This journal has had little coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict peace process in recent issues; not wanting to repeat the detailed arguments found in other publications, the editors convened a meeting of four analysts to assess the larger issues involved. Patrick Clawson, the MEQ's senior editor, asked the questions. Douglas Feith was formerly a national security official in the Reagan administration. Daniel Pipes is editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Steven Spiegel is professor of political science at the University of California at Los Angeles. The discussion took place on October 6, 1997, in Washington.
IS THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT ENDING?
Middle East Quarterly: Is the Arab-Israeli dispute on the way to being settled?
Robert Satloff: In historic terms, yes, it is.
Steven Spiegel: I agree. It's going to be settled, perhaps not in the short term, but it will be settled.
Daniel Pipes: What are your sources of optimism? The conflict is a century old and without signs of full resolution. In the fifty years of Israel's existence, there have been some significant steps forward, but overall, plenty of indications point to a deep and abiding reluctance among a majority of Arabs to accept the existence of a Jewish state. Yes, they're willing to deal with it on a temporary basis, while they are weak. But no, they do not acquiesce long-term to the reality of a Jewish state.
Douglas Feith: From Israel's inception until recently, its enemies believed that the most effective way to fight Israel is by refusing to deal with it, as symbolized most by the famous three "no's" at Khartoum in 1967. They actively worked to delegitimate it through an economic and diplomatic boycott. In recent years, especially since the end of the Cold War, Arab leaders have decided this approach of total denial is no longer workable. So they very substantially changed their behavior and adopted more flexible tactics. This does not mean, however, that they reconciled themselves to Israel's permanent existence.
Spiegel: The pessimists are wrong. First, it's a terrible mistake to talk about "the Arabs" as if they constitute a single political entity; as you know, they differ widely among themselves. There's a real split between elites and masses, between people who deal with Israel and those who don't, and between different governments. Elites are much more interested in a peaceful settlement than masses. Business and some military leaders are far more inclined to this than intellectuals and religious figures. There's an enormous difference between the Jordanian, Qatari, Egyptian, Moroccan, and Tunisian states on the one hand, and those of Libya and Iraq.
Secondly, by Doug's criteria, you could never show that the Arabs are interested. No matter what they do, he would find it insufficient. Take for example the dawning of cooperation at Sharm El-Sheikh in March 1996; even Saudi officials were willing to be seen publicly with Israelis. The success achieved was very significant, and I look forward to it resuming again.
Satloff: I agree with the pessimists about the feelings in people's hearts but am not altogether sure how relevant this is to the future course of the conflict. An increasing percentage of Arab governments, leaders, and elites, are moving over time, however unevenly, in the correct direction. They recognize that they share some interests with Israel, and that those interests outweigh the contrary interests in pursuing conflict with it. This makes it possible to create normal state-to-state relations. These may not be ideal, but they are a major change from existential conflict. Does this mean that the last Arab-Israeli war has taken place? No, but the conflict has changed. You now see fewer regimes and leaders that view themselves as fundamentally antagonistic towards the Jewish state.
Pipes: I am made most pessimistic by the fact that when a leadership comes to terms with Israel, notably in Egypt and Jordan, its population distinctly does not go along. The cold peace between Egypt and Israel results not from governmental reluctance but from the views of intellectuals, religious figures, business leaders and others. The same goes in Jordan. The king signed a very warm treaty with Israelis, yet every professional association has disassociated itself from his rapprochement, while the venom coming out of the religious and intellectual quarters is astonishing. Military and business leaders have indeed lost some of their anti-Zionist fervor; the problem lies with the majority of the population, which I don't see having a change of heart. And, even in the non-democratic countries of the Middle East, the majority ultimately has a very large say.
Satloff: Before the end of 1997, for the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis and Palestinians are likely to be sitting around a table, only slightly larger than the one we are sitting around now, talking about the final status issues at the core of their conflict. They had previously, over the past century, not found a way to do this. The negotiations might not succeed, in fact, I expect they will not. But one has to view their finding a modality and a way to reach that set of negotiations as a very positive development.
AN ARAB CHANGE OF HEART?
MEQ: It sounds like the issue of a change of heart among Arabs is of key importance in assessing future prospects; tell me more about it.
Feith: I'd like to focus in on the change in rhetoric. Many people on the Arab side previously unwilling to talk about peace with Israel, now are willing to engage in such talk. Even if one notes that there are some very divergent definitions of peace, a change in terminology and behavior has clearly taken place. The optimists interpret this as a significant step toward peace. But consider this: the change in behavior and rhetoric results from the successful Israeli effort to block its military destruction. It became so unrealistic over time to sustain the idea that the Arabs would achieve "justice" for themselves by military action that the military option had to be shelved. The end of the cold war and the ascendancy of the United States added to a willingness to play the game more by American rules than in the past. The fact that Arab powers have to pursue their strategic goals regarding Israel through diplomatic means does not establish that they have altered those goals.
