No one likes
to admit a mistake. Me neither. But honesty leaves me no choice.
A few days
after the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, I
happened to go on a lecture tour in the US.
was optimistic. I expected some good to come out of the tragedy.
I reasoned that the atrocity had exposed the intensity of the
hatred for the US that is spreading throughout the world, and
especially the Muslim world. It would be logical not only to fight
against the mosquitoes, but to drain the swamp. Since the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict was one of the breeding grounds of the hatred - if not
the main one - the US would make a major effort to achieve peace
between the two peoples.
what cold logic indicated. But this is not what happened. What
happened was the very opposite.
policy was not led by cold logic. Instead of drying one swamp,
it created a second swamp. Instead of pushing the Israelis and
Palestinians towards peace, it invaded Iraq. Not only did the
hatred against America not die down, it flared up even higher.
I hoped that this danger would override even the oil interests
and the desire to station an American garrison in the center of
the Middle East.
Thus I committed
the very mistake that I have warned others against many times:
to assume that what is logical will actually happen. A rational
person should not ignore the irrational in politics. In other
words, it is irrational to exclude the irrational.
Bush is an irrational person, perhaps the very personification
of irrationality. Instead of drawing the logical conclusion from
what had happened and acting accordingly, he set off in the opposite
direction. Since then he has just insisted on "staying the course".
Since I am
already in a confessional mood, I have to admit that I like James
I know that
this will shock some of my good friends. "Baker?!" they will cry
out, "The consigliere of the Bush family? The man who helped George
W steal the 2000 elections? The Rightist?"
the very same Baker. I like him for his cold logic, his forthright
and blunt style, his habit of saying what he thinks without embellishment,
his courage. I prefer this style to the sanctimonious hypocrisy
of other leaders, who try to hide their real intentions. I would
be happy any time to swap Olmert for Baker, and throw in Amir
Peretz for free.
is a matter of taste. More important is the fact that in all the
last 40 years, James Baker was the only leader in America who
had the guts to stand up and act against Israel's malignant disease:
the settlements. When he was the Secretary of State, he simply
informed the Israeli government that he would deduct the sums
expended on the settlements from the money Israel was getting
from the US. Threatened and made good on his threat.
confronted the "pro-Israeli" lobby in the US, both the Jewish
and the Christian. Such courage is rare in the United States,
as it is rare in Israel.
Baker was the only leader
in America who had the guts to
stand up and act against Israel's
malignant disease: the settlements.
When he was the Secretary of State,
he simply informed the Israeli
government that he would deduct
the sums expended on the settlements
from the money Israel was getting
from the US. Threatened and
made good on his threat.
the Iraq Study Group, led by Baker, published its report.
all the bleak forecasts voiced by many throughout the world -
myself included - before Bush & Co. launched the bloody Iraqi
adventure. In his dry and incisive style, Baker says that the
US cannot win there. In so many words he tells the American public:
Let's get out of there, before the last American soldier has to
scramble into the last helicopter from the roof of the American
embassy, as happened in Vietnam.
for the end of the Bush approach and offers a new and thought-out
strategy of his own. Actually, it is an elegant way of extricating
America from Iraq, without it looking like a complete rout. The
main proposals: an American dialogue with Iran and Syria, an international
conference, the withdrawal of the American combat brigades, leaving
behind only instructors. The committee that he headed was bi-partisan,
composed half and half of Republicans and Democrats.
For Israelis, the most interesting part of the report is, of course, the one
that concerns us directly. It interests me especially - how could
it be otherwise? - because it repeats, almost word for word, the
things I said immediately after September 11, both in my articles
at home and in my lectures in the US.
is saying them four years later. In these four years, thousands
of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians
have died for nothing. But, to use the image again, when a giant
ship like the United States turns around, it makes a very big
circle, and it takes a lot of time. We, in the small speed-boat
called Israel, could do it much quicker - if we had the good sense
to do it.
simply: In order to stop the war in Iraq and start a reconciliation
with the Arab world, the US must bring about the end of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. He does not say explicitly that peace must be imposed
on Israel, but that is the obvious implication.
In his own
clear words: "The United States will not be able to achieve its
goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly
with the Arab-Israeli conflict."
proposes the immediate start of negotiations between Israel and
"President Mahmoud Abbas", in order to implement the two-state
solution. The "sustainable negotiations" must address the "key
final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right
of return, and the end of conflict."
The use of
the title "President" for Abu Mazen and, even more so, the use
of the term "right of return" has alarmed the whole political
class in Israel. Even in the Oslo agreement, the section dealing
with the "final status" issues mentions only "refugees". Baker,
as is his wont, called the spade a spade.
