Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Likud Peace

"[Benjamin Netanyahu] is a hardliner on security. However, when he was prime minister a decade ago, he showed himself, like his Likud predecessor, Menachem Begin, willing to make peace deals involving trading land for peace." (Future unclear as voters go Right, Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 12/2/09)

This is what is known as received wisdom - that only hardline Israeli politicians can sell 'peace' deals to security-conscious Israelis. Hardliners like Menachem Begin, for instance, who traded Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (captured along with the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967) for 'peace' with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1979. The Camp David 'peace', it should be remembered, came only after a near successful Egyptian-Syrian attempt to win back their respective territories by force of arms in October 1973. But what sort of peacemaker was Likud hardliner Begin, and what was the nature of the 'peace' hammered out under the auspices of US president Jimmy Carter at Camp David? The following snippets from William B Quandt's Camp David: Peacemaking & Politics (1986) give us a pretty good idea:

Carter set out to achieve a comprehensive peace involving Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He had declared that "the third ultimate requirement for peace is to deal with the Palestine problem... there has to be a homeland provided for the Palestinian refugees who have suffered for many, many years." (p 48 )

Sadat, however, was not quite as forthcoming as Carter on that score: "His views on the Palestine question were the most puzzling, and the Americans were never quite sure how strongly committed to the Palestinians Sadat was. At this stage, however, he had said nothing to indicate that he was prepared for a separate agreement with Israel that offered nothing to the Palestinians." (p 53)

But even if Sadat and Carter had been on the same wavelength regarding the Palestinians, Israel had the Americans by the short & curlies: "[Foreign minister Moshe] Dayan... replied that it was possible to reach an agreement. Israel could go along with the procedures that Carter and [Secretary of State Cyrus] Vance had outlined. In return, Carter should say that all previous agreements with Israel remained in force and that there would be no imposed settlement and no pressure in the form of cuts in economic or military aid. Israel should be free to object to a Palestinian state, and the US should say that Israel did not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines... Dayan could then tell the American Jews that there was an agreement and they would be happy. But if he was obliged to say that Israel would have to deal with the PLO or a Palestinian state, then there would be screaming in the US and in Israel. Carter saw the thrust of Dayan's remarks and said a confrontation would not be good for Israel either." (p 129)

Carter had got the message: "[National Security advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski at the time worried about the impression left with the Israelis that the president was susceptible to pressure." (p 131)

"Increasingly, Carter and Sadat seemed to be thinking of an Egyptian-Israeli accord, one only loosely connected to an attempt to negotiate an agreement on the Palestinian question. Sadat focused his comments almost entirely on Sinai, where he insisted on a full withdrawal by Israeli forces. He rarely talked in detail about the West Bank or Gaza, preferring to stress general principles such as nonacquisition of territory by force and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. He did not strongly support the American attempt to mobilise opinion behind a freeze on settlements and the applicability of UN Resolution 242 [which called for 'Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict'] to all fronts. Carter was therefore left in the awkward position of appearing to be more pro-Arab than Sadat, a politically vulnerable position to say the least. Hence the effort was made to get Sadat to put forward a clear proposal on the West Bank and Gaza. When he proved reluctant to do so, Carter apparently began to conclude that Sadat's real interest was a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli deal. This appraisal was probably accurate... " (p 177)

"Turning to the Israeli position, Carter said that even if Israel was not required to withdraw completely from the West Bank, and even if there was no Palestinian state, Begin would still not show flexibility. He would not stop settlement activity; he would not give up the settlements in Sinai; he would not allow the Sinai settlements to remain under UN or Egyptian protection; he would not agree to withdraw politically from the West Bank even if Israel could retain military outposts; he would not recognise that 242 applied to all fronts; and he would not give the Palestinians the right to choose, at the end of the interim period, whether they wanted to be affiliated with Jordan or Israel or to continue the self-rule arrangements." (p 186)

"... Carter had repeatedly pledged never to cut economic or military aid to Israel as a form of pressure, and he had vowed not to impose an American peace plan. So Begin could anticipate that little more than a verbal disagreement would result if the Camp David talks failed.' (p 208)

"The obvious trade... was to drop reference to withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for Israeli willingness to leave the Sinai completely.' (p 236)

"Sadat's foreign minister was later to write: 'In my opinion, Dayan's discussions with Sadat, which lasted less than an hour, was the straw that broke the camel's back and a turning point towards Sadat's involvement in a series of concessions, arriving at the point of total surrender and, in the end, his signing something beyond Israel's most optimistic dreams'." (p 238)