What about the future? If the Israelis remain militarily very strong, the United States remains the sole great power, and U.S.-Israel ties stay as close as in the past, you can probably preserve the gains of recent years. But if anything slips, watch out. Returning to the original question, "Is the Arab-Israeli dispute on the way to being settled?" I have to say no because it is precisely what is in people's hearts that counts.
Here's an analogy in terms of domestic crime. You have a crime problem as long as somebody is trying to break into your house and kill you. The fact that you hired police and built a security system which manage to keep the would-be murderers out does not mean you solved your crime problem. So long as someone is out there with crime in his heart, the problem can only be temporarily solved. You solved the problem only if the would-be killer has a change of heart and decides to abandon his murderous goal.
Satloff: That's not the complete analogy. You could have receding crime rates over a number of years. This does not mean the problem is fully solved but it does mean the likelihood of being robbed has decreased. The new factor is the increase of threat from states further away, like Iraq and Iran, even as the threats to Israel's security from the states immediately on its borders are significantly less today than in the past.
Feith: But not for lack of intention.
Satloff: For some actors, yes, from lack of intention. For others, because they realized they lost. Why did the Egyptians sue for peace after their "great achievement" in the 1973 war? Because they lost; they knew that even that partial victory—the surprise crossing of the canal—would not achieve parity for them on the battlefield.
Spiegel: I don't particularly care what Yasir Arafat dreams about at night; I care about what he does.
It is clearly important that Israel remain militarily strong and the United States remain the single great power of the area. But interests changed. The threats to Arab state interests have shifted from Israel to such issues as fundamentalist Islam and weapons of mass destruction. Iran and Iraq pose more of a threat than Israel to many ruling elites.
Feith: Our disagreement may have to do with our not using key terms in the same way. When I talk about the conflict "being settled," I think of the many countries not at odds with their neighbors—the United States and Canada, for instance. No one suggests that the United States refrains from conquering Canada because of military calculations. I call that a peace with all conflicts "settled." One could apply the terms "peace" and "settled" to the relationships between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority [PA], but then the terms are overly broad and make for a less rich discussion than if one uses those terms only in their full meaning.
Pipes: The pessimists among us look at Arab intentions and see them as a major problems for the future. The optimists among us say like Shimon Peres, "These are only words. Let them talk."
Satloff: Attitudes are very important and over time must be worked on. Indeed, there will be no real peace until attitudes are fully changed. But you have to start somewhere and that's the importance of what has been achieved over the last twenty years.
ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS
MEQ: What are Arafat's intentions? Is he committed to peace with Israel?
Pipes: He wants a Palestinian state that includes the entirety of Palestine as he defines it, with its capital in Jerusalem. This precludes an Israeli entity; so no, he's not willing to live in peace with Israel.
Satloff: That may very well be the case. But the operative question is whether you can find a territorial compromise between Arafat's objectives and those of Israel.
Pipes: Temporarily, yes, you can. Permanently, no. The Palestinians are willing to forego their ultimate aims for a while, but not forever. So long as they hold in their hearts and
their minds the idea of returning, of gaining the entirety of Palestine, this threat will continue. The final Muslim loss of Spain in 1492 offers an analogy: as long as three centuries later, Muslims still had active hopes about returning to Spain. Eventually this sentiment died. The Palestinian ambition will similarly one day die, but it also might take a long time.
Satloff: What are the parameters of this irredentism? Will it be as inactive as the Syrian claim to Hatay, a province of Turkey since 1939? If so, it is not that much of a threat. Or will it be a real and immediate threat, like North Korea's rejection of the very idea of an independent South Korea? The difference is important.
Pipes: Ten years ago, you would have dismissed the Iraqi claim to Kuwait as similarly irrelevant. Trouble is, one never knows when old irredentist claims will spark to life, like a long-dormant volcano, and cause terrible havoc. The Syrian claim to Hatay, for all we know, will erupt one of these days. And, of course, the same applies to the Palestinians and Israel.
Spiegel: Don't forget: You don't make peace with friends, you make peace with enemies.
Feith: Somebody please give me an example of making peace with an undefeated enemy. Yitzhak Rabin was famous for making the sort of sententious declaration you just stated, but his rhetoric lacks solid historical grounding.
Spiegel: There's the British departure from Hong Kong, the Panama Canal treaties, the Austrian Treaty of 1955, the creation of Namibia, and even the termination of apartheid. In the Middle East, Israel's peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan answer your question, as does the September 1993 Declaration of Principles with the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]. One can even argue that settlements became easier after Egypt performed respectably in the October 1973 war and the Palestinians did better than expected in the intifada. To reach a settlement you don't have to trust the other side, or defeat it entirely; you do need incentives so that it finds it in its interest to maintain agreements.