At the same
time, he proposes a stick and carrot approach to achieve peace
between Israel and Syria. The US needs this peace in order to
draw Syria into its camp. The stick, from the Israeli point of
view, would be the return of the Golan Heights. The carrot would
be the stationing of American soldiers on the border, so that
Israel's security would be guaranteed by the US. In return, he
demands that Syria stop, inter alia, its aid to Hizbullah.
says simply: In order to stop
the war in Iraq and start a
reconciliation with the Arab world,
the US must bring about the end
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He does not say explicitly that peace
must be imposed on Israel, but
that is the obvious implication.
War I, Baker - the same Baker - got all the parties to the conflict
to come to an international conference in Madrid. For that purpose,
he twisted the arm of then Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir, whose
entire philosophy consisted of two letters and one exclamation
mark: "No!" and whose slogan was: "The Arabs are the same Arabs,
and the sea is the same sea" - alluding to the popular Israeli
conviction that the Arabs all want to throw Israel into the sea.
Shamir to Madrid, his arms and legs in irons, and made sure he
did not escape. Shamir was compelled to sit at the table with
representatives of the Palestinian people, who had never been
allowed to attend an international conference before. The conference
itself had no tangible results, but there is no doubt that it
was a vital step in the process that brought about the Oslo agreement
and, more difficult than anything else, the mutual recognition
of the State of Israel and the Palestinian people.
is suggesting something similar. He proposes an international
conference, and cites Madrid as a model. The conclusion is clear.
this baker can only offer a recipe for the cake. The question
is whether President Bush will use the recipe and bake the cake.
and the beginning of the occupation, several American Secretaries
of State have submitted plans to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All these plans met the same fate: they were torn up and thrown
in the trash.
sequence of events has been repeated time after time: In Jerusalem,
hysteria sets in. The Foreign Office stands up on its hind legs
and swears to defeat the evil design. The media unanimously condemns
the wicked plot. The Secretary of State of the day is pilloried
as an anti-Semite. The Israeli lobby in Washington mobilizes for
the Rogers Plan of Richard Nixon's first Secretary of State, William
Rogers. In the early '70s he submitted a detailed peace plan,
the principal point of which was the withdrawal of Israel to the
1967 borders, with,
at most, "insubstantial alterations".
to the plan?
In the face
of the onslaught of "the Friends of Israel" in Washington, Nixon
buckled under, as have all presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower,
a man of principle who did not need the Jewish votes. No president
will quarrel with the government of Israel if he wants to be re-elected,
or - like Bush now - to end his term in office with dignity and
pass the presidency to another member of his party. Any senator
or congressman who takes a stand that the Israeli embassy does
not like is committing hara-kiri, Washington-style.
of the peace plans of successive Secretaries of State confirms,
on the face of it, the thesis of the two professors, John Mearsheimer
and Stephen Walt, that caused a great stir earlier this year.
According to them, whenever there is a clash in Washington between
the national interests of the United States and the national interests
of Israel, it is the Israeli interests which win.
happen this time, too?
presented his plan at a time when the US is facing disaster in
Iraq. President Bush is bankrupt, his party has lost control of
Congress and may soon lose the White House. The neo-conservatives,
most of them Jews and all of them supporters of the Israeli extreme
Right, who were in control of American foreign policy, are being
removed one by one, and this week yet another, the American ambassador
to the United Nations, was kicked out. Therefore, it is possible
that this time the President may listen to expert advice.
is in serious doubt. The Democratic Party is subject to the "pro-Israeli"
lobby no less than the Republican Party, and perhaps even more.
The new congress was indeed elected under the banner of opposition
to the continuation of the war in Iraq, but its members are not
jihadi suicide bombers. They depend on the "pro-Israeli" lobby.
To paraphrase Shamir: "The plan is the same plan, and the trash
bin is the same trash bin."
the first reaction to the report was total rejection, expressing
a complete confidence in the ability of the lobby to choke it
at birth. "Nothing has changed," Olmert declared. "There is no
one to talk with" - immediately echoed by the mouth and pen brigade
in the media. "We cannot talk with them as long as the terrorism
goes on," a famous expert declared on TV. That's like saying:
"One cannot talk about ending the war as long as the enemy is
shooting at our troops."
On the Mearsheimer-Walt
thesis I wrote that "the dog is wagging the tail and the tail
is wagging the dog." It will be interesting to see which will
wag which this time: the dog its tail or the tail its dog.
The above article is published by Gush
by Uri Avnery:
Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices
of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's
hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Those who want
to help out Gush Shalom can email [email protected]
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