Political and Moral Blindness Insanity

A left-leaning relative of mine who is now in Israel expressed approval for extra-governmental Israeli negotiations with Palestinian Authority cutouts in Geneva. I responded by arguing that these negotiations are destructive to Israel’s interests: the people pursuing them on Israel’s behalf, and their policies, were rejected by the Israeli electorate and are thus not representative of Israeli opinion; it’s inappropriate, and should be illegal (as in the U.S.), for such people to run their own foreign policy; and any such division among the parties on one side of a negotiation must weaken that side relative to a united opponent. My arguments, needless to say, did not go over well. While my points were obvious to me they do not seem to be appreciated by Israeli advocates of negotiation-as-a-principle. (Of course Arafat, too, favors these negotiations. Why wouldn’t he? He benefits by dividing and weakening Israelis and keeping alive ideas that have proved disastrous for Israel on multiple occasions. The continued failure of the Israeli Left to understand that Arafat is an enemy, and that his approval of a policy proposal is a prima facie indicator that that proposal is bad for Israel, is mind boggling.)

(And U.S. support for these negotiations is shameful, because we are undermining one of our most reliable allies, and foolish, because it appears that we are a faithless patron — you can bet Iraqis and Iranians notice this — and are easily maneuvered into buying off enemies.)

Maybe the Israeli government should start negotiating publicly with Palestinian enemies of the Arafat regime. Of course Arafat is no fool and has already killed or intimidated most of these people. But still, this whole affair makes me wonder why the Israeli Left is always trying so hard to undermine its own side instead of the enemy. Wouldn’t it make sense, if peace really is the goal and negotiating with Arafat hasn’t brought it, to at least say that you favor negotiating with new Palestinian faces? Why not?

But the Israeli Left doesn’t see it that way, and I suspect the reason is that for Israeli leftists weakening the Israeli Right is almost as important, if not as important, as reaching a livable accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs. Arafat understands this political dynamic and exploits it effectively.

21 thoughts on “Political and Moral <strike>Blindness</strike> Insanity”

  1. By making the statement “we are undermining one of our most reliable allies,” the writer assumes that the value of this alliance is understood by the reader. Can you give us a few examples of Israel’s reliability as an ally? Israel’s benefit from the relationship is tangible in billions of dollars of aid each year, but what does the US gain?


  2. I don’t see why it should be illegal for individuals to negotiate agreements and accords that are obviously non-binding and unenforceable. And to some extent, I welcome these side-shows since they prove that on both sides, there are quite a few people interested in alternative formulas. Including many Palestinians who have had enough of Arafat’s rule. They are also open to the public who gets to see alternatives instead of being presented with fait-accompli deals negotiated behind closed doors.

    The fact remains that both Israel’s and Arafat’s choices and policies have resulted in a long, old, costly, abysmal failure. The problem will not be resolved by force from either side. And one would have to be foolish to believe in peace with the likes of Arafat. What is surprising is that no one tried this before.

  3. “But the Israeli Left doesn’t see it that way, and I suspect the reason is that for Israeli leftists weakening the Israeli Right is almost as important, if not as important, as reaching a livable accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs.”

    This has been true of a fraction of the Israeli left from the beginning. They do not see the harm they do, lionized as they are by their leftist brethren. Just note how frequently they represent Israel to the talk shows and op-eds of the world press. Parallels to Moore, Chomsky, et al are irresistable.

  4. John: Israel is the most pro-American country in the Middle East, and still the only one that shares political values with the United States. That makes Israel an ally as far as I’m concerned. That we haven’t collaborated more openly with Israel in military affairs reflects, IMO, more our reluctance to offend the Saudis et al than it does any lack of common ground with the Israelis. I don’t think U.S. subsidies to Israel, which I oppose, change anything here.

    Jim and Sylvain: The Logan Act forbids such behavior, though it isn’t enforced, and perhaps never would be enforced against an ex-president. But the Act reflects important principles — that allowing end-runs around official policy WRT enemies weakens us, and that unofficial foreign-policy representatives lack legitimacy. There is nothing wrong with new ideas, but they should be expressed through the elected government. Beilin and his colleagues were defeated in the most recent Israeli election. IOW, the Israeli public repudiated their ideas. Yet these leftists now have the hubris to do an end-run around their own government, intentionally putting the government in a difficult position in order to influence it to act contra the wishes of the Israeli electorate. This is sabotage and is inappropriate.