Feith: I use the term "enemy" for the kind of relationship that exists between Israel and the Arab powers trying to destroy it; that was, after all, the context in which Rabin made his point. "Enemy" does not apply simply to the other side whenever there is an international dispute, which is why your Hong Kong, Panama Canal, and Austria examples are beside the point.
As for Namibia and apartheid, the South African government gave up—resigned its position. True, Israel's enemies would like nothing better than for Israelis to drop Zionism as the South Africa whites dropped apartheid, but that's not the sort of "peace" Rabin or you hope for.
Also, you confuse peace agreements with peace. It's too early to tell if Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will lead to a sustainable peace based on mutual respect for rights and not based mainly on a balance of military power. It's true that Israel hasn't fought a war against Egypt since the 1979 treaty with it, but Israel also has not had a war with Syria (other than clashes in Lebanon) since 1973, and that totally without a peace treaty. There are many possible reasons for an absence of war; peace is only one of them.
To cite the Oslo Accords as an example of making peace with an undefeated enemy assumes the very point at issue here.
Spiegel: You make another assumption, that Israel is a weak state unable to enforce a settlement it makes. That is dead wrong. The Israeli security system will be able to maintain its strength after final status talks are successfully concluded.
Feith: Israel is not in a weak state, and the changes of attitude you note on the Arab side are precisely a consequence of Israeli strength. This should not be used to justify the Israelis' taking steps to weaken their state! It would be too ironic if Israel celebrates the fruits of its strength by relinquishing the causes of that strength—for example, by giving up the West Bank. If Israel had given up the West Bank earlier, it would not now have the benefits of the Arabs' feeling compelled to engage in diplomacy.
Spiegel: In this globalized era, maintaining control over a hostile territory (such as the Israelis do on the West Bank) weakens a state because it diverts talent, treasure, and precious time and attention from the requirements of competing in the global economy. Israel needs to become a Switzerland or Singapore of the Middle East. You weaken the state, at its core, if it must maintain this kind of control. Israel will have to do so if it cannot settle with Arafat or King Husayn; but it must try to settle, or it is doomed to sacrifice its young people to policing these areas indefinitely. This threatens the future of the Israeli economy and the morale of its populace.
Pipes: Or as Peres once put it, "hotels are also defense."
Spiegel: I don't know about hotels, but high-tech industries certainly are.
MEQ: Why is there no agreement between Israel and the Syrians? Would things be different had Rabin lived?
Satloff: No. The problem here is that Hafiz al-Asad of Syria is unwilling to pay even the entry ticket, let alone the full price, for Israeli withdrawal in the Golan. That assumes he really wants Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
Spiegel: Yes, they would be different. Basically what went wrong with the Rabin-Syrian negotiations was that Asad miscalculated and made a fundamental error. He was reluctant and thought he had more time than he really did. He is now tortured about this issue because Rabin died; Peres couldn't follow through, and then Netanyahu ended the talks.
Pipes: That assessment has problems. From the start, Asad engaged in negotiations with Israel not because he sought agreement with it but for the sake of the United States and other Western powers. He did not want to see the talks go anywhere. Look closely at his record during the Rabin years and you see that he often stopped the negotiations by creating gratuitous obstacles. Far from being tortured about the talks' collapse, he breathed a very great sigh of relief when Netanyahu came to power. He, not Netanyahu, ended the talks. Proof lies in the fact that he was partly responsible for Netanyahu coming to power by unleashing Hamas and Hizbullah attacks on the Peres government in early 1996.
Spiegel: That's what I meant by miscalculation. Asad does not understand the difference between one Israeli and another.
Pipes: The most sophisticated politician of the Middle East does not know the difference between Labor and Likud? Unlikely.
MEQ: Why is the Israeli relationship with Jordan so much better than with Egypt?
Spiegel: Because, first, the Hashemites have been much more effective in diplomacy over the last three generations. Jordan is a weak country that has been very effective creating ties to Israel, even against the Arab consensus. Secondly, the Jordanians have had decades of contact, interchange, and common interest with Israel. This spade work has not been done sufficiently between Israel and Egypt, and that's why a warm peace process never got off the ground.
Satloff: Israel and Jordan share common interests in a way that Israel and Egypt do not. The Israel-Jordan peace is based on a basic bargain very important to both parties: Israel permanently forswears the option of resolving its Palestinian problem by exporting it to the East Bank; Jordan permanently forswears the option of enlisting other Arab states as strategic allies against Israel or permitting Arab military soldiers on Jordanian soil to help protect Jordanian sovereignty.
