The New York Times Revises the Peace Process
"The Peace Plan that Almost Was and Still Could Be": blazoned over the entire cover of the February 13 New York Times Magazine, the sensation-seeking headline comes accompanied by a photograph from the back of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, each with his arm around the other. The two men, declares the Times excitedly, "almost made a historic deal in 2008," and now—right now—"is the moment to resuscitate it."
The article within, by Bernard Avishai, follows closely on a news story that appeared in the Times as a front-page "scoop" on January 27. In that story, written by the paper's Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner, readers had early word of just how tantalizingly "close to a peace deal" Olmert and Abbas had been toward the end of 2008, only to have the deal put on hold because of Olmert's legal problems and the start of the Gaza war. According to Bronner, progress toward peace was then finally stopped in its tracks by the election in early 2009 of a new hard-line Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bronner's account was itself based on an interview with Olmert (and a similar one with President Abbas) that had been conducted for the Times by the same Bernard Avishai—a freelance writer, peace activist, and proponent of transforming Israel from a Jewish state into a secular "Hebrew republic." It is Avishai's own 4,700-word account of the Olmert-Abbas negotiations that has now, complete with illustrations and maps, been sprawled across several pages of the Times Magazine. Thus, within a period of two weeks, the paper has twice put its weight behind pieces of copycat journalism that, by coincidence, happen to fortify its own editorial position on which party is most responsible for the Israel-Palestinian impasse and how best to resolve it.
As Avishai's is intended to be the fuller and more "authoritative" account, let us focus on his telling of the story. According to him, both Olmert and Abbas have separately confirmed that they did indeed meet many times in 2007 and 2008—and that the critical breakthrough toward a peace agreement and a two-state solution came on September 16, 2008. On that day, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Olmert presented Abbas with a large map showing how Israel could retain 6.3 percent of Palestinian land on the West Bank and thus avoid evacuating most of the Jewish settlements. To compensate, Olmert proposed transferring an equivalent amount of Israeli land to the future Palestinian state. He also agreed to divide the city of Jerusalem, with a five-nation consortium controlling the Old City and the Jewish and Muslim holy places. For their part, the Palestinians would have to drop their historic demand for the "right of return" to Israel of the 1948 refugees and their descendants—although Olmert offered to admit 5,000 refugees over five years on "humanitarian" grounds.
As for Olmert's map, Abbas assured the Israeli prime minister that it was worthy of study and further negotiations, and the two men parted on that note. But then, according to Olmert, Abbas "went silent" on him—although discussions with the Palestinians continued at a lower level until the election of Netanyahu tragically turned the clock back. Abbas's version of the same events is that Olmert, distracted by the corruption charges being brought against him and by the pending Gaza war, failed to send a representative to a meeting in Washington called by Condoleezza Rice, but that he, Abbas, had been ready to resume talks anyway, even after Israel invaded Gaza.
And what is the urgency in publishing such an article now? As Avishai puts it, the further passage of time, together with the current turmoil in the Arab Middle East, has raised the breakthrough possibility of reviving those talks, abandoned just at the moment when "the gaps appear[ed] so pitifully small." In self-aggrandizing mode, Avishai touts his "exclusive" revelations as themselves constituting a new opportunity for peace—particularly, he pointedly adds, if President Obama now steps into the breach, picks up where the Israelis and Palestinians left off more than two years ago, and with the aid of the international community pushes through a deal that Israel has no choice but to accept. Otherwise, Avishai quotes a frustrated Abbas as saying, "If nothing happens, I will take a very, very painful decision. Don't ask me about it."
There are only two problems with Avishai's narrative and the conclusions he draws from it. One is that what's true in the material the Times has published twice in as many weeks isn't new; the other is that what's new isn't true.
Not only is Avishai not the first journalist to reveal details about Olmert's September 2008 offer to Abbas, he isn't even the second or third. The first to report was Newsweek's Kevin Paraino, in June 2009. According to Paraino, Olmert told him about the map he had presented to Abbas the previous September, plus the offer to divide Jerusalem. Abbas, wrote Paraino, "studied the materials and began to formulate a response. . . . But time eventually ran out."
Two months later, I published a separate account in City Journal of the Olmert-Abbas talks, based on an interview I conducted with Olmert in which he told me, too, about the September 16, 2008 meeting and about the map he had presented to Abbas, adding that Abbas had taken the map away with him (a detail missing from Avishai's story) and then broken the promise he had made to return the following day for further discussions. A call did come from Abbas's office saying that the PA president had forgotten an appointment in Amman with the Jordanian king but would return for more talks in the next days. According to Olmert, that was the last he ever heard from Abbas.