  5. Jonathan, I disagree. Whether you, I or some lefty Israeli was booted out of office or not is irrelevant. Private citizens are free to organize or pay for opinion polls, regardless of their political status. And if they and others want to meet and hammer out an hypothetical treaty about anything from fishing regulation to drawing borders, it’s nobody’s business but theirs and that of the people who want to participate, listen and support them. Or not. I don’t see how freedom of expression does not apply to such theoretical initiatives.

    You are essentially arguing for a government monopoly here. Which, when it comes to defense or foreign policy, is fine by me as long as we are talking about policy making and ultimate enforcement. But you essentially say that the mere act of freely and publicly designing an agreement that is inherently legally unenforceable and therefore ineffectual and toothless, should be illegal. In other words, the government can grant itself a monopoly that effectively forbids organized forms of freedom of expression in a particular area. Individuals can talk, argue, criticize and propose in hundreds of op-ed columns. Groups are subservive and forbidden.

    Not only does this line of reasoning disturb me, but I wonder if it is not made in some quarters precisely because these proposals are proving popular and successful, at least according to various polls. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could make that success illegal instead of arguing for or against these proposals on their own merits ? By brandishing national security maybe ?

    You are right on one thing. The voters are the ones who ultimately decide. And they should be the ones who decide, when the time comes, whether they want to see these proposals enacted or not. Arbitrarily preventing public debate on this topic is not helpful either way.

    And once again, given the bloody mess this has been for nearly as long as Israel has existed, I would think any peaceful initiative by individual citizens – including former officials – that do not call for explicit violence or murder, should be recognized for the free, healthy, democratic expression they happen to be. The idea that any of this makes Israel weaker is puzzling to me.

    Whether this makes Ariel Sharon weaker is another story. But Sharon is not Israel and the voters are the ones who will eventually decide who gets the job next, and what they want their government to do about the issue.

  6. Would it have been OK for ex-PM Neville Chamberlain, on his own initiative, to negotiate with Rudolf Hess in Geneva in 1940? Some things are better off not done.

    In the current case we aren’t talking about a mere bunch of concerned citizens who are fed up with the bluster and ineffectiveness of the career pols. This isn’t a mere getting together to exchange ideas. The Israeli participants are career pols whose ideas were repudiated by the voters and who now seek to enact those ideas by other means. Their counterparts are, functionally, representatives of the PA. The occasion is ostensibly unofficial but it really isn’t, because the people involved hope to maneuver Israel into adopting their platform — a platform that most Israelis, by repudiating Labor in the last election, have rejected and would not be likely to accept again if given a choice.

    This occasion is no innocent conversation. It is better seen as a publicity stunt to promote a pre-ordained appeasement agenda. (It’s not as though Beilin & Co. haven’t been speaking freely with the PA for years.) The main goal appears to be to generate U.S. pressure on the Israeli government to override the preferences of its voters. And this gets sold in the press as a gesture of free expression.

    Gaming the negotiations can’t solve the underlying problem, which is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel. The Israeli participants in this charade are being inexcusably reckless. Arafat favors this deal for a reason, and it’s not because he wants to live in harmony with the Jews.

  7. It’s a winner for Arafat; he won’t be held accountable for what he agrees to, but the Israeli govt. will be held accountable what it DIDN’T agree to.

    Arafat lied at Madrid and Camp David and Wye River and Oslo; suddenly Geneva will change this?
    That’s Stockholm Syndrome.

    btw, I’ve deputized myself to accept France’s surrender, Jonathan; if you’d like to, say, negotiate the return of the Panama Canal, feel free!

  8. Sometimes these unofficial negotiations work out well for all parties, especially when one side wants to give up without the appearance of giving up.

    For example, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has several times arranged the release of American hostages from people who would rather respond to the passionate pleas of an “American Religious Leader” than the threats of our government.

  9. Career pols are as free as anyone else to engage in whatever theoretical exercise they want, as far as I’m concerned. The fact that their positions are no longer active means they can’t offer much of anything to their PA counterparts. If the latter still think it worthwhile, it is their choice. You might believe their intent is malicious or manipulative but that doesn’t make it illegal.

    As to whether things are better off not done, it shouldn’t be up to a government to decide so arbitrarily.

    But ultimately, if the voters repudiated them and don’t care about their efforts and proposals, why the big fuss ?

