Peace Talks: Let’s Be Skeptical but Supportive

Peace Talks: Let’s Be Skeptical but Supportive

There’s a huge range of opinion on the preliminary talks to begin soon in Washington, DC.  What follows is a sampling of the debate going on. 

As noted here on Monday, J.J. Goldberg may be premature in gloating on “Who got the last laugh,” but we want to believe his upbeat impression.  At about the same time, fellow Forward contributor Hillel Halkin wrote disdainfully, “John Kerry Is Wasting His time and Ours: Why We Need An Alternative to the Two State-Solution.”  Halkin has long been a cynic on Arab-Israeli peace.  Here he raises the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian “federation,” but with a provision that seems quixotic:

What is called for is a two-state solution — but two states in one country. Two governments for two peoples, a part of each living under the jurisdiction of (although not necessarily with the citizenship of) the other; a set of mutual contractual obligations that ensure close and permanent collaboration; a common security policy; free trade; open borders; open travel; no more roadblocks and checkpoints; an end to walls and fences.

If both peoples agree to such an arrangement, that would be fine; but this seems like a heavy lift,
still needing to resolve the knotty issues of citizenship, security and sovereignty.  Bernard Avishai, a North American-Israeli journalist and commentator on peace process issues, has acknowledged a bi-national element in a two-state solution (as does the Geneva Accord):follow-on confederal institutions … : shared administration of municipal Jerusalem, joint security cooperation with the US, an international commission on refugee claims, and, crucially, shared urban infrastructure for what are, at best, interlocking city-states.”  

But how is this going to happen without bilateral or multilateral negotiations?  The fact that Halkin is so dismissive of this effort leads one to believe that he hopes for a “solution” that is an Israeli diktat rather than the product of a negotiated agreement.  

With Halkin jeering from the right, we also have M.J. Rosenberg’s ridicule from the left (e.g., “Psycho Drama: Kerry’s Pathetic Accomplishment“).  There’s plenty of grounds for pessimism, of course, but in his steady nay-saying on even the possibility of a successful negotiation, Rosenberg almost appears to oppose a peace agreement. 

Aaron David Miller, the veteran diplomat and analyst on Mideast issues, has indicated in radio interviews that what’s impressed him about Kerry’s effort so far is that both Israeli and Palestinian officials have maintained discipline in not leaking details to the press.  He shares his wisdom in a Foreign Policy magazine article online, “Five Things to Watch for in the Peace Process.”

He concludes:

Predicting the outcome of the Kerry effort is a pointless exercise. My own analysis on the peace process has been annoyingly negative not because of ideology, bias, or career change. My sober assessment flows from my agreement with … Groucho Marx (or Harpo) in Duck Soup: Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? … it’s pretty tough to persuade me that a conflict-ending accord on all the big issues, including Jerusalem and refugees, is possible now.
That doesn’t mean that agreement on borders and security isn’t leading to provisional Palestinian statehood with commitments to negotiate the rest. But even that will take a heroic effort on the part of leaders who are more risk-averse politicians than great leaders. …

Which brings me to our old friend, Yossi Beilin, a key player in Oslo and the Geneva Accord, and a former leader of Meretz.  He has long been urging Palestinian statehood in provisional borders and advocates such a “Plan B” in relation to this new round of negotiations, “Preparing for Plan B.”

It’s not that he prefers such an outcome, nor that provisional boundaries should be only at 60% of the West Bank (the figure he mentions), but this is what he sees as possible right now, and he does not want negotiations to end with nothing achieved for the Palestinians.  Yet unless a new unprecedented level of trust is established that convinces Palestinians that such temporary borders will not become permanent, it’s hard to envision Palestinian negotiators agreeing to such an arrangement.  Beilin’s perspective reflects how bitterly pessimistic the peace camp has become over these last few years, and how aware he is from recent history (e.g., Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, and the Olmert-Abbas round in 2007-08) that negotiations that make progress but don’t resolve all issues, tend to crash down into renewed violence and turmoil. 

By | 2013-07-24T17:10:00-04:00 July 24th, 2013|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Jeff July 24, 2013 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Nice commentary, but it could not have been Harpo in Duck Soup since he does not speak. It might be Groucho, but I think more likely Chico. It sounds more like something he would say.

  2. bronxite10 July 24, 2013 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    On different issues, there will be different degrees of overlapping sovreignty, and whether you call it two independent states, one bi-national state, one state with different jurisdictions, the name will make little difference except to people who never go past a label. The only thing you can be sure of is that Chico said the bit about “your own two eyes” in Duck Soup.

    From Duck Soup:

    Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency, I thought you’d left!

    Chicolini: Oh no, I no leave.

    Mrs. Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes!

    Chicolini: Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

    I’m pretty sure I remember Groucho saying something similar in a different movie.

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