Tragically, this problem, which one had thought buried, has reemerged in the recent past. King Husayn gave a speech in Jerash in early September warning against efforts to create an alternative Palestinian homeland on the East Bank. He specifically cited the prospect that the Israelis might consider a slow, forced exodus of Palestinians eastward as a result of failed final status negotiations and a worsening economic situation. I was shocked to learn that this is a widely-held fear among the Jordanian elite, not to speak of the populace, where these fears spread like wildfire. It would be difficult to take seriously, except that the king has started giving speeches about it.
Feith: I can see how these fears result from current talk in Israel about separation from the Palestinians. When many Israelis discuss peace on the assumption that Palestinians do not have peaceable intentions in their hearts, they tend to call for a complete separation of the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Many proponents of Oslo now say, "It is clear we will not get peace in the sense of conciliation and cooperation. The most we can hope for is that we unburden ourselves by relinquishing the territories and separating the populations by building a wall between them." By "building a wall," these doves mean to compensate for the security dangers inherent in Israel's losing control over the territories. The wall is supposed to achieve complete separation; anything else raises security problems, especially that of terrorism.
MEQ: How does this affect Jordan?
Feith: Well, the economy of the West Bank now largely depends on dealings with Israel. But that will end with the wall. At the same time, the proponents of Oslo note, Palestinians on the West Bank cannot live as prisoners; especially after access to Israel is cut off, they would need a door that opens onto Jordan. When King Husayn hears talk like this, he thinks to himself, "My God! These are the doves talking, the Israelis who favor permanent relinquishment by Israel of the territory. They speak of a separation that will ruin the economy of the West Bank and destabilize Jordan."
Spiegel: You've just created a straw man. These people are not as prominent as you suggest. I'm a proponent of Oslo, and I do not adopt this position. I critique it for the same reasons you critique it. Doves are not the ones who created this fear in King Husayn; on the contrary, it is the hawks.
If West Bank Palestinians are relatively satisfied, King Husayn will correctly assume that they pose no major threat to him—a condition that existed during the heyday of the Oslo accords. Only when Palestinians are frustrated with the peace process—as hawkish Israeli policies have recently caused them to be—do Jordanian fears increase.
Feith: The peace negotiations pose an inherent danger to Jordan because they are heading toward the creation of an independent, PLO-led mini-state in part of the West Bank and Gaza. This would in itself pose a substantial danger to Jordan, regardless of Israeli intentions. The Jordanians are right to be very anxious about the success of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Spiegel: I don't agree. The relationship between the Jordanians and Israelis is strong enough to contain whatever problems might emerge from a PLO-led mini-state. It is just inaccurate to see Israel as simply an observer to an unfolding tragedy.
Satloff: The establishment of a Palestinian state does indeed pose dangers to the Jordanians. Because of that, a wider arrangement among the three parties—Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians—will be needed to help sustain a trilateral arrangement. This is in some ways akin to the London-Dublin diplomatic effort to resolve the situation in northern Ireland; it is a three-way arrangement, not just a two-way deal. Such an arrangement will ease the details of the Israel-Palestinian relationship. The real conundrum lies in trying to figure out this package.
Pipes: I again distinguish between elite and the masses. Yes, the attitudes of the Jordanian elite and the Egyptian elite greatly differ. Egyptians have aspirations to become a great regional power, while Jordanians remain fearful about the survival of their country. So the Jordanians turn to Israel in partnership, something Egypt has not and probably will not do.
At the mass level, Jordanian attitudes are every bit as poisonous towards Israel and as dangerous for the long term as Egyptian ones. So long as King Husayn or a like-minded ruler is in charge, things are reasonably good—though this pressure has forced even him on two notable occasions, in 1967 and 1991, to join Israel's enemies. But what happens if the regime changes or there is a true democratization of Jordanian political life? I worry that relations could thoroughly degenerate and Amman could form a partnership with Iraq or Syria.
Satloff: Don't forget the difference of the American role in the cases of Egypt and Jordan. The Egyptians want peace with Israel in large part because they became our ally after switching to our side in the Cold War. Now that the American-Egyptian relationship is souring, the Israeli-Egyptian relationship is suffering even more. The American role was never nearly as important to the relationship between the Jordanians and Israelis, who had their own reasons to make peace. The Egyptian-Israeli tie is much more a part of a triangle than is the Jordanian-Israeli.
It's true, you never know about a coup d'état but the Jordanians and the other monarchies have a much better track record than the so-called republicans in dealing with these potential disruptions to domestic order.
Pipes: The surviving monarchies, you mean.
Satloff: Right. As for your fear of real democratization, it is justified, and the Jordanian authorities are quite aware of this.
MEQ: Will the Israel-Jordan relationship outlast King Husayn?
Satloff: Yes, a larger percentage of the Jordanian population has an interest in peace than does the population of Egypt.