    Let’s not kid ourselves : the Israeli right is not upset on principle here, anymore that Chirac and De Villepin were about Iraq. It makes offended noises because the public is showing interest in those efforts. If opinion polls indicated nobody gave a damn, it would not be an issue with them or anyone. And this is what I find a bit disconcerting with some of these reactions. It’s about censoring perceived success on spurious moral or national security grounds.

    And you’re correct : some of the Palestinians involved are political representatives. Which makes it all the more interesting in my view, since these men agreed to give up on the right of return for Palestinian refugees, among other things, and are getting away with it. Now we can argue whether Israel is asked to give too much in exchange for this and other goodies and decide whether this deal is worthwhile on its own merits. And the Israeli government should, by all means, make that case to its voters. But I disagree it should be dismissed out of hand by virtue of involving people who are not in power.

    Specially given the awful failure of current policies on both sides. I mean, it’s not exactly like Sharon or Arafat have wonderful winning formulas here, and somebody’s playing the peace party pooper. They have both failed miserably.

    I am not familiar with the deal’s details. Maybe it can easily be dismissed on its own merits, or lack thereof. If so, Sharon should have done it already. The fact that he hasn’t, combined with claims that this is illegal and shouldn’t have been done without government approval on national security grounds and other moralizing reasons, is turning each offended denial into additional publicity for this effort.

    And that is something the Israeli right had better understand. The more they get outraged and say this should not have been done, the more interesting this effort is to both their political opponents at home and the Palestinians. Yes, the Left might have produced an opportunity for division but as political opponents, that is their job. But the right, on this particular topic, is jumping in with both feet and feeding that division. They should stop arguing whether these individuals had the right to do what they did and dismiss the case on its own merits. There is nothing unhealthy or dangerous about that.

    Unless they think the proposals have enough merit to cause them trouble at the polls, of course…In which case arguing for censorship is probably the more attractive solution.

  10. Sylvain,

    -The conference isn’t illegal. Israel doesn’t have a law like the Logan Act. I was using the existence of the Logan Act to argue that there is good precedent, and probably good reason, not to allow unofficial negotiations with adversaries. And such negotiations are a bad idea whether or not they are formally permitted.

    -From what I have read of the details, this is a bad deal for Israel (e.g., Jerusalem would be split and PA would control access to the Temple Mount). I don’t know about the Palestinian ROR issue here but I’m skeptical that the PA reps would let it go. But I am probably not up to date. Whatever proposals come out of these meetings, it’s critical to look carefully at the details, not least because the Israelis who are involved in this deal have a history of being suckered.

  11. – I don’t know much about the Logan Act. But since Israel has no such thing – and you’d think if it was needed they’d have one by now – then there is indeed nothing illegal about it. And no government approval is needed;

    – Agreed. Let’s evaluate the deal on its merits. So far, the right is shooting itself in the foot by playing the offended line, ensuring maximum publicity for its adversaries. And let’s make no mistake here. The Right is every bit interested in weakening its opponents as they are in playing pseudo-diplomatic tricks to make it look incompetent. So far, too many on the Israeli right are handling this in a counter-productive and ineffective manner. Namely, by saying that 1) they don’t trust Arafat and 2) they don’t trust the Left. Well, duuuh. What a newsflash, uh ? Except that was true yesterday, the week before and five years ago.

    If the deal has obvious weaknesses, they should argue them and prove them first. The conclusions would follow. Since they don’t have the political initiative, they can’t try and fight this one on the same turf. It makes them look silly. The Left knows it. The Palestinians know it. Yet the Right happily falls in the trap by making all the right moves to ensure maximum publicity for this effort. Had they welcomed the initiative and proceeded to methodically point out its weaknesses, directly or indirectly through informed third-parties, and/or by playing on the negative reaction of those Palestinian hard-liners who run the show, it would not be an issue today.

    – Note that there are two such efforts going on. One if the so-called Geneva accord. The other one is a petition drafted by former Israeli security chief Ami Ayalon and Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh. It has gathered upwards of 180,000 signatures on both sides. Interestingly, this latter effort seems to have the backing of Paul Wolfowitz.

  12. Sylvain,

    -Don’t forget that the presss, both in Israel and outside, are boosting the Geneva deal to the max. I don’t think you can trust most of what’s written.

    -See BTW Melanie Phillips on the Geneva deal. She’s anti, as you would expect, but provides a link to a useful Israeli opinion column (also anti but with quotes).