The third journalist to report on the Olmert-Abbas meeting was Aluf Benn, a respected reporter with the Hebrew daily Haaretz. In a story filed on December 17, 2009—and headlined as an "exclusive"—Benn provided all the details of Olmert's September 2008 offer to Abbas. The newspaper also published the Olmert map detailing the proposed land swaps between Israel and the prospective Palestinian state.
Thus, contrary to the Times' assertion that Olmert has revealed exclusive new information to Avishai, it is abundantly clear that the former Israeli prime minister, widely despised at home and desperate to remain relevant, started blabbing about his negotiations with Abbas over a year and a half ago to anybody who would listen.
So much for what isn't new. More egregious is what isn't true. Among the many items to pick from here, the most significant concerns Avishai's effort to create a plausible cover story absolving Abbas of responsibility for walking away from yet another ostensibly golden opportunity to win a Palestinian state—just as Yasir Arafat, Abbas's predecessor, walked away from Bill Clinton's offer of a state at the 2000 Camp David talks, and at a similar moment when the two sides were supposedly within an inch of an agreement. Without any qualification, Avishai simply accepts at face value Abbas's transparently self-serving claim that the reasons the negotiation with Olmert didn't continue after September 2008 were the start of the Gaza war and his good friend Olmert's preoccupation with his legal troubles. In other words, it was Israel's fault.
This is pure hokum. A war with Gaza wasn't on the Israeli government's horizon for more than three months after the final Olmert-Abbas meeting. Moreover, Olmert's pending legal problems would have made the prime minister more, rather than less, eager to bolster his reputation by laying the foundations of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. In actuality, there is only one plausible reason for Abbas's failure to return to discuss the issue of borders. It is that the PA president could not and cannot ever allow himself to announce to the Palestinian refugees and their myriad descendants that their 60-year-old dream of returning to their homes in Israel is over.
It must be added that, in whitewashing Abbas's irresponsibility in walking away from Olmert's unprecedented and quite breathtaking offers, Avishai has an accomplice. That is Ehud Olmert himself, who has now completely changed his version of the events being described. Avishai quotes Olmert as saying "We were very close, more than ever in the past, to complete an agreement on principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians."
"We" were very close? For whatever reasons that now suit Olmert's personal purposes, this is completely contrary to his statement to me in 2009 that he was dismayed by Abbas's decision to break off negotiations and go silent—an obvious sign that Abbas was nowhere near close to a deal, let alone very close. Nor, I suspect, did Olmert say anything about being close to an agreement in his interviews with Newsweek and Haaretz. If he had, surely those publications would have found it newsworthy to print an Israeli prime minister's confirmation of his Palestinian counterpart's commitment to peace.
Now the Times has made up for the lack by letting Abbas lay the blame on Israel's present government, thus tacitly endorsing the paper's own spin on the peace process. It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. Delusions of "peace," it seems, can have a similarly debilitating effect on political leaders, the journalists who write about them, and the editors of influential newspapers.
Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute.
He seized the "peace" issue as a way of ingratiating himself with the so-called "peace camp" in Israel, who are always ready to betray the Jews. That is what he is doing now and that is why he put the blame for failure of his "peace" offer on the Netanyahu government. It is interesting that Avishai does not see any blame or wrongdoing on the part of the EU and the UK and US govts for encouraging Arab irredentism and warfare over the years. But let's bear in mind that Olmert's "peace activism" is meant to lessen the punishment for his outrageous corruption.
I think Haaretz eventually published all the details, including a map, and Olmert also gave several media interviews; the most detailed was one he gave to an Australian paper during a visit there.
However, I would argue that there is one interesting aspect to Avishai's NYT magazine piece: while Abbas declared in spring 2009 to the WaPo's Jackson Diehl that the gaps had been much too wide, he now seems to be telling the opposite to Avishai. On the other hand, Abbas and Erekat just recently reacted to the publication of the so-called "Palestine Papers" by Al Jazeera and The Guardian by insisting that it would be totally wrong to accuse them of any willingness to compromise...
The Palestinians are the biggest losers out of the major transformation going on in the Arab/Islamic world today. They are now becoming what they always were - a minor contrivance and irrelvancy to the much larger existential problems of 18 unviable Arab states. I wouldn't be surprised if Abbas finds himself on the receiving end of one of these Tahrir Square-type revolts. There are news reports from the Jerusalem Post that he and his top aides have taken out Jordanian citizenship, just in case. That is certainly not a good sign.
These places, which are part of the patrimony of ALL Jews – including the Diaspora – are not his (or Israel’s) to concede. Without the holy places, the early Zionists might just as well have agreed to European offers of Jewish colonies in Uganda!
