Washington – Despite the passage of time and their secure jobs elsewhere, Bill Clinton’s onetime key advisers on Mideast peacekeeping continue to view Israel in the manner of the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil or speak no evil, lacking any meaningful hindsight about their abominable failure to bring about peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Apparently taking a cue from their master, the former president who recently blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his “colossal failure” at Camp David II a year ago this month, Dennis Ross, the US peace coordinator, Robert Malley, the White House special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, and outgoing Ambassador Martin Indyk have chosen not to be any kinder to the Palestinians and continuously sidestepped any criticism of Israeli policies, then and now.
Actually, Robert Malley, the son of an Egyptian Jew, has been more forthright than his two colleagues, one-time Israeli lobbyists in Washington. He did expose the “three myths” that have been propagated endlessly by US and Israeli officials about the uncompromising Palestinian position at Camp David. Yet he seemingly shied away from faulting the Israeli or American positions.
He wrote that he was frustrated “almost to the point of despair by the Palestinians’ passivity and inability to seize the moment” in countering the US and Israeli ideas at the Maryland retreat.
Writing in The New York Times on July 8, Malley dismissed the view that Camp David was “an ideal test” of Arafat’s intentions, noting that the Palestinian leader had repeatedly cautioned that the two sides had not “sufficiently narrowed the gaps separating their positions before the summit”. Malley agreed that: “It took a genuine leap of faith … to imagine that the 100-year conflict … could be resolved in a fortnight without any of the core issues – territory, refugees, or the fate of Jerusalem – having previously been discussed by the leaders”.
Although he recognised that the Israeli offer was “more far-reaching than anything that any Israeli leader had discussed in the past”, Malley, however, acknowledged that “it was not the dream offer it has been made out to be, at least not from a Palestinian perspective”.
For example, he cited Israel proposal to annex nine per cent of the West Bank in exchange for one per cent to be given back to the Palestinians from parts of Israel proper. The Palestinians were given “custody” over the Haram Al Sharif, but in return Israel would exercise overall sovereignty over this third holiest Muslim shrine, as well as some Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
As far as the future of the Palestinian refugees “the ideas put forward … spoke vaguely of a `satisfactory solution’, leading Mr Arafat to fear that he would be asked to swallow an unacceptable last-minute proposal.”
Another myth was the alleged failure of the Palestinians to make any compromises. Malley underscored Palestinian readiness to accept “the notion of Israeli annexation of the West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs … (and) Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem … and the refugees’ right of return (to) be implemented in a manner that protected Israel’s demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees”.
Malley emphasised: “No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel – not Anwar Al Sadat’s Egypt, not King Hussein’s Jordan, let alone, Hafez Al Assad’s Syria – ever came close to even considering such compromises.”
Malley’s point: “If peace is to be achieved, the parties cannot afford to tolerate the growing acceptance of these myths as reality,” adding: “The measure of Israel’s concessions ought not be how far it has moved from its own starting point, it must be how far it has moved towards a fair solution.”
Ross, writing in the Washington Post on July 8, advocated that there needs to be accountability if there is to be an end to “violence”, a word that seems in his mind to be applicable only to the Palestinian struggle against occupation and not to the Israeli military actions against a defenceless population.
“Both sides have demonstrated their sensitivity to public opinion internationally,” he wrote. “It is time to recognise that and use it as a leverage to produce performance, rather than an exchange of charges and counter-charges.”
He continued: “Our mistake during the Oslo process was not creating a structure of accountability,” and consequently, he continued, “obligations went unfulfilled with no consequence, with blame never apportioned.”
His suggested that the American-Israeli-Palestinian security committee should meet every night whereby each day’s events would be discussed to compare the performance to commitments. After two weeks, a report would be sent to the US secretary of state who would then share his assessment with “the Europeans, Russians and others over the course of the two weeks – something that would maximise the impact of the assessment and likely produce further pressure for performance.”
Here, too, Ross offered not one word of criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been accused of war crimes at a Belgian court, in the manner of Slobodan Milosevic the discredited Yugoslav leader, who is facing similar charges.
Ambassador Indyk’s true colours were crystal clear in the interview he gave the Jerusalem Post last week and went a step further to praise Sharon; surprisingly comparing him to the assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. Sharon has Rabin’s “basic approach – in realism and pragmatism, in the understanding of the relationship between force and diplomacy, in his efforts to get Arafat to act”.
The two-time ambassador to Israel, who will be joining the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, in effect taking the position held recently by Richard Hass until his appointment as head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, argued in the interview that he did not believe that Arafat “ever really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives.”
He went a step further and dismissed Palestinian claims that they have the right to resist Israeli occupation by force “because they agreed (at Oslo) to give up the use of force”. The Oslo process failed, he continued, due to “a fundamental failure of Arab leadership, bad timing and because of a million and one reasons.”
None of these “million and one reasons” included Israel’s harsh occupation of the Palestinian land and people which lasted more than 34 years, the building of countless settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, or the endless siege which has precipitated the deplorable living conditions, nine months after the Al Aqsa Intifada.
Little wonder that the Arab world did not trust Clinton’s aides, often complaining about their objectivity and balance. And now the Arab world has to put up with the ineffective policies of the Bush administration which has yet to take any stiff measures against, but for one example, Sharon’s assassination policies or “targeted killings “as they have been euphemistically called. Is it too much to expect the Bush administration to take the least costly remedy and threaten to suspend, if not cut, all financial aid to Israel to force it to abandon this blood-thirsty approach to peacemaking?