Jeffrey Goldberg is mostly a dove in our tradition of progressive Zionism. But there is one area of disagreement that I have with him: he holds strongly with the view that the Palestinians proved themselves incapable of making peace with Yasir Arafat as their leader. Hence, he has the same view as Dennis Ross that the breakdown in the peace process was mostly Arafat’s doing. I see the blame as more equitably shouldered by Arafat with Barak and the Clinton administration (including Ross).
The Clinton administration erred badly in publically blaming Arafat (endorsing Barak’s spin) and in not trying harder, sooner, to build upon the potential advances made at Camp David. Camp David need not have been interpreted as a failure at all. If the follow-up summit at Taba had happened earlier than January 2001, there might have been enough time to fashion a reasonable agreement that could have short-circuited or avoided the Intifada and concluded a workable peace.
I don’t write this to excuse Arafat for not doing all he could to squelch the all-consuming and peace-abnegating Intifada that began late in September 2000, but it is important to envision the Palestinians as capable of living in peace with Israel, and on this Goldberg may be too pessimistic in his long, engrossing and melancholic essay, “Unforgiven,” in the May issue of The Atlantic.
Goldberg and I are in agreement that Israel missed a golden opportunity for not engaging sincerely and energetically with Mahmoud Abbas after he succeeded Arafat and won an electoral mandate from his people in 2005 to negotiate a peaceful two-state solution (this was a full year before Hamas narrowly won its election in January 2006) . Goldberg and I share the hope that this still may happen, but he has no such expectation.
His article is dramatically heralded on The Atlantic’s cover as “Is Israel Finished?” Goldberg does not answer this question, but neither he nor The Atalantic mean to be malicious in posing it. Perhaps his view is best summed up from his conversation with the historian, Benny Morris, when the latter says that even though Israel has been an enormous success, it simultaneously has come to a point where it’s future existence is in doubt.
Goldberg writes of the travails of novelist and dovish activist David Grossman, whose son was killed as a tank soldier in Israel’s last-ditch ground offensive during the final days of the 2006 Lebanon war. He used to be socially friendly with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert but has refused to talk with him since this tragedy. Curiously, Olmert dispatched Avrum Burg– the former prominent Labor dove and Zionist leader who has recently become a focus for controversy with his acerbic post-Zionist book, “Defeating Hitler”– to plead with Grossman to allow Olmert to visit him.
The notion that Olmert is so close personally with Burg and Grossman is a revelation. This also indicates that despite what people may think of Burg, he remains very much an Israeli in his being and he retains a sense of solidarity with his countrymen.
I read the Goldberg article briefly. Aaron Miller in his newly published book on the peace process, “The Much Too Promised Land,” blames the Clinton administration and Barak as well as Arafat for the collapse. He even indirectly blames Assad for not doing what Barak needed to sell a complete withdrawal from the Golan to the Israeli electorate, and thus wasting Barak’s precious time in 1999-2000. But ultimately Arafat made the ultimate mistake by supporting terrorist violence as a tactical negotiating tool and thus making himself politically an unacceptable negotiating partner for the Israelis.
I fully agree with Tom Mitchell about Arafat. But I think we both understand that Arafat wasn’t the only one who f’ed up in the failure of Camp David and the collapse of the peace process in 2000.