Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Can't H. Clinton Bring Israel-Palestinian Peace? Look at What B. Clinton Offered which the Palestinians Rejected

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By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview to al-Jazira television, December 10, which reminds us of something exceptionally important for any discussion of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: what her husband offered the Palestinians—the last time a comprehensive deal was proffered—and was turned down almost exactly nine years ago.

How does Clinton explain the lack of a peace agreement? She blames it on George W. Bush:

"I regretted that there was a lull in it after my husband left office because we were poised to make such progress, and if we had been able to get it over the goal line, there would have been a Palestinian state for nearly a decade now.""

When her husband left office there wasn't just a "lull." Bill Clinton had spent two terms working hard to achieve a peace agreement and he failed because the Palestinians rejected every offer he made and then launched a massive terrorist-based war on Israel that lasted five years. The beginning of understanding the issue is to admit that the reason there hasn't been a Palestinian state for nearly a decade is because the Palestinian leadership turned it down.

Until that admission happens, all of this running around is a wasted effort.

Besides, if it is so easy then why has the Obama Administration made zero progress. Not only, of course, has it failed even to get negotiations going--yes, it has been in power for less than a year--but there isn't the slightest shred of evidence to believe that anything is going to change in the rest of its term.

Even al-Jazira’s interviewer noted that regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, "Everything seems to have stalled since January just before President Obama came into office.” This signals not only that the failure is obvious to everyone but also that enough time has passed that the Obama Administration must be judged on its own merits rather than blaming the current situation on its predecessor, which can be a legitimate excuse during the earlier days.

Obviously, for an al-Jazira audience, Clinton is eager to show how supportive she is of a Palestinian state, though one that must come from bilateral negotiations with Israel:

“I have been committed to a two-state solution, a Palestinian state for more than 10 years. I was the first person associated with any American administration who said that the Palestinians deserved and should be given their own state. So I am very committed to both the Palestinian state to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and security for the Israelis so that they would be given the guarantee of their own future.”

The word “deserved” here is worth noting. It implies that the Palestinians have earned a state of their own. While one can justify this on the basis of consciousness and conditions, it is ironic to think of such an idea in light of Palestinian political performance in the last sixty years which has consisted all too largely of saying “no” and a rather large element of terrorism.

I’m making this point not to try to score points or cast aspersions but rather to highlight the reason as to why this “deserved” gift has not been bestowed, which might have happened at many points in history beginning with 1948 when the Palestinians themselves turned down the UN plan to give them a state through 2000 when the same thing happened in their rejection of what was called, ironically the Clinton Plan. That was Bill Clinton.

Apparently, it was that plan to which Hillary was referring when her husband called for a Palestinian state for the first time in official U.S. policy. Incidentally, Israel did so as well, something else often forgotten or lied about.

On December 23, 2000, the United States proposed the creation of a “non-militarized” Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank, plus three percent more traded to it by Israel, plus all of the Gaza Strip, with its capital in east Jerusalem. In other words, this would have been equivalent to about 99 percent of the pre-1967 territory then ruled by Egypt and Jordan.

Israel would have annexed small areas including three areas with large populations of Jewish settlers: Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Ariel. All of east Jerusalem would have become Palestinian--including the al-Aqsa Mosque--except for post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods, the Western Wall, and the Jewish Quarter. Israel would have gotten an existing access road—which is about ten feet wide—to the quarter. There would be an international observer force in the Jordan Valley, along the Palestinian-Jordan border, to see that heavy arms or foreign soldiers were not being smuggled into Palestine.

In addition, though this was not spelled out in the specific proposal, the level of aid and compensation to the Palestinians then being talked about by the United States was at around $21 billion.

On December 28, 2000, the Israeli government approved of the offer with only one condition: that the Palestinians accept it, too. For the record, I supported that plan, too.

Yasir Arafat turned it down.

What was the most important reason he gave for doing so? That he also demanded what Palestinians call “the Right of Return.” That is, he insisted there could be no deal unless all Palestinian refugees who so wished to go and live in Israel. He also rejected the observer force and demanded control of the entire Western Wall, the remnant of the Jewish Temple.

And yet there are those who say that Israel doesn’t want peace and never made the Palestinians a good offer. Many of them might add the claim that the United States had never done so either.

Let’s examine the implications of this proposed solution. If Arafat had accepted the deal, there would now have been a Palestinian state for many years. All those who died or were wounded since then would be whole. Hamas would not have taken over the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians would have roughly $40,000 for each child, woman, and man to spend or misspend.

Why was this offer turned down? Because it would have given up one percent of the land claimed? Because the Palestinians so want the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall? Because they would rather not have a state if they couldn’t have an air force and tanks? Or for some other minor reason of detail?

Is this a credible argument?

Arafat could have expressed his eagerness for the deal but offered something in order to get something else he wanted. Also, in the ordinary way international affairs works, the Palestinians were not bargaining from a position of strength. They could only get everything they wanted by deciding that they’d prefer to fight on for decades and sustain many losses rather than make the tiniest compromise.

But, of course, the real reason was, as explained by Faruq Qaddumi, the PLO and Fatah’s second most powerful man, on November 25, 2000 in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida: “We are adopting the strategy of the Vietnamese who negotiated and fought the Americans at the same time until [they] defeated them.”

This was a revealing precedent to choose. The Vietnamese revolutionaries had taken control over part of the country and then used it to wage a war that won them the rest. Finally, they maneuvered the United States into an unconditional withdrawal through a campaign combining armed force, international pressure, and domestic dissent. Finally, they violated their agreements to seize the entire country.

As for the Right of Return demand, it was in line with something Qaddumi had said in March 2002: "The Right of Return of the refugees to Haifa and Jaffa is more important than statehood."

No one ever remarks on the absurdity of supposed Palestinian nationalists wanting to export people who could be used to build a strong and stable state of their own. Admitting one or two or three million Palestinians into Israel would, of course, lead to violence, bloodshed, chaos, and the collapse of Israel. That was, after all the intention.

Gaining total victory and destroying Israel was more important than getting a Palestinian state, ending the “occupation” and all the real or alleged terrible suffering of Palestinians we constantly hear about. So it was, so it remains.

And that is why all of Hillary Clinton’s commitment to a Palestinian state will not bring about a diplomatic solution. She wants it, Israel wants it, and the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want it.

Many people will try to make that last paragraph sound ridiculous. It certainly doesn’t seem to accord with common sense, does it? And yet that is what history and the evidence shows. Given that proposition, everything that has happened and is happening makes sense. Without it, even incredible contortions and distortions of fact still cannot account for the facts.

Can anyone honestly examine what the United States and Israel offered the Palestinian Authority nine years ago and not conclude that the narrative blaming Israel--and often the United States--for the continuation of the conflict is nonsense? No. And that's why it isn't talked about very much.

Yet how can there be any discussion of these issues without noting what President Bill Clinton and Israel offered the Palestinians nine years ago, why this offer was rejected, and what it should teach everyone?

Failing to see who is at fault for the persistent failures, which really go back more than thirty years, after all, is the fatal flaw of Western policy on Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Until this is remedied, no one should be surprised that there won't be any peace and very little progress.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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