Gershom Gorenberg has to be one of the best journalists writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He’s just published a new piece in American Prospect which describes how Ehud Barak’s vendetta against those who blame him for the failure of Camp David still resonates today in the U.S. presidential election. Gorenberg begins with the most recent smear of Rob Malley. The former finds its origin in an article Malley and Hussein Agha wrote in the NY Review of Books which eviscerated the Barak generated narrative that Arafat was at fault for the failure of Camp David. Enraged, Barak responded with an interview with right-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris, which attempted to turn the tables on his critics.
The interview contains this memorable piece of racism which makes you wonder why Barak ever bothered to go to Camp David in the first place (quoting from Gorenberg):
The Palestinians “are products of a culture in which to tell a lie … creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture,” he told Morris. To explain why he had not succeeded, he argued that success was impossible…
The journalist follows this passage with an apt and even charitable observation:
Going to Camp David, Barak was brave in seeking an agreement but was also tragically unsuited by temperament to achieve what he wanted.
All of this, of course raises alarm bells in the current political context in which Barak appears only too eager to smother any ray of daylight that emerges on the peace front by rattling sabers and even worse (the Bethlehem executions bear his signature). He figures that by destroying Olmert’s chances at attaining peace he will then clear a path to become prime minister himself. In which case he will, no doubt fail in his own bid for peace at least as abjectly as he did last time.
Gorenberg closes with a ringing defense of Malley and of Barack Obama’s chances of succeeding where Bill Clinton failed:
The most common versions of the Israeli and Palestinian narrative share this: Each side perceives the other as wanting to push it out of the land through both aggression and artifice. Those stories helped foil the talks at Camp David. They also shape the post mortems. The story told by Barak, erstwhile peacemaker, reinforces the old story of conflict. Malley’s account — a careful, scholarly telling by a diplomat committed to Israel’s future — is met with ferocious emotion by those who misperceive it as an assault on Israel’s very existence. The reaction becomes another obstacle to understanding of the past and to future compromise.
There’s two implications here: Precisely because he is committed to Israel’s well-being, Barack Obama will do well to listen to Robert Malley’s analysis of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. But if he has the opportunity, beginning next January, to renew diplomatic efforts, he will need to do more than reconcile conflicting interests. He will have to look for ways to reconcile the conflicting stories. The right choice of words will be critical. It’s said that Obama has some skill in that realm.
Amid the insanity that is the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict would that such sane voices on both sides were the ones that prevailed.