Thanks to Sol Salbe for informing me about this disturbing Haaretz article by Aluf Benn. It’s one of those annoying articles you read in newspapers at times, in which the journalist serves as willing mouthpiece for a national leader. Judith Miller excelled at this sort of sycophantic unquestioning regurgitation. At any rate, Olmert or his minions appear to have summoned Benn in order to unburden themselves of their current thinking about the much-talked about Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. There is much to question and even disbelieve in this account, but it is worth studying so as to understand Olmert’s devious thinking:
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning to enlist international support for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, if he wins the elections. Olmert believes that the first objective of the next government will be to create a supportive international environment for implementing Israel’s national goals: setting its borders and ensuring a Jewish majority.
Olmert will try to persuade the American administration and the key players in the international community that unless Hamas alters its positions, they must support a unilateral Israeli move to determine the border in the West Bank. In his view, Israel has managed to muster broad international support for the conditions it imposed on the Hamas government, and this must be kept up until after the elections. Only then will it begin to promote the unilateral initiative.
The first piece of deluded thinking–that Israel has mustered “broad international support” for its “bring them to their knees” policy toward Hamas. Yesterday’s news brought word that Russia met with Hamas’ top leadership in contravention of a supposed commitment on the part of the Europeans and Quartet not to have dealings with Hamas. In addition, the EU offered $144-million to get the PA by the next six weeks. It did this after Israel announced it was freezing its $50-million tax reimbursement to the PA in hopes that the rest of the world would also shut the spigot. It appears not to have worked. Other European nations like Sweden have also stepped forward to support the PA financially.
Here’s some more questionable thinking from Olmert’s camp:
The United States is beginning to rethink its Middle East policy, in the wake of the blow the administration sustained in the Palestinian elections: the Americans pressured Israel and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to hold the elections as scheduled, and thus brought about Hamas’ rise to power. U.S. support for a unilateral Israeli move could be construed as a necessary correction of the mistake made with the elections.
Because the U.S. supported elections and Hamas won, this constitutes a mistake? And second, this “mistake” carries with it the burden that we must correct the mistake by giving Israel a present of the West Bank territory it covets without any negotiation or consultation with the Palestinians? The guy’s in cloud cuckoo land and I hope Condi Rice will disabuse him of the notion that America owes him anything on this score.
Benn refers to Jim Hoaglund’s (is there any more lugubrious foreign affairs journalist writing for a national newspaper than this guy?) Washington Post column, What’s Achievable in the Mideast, claiming that it represents “the new American thinking.” Here’s a taste of Hoaglund’s ruminations:
The immediate American role should be to provide the push and the assurances needed to get Israel to duplicate Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and yield more than 90 percent of the West Bank, while compensating the Palestinians with land swaps for the few housing areas close to Jerusalem not evacuated.
The arrangement of de facto frontiers for a two-state solution would resemble what are known in Israel as the Clinton parameters, which emerged from Israeli-Palestinian talks at Camp David under President Bill Clinton in 2000 and then in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001.
It is not as good a solution as a formal peace treaty would be.
I’ll say it’s not. There is of course a wee problem with Hoaglund’s prescriptions when viewed in the Israeli context. How do you get there through a unilateral withdrawal that has no expectation of any interaction with the Palestinians? How do you get the Palestinians to agree to a land swap without consulting them? Or does Olmert believe that he can take the West Bank land now and tell the Palestinians that Israel will swap it at some later date? Boy, that would be a non-starter of the first magnitude!
More wishful thinking on Olmert’s part (at least I hope so):
According to senior political sources, in return for the next disengagement in the West Bank, Israel will ask the U.S. to recognize the withdrawal line – apparently to be based on, but not identical to, the separation fence route – as an international border. This would mean U.S. recognition for annexing the settlement blocs of Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, based on President Bush’s letter of April 2004, which acknowledged the “facts on the ground” created by the settlement blocs.
Olmert thinks that besides the blocs, Israel should control the Jordan Valley and Jewish holy sites. The senior sources ventured that the American administration would refuse to give Israel guarantees on the matter of Jerusalem, considered the most sensitive topic in any permanent agreement.
How in the hell does the U.S. “give” Israel the settlement blocs, recognize this redrawing of the map as a legitimate international border with no Palestinian consultation (sorry to repeat myself here but…)?
Sol has also caught a glaring omission in the Haaretz English-language translation which excises an important paragraph contained in the Hebrew language version:
According to the [Israeli] sources, under the current circumstances Israel would find it difficult to carry out “demographic corrections” in East Jerusalem in an attempt to remove from its boundaries the 200,000 Palestinians residing in the city. Such a change can be carried out under an agreement, but it’s difficult to carry it out as part of a unilateral step when there is no one on the side who can absorb the increased population.
Though obscure, this passage is nonetheless disturbing in its potential connotations. There would seem to be only two ways to “remove out of its [Jerusalem’s] boundaries the 200,000 Palestinians.” Either you physically force them to leave (and many Mideast analysts see this as a clear but unstated goal of current Israeli policy). Or Israel redraws its map to exclude Palestinian portions of East Jerusalem. One assumes that in that case, the PA would assume control of this territory. This would fly in the face of Olmert’s steadfast refusal to accept any Palestinian control of any part of Jerusalem. Could or would the U.S. countenance the transfer of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population from the city? God, I hope not. If it did it should be flayed royally by not just the Arab world, but the entire international community. But again, this passage is written so opaquely that one isn’t sure what it means.