"Dayan suggested that 242 be referred to only with regard to future Jordanian-Israeli peace negotiations. Since in Begin's view King Hussein [of Jordan] had no valid claim to the West Bank... the issue of withdrawal should not arise. For those areas, Begin would agree to only one of 2 possible outcomes: perpetual autonomy or the imposition of Israeli sovereignty at the end of the 5-year transitional period." (p 244)

"[Attorney General Professor] Barak had little support for [Vance's] desire to continue the Camp David talks until the crucial West Bank and Gaza issues could be fully resolved. So his alternative of finding ambiguous language was implicitly accepted. The central idea, worked out between Barak and Vance was to have 2 synchronised sets of negotiations, one involving Jordan and Israel and one involving Israel and the elected representatives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, joined by Egypt and Jordan. The draft would say that the principles of 242 applied to 'the negotiations' without spelling out what that meant in reality. Egypt and the US could claim that it meant that 242 did apply to the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel would maintain that it applied only to the peace treaty negotiated between Jordan and Israel, where the question of the future of the West Bank and Gaza would not be raised. Few outside observers would have been able to follow the logic of this arcane discussion, but if they had, they would have seen that a basis for future arguments was being laid." (p 244-245)

"In the end, events outside the immediate scope of the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations broke the stalemate. The shah of Iran fell from power in early 1979, and then everyone flinched, Carter most of all. For political and strategic reasons he concluded that he could not let the chance of peace between Egypt and Israel slip away while Iran was caught up in revolution. Even at some risk to his own reputation, he was prepared to once again make a major gamble to reach an agreement. And if Begin could not be moved, then Sadat would have to be." (p 290) And the rest, as they say, is history.

It is worth dwelling on the significance for the Middle East conflict of Sadat's sell-out at Camp David. Egypt's best known journalist Mohamed Heikal reflected: "The October War [of 1973] was a strategic victory for the Arabs. It was almost a tactical victory for the Arab armies, Egyptian and Syrian, which fought the war, but this in the end eluded them owing to miscalculations in the field and America's determination to rescue Israel, whatever the cost. Yet it is a fact that, as 1973 ended, the world was waiting with bated breath to see what this new political and economic giant, the Arab world, would make of its opportunity. Now, as I write, 9 years later, with the war in Lebanon recently ended, the contrast between original hopes and present reality is almost too bitter to contemplate. If it can be said that in 1967 Arab policies were betrayed by Arab arms, it is no less true that in 1973 Arab arms were betrayed by Arab policies. Israel's invasion of Lebanon [1982] revealed to all the Arabs' total impotence - political, military, economic. It was the moment of their greatest humiliation and shame. How Sadat would have reacted to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is impossible to say [Sadat was assassinated in October 1981]. But what is certain is that, by stating categorically in Jerusalem that there would never be another war between Egypt and Israel, he had given a one-sided pledge of non-belligerence of which Israel was to take full advantage. If there had been no such pledge, if Egypt had still been an active element in the Middle East military equation, the Israelis would never have dreamed of committing a hundred thousand troops to the invasion of their northern neighbour. The fact that Sadat's policies had ensured the total and inevitable isolation of Egypt from the rest of the Arab world did more than anything else to give a clear passage for Sharon's tanks on the road to Beirut. Looked at dispassionately, it can be seen that the siege of Beirut was the logical outcome of the Camp David agreements. From the outset it was perfectly clear that Begin knew exactly what he intended these agreements to mean - no Palestinian state, no independent Palestinian entity, and if the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza insisted on claiming to be represented by the PLO, then the PLO would have to be destroyed. The first stage of destruction involved the arrest and expulsion of prominent PLO supporters living under Israeli occupation, seizing land, cutting off water and various other forms of harassment. The second stage took the form of outright war. The Arabs could do nothing to stop Israel because by making a separate peace the state which was the Arab world's natural leader had effectively disarmed all the others as well as itself. The free hand which Sadat gratuitously presented to the Israelis was not exploited by them at the expense of the Palestinians alone; all Arabs east of the Suez Canal thereby became immediately exposed. Lebanon is the most obvious victim, but Syria too has felt the full weight of Israeli weaponry, and even Iraq became the target for the Israeli airforce. Egypt's opting out had a centrifugal effect on all other Arab countries, diverting their attention from what had for long been the dream of unity - however imperfectly understood or pursued, yet a noble and stimulating dream - into barren territorial rivalries, religious conflicts and social strife. The Arab world had become well and truly balkanized." (Autumn of Fury, 1983, pp 284-285)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They're becoming increasingly gutless at the Oz - turning off the comments on Sheridans articles.