THE OUTER RING
MEQ: In the early 1990s one heard an argument that the outer ring of radical states, Iraq, Iran, Libya, posed the greatest long-term threat to Israel's survival as they acquired missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The corollary of this held that Israel should take advantage of a window of opportunity to make peace with its neighbors before the outer ring became acutely dangerous. How does that argument look today?
Spiegel: It looks stronger than ever. It's been a tragedy in recent years that this argument has been forgotten. Advances made by Iran in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and Russia's contributions to this danger, point to the fact that the U.S. government and the local parties have lost sight of the real danger. Rabin brilliantly understood that the Gulf War demonstrated the danger of the radical states and the need to focus on them. The peace process will succeed, but perhaps too late to deal effectively with these threats to the survival of the State of Israel and its neighbors. As the Arabs frequently point out, these weapons are not always accurate, and if they were to be used, it is not clear who would get hit.
Pipes: May I translate what you just said into plain English? You're saying, "Yes, Israelis get blown up on buses every so often, but that does not effect the strategic interests of the state and so should be ignored. Instead, the missiles and weapons of mass destruction in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the like are the real problem."
Spiegel: Well, I did not say that terrorism should be ignored. I do believe that weapons of mass destruction are the key issue. Along with Rabin, I see terrorist attacks as threats to individual Israelis that do not threaten the future of the state, as weapons of mass destruction do.
Pipes: You're saying, yes, my translation is correct.
Spiegel: No, I am saying that however terrible terrorism is, weapons of mass destruction are a greater threat.
Feith: I'd like to reverse the argument: terrorism is among the greatest dangers to the State of Israel because it affects Israeli morale. The issue of terrorism—Israelis getting blown up on buses—gets to Israelis' most important strategic vulnerability, their willingness to soldier on. At some point, they might just get worn down. You see this a lot among intellectuals who crave "normality," by which they mean a life where one is not subject to being blown up on a bus. If the highest goal for people is personal security and a normal life, and if the neighborhood is irredeemably hostile, then logic says the Israelis will have to leave the area. This is the key insight of the people who engage in terrorism against Israel; they seek to wear the Israelis down.
In this regard, Rabin made a major mistake in justifying withdrawal on the grounds that Israelis lacked the morale, the staying power, the stomach to deal indefinitely with an intifada. With this, he signaled that if the Arabs continue the intifada, they will drive the Israelis out. The Arabs realize that the logic that drove the Israelis from Samaria will drive the Israelis from other parts of Palestine, too. The same logic could eventually lead to Israel's disappearing.
MEQ: You are suggesting that Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles are less of a problem for Israel than terrorism?
Feith: No, they are an enormous problem, but a problem independent of terrorism. I am objecting to the argument that to deal with the extremely grave problems posed by Iraq and Iran, with their missiles and weapons of mass destruction, the Israelis should relinquish the West Bank to Arafat.
Spiegel: The notion that Israelis are somehow so weak that they cannot take losses is inaccurate. The Israeli people are very resilient but they have to believe that the fight is worth it. Many of them believe that continuing the current conflict is unnecessary, not worth the price being paid.
Satloff: The logic is a bit more sophisticated than Doug allows. Some moderate Arab states have more interests in common with Israel than with Iraq and Iran. Israel is trying to remove obstacles to cooperation with these states so that the real alignment in the Middle East becomes moderate and radical, not Arab versus Israeli.
Pipes: It sounds good, but what importance do Egypt and Saudi Arabia have in terms of preventing nuclear-tipped missiles coming from Iran? The real issue, rather, is France, Germany, and Russia, the countries that are making those missiles possible.
Feith: All Israelis recognize that weapons of mass destructions in the hands of Iranians, Iraqis, and Syrians present a very great threat to the state. That's not at issue. But Rabin promoted militarily dangerous inner-ring concessions on the grounds that this somehow mitigated problems coming from the outer ring. That logic strikes me as unsound.
Satloff: But you are not representing the logic accurately. It held that Israel is no longer an island unto itself and on its own cannot deal with these outer-ring threats, such as the long-range missile threat from Iran. Missile defense is "theater" defense and would require the assistance of neighboring states, like Jordan, to make it work. Israel therefore has to rely on the international system. Rabin did not like this, but he recognized that relying on the international system means paying a price. That price, however distasteful, involves making concessions to the Palestinians.
Pipes: But four years later, it looks as if he pursued a faulty logic; those concessions did very little good. What in fact has the international system done to protect Israel from the outer-ring threats? And, I repeat, it is hard to see what Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab states can do about Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian weapons of mass destruction.
MEQ: Are you taking into account that a theater missile defense from the Gulf Cooperation Council states [GCC]— Saudi Arabia and its partners—will also shield Israel? Any defense against missiles will come from the GCC countries, not from Russia.