    -I suspect that the Israeli electorate is much more hostile to the Geneva negotiation, and to the likes of Beilin, than is clear from the western press. The main point that I am trying to make is that this isn’t just a citizens’ confab, it’s an effort by politicians who were recently repudiated at the ballot, to get their program enacted by ginning up external pressure on their govt — against the wishes of most voters. It’s a publicity stunt, as are the various petitions. Whether it’s legal or not, it’s as bad an idea as it would have been, for example, for the Congressional Black Caucus to negotiate with Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. (I don’t think the CBC wanted to do this, but it is a comparable hypothetical example.)

  13. If it was a bad idea for the CBC, and hurt their political prospects, they would probably not do it. And they didn’t.

    Let’s not always assume people on the Left, in Israel or elsewhere, are 100% irrational in their actions. They might peddle irrational political and economic gimmicks to the voters to get elected but they are also career politicians and will not do things that will severely hurt their future election prospects. Their own interests are very much at stake here. And if they misjudged the voters, they will pay the price. Nothing to get worked up about. It’s their choice and, quite possibly, their mistake to make. If they’re making a huge mistake and shooting themselves in the foot, Sharon should be encouraging them, shouldn’t he ?

    So what I’m saying is that I’m even less disturbed to know this is an effort by politicians. Because they are effectively accountable at the next election. Their willingness to make this bet is noteworthy, whatever meaning and agenda you see behind it.

    I haven’t heard that much about the accords through western papers. In fact, I think I’ve heard to little about them, who the people involved are, why they matter, and what the substance is. What I do hear, is that Israeli opinion polls show a good deal of interest. And hardliners on both sides are opposed to it, which is so predictable as to be almost irrelevant.

    So what people think of their motivations is not negligible but ultimately secondary to me. Like it or not, these guys are taking quite a gamble and when Israeli career pols pull such a controversial stunt, given the risks of back-firing built into it, I want to know why. Hence my discomfort at them being summarily dismissed as soon as their effort gets a favorable echo. After all, this has been going on for a while and nobody cared until it started getting traction.

    And again, of course, the right doesn’t trust the Left nor Arafat. Big whoppee. That does not constitute a rationale. That’s a fact. A given, an axiom even.

    And Sharon and the Israeli right are handling this the wrong way. If you want to shut down something, give it the kiss of death. Have Sharon go on TV saying that given these Palestinians’ concession on a no right of return position, the accord is worth looking into, provided “Chairman” Arafat also agrees on this concession. Call the bluff. Play the same game, cut him off from his cronies, drive a wedge in the P.A. and the Left.

    It works both ways. By not doing it and sputtering offended, condescending, finger-waving lectures, the Right is making itself look inept and doing exactly what its opponents want it to do. See the Phillips article you pointed to and the Qadura Fares quote…

  14. Sylvain,
    I can see your free speech point. But to say no one opposes this on principle is questionable. An Israeli voter who elected a government to represent him might well oppose other private citizens from presuming to represent him in talks with non-private representatives, especially when the talks are given weight by the international press & the State Dept.. And why shouldn’t that citizen be concerned that today’s ‘unenforceable’ agreement may someday be enforced?

    I can certainly appreciate the desire of some citizens to go around the normal process. Our State Dept. often seems to pursue it’s own agenda regardless of those pesky election things. But it’s not supposed to be that way. Process & substance are two different things; a proper process secures the rights of citizens to self-governance.

    It would be great if there were Palestinians particapating who were ready to throw off the yoke of Arafatism. That’s doubtful so far. Should Sharon play the game? Maybe, but there is a danger, since he has no negotiators at the table.

    This goes beyond individuals, but I do not equate a democratically-elected leader with an international terrorist who rigged his own ‘election’. To say that they have both ‘failed’ is not accurate; they have different ideas of what constitutes ‘success’. And those ideas are not morally equivalent.

  15. Sylvain, don’t be naive. From tal’s blog:

    Palestinian ‘Geneva’ negotiator Jamal Zakot on why Palestinians shouldn’t fear that the plan would eliminate unlimited “right of return” to pre-1967 Israel for descendents of refugees from 1948:

    “The document does not promise a full and collective return for millions of Palestinians, but it also does not cede this right. On the contrary: the proposed time frame for the solution of the refugee problem is five years, while the time frame for the Israeli retreat from the Palestinian lands [sic], evacuation of settlements and completion of installing Palestinian sovereignty on its lands according to the maps – which are more important than the texts – is only three years.”

