An all-star panel discusses the way forward after the failure of Oslo.
“Wars end when one side wins,” Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes trenchantly observed at a September 10, 2013, panel at Washington, DC’s National Press Club. Pipes addressed the topic “Twenty Years after Oslo: Where Next for U.S. Policy?” at an event hosted by the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights (ARC). Amidst concurring and opposing panelists, Pipes demonstrated that peace for Israel or any other state can only come not through compromise, but rather through completion of one conflict party’s strategic objective.
“No dispute,” as Pipes stated, existed among the panelists that the Oslo Arab-Israeli process begun 20 years ago on September 13, 1993 “was a failure.” Both Commentary editor Jonathan S. Tobin and Elan Journo from ARC called the Oslo Accords a “disaster,” with Tobin noting that the Israeli leftist parties supporting the accords had subsequently collapsed. Among various procedural aspects hindering in his view an Arab-Israeli settlement such as lack of a good mediator, Wilson Center scholar Aaron David Miller called the current gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions “wide and perhaps unbridgeable.”
Pipes suggested the main obstacle to Palestinian peace was the fact that “neither side is defeated in this conflict...so the war goes on.” Pipes cited the saying commonly heard during the Arab-Israeli conflict among others that “you make peace with your enemy.” Yet he qualified that in reality “one makes peace with one’s former enemy,” the “enemy who has given up.” The indecisive outcome of World War I, for example, led an embittered Germany to resume hostilities 20 years later. Pipes contrasted the unconditional surrender obtained by Germany’s enemies in World War II, in part precisely with the prior conflict’s result in mind.
Referencing Palestinian Authority (PA) official statements and media, to say nothing of the even more extreme jihadist group Hamas ruling in Gaza, Pipes noted an “enduring Palestinian Authority hostility to Israel.” Rather than pacify, “Israeli concessions inflamed Palestinian hostility,” something that grew to a “deafening roar” to destroy Israel in the 2000 second intifada. Palestinian hostility to Israel was also definitive for Tobin, who recalled that Palestinian nationalism formed in opposition to Zionism and is today a “culture that still lauds and rewards terrorism.” This contrasted with an Israeli hunger for peace, such that any Israeli leader facing a serious Palestinian peace offer, even with considerable Israeli concessions, will “have to make the deal.”
Pipes’ answer to this impasse was to “give up on this model of diplomacy and substitute a model of winning.” The “clear message” of Israel and its allies like the United States to the Palestinians must be “you’ve lost.” Channeling his inner Ronald Reagan, Pipes deemed the proper strategy to be “really simple: we win, they lose.” Journo as well advocated a “binary” approach to the conflict of “defeat or victory.”
Journo complemented his desire for strategic clarity with a call to reject the “morally grey approach” often coloring perceptions of Israelis and Palestinians. Oslo’s “framework assumes you can ignore basic moral differences” pitting an Israeli democracy against a Palestinian leadership not interested in creating a free society. The “worst conceivable crimes” historically charged to Israel simply did not compare with the atrocities perpetrated by Israel’s Arab neighbors as presently in Syria.
Such grey-shaded views in a peace process, Journo analyzed, would only “encourage the more militant,” resulting not in reciprocal deals but “extortion.” The Oslo process apparently demanded, for example, that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would transform from an Al Capone-like terrorist into a Mr. Rogers-like good neighbor. Yet Arafat actually “had to do very little” to satisfy these high expectations.
Even in failure the Oslo process had a “consequential legacy” such as the PA’s “reality,” Miller observed, yet this gave little comfort to the other panelists. Tobin, for example, considered Oslo’s “benefits overdrawn.” While Miller assessed that “Oslo enabled” an Israeli peace treaty with Jordan, this did not add much to the preexisting “cold peace” between the two countries for Tobin. Oslo had also done little to affirm Israel’s continually embattled legitimacy globally. World opinion seemed to view Israel during the past 20 years merely as a “thief disgorging its illegal booty.”
The PA “really is now a permanent part of the international system,” Tobin agreed with Miller, with Gaza in particular being an “independent state in all but name.” The Palestinians “now have their facts on the ground.” Most Israelis judged the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as “really a bad idea,” but “Hamastan” is now irreversible. Journo noted the bad precedent Gaza set for any future Israeli territorial withdrawals while Tobin analyzed that Israel’s “problem with these concessions is that they are not reversible.” Concerning any future concessions, therefore, Israel “plays close to the vest.” For their part, the Palestinians, with a “lack of a culture that can produce a good leader,” have wasted post-Oslo aid with “corrupt, crony politics.”
Not a final Arab-Israeli peace deal, but “lower expectations” to “merely manage the conflict” seemed appropriate to Tobin under the circumstances. The Obama Administration’s “focus on Israel” similarly appeared a “foolhardy enterprise” as well to Pipes. The “a bit crazy” diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry reflected Pipes' evaluation that the lawyers of the State Department were “excellent, superb at negotiating fishing treaties with Canada,” but not so good at handling aggressive, dangerous individuals like the Palestinian leaders.
Additionally for Pipes, the Arab-Israeli conflict had lost its “historic prominence” as the “Middle East conflict” amidst numerous regional crises. This called into question the past common assumption cited by Tobin that “solving this problem was central to the Middle East.” Yet many in the Democratic Party believed that conflict resolution here would alleviate other Middle East headaches such as Egypt, Iran, and Syria, according to Pipes.
Pipes' peace through victory strategy demanded that “largely psychological” measures eliminate the Palestinians’ still “vibrant dream” to destroy Israel. American Israel policy should accordingly “tell our ally that it should win.” As positive precedent, Pipes cited Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hardline taken in the years 2001-2003. While disagreeing with much of Pipes’ analysis, Miller, though, likewise recalled that hawkish Israeli politicians in the past were responsible for successful peace initiatives.
One way to “send a signal” to the Palestinians for Pipes would be a final relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The United States could likewise apply traditional definitions of refugees to the Palestinian diaspora, such that generations of descendants from those who lost their homes in 1948 would no longer count as refugees. This would entail a significant cut in funding for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).
Pipes remembered that waking up on May 1, 1975, after the Communist conquest of South Vietnam was a “miserable thing.” Yet conflict end demands unambiguous winners and losers, results that in the best case mirror objective moral standards. One conflict party, Pipes concluded, must drink the “bitter crucible of defeat.”
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