Pipes: True, but the GCC states are not building a theater missile defense for the sake of Israel; they are doing so whether they have good or bad relations with Israel.
Spiegel: Rabin's logic was sound, but he was stopped midway. Arafat, as we've seen over the last several years, represents an opening to the other Arab states. When Israel and the Palestinians move forward, Israel's relations with the other Arabs states improve; conversely, when the Israeli-Palestinian relationship deteriorates, the general Israeli-Arab relationship collapses. The Palestinians are key to Israel's having viable relations with moderate Arab states.
MEQ: Would the peace process look fundamentally different if Yitzhak Rabin were the prime minister of Israel today?
Spiegel: Yes, Rabin had established a relationship with Arafat. He had a series of policies that worked. His loss has been seriously felt. The peace process has not been the same since he died.
Satloff: The peace process hasn't been the same, to be sure, but we would be more or less in the same position, if not today then soon enough, even if Rabin were prime minister. The real difference between him and Binyamin Netanyahu is one of temperament and judgement, not positions. Rabin would have found a way to handle Arafat differently in the last eighteen months since Netanyahu came to office. But they basically agree on a similar position when they sit down to talk about final status issues with Arafat.
Spiegel: Differences over the last eighteen months mean they go into the final status talks in a darker context.
MEQ: How do you rate the Netanyahu government's handling of the peace process?
Spiegel: On a scale of 0-10, 10 being best, I'd put it at 2.
MEQ: Charitable. What are the strengths and weaknesses?
Feith: One way of evaluating Netanyahu's performance is to take his own critique of his predecessors and then apply it to him; that is, measure him by his own standards.
He condemned Rabin and Peres for continuing to engage in diplomacy and make concessions despite systematic violations of the accords by the Palestinian Authority. Further, he said not just that Arafat was not being held to his promises, but that the agreement was fundamentally the wrong deal with the wrong person. He found Oslo not merely tactically flawed, but conceptually flawed.
Success for Netanyahu in my view, means moving Israel decisively out of the Oslo process. On that basis you have to judge him as not a success—at least not yet—for despite the continued, major violations of the Oslo Accords, he's continued the negotiations, made concessions, left Hebron, released Palestinians prisoners, and taken a variety of other steps. He has so far proven unable to remedy the problems created by the PA violations, to move that situation beyond where Rabin and Peres were.
Oslo is a big strategic mistake, and the major criticism I make of Netanyahu is that he has not yet figured out a way to get Israel out of that mistake. If he succeeds in maneuvering Israel out of the Oslo process onto a sounder strategic policy, then that will be an accomplishment of historic value for Israel. If he remains within the Oslo process, his government will be a double failure, for it will embody all the failures of the Labor Party and more, for Netanyahu clearly knows better.
MEQ: Anything positive to report?
Feith: Yes, the Netanyahu government deserves credit for helping make the public's expectations about peace more realistic. It has tried to disabuse Israelis and others of the more euphoric notions that sprang up after the Rabin-Arafat handshake in September 1993, expectations way out of line with reality that caused problems for Israel.
Spiegel: Judging Netanyahu on his own terms means looking at his promise of enhanced peace and security. At this moment, both are weaker. The prospect for peace is in worse shape as negotiations are hardly alive. Security is weaker because Israel's relations with the Arab states are weaker. I give him two points because he withdrew from Hebron, an historic move in so far as it marked the first time a Likud leader accepted a compromise in the historic land of Eretz Yisra'el.
Satloff: I come down somewhere between you two. On the positive side, Netanyahu is already a historic figure for moving the Likud from an ideological position to a pragmatic position on the potential for peace with the Palestinians. The Likud historically offered autonomy; he's offering territorial compromise. With this, he has validated the notion of territorial compromise for 30 percent of the population who would never have considered it before his election. He has thereby created a huge middle in the Israeli public.
But Netanyahu has managed his administration in a manner that does not validate the confidence that many voters gave him in the 1996 election. His is, in many ways, an administration that has suffered more than its share of mistakes and miscues. That is especially sad for he is Israel's first directly-elected prime minister and as such someone uniquely capable of exerting his authority in a positive direction. So far, he has not lived up to the goals that many had hoped that someone with his authority could attain. He has not quite figured out how to govern in this new setup. A lot of problems have emanated from that, ranging from the decision regarding the tunnel, which had the justification of law but was probably unwise, to the relationship with the Palestinians, the Jordanians, and the Americans. Strangely, the areas in which one expected Netanyahu to be most proficient—dealing with the United States, the media, the public perception of Israeli policy—are the ones in which he has been least successful.
Remember, though, that we are judging just the first eighteen months of Netanyahu's prime ministry. It is still early into what may be just his first term as prime minister. We may look back on this as just the opening months of what might be a long and successful career in governing Israel. We might even see Netanyahu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of 1998, when final status talks achieve an historic breakthrough with the Palestinians.