  16. Noel, just because some citizens feel this way does not make it illegal. And I haven’t noticed anyone of those involved claiming they represented Israel. Those who do so are the media, based on Israeli opinion polls.

    And I never said they were morally equivalent. Why does pointing out the inherent failure of the bloody stalemate a moral equivalence ? Sounds like finding an excuse for denial to me. Israel has failed. Arafat has failed. Period. Whether you or I believe one side deserves to fail, or whether we believe one side’s failure constitutes a victory for the other victory is besides the point. For the time being, each side has failed, according to its own stated objectives. Moral equivalence has nothing to do with it.

    Alene, I’m not being naive at all. I said I wanted to hear more about such details. So thank you. However, I will still ask why the right is not using points such as yours instead of moral grandstanding on the appropriateness of such a project, which only serves to advertise and publicize it. And why Sharon is not calling the bluff the way I suggested. By asking Arafat if he agrees with a no right-of-return proposal, he would corner the old bastard into either going against his own Geneva men and discredit them, or he would have to point out the accord doesn’t in fact include such a clear provision, discrediting it with Israelis who thought there was more to it than that.

    It’s politics 101, really. And that’s my beef with the Israeli right. They’re making a mess of it by fighting a losing battle on the very turf chosen by their adversaries.

  17. Sylvain,
    Arafat will not be cornered by any piece of paper. If he wasn’t held accountable for breaching black-letter agreements, this little pr stunt won’t matter either. Google ‘last chance for Arafat’.

    We rescued Arafat from a pursuing Israli army in Lebanon 20 years ago. (Beirut was once the Paris of the Mid-East…now Paris is becoming the Beirut of the West.) Then we insisted on his return, knowing he had murdered American diplomats. This has only toxified the reigon while the murder continues.

    The real issue is not between Arafat and the Israelis. It is a spiritual battle in the soul of the West. Do we have the courage and moral clarity to strike the Death Blow when confronted by evil? That is Life & Death 101.

  18. Noel, I don’t believe in arguments about spiritual battles for the soul of whatever. That smacks of desperate rhetoric to me, the last resort argument when nothing else works. Such things do exist at some level and do occur but they are extremely rare. We’re not talking about the soul of the West here, nor about the redemption of Arafat or the meaning of life in Ramallah. Relax.

    The point is not to corner Arafat, the point is to drive a wedge in the Geneva Accord process by using Arafat, or other leading P.A. figures; present them the oversimplified bullet points repeated by the media implying you are OK, for instance, with no right of return; of course, they will have to point out these are not exactly the terms of the deal. In other words, make *them* explain that it’s actually not a good deal. Make your opponents explain the flaws of their plan themselves, by returning their own propaganda in their face. That’s Politics 101 and the Israeli Right has only itself to blame for its incompetence in handling a well-executed PR offensive by its opponents.

    But as usual, it’s easier to blame Arafat for everything that’s wrong under the sun. Arafat is such a convenient excuse. Of course he is getting mileage out of this, but the right’s inept answer also has something to do with it.

    Once again. If Sharon showed up on TV and said he’s interested in looking into it provided Arafat agrees with no right of return, Arafat and his cronies have essentially two alternatives. One is to say yes and essentially say they accept a no right of return option, which they won’t do for obvious reasons. Or they must publicly point out that’s not what the accord says and explain themselves why it’s not such a good deal. That’s key.

    For some reason, if Sharon says the deal is not good because of points X,Y or Z in the accord, leftists won’t trust him nor listen. But if Arafat says the real accord is about points X, Y or Z, they’ll listen and realize it’s a bad deal. It’s just human psychology and manipulation of perceptions.

    If the accord is misrepresented by the media and its proponents, this misrepresentation can and should be used to make them reveal the truth. Why the Right can’t get itself to do this, I don’t know.

  19. Sorry, Sylvain; I’ll relax, I promise.

    What you propose makes a lot of sense…if one takes as a starting point negotiating with Arafat.
    As a Jacksonian, my starting point is that he needs a bullet between his beady little eyes; yesterday would do nicely, thank you.
    Alas, that seems a sadly distant prospect.

  20. I doubt that the enforcing Logan act would be legal in the US unless there is some implication that the guy who makes the agreement intends to deliver. Free speech and all that.

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