In 1994, I gave a speech about world affairs and U.S. national security in Louisville, Kentucky. Afterwards, I was asked where I thought Israel would be in ten years. I reflected for a moment and said that I thought Israel might not exist a decade on.
My comment met with stunned silence. I let the proposition sink in, then explained why I feared the Jewish state might be facing an existential peril -- namely, because of a misbegotten "peace process" that had, with the negotiation and signing of the Oslo accords, lurched in the direction of seriously compromising Israel's ability to defend itself. Worse yet, that process was emboldening Israel's enemies to take advantage of its new vulnerability by finishing the attempt at staticide suspended after their defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
At the time, such a critique of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations seemed preposterous to many. Today, however, the peace process's ominous consequences -- brought about by faulty assumptions, the pressure of successive artificial deadlines, Bill Clinton's narcissistic pursuit of a legacy, and Ehud Barak's desperate bid for a renewed mandate -- are evident to any remotely objective observer. The only question now is: Will the "peace process" seal Israel's fate before 2004?
In large measure, the answer will depend on what the Israelis decide to do. If present polls prove accurate, voters will sweep the hapless Barak from power and install in his stead -- possibly by a significant majority -- Likud's Ariel Sharon. Like Barak, Sharon is a highly decorated military commander-turned-politician. Unlike the Labor Party's Barak, however, "Arik" has vowed that Oslo is dead, killed by the Palestinians' resort to violence against Israel and her people, notwithstanding repeated formal pledges by Yasser Arafat to abjure it.
Yet to some degree, Israel's destiny will likely be influenced by the policies bequeathed to the new Bush Administration by its predecessor. Of particular concern are the "bridging proposals" advanced by President Clinton that go far beyond anything the United States -- or, for that matter, any responsible Israeli leader -- has ever formally embraced.
Even as the ongoing violence makes a mockery of the very notion of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, Israeli officials meet with Arafat and his minions to produce a document that would memorialize Mr. Clinton's initiatives. Their transparent purpose is to instruct his successor as to how to proceed. The following appear to be the main elements of the President's Solomonic compromises:
The Israelis will formally agree to the creation of a state of "Palestine" entitled to exercise control over most of, if not all of, its borders, ports, airfields and airspace. Israeli leaders may delude themselves into thinking that such arrangements can always be reversed, notwithstanding the international furor any effort to do so would immediately set off. Worse yet, Arafat and Company consistently stress to their constituents that such a state is but a stepping stone to the liberation of all of what they call Palestine -- including Israel proper.
Israel will be obliged to divide Jerusalem and to surrender sovereign control over the sacred Temple Mount to the Palestinians, who historically have denied access to such sites to Jews and, not infrequently, desecrated and/or destroyed them.
Israel will have to relinquish virtually all of the West Bank -- including much, if not the entirety, of the strategic Jordan River valley -- and all of the Gaza Strip. Israel Defense Forces would be allowed back in only during times of a "national emergency." By that point, of course, it may be too late to have much of an impact; at the very least, the Israelis will likely be at a significant disadvantage if and when fighting breaks out.
In the IDF's stead, Clinton proposes to install an "international presence -- "a force that can only be withdrawn by mutual consent. There is every reason to believe that this force will wind up, like its predecessor in Lebanon, providing protection to Arab assailants but doing little to safeguard their Jewish victims.
While only a few tens of thousands of Palestinians would be allowed to exercise the so-called "right of return" to Israel proper, millions more would, in principle, be able to take up residency in the new state of Palestine. Even if this mass of Arab humanity did not immediately alter the demographics of the Jewish state, their presence on territory that is inherently incapable of supporting them (among other reasons, due to the lack of potable water) will translate into physical, if not strategic, pressure on Israel that can only intensify over time.
An "international presence" would end up providing protection to Arab assailants but doing little to safeguard their Jewish victims.
It is troubling enough that Clinton tried to leave his successor with a U.S. Mideast policy that is seriously defective and manifestly unsustainable for America's most reliable ally in the region. Worse yet are reports that many of the architects of the peace process -- which has its roots in the first Bush Administration (if not in George Shultz's meeting with Yasser Arafat in Stockholm late in the Reagan Administration) -- are being invited to help the new Bush team enjoy "continuity" in its approach to the Middle East.
Among those said to be candidates for top
jobs are former Ambassador to Syria and James Baker
protege Edward Djerejian as deputy secretary of
state; former Bush NSC Mideast staffer Richard Haass as
director of the State Department's Policy Planning
Staff; and Aaron Miller, the deputy to President Clinton's Middle
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February 2001 - 7 - Outpost