Spiegel: Part of the problem for Netanyahu is that he really has no strategy. Whatever you thought of Rabin and Peres' strategy, they had one. Netanyahu does not like Oslo but he cannot give it up, so he has nothing, no plan. It is also a problem of incompetence, lack of experience, and poor staffing choices.
Satloff: You know, I'm not so sure. He may very well have a strategy; it just may not be one that agrees with Arafat's strategy. Netanyahu's best offer (half the West Bank and a state denied certain attributes of sovereignty) may be unacceptable to Arafat. If this deal does not work then the status quo might freeze for a long time, for that offer is all the traffic can bear this generation. We might have to wait another ten to twenty years to see if the two sides alter their positions.
Spiegel: Netanyahu would reject that analysis. He says he will settle matters soon, long before ten to twenty years.
Satloff: There's no contradiction. He believes he has a strategy that works if there is a Palestinian interlocutor who is sufficiently malleable. But Arafat has no particular interest in moderating his demands.
MEQ: Should the U.S. government be more active in formulating compromise positions?
Pipes: Washington has had an extraordinary series of diplomatic successes in the Middle
East. We tend to down play this record, but its successes are possibly unique in diplomatic history. Nobody has ever done what we've done in the last twenty-odd years, starting with Kilometer 101 in 1974 and including such highlights as Camp David and the Madrid Conference. But the U.S. has only had success when the parties are ready to make a deal. We've then played the role of mediator, kibitzer, financier. We have been singly unsuccessful when we decide it's time the parties should reach an agreement—take the aborted Lebanese-Israel agreement in 1983—and try to execute it before the parties are ready. When we have a bee in our bonnet, failure follows.
As I read the situation today, four years after the agreement on the White House lawn and six years after the Syrians started negotiations, I see in both tracks that both sides are unready. Therefore, I say we should certainly keep sending [Special Middle East Coordinator] Dennis Ross to the region to urge people to go ahead, but we should not permit our prestige and our reputation to depend on his accomplishing anything.
Spiegel: I don't agree that the parties aren't ready; rather, they have lost their way. We can help them by showing the way to what they should want to do. This is the way in which the United States can make an enormous contribution—by founding and solidifying the relationship among the parties who are trying to do this themselves, but are failing at it. We need a more activist American policy than has been the case lately. Look at Madeleine Albright's trip in September: she resuscitated the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, no small feat. We need more high-level American activities and the involvement of respected American diplomats.
MEQ: Why are there such problems in the peace process today?
Satloff: Palestinians and Israelis are finding that they differ in some very fundamental ways on the issue of settling their conflict. As we get closer to the point of decision, these differences emerge ever larger.
MEQ: What about the idea of leaving behind the interim discussions and jumping ahead to final status issues such as Jerusalem and refugees?
Feith: The problem is that people talk about final status within the Oslo framework as simply short-circuiting some steps within that process. The idea that peace can be achieved by putting Arafat in charge of a mini-state in the territories is fundamentally incorrect. Instead of peace, you will reap instability, violence, and terrorism, plus aggravated problems for Israel, Jordan, the United States, and those poor people who have to live under Arafat's rule.
Satloff: There's a great deal of merit to Daniel's argument that when the situation isn't right, the Americans oughtn't to jump in with both feet and invest heavily in it. The problem now, though, is that while the situation is probably not ripe for solution, and so there will not be a final status agreement signed by next summer, the alternative of deadlock is yet worse—huge-scale violence in the territories. This would create major problems for Israel and require the United States to help Israel internationally in a way that it has not needed to do in a long while. I do not envision U.S. engagement in these negotiations to push the parties to make compromises they wouldn't naturally make, but to prevent a deterioration that later on would draw us in more deeply.
Pipes: You're saying the negotiating process is useful in itself?
Satloff: Yes, this is a moment where I become a great advocate of the process. If final status talks are inevitable, I am 100 percent in favor of rushing to final status and then going very slowly once there. I see the alternative as breakdown and probably an explosion.
Pipes: I worry about the precise opposite. So long as Jerusalem and refugees are out there as abstract issues that no one is dealing with practically, there's the hope, the pretense even, that they can be solved. But once official negotiators actually sit around a table and afterwards leak their combative remarks to the press, it becomes apparent that the issues are in fact insoluble. Then the possibility of explosion increases.
Satloff: Yes, that is a risk of getting into final status negotiations. I have not been a big proponent of this, but we are about there.
Pipes: Didn't you just say it's a good idea to "rush" into the final status talks?