Olmert wants all Jews to pay for his sins. He would make the perfect dhimmi.
Clearly the formation of any Palestinian state would be a catastrophe. The Radical left has been pushing for this for years. Their dream, thankfully frustrated in the past has, to now, practically evaded them. The left has never been closer, and Israel has never been, potentially, more encircled by its worst enemies.
I wonder if the recent polls showing that 80% of Egyptians want an end to the Camp David plans, is an inherent sign of anti-Israeli sentiment, or – I think more likely – anti-Palestinian sentiment. After all, if a new Palestine state, aka an new embolden Palestine state, borders Israel, also borders Egypt.
With a bit of aggression and cojones, Israel should do the following, or at least work on setting it in motion
1. Abrogate Camp David accords
2. Announce an end to negotiations with Palestinians
3. Work with Egypt, Jordan and Syria (who don’t want the Palestinians either and who are threatened by the left/socialist/Islamic movements) to shatter the Palestinians and scatter them to the winds, take back Gaza Strip and West Bank, defeat the Iranian government, throw Hezbollah out of Lebanon and either absorb the territories thus vacated or arrange something with their allies in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Or establish a free Lebanon and a free Iran.
Welcome to what Shimon Peres called the New Middle East (although he meant it with a different tone of voice).
What is Mr. Avishai's point?
Does he really believe by regurgitating the dribblings between Abbas and Olmert will get him the unending admiration of his countrymen to say nothing of personal international fame if this meaningless contribution to the New York Times will have secured peace at last.
This is not the time -- if ever there was one --and there has never been one --to keep pushing a solution to the Palestinian problem no matter how close a solution might have been possible, might have been possible! [ the repetition was intentional ].
I am perplexed to say this but a talent like Mr. Avishai has a lot to learn about the state of Israel.
I congratulate Sol Stern for this fine article.
Sad as this realization is, it's the only working premise which should guide Israel's actions. They need to do what they need to do, to protect their citizens, just as any other responsible government would do.
Those who constantly and unfairly criticize Israel including many of these "NGO's" are either naive idealistic Leftists unable or unwilling to see these truths, or those using these organizations as front-runners with their own hateful anti-Israeli agendas.
or go to camera.org click on "contact the media" to get all media outlets e-mails,phones # & physical addresses
Their Leftist worldview and antipathy toward Israel seems so imbedded that I wonder if they are even receptive to any other views.
Their slant on the Mideast, especialy the relentless anti-Israel bias of their Jerusalem correspondent Ethan Bronner is well known and has been widely discussed. If they really cared about fairness or journalistic integrity, they would have replaced Bronner a long time ago!
In the name of pragmatism, willingness to “merely to recognise” Israel – meaning to accept and live in peace with an Israel inside its pre-June ‘67 borders – has long been the formal Palestinian and all-Arab position. Why does it stop short of recognising Israel’s “right to exist”, and why, really, does it matter so much to Zionism that Palestinians recognise this right?
The answer is in the following.
According to history as written by the winner, Zionism, Israel was given its birth certificate and thus legitimacy by the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. This is propaganda nonsense.
In the first place the UN without the consent of the majority of the people of Palestine did not have the right to decide to partition Palestine or assign any part of its territory to a minority of alien immigrants in order for them to establish a state of their own.
Despite that, by the narrowest of margins, and only after a rigged vote, the UN General Assembly did pass a resolution to partition Palestine and create two states, one Arab, one Jewish, with Jerusalem not part of either. But the General Assembly resolution was only a proposal – meaning that it could have no effect, would not become policy, unless approved by the Security Council.
The truth is that the General Assembly’s partition proposal never went to the Security Council for consideration. Why not? Because the U.S. knew that, if approved, it could only be implemented by force given the extent of Arab and other Muslim opposition to it; and President Truman was not prepared to use force to partition Palestine.
So the partition plan was vitiated (became invalid) and the question of what the hell to do about Palestine – after Britain had made a mess of it and walked away, effectively surrendering to Zionist terrorism – was taken back to the General Assembly for more discussion. The option favoured and proposed by the U.S. was temporary UN Trusteeship. It was while the General Assembly was debating what to do that Israel unilaterally declared itself to be in existence – actually in defiance of the will of the organised international community, including the Truman administration.
The truth of the time was that the Zionist state, which came into being mainly as a consequence of pre-planned ethnic cleansing, had no right to exist and, more to the point, could have no right to exist UNLESS … Unless it was recognised and legitimized by those who were dispossessed of their land and their rights during the creation of the Zionist state. In international law only the Palestinians could give Israel the legitimacy it craved.
