it comes to reaching, let alone sustaining, a peace agreement. Egypt and Israel would not have made peace without the leadership of Anwar as-Sadat and Menachem Begin, respectively, no matter how involved Carter subsequently became.
As for Hamas, what’s difficult to imagine is that an organization that insists destruction of Israel is a religious duty and opposes peace negotiations with it would want to be included in peace negotiations. Hamas’ tactics let it agree to truces during which it can raise money, spread propaganda, rearm, recruit, and train for future battles. But its strategy requires “holy war,” not “peace processes.”
Brzezinski and Scowcroft are not unrealistic when it comes to Fatah, often portrayed as the “moderate” opposition to Hamas even though its own constitution and the anti-Zionist, antisemitic incitement prevalent in PA media, mosques and schools still echoes that of the Islamists. Instead, they just ignore its practical immoderation.
Scowcroft and Brzezinski claim that “the major elements of an agreement are well-known.” They don’t say that so is their rejection by the Palestinian leadership.
In 2000, Israel and the United States offered Yasser Arafat something close to an Israeli return to the pre-1967 armistice lines (not “borders”), and a state on more than 95 percent of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with its capital in eastern Jerusalem. That was in exchange for peace between a Jewish state and an adjacent Palestinian Arab one. Arab refugees could return to “Palestine,” not Israel. Arafat and his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority rejected this two state solution and soon launched the terrorism war known as the “al Aqsa intifada.” They rejected the same deal with a slightly bigger state in 2001 and continued the violence.
“Compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees [Arab refugees from 1948 and their descendants],” another Scowcroft/Brzezinski recommendation as part of the “well-known” elements of an agreement, also has been offered before, beginning with U.N. General Assembly resolutions in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Arab states always rejected it, in part because the resolutions included no “right of return.”
Brzezinski and Scowcroft call for a “non-militarized” West Bank and Gaza Strip. So did the 1993 Oslo Accords. Instead, as the al-Aqsa intifada demonstrated, the territories quickly were overrun by tens of thousands of armed men whose weapons included not just U.S. and Israeli-supplied automatic rifles intended for Palestinian police, but also rocket propelled grenades and short-range rockets. A demilitarized but sovereign Gaza Strip and West Bank state seems even less likely now, especially after smuggling by Hamas, U.S. training of PA forces and the foreseeable demand that “Palestine,” as an independent state, be permitted a military.
The authors’ belief that Israel’s security concerns could be met by replacing Israeli troops on the West Bank with international peacekeepers collides with experience. UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, first failed to curb Palestine Liberation Organization terrorism. More recently, it has failed to contain Hezbollah. Of course, Egypt’s ouster of U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula in 1967 helped set the stage for the Six-Day War.
A dash of realism did show up on The Post’s Op-Ed page in another column of advice for the new administration. It came from an unlikely source, former State Department Arab-Israeli specialist Aaron David Miller, one of the U.S. proponents of the Oslo process. In “Start With Syria; A Middle East Deal Obama Could Build On” (November 26), Miller notes that “President-elect Barack Obama will be bombarded with recommendations about how to approach Arab-Israeli peacemaking. One piece of advice he should not take is to make Israeli-Palestinian peace his top priority. There’s no deal there.
” …. The well-intentioned old college try, which was President Bill Clinton’s mantra at Camp David in July 2000, reinforced by his advisers, myself included, proved costly.” In other words, Brzezinski and Scowcroft’s advice is out of date, and wrong.
But Miller, having been disabused by the Palestinian leadership, advocates what sounds like “the old college try” with Syria’s leaders. Though he does not ignore it, Miller downplays Syrian rejectionism in a manner roughly similar to Scowcroft and Brzezinki’s avoidance of Palestinian rejectionism.
Not only does he, like the former national security advisors, see a role for international peacekeepers (this time on the Golan Heights), Miller assumes that Syria can be realigned from its Iranian-Hezbollah axis toward the United States. Israel would pay the price in the Golan and Jordan River/Lake Kinneret water.
But nearly 40 years of experience with t he Assad family’s minority Alawite dictatorship suggests otherwise. First Hafez al-Assad, and now his son, Bashar al-Assad, have thwarted U.S. interests, violently undermining prospects for a stable, democratic Lebanon and Israeli-Lebanese peace, and aiding Hezbollah (the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Party of God) and anti-U.S. Iraqi insurgents. The Damascus regime needs an external threat, Israel, to help legitimate its internal repression. This renders a U.S.-Syrian rapprochement – so long as the Assad dictatorship rules – unrealistic.
CAMERA previously has criticized the repeated opportunities for Miller, Scowcroft, Brzezinki and others of like views to opine on Arab-Israeli matters on Post Op-Ed pages without much counter-balance by outside contributors who differ. Readers should insist on such diversity among those offering Arab-Israeli advice to President-elect Obama.