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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, June 19, 2004 ::

Strange fantasies
For no particular reason, I went and dug up this Ha'aretz article by Akiva Eldar from mid-December 2001. It was the only place I remember reading about a very specific bit of speculation regarding what Arafat hoped to gain from the intifada.

A bit of background is in order first. When Sharon first became prime minister in early 2001, he formed a unity government with Labor as the primary partner. Sharon's Feb. 2001 landslide win over Barak was the last instance of direct election for prime minister in Israel, separate from elections for the Knesset. It still had its make-up from the 1999 elections, with Labor as the party holding the most seats. So the Knesset speaker at the time was Avraham Burg, one of the more left-leaning high profile members of Labor. Peres was the Foreign Minister, and Fuad Ben-Eliezer, also more hawkish than Burg, was the Defense Minister. Burg and Ben-Eliezer were then the two main candidates to head the Labor party (Amram Mitzna didn't enter the picture for about another 6 months). This article was written just after Anthony Zinni had come to the region as a special envoy to try to negotiate a cease-fire, only to run into the worst spurt of suicide bombing that had happened up to that point in the intifada:
[Arafat's] close associates try to persuade him to impose a cease-fire on the Hamas and Tanzim and impose a return to the negotiating table on Sharon. They implore every foreign visitor with any kind of influence (lately, Anthony Zinni) to help them bring Arafat down to reality and shake off the nonsensical notion that the intifada will topple Sharon and Ben-Eliezer and bring Avraham Burg to power.
Now that was quite the theory. A dinosaur from Israel's founding "1948 generation" who had long been thought of as too militant (and carrying too much controversial baggage from the past) to be elected as prime minister had come into office less than a year earlier, in the biggest land-slide in the country's history, as an undeniably direct result of the intifada. And yet a continuation of the same strategy was supposed to topple him and bring to power someone who was noticeably more left-wing than the previous prime minister, who had been annihilated in the last election?

Truly a brilliant plan. Probably not much of a plan, either--my guess is that it was just one of many theories that Arafat concocted at one time or another to justify continuing with the intifada. Depressingly, I can't bring to myself to categorize the apparent plan of turning Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi, in order to bring about a pro-US/pro-Israel Arab democracy, as being any less absurd. Not exactly good company for a large number of senior American officials, in the strategizing department.
2:20 PM
:: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 ::
Congratulations Pistons!
NBA champs, what a surprising turn of events. A superstar-less team winning it all is even more rare than most of the media coverage I've seen has indicated. A few outlets mentioned the '79 Seattle Sonics as the last team without a major star to win the league championship, but nobody pointed out that since the first few years of the NBA's existence in the late '40s and early '50s, that Seattle team was the only one to win it all without having any of the 50 Greatest Players in league history, as named back in '96. Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson were already on that list when it was named, and an updated version would obviously include Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. So, aside from Seattle in '79, you have to go back to the '51 Rochester Royals to find a championship winning team without any of the league's all-time 50 best players on its roster. Until the 2004 Detroit Pistons, that is!
11:45 AM
:: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 ::
The argument goes ever on
Yet another pissing match in the Israeli media regarding who said what about Arafat, when, and why. I guess it started with this article from last week by Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz, describing a dispute between two generals who were leading members of Military Intelligence a few years ago, Amos Gilad and Amos Malka. Before the Camp David negotiations in 2000, Gilad put forth the theory that Arafat was a completely unreliable partner who would never make peace, but Malka and other MI people disagreed, according to Eldar's article. Now Dan Margalit of Ma'ariv is piddling all over it, arguing that Malka and Gilad have both claimed (in effect) that Arafat is an out-and-out peace refusenik.

I recently read an excellent book by one of the most prominent Israeli scholar/diplomats, Waging Peace by Itamar Rabinovich, which Margalit refers to in passing. Rabinovich classifies the different schools of thought about Camp David and the breakdown of the peace process into four categories:

(1) The Orthodox School: First articulated by Clinton and Barak at the time of the Camp David failure. The Israelis made a far-reaching offer, pursued in good faith by the Barak and Clinton governments, and the peace process might have succeeded, but Arafat and the Palestinians failed the ultimate test of their intentions and torpedoed the whole thing.