And that legitimacy was the only thing the Zionists could not and cannot take from the Palestinians by force.
You may continue to question legality of the United Nations partitioning the property in 1947 as they did and where they did, nevertheless, it was done. Had the Arabs accepted the fait accompli, we would have had 5 less wars to worry over and Arab "honor" would have never been tarnished, or brought into question?
Leaving aside the fairy story of God’s promise, (which even if true would have no bearing on the matter because the Jews who “returned” in answer to Zionism’s call had no biological connection to the ancient Hebrews), the Zionist state’s assertion of legitimacy rests on the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the UN General Assembly’s partition plan resolution of 1947.
The only real relevance of the Balfour Declaration is in the fact that it was an expression of both the willingness of a British government to use Jews for imperial purposes and the willingness of Zionist Jews to be used. The truth is that Britain had no right whatsoever to promise Zionism a place in Palestine, territory the British did not possess. (Palestine at the time was controlled and effectively owned by Ottoman Turkey). The Balfour Declaration did allow Zionism to say that its claim to Palestine had been recognised by a major power, and then to assert that the Zionist enterprise was therefore a legitimate one. But the legitimacy Britain conveyed by implication was entirely spurious, meaning not genuine, false, a sham.
Zionism’s assertion that Israel was given its birth certificate and thus legitimacy by the UN General Assembly partition resolution of 29 November 1947 is pure propaganda nonsense, as demonstrated by an honest examination of the record of what actually happened.
In the first place the UN without the consent of the majority of the people of Palestine did not have the right to decide to partition Palestine or assign any part of its territory to a minority of alien immigrants in order for them to establish a state of their own.
As it was said many years ago by Khalad al-Hassan, Fatah’s intellectual giant on the right, that legitimacy was “the only thing the Zionists could not take from us by force.”
The truth of history as summarised with my other POST above is the explanation of why, really, Zionism has always insisted that its absolute pre-condition for negotiations with more than a snowball’s chance in hell of a successful outcome (an acceptable measure of justice for the Palestinians and peace for all) is recognition of Israel’s right to exist. A right, it knows, it does not have and will never have unless the Palestinians grant it.
It can be said without fear of contradiction (except by Zionists) that what de-legitimizes Israel is the truth of history. And that is why Zionism has worked so hard, today with less success than in the past and therefore with increasing desperation, to have the truth suppressed.
Michael Santomauro on February 27, 2011 02:20 am
You are living literally in another century. Zionism is one of the only successful ideologies to survive the wreckage heap of the 20th century. Zionism was in its desperate moments in 1948 and 1967 when most of the world's beautiful people thought the Jews would lose and the Arabs would triumph. The Arabs lost, end of story. Losers don't dictate the outcome of wars. What is it about that simple historical truth that people like you can't understand.
The next century has arrived and Israel is now the most powerful and ONLY stable state in the MidEast. Far from being desperate, under Likud leadership, Israel is now ready to embark on a whole new phase in its development while the Arabs are still trying to reach the level of development that Israel was at literally in 1948. If you want to go on whining about the outcome of that war forever, go ahead and waste your time. The youth of the Arab world clearly have lost interest in the issue of Palestine. Jobs and civil rights in their own countries are the issues that matter today. The Palestinians are history.
"What will induce the Jews to found a state and to settle in it?
We can trust the anti-Semites to see to that."
Published by Jews for Justice in the Middle East
The 1967 War and the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
Did the Egyptians actually start the 1967 war, as Israel originally claimed?
“The former Commander of the Air Force, General Ezer Weitzman, regarded as a hawk, stated that there was ‘no threat of destruction’ but that the attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria was nevertheless justified so that Israel could ‘exist according the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.’...Menahem Begin had the following remarks to make: ‘In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.’“ Noam Chomsky, “The Fateful Triangle.”
Was the 1967 war defenisve? — continued
“I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to The Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.” Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff in 1967, in Le Monde, 2/28/68
Moshe Dayan posthumously speaks out on the Golan Heights
“Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, as Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan...[said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland...[Dayan stated] ‘They didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land...We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.
And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was...The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.’” The New York Times, May 11, 1997
The history of Israeli expansionism
“The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan; one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today. But the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.” David Ben-Gurion, in 1936, quoted in Noam Chomsky, “The Fateful Triangle.”
Expansionism — continued
“The main danger which Israel, as a ‘Jewish state’, poses to its own people, to other Jews and to its neighbors, is its ideologically motivated pursuit of territorial expansion and the inevitable series of wars resulting from this aim...No zionist politician has ever repudiated Ben-Gurion’s idea that Israeli policies must be based (within the limits of practical considerations) on the restoration of Biblical borders as the borders of the Jewish state.” Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of 3000 Years.”
