By David Isaac“Almost everyone thinks direct talks will start in a blind alley and end up in a dead end,” according to a recent Israel National News report, which buttonholed both Arab and Jew on the upcoming talks. Both sides expressed pessimism that the new round of negotiations would lead anywhere.
There is reason for pessimism, but not for the reasons stated in the article. History has shown that Israeli leaders have a tendency to collapse under pressure and to deliver far more than they intended. The true cause for pessimism is that these talks may actually lead to an agreement, one which will send Israel scuttling back to the indefensible borders of 1949.
Shmuel Katz pointed to the Camp David Accords as a prime instance of how Israel buckles under pressure. Warning of the dangers posed by a Rabin-Aloni government, Katz wrote in “A Little Push from Washington” (March 19, 1993):
We may expect an imitation of the model of the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Begin in 1977. Do you remember that his original plan proposed conceding to Egypt only about 97 percent of Sadat’s demands? Israel was to retain the use of one airfield, and the Israeli residents would not be expelled.
Then, however, began the salami process, which ended with Sadat’s receiving the remaining 3 percent (including the expulsion of all the Israelis living in Sinai), and also a clause in the treaty legitimizing Egypt’s going to war with Israel if called on to do so under separate agreements it had with other Arab states.
Shmuel liked to refer to the slice-by-slice tactics that the Americans employed as ‘the salami process.’ U.S. policy-makers freely admitted to this modus operandi, which Shmuel described as “so self-evident, yet so obscured from the gaze of the Israeli negotiators.”
In “No End to the ‘Salami Process’” (Oct. 20, 1978), Shmuel quotes then-Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders in an interview he gave to Arab media.
“The art in this process,” he [Saunders] said “is to put the issues in sequence, so that one decision leads to another… An example of how this works is found in the decision by the Israeli Government to remove the settlers from Sinai. A few weeks ago that decision by the Israeli Government would not have been possible. But when the issue became the last remaining issue between Israel and the peace agreement with Egypt, then the Israeli people made the judgment that that issue should be resolved. I think it’s possible in dealing with the many complicated issues that concern the Palestinians to see a similar sequence of issues that could be resolved…”.
In the upcoming talks, America will present itself as an unbiased referee. But it long ago made clear which side it favors. The U.S. can certainly be counted on to once more employ the salami process, articulated so well by Harold Saunders 32 years ago.
And while the U.S. has made much of the fact that there will be no preconditions, what preconditions are necessary when the ultimate goal (to which all parties agree) is a “two-state solution which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians”?
Yet another reason for pessimism is Israel’s leadership. Benjamin Netanyahu, who agreed to a 10-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria, has said more than once that he seeks to “surprise the critics and the skeptics.” It’s impossible to say what goes on in the mind of someone who has through his speeches and writings shown a thorough understanding of the Mideast situation. Perhaps he provided an inkling to his thinking in his July speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. His remarks suggest that he hopes, against all evidence, to end the conflict once and for all by agreeing to a Palestinian state.
He would recognize a “Palestinian state as the nation-state of the Palestinian people,” he said, but under the condition that “the Palestinian state is not a stepping stone to continue the conflict by other means, but it is an end to the conflict. An end to the claims of conflict…
“In other words, this issue is resolved here and now. Sadat, the late Egyptian president said when he came to Jerusalem, he said, no more war, no more bloodshed. And what we expect President Mahmoud Abbas to say is, no more conflicts, no more claims, no more demands. Israelis are prepared to go a very long way. And I’m prepared to lead them a very long way to make peace.”
It’s appropriate that Netanyahu brought up the memory of Sadat and the Egypt-Israel Accords. His behavior mirrors that of Menachem Begin, who also had a hard-line reputation but showed different colors once in office.
In The Hollow Peace (Dvir, 1981), Shmuel Katz reveals the fatal weakness in Begin’s character which the U.S. administration exploited to maneuver the prime minister into making far-reaching concessions and abandoning long-held principles of his party. Shmuel relates that it was Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan who revealed Begin’s weakness to the Americans.
He [Dayan] reassured them, they need not worry. Begin, he said, wanted to go down in history as the man who had brought peace.
In this way the Americans obtained priceless information on the vulnerable Achilles’ heel in the personality of Menachem Begin. Two weeks before Begin’s visit to Washington in July reliable sources had reported that the American administration had ordered a psychological study of the character of Israel’s Prime Minister. His image, of a rigid ‘hard-liner’ of obdurate opinions, foreshadowed no easy victories for American diplomacy. …
Now on hearing this astonishing assessment by Dayan, Brzezinski must surely have recalled what Winston Churchill had written in his war memoirs after the death of Neville Chamberlain, in explaining his astounding surrender to Hitler at Munich in 1938: “His all-pervading hope was to go down to history as the great Peace-maker; and for this he was prepared to strive continually in the teeth of facts and to face great risks for himself and his country.”
Begin took a risk and lost Israel its strategic depth in the south. Netanyahu now takes a risk that could lose Israel’s strategic depth in the center. It takes no great foresight to see that neither man will go down in history as the ‘great Peace-maker,’ or that the mistakes of both will be borne on the backs of the Jewish people.