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  • Bend Over, Here It Comes Again

    Posted by Jonathan on February 17th, 2003 (All posts by )

    Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft coauthored an op-ed (requires subscription) in last Thursday’s WSJ in which they called for another moral-equivalence imposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The principal features of the proposal should be familiar to us by now:

    • Two independent states with boundaries approximating the pre-June 1967 borders with territorial adjustments that are the result of negotiation and not unilateral annexation. In effect, the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel would be exchanged for Israel’s relinquishing of the settlements, except on those territories exchanged by mutual agreement. • Arrangements for Jerusalem that accommodate two separate sovereignties while — insofar as possible — keeping the city physically undivided. • Relief and justice for Palestinian refugees in ways that do not threaten Israel’s demographic balance (e.g., a “right of return” applied to the new Palestinian state and generous international funding for repatriation, resettlement and compensation[)]. • A protection regime for sites deemed holy by Jews, Christians and Moslems. • Agreement on arrangements for internal and external security.

    In other words, the Palestinians, having been offered recently a very similar deal by the Israelis, and having rejected that deal and started a war, which they lost, are now to be offered the same deal again. They are to pay no penalty for their bad judgment and bad faith.

    Much of the rest of the column is delusional boilerplate that denies the obvious:

    All previous efforts to end the violence and turn to a political process have failed because each side has maintained that the first step must be taken by the other. If the road map is not to encounter the same fate, the U.S. and its partners must insist on a 100% Palestinian Authority effort to end violence that is unconditional and independent of actions demanded of Israel. They must similarly insist on an unconditional cessation of Israeli settlement expansion (including so-called natural growth) that is independent of actions required of Palestinians. This parallelism is not to suggest moral equivalence. It is to recognize that no peace talks are possible if Palestinians fail to exert 100% effort to halt terrorism or if Israel continues to encroach on Palestinian lives and property.

    To state that “this parallelism is not to suggest moral equivalence” is rich, since the obvious point of this statement was indeed to suggest a moral equivalence between those whose commit or sponsor murderous terror attacks and those who build settlements. Indeed, far from being a function of process or misunderstanding (“each side has maintained that the first step must be taken by the other”), the violence has been driven by the Palestinian leadership which has embraced terror as a political tool when it couldn’t get what it wanted by negotiation. Why should the Palestinians now be awarded a clean slate? And why should Israelis assent to a plan which from the beginning is so tilted against them? (They wouldn’t, which is why this deal would have to be imposed by the U.S. via threats and costly bribes.)

    David Frum addressed these issues in his blog and wondered about the authors’ motives:

    So: Brzezinski and Scowcroft are advocating that the U.S. embark on another probably doomed attempt to midwife a Palestinian state in order to win European, Arab, and Muslim support for an Iraq policy that Brzezinski and Scowcroft oppose. That’s illogical enough. But what elevates the illogic to almost postmodern levels is that the U.S. is in fact already winning the Arab and European support that Brzezinski and Scowcroft say it cannot win. Meanwhile, the countries that continue to oppose U.S. policy in Iraq – like France and Russia – do not even bother to cite the Palestinian issue as an excuse. I’m beginning to wonder whether for a certain type of foreign-policy expert, the “Middle East peace process” isn’t becoming a Pavlovian response: Ring the bell and they start demanding an Arafatistan. They themselves no longer remember why they do it. And they certainly cannot explain why anybody else should follow them.
    Frum is right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that what drives Brzezinski and Scowcroft is so mysterious as he suggests (or maybe he is just being coy). What gives Brzezinski and Scowcroft away is their insistence on putting the Israeli-Palestinian fix in before we invade Iraq:
    There is no national security reason for the U.S. to delay such a proposal. Indeed, there are important security reasons to spell out, without further delay, the broad shape of the peace agreement for which the U.S. intends to work. Arab countries and much of the Muslim world, as well as most European countries, see a direct link between their ability to be more forthcoming in supporting U.S. goals in Iraq and our commitment to working for a fair settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    This is odd, because Iraq supports the Arafat gang’s strategy of pressuring Israel via terror attacks, and because of course our adversaries want to reach agreements now, when they have more leverage than they will after any post-war realignment. Why should we accommodate them rather than wait until we have greater advantage? Any threat to the Iraqi regime undermines its support for Palestinian violence and encourages accommodation with Israel, which would be good for the U.S.

    So why the rush to lock in an agreement? I think this is an example of what Lex had in mind in a recent magnum opus, when he wrote of the seemingly perverse reasoning by which our State Department comes to prefer apparently-stable tyrannies to “risky” democracy in the Middle East:

    Why are we doing this? Why does the State Department want to preserve “stability” at the expense of any hope for freedom or progress for this “remote nation of twenty million people” we are about to liberate at the price of American and British blood? First, I suppose, bureaucratic inertia. The State Department is terrified of any change in the region because its institutional interest lies in preserving the personnel and regimes it has invested in and cultivated. The State Department’s franchise is access, knowing whom to call. If a brand new regime comes along, all that goes in the waste basket. The last thing these guys want is the House of Saud swept into the trash can [. . .]
    Brzezinski and Scowcroft are sophisticated and public-spirited men. However, they are realists in the sense that Lex uses the term: they are capable of imagining how much worse things could always become, and so tend to favor incremental solutions that seem unlikely to lead to disaster if things go awry. But as Lex points out, the “realist” model can fail at historical inflection points where radical change may be less risky than tinkering on the margins. It looks like we are at such a point now.

    Brzezinski and Scowcroft also probably have a great deal of time and effort invested in relationships, “access,” and intellectual models for understanding the Middle East as it is today. Like State Department bureaucrats, and consultants generally, they stand to lose if the old order is replaced by something radically different. It is not inconceivable that their op-ed is a trial balloon in the foreign-affairs bureaucracy’s effort to make its case against proponents of radical change. Did Colin Powell have a hand in its writing? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. It’s more important that advocates of democracy and regime change realize that they are not going to be given a free ride on this topic and must continue to make their case forcefully and repeatedly.

    Are you listening, W?