Expansionism — continued
In Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharatt’s personal diaries, there is an excerpt from May of 1955 in which he quotes Moshe Dayan as follows: “[Israel] must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Toward this end it may, no — it must — invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge...And above all — let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space.” Quoted in Livia Rokach, “Israel’s Sacred Terrorism.”
But wasn’t the occupation of Arab lands necessary to protect Israel’s security?
“Senator [J.William Fulbright] proposed in 1970 that America should guarantee Israel’s security in a formal treaty, protecting her with armed forces if necessary. In return, Israel would retire to the borders of 1967. The UN Security Council would guarantee this arrangement, and thereby bring the Soviet Union — then a supplier of arms and political aid to the Arabs — into compliance. As Israeli troops were withdrawn from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank they would be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force. Israel would agree to accept a certain number of Palestinians and the rest would be settled in a Palestinian state outside Israel.
“The plan drew favorable editorial support in the United States. The proposal, however, was flatly rejected by Israel. ‘The whole affair disgusted Fulbright,’ writes [his biographer Randall] Woods. ‘The Israelis were not even willing to act in their own self-interest.’” Allan Brownfield in “Issues of the American Council for Judaism.” Fall 1997.[Ed.—This was one of many such proposals]
What happened after the 1967 war ended?
“In violation of international law, Israel has confiscated over 52 percent of the land in the West Bank and 30 percent of the Gaza Strip for military use or for settlement by Jewish civilians...From 1967 to 1982, Israel’s military government demolished 1,338 Palestinian homes on the West Bank. Over this period, more than 300,000 Palestinians were detained without trial for various periods by Israeli security forces. “Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation,” ed. Lockman and Beinin.
The most telling and obvious point which Michael is too consumed by his own transparent biases and inadequacies, is that jealous losers like him who always talk about "justice" and "peace" hypocritically never seem to want either for Israel or Jews in general.
Why isn't he instead concerned with worldwide Islamofascist terrorism, which has murdered thousands of innocents and is clearly the greatest threat to security pretty much everywhere Muslims live. Very very telling.
Get a life .
Is what you are saying about me: An inspection of your own brain?
"Why isn't he instead concerned with worldwide Islamofascist terrorism?"
My answer to you:
9/11 had its principal origin 40 years ago when Israel's U.S. lobby began its unbroken success in stifling debate about the proper U.S. role in the Arab-Israeli conflict and effectively concealed from public awareness the fact that the U.S. government gives massive uncritical support to Israel.
Nothing can justify 9/11. Those guilty deserve maximum punishment, but it makes sense for America to examine motivations promptly and as carefully as possible. Terrorism almost always arises from deeply-felt grievances. If they can be eradicated or eased, terrorist passions are certain to subside.
Today, 10 years after 9/11, our President has made no attempt to redress grievances, or even to identify them. In fact, he has made the scene far worse by supporting Israel's religious war against Palestinians, an alliance that has intensified anti-American anger. He seems oblivious to the fact that nearly two billion people worldwide regard the plight of Palestinians as today's most important foreign-policy challenge. No one in authority will admit a calamitous reality that is skillfully shielded from the American people but clearly recognized by most of the world: America suffered 9/11 and its aftermath and may soon be at war with Iran, mainly because U.S. policy in the Middle East is made in Israel, not in Washington.
Israel is a scofflaw nation and should be treated as such. Instead of helping Sharon intensify Palestinian misery, our president should suspend all aid until Israel ends its occupation of Arab land Israel seized in 1967.
President Obama is quoted as saying he would like to see Israel become more serious about wanting peace. By saying that I believe that he is pointing out that there is NOBODY ISRAEL CAN DEAL WITH. Obama is nobody's fool. But he knows what it is like to be between a rock and a hard place because no matter what he does or doesn't do, some will see him wrong while others will see him VERY wrong. Methinks he knows how it must feel to be an Israeli to try to make peace with people who don't want it. Sigh....
a writer and is weaver of “facts" You could go far in honest journalism… Why not give it a try?
To paraphrase: "Israel is not the problem, stupid "
With apologies to Heine, the great German Poet, writing just before the European revolutions of 1848:
"In the darkness there can be heard a soft monotonous dripping.
It is the profits of the Arab Dictators continually trickling in continuously mounting up.
And one can hear too, in between, the soft low sobs of the destitute
and now and then a harsher sound, like a knife being sharpened."
Michael, you've done a great job of echoing the Arabs' point of view.
Nobody likes compromise, but without it nothing positive can happen.
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