(2) The Revisionist School: Although the Palestinians bear some of the blame, the process failed primarily because of mistakes made by the Israelis and the Americans. The primary source for this school, and surely the most frequently referenced one, is the July 2001 NY Review of Books article "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors" by two members of the Camp David delegations, Rob Malley (US) and Hussein Agha (Palestinians).

(3) The Deterministic School: The primary right-wing-Israeli view, that Oslo was a huge scam from the beginning, with Arafat having entered into it only as a change of tactics, en route to his strategic goal of destroying Israel. Rabinovich describes the Gilad viewpoint I alluded to above--that Arafat had certain "red lines" unacceptable to Israel (primarily on right of return and the Temple Mount) that he wouldn't cross, which made violence all but inevitable--as a "more nuanced" variation of this deterministic school. Rabinovich characterizes Gilad as "the chief and most consistent articulator of this view."

(4) The Eclectic School: A combination of the various schools, or someone whose views don't exactly fit into any of them. I was a little surprised to see that Rabinovich put Yossi Beilin into this category, since he's probably more closely associated with a "revisionist school" outlook than anyone else in Israeli politics (the primary Israeli articulator of the revisionist school, in Rabinovich's view, is Ron Pundak, one of the originators of the Oslo process). Gilead Sher, one of Barak's chief negotiators and closest confidants during his time as prime minister, also ends up here, having written a book that Rabinovich praises highly as "an invaluable source for the history of this period but [which] does not offer a clear-cut thesis." Rabinovich describes Sher as having a quite different version of events from Barak, and pretty critical of several of the other Israeli figures in the negotiations.

So we can safely say that Akiva Eldar is in the revisionist school, while Dan Margalit is in the orthodox school, as this translation of an article he wrote three years ago demonstrates quite clearly. I'd put myself in the orthodox school as well. I have no problem criticizing Barak, Clinton, and whomever else for having made some mistakes along the way, but it just doesn't add up to pin the blame for the ultimate failure of the entire process on their mistakes. One of Margalit's arguments from that 2001 article has definitely resonated with me since then:
Instead of admitting that Arafat stubbornly wants to perpetuate the conflict, the "Oslo architects" (primarily Pundak) note what they claim is the problematic conduct of the peace negotiations during the Barak era and argue that this factor was one of the "prime limitations" that obstructed the road to peace. This argument, which is not particularly convincing, insults the intelligence of Arafat and his followers, who, according to the architects, passed up an opportunity for peace because they did not like the way Barak behaved during the talks.
That really is what almost every argument against Barak and Clinton essentially comes down to, that things would have been different if Barak and Clinton (primarily Barak) had only been more courteous to the Palestinians.

Although I think there are limitations to the parallels that can be drawn between the Israel/Egypt negotiations of the late '70s and the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations of the past decade, it has to be remembered that for all his diplomatic clumsiness and difficult personality traits (for which he was criticized as much by his colleagues as he was by the Palestinians), Barak was Miss Manners compared to Menachem Begin. Every account I've read of the Begin/Sadat negotiations leaves the impression that Begin was just about the most impossible person to deal with that anyone could ever imagine: dogmatic, stubborn, a stickler for minor details where almost nobody else could even comprehend what the hell he was going on about, you name it. And, undoubtedly, mistakes had been made along the way (leading up to, as well as during, the Camp David conference) by all the parties involved, the Americans, the Egyptians, and the Israelis. Yet the agreement eventually happened, because both Begin and Sadat were more committed to making peace than they were to any other possible scenario. Even many of Barak's most notable critics (like Malley and Agha in their article) conceded that in spite of all his flaws, he really was committed to making a deal happen. There's no getting around the conclusion that if Arafat had been as well, it would have come together, one way or another.
2:45 PM

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