Satloff: I'm saying rush into them, then go very slowly. The talks are a reality. By the time this discussion reaches print, a couple of opening meetings of the final status talks will already have taken place. The goal now is to structure negotiations so as to prevent the parties from recognizing that they have irreconcilable differences.
Pipes: How do you do that?
Satloff: That is why you need the United States. We are experts at obfuscation.
Pipes: You mean long words and long sentences ...
Satloff: One can create negotiating structures that avoid dealing with questions that, for now, are intractable.
MEQ: You are proposing a new standard of success for diplomacy? Obfuscate the fundamental, underlying disagreements.
Satloff: In another setting I once told a very senior official in the Clinton Administration that in Algeria the number-one priority of the United States is to do no harm. He looked at me and said, "Dr. Satloff, the United States of America, the greatest world power etc. etc. etc., has higher aspirations than merely to avoid the doing of harm." I replied, "Avoiding harm's not so bad."
Spiegel: We can do more than avoid harm. We can have a more positive influence, for example, making proposals at critical moments, thereby getting the parties to focus on issues that they might not want to raise themselves.
Satloff: Steve, we're going to write a letter to [National Security Advisor] Sandy Berger and recommend the president appoint you as special negotiator for Algeria. With your optimism, you could go in there and right away stop the butchery that is going on.
RESPONDING TO TERRORISM
MEQ: Whenever there is a terrorist outrage or a setback to the peace process pressure mounts for the U.S. government to so something. What is the appropriate response in these situations?
Pipes: We should make it very clear to the Palestinians that terrorism is unacceptable, that we will judge them harshly so long as the PA and others engage in this kind of activity.
MEQ: You're saying that Palestinian protests against Har Homa are unacceptable?
Pipes: No, protests are fine. The Oslo deal reached back in 1993 permits peaceful disagreement and arguments but forbids violence. The Palestinians, in return for getting the Palestinian Authority, agreed to put the instrument of force aside. Indignant letters to the editor are perfectly acceptable; violence is not.
Spiegel: Right. Violence is inappropriate to a peace process and the parties have to understand that. We have to come out absolutely opposed to violence, and we've been doing that.
Satloff: We have not been doing that. We've been restraining ourselves. Look, the Clinton administration knows that the alternative to Arafat is Hamas, whereas the alternative to Netanyahu is [Labor Party leader Ehud] Barak. We don't want to be too tough on Arafat lest we bring on the alternative nobody wants. In treading so carefully, we undermine our ability to compel a change in behavior in Arafat. We operate under a canard that Arafat is weak; he is not weak.
Let's remember that in 1990 when the PLO winked at terrorism, the Bush administration severed relations with it, not because the Congress forced it to, but on the basis of a positive decision made by the president when faced with the evidence. This should remain an option but we are now much too restrained.
Spiegel: Not so: we've been pretty tough and ought to keep it up. Our first priority, as Albright's August 6th speech indicated, is to demonstrate in every word and deed that we reject violence. This administration has done a good job at that.
Feith: This administration declares that it will not reward terrorism, then acts as though declaring this makes it okay to reward terrorism. In the same way, it says it opposes moral equivalence, then proceeds to engage in moral equivalence. The Clinton administration has declared a number of very sound principles—for example, opposing moral equivalence between terrorism on the one hand and Israeli construction projects on the other. But it does not live up to its own standards.
If you take the long view from the viewpoint of Arab terrorists, then terrorism has been stunningly successful. If we consider terrorism to be the terrible problem American officials at the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting said it is, then we have to make sure that terrorism does not pay. We need to have a principled long-range policy of ensuring that people who murder children as a matter of policy never do well.
MEQ: What specifically would you have Clinton do differently?
Feith: I take a rather radical view of what should be done. I happen to think that basing the whole peace policy on Arafat is a gigantic mistake precisely because it is a big reward for terrorism.
Pipes: Specifically, he should finger the PA for its responsibility in terrorism and other trespasses, as opposed to indulging in the lingering notion of the PA as a partner in peace and a force for good.
Satloff: The metaphor of partnership has indeed outlived its usefulness. It would be more honest and healthy for all involved if we view this as a negotiation between rivals and adversaries. It's a good old-fashioned negotiation, not the creation of a partnership that neither side believes in.
Feith: The first step should be dropping the term "peace process" in favor of just "negotiating."
Satloff: That does not mean devaluing the negotiations, only placing them on a more realistic footing.
Spiegel: I disagree with all of you. No one suggests that partners in a peace process love each other, so the term "partner" is completely appropriate, as is "peace process." Anyway, terminology does not really matter; what does matter is to adopt the right policy, which means preventing terrorism and keeping the sides talking. Terrorism has been successful because several governments, particularly the Israeli, say they will cut off negotiations if terror occurs—which encourages terrorists to take action to stop the negotiations. Terrorism must not be allowed to have such an impact.
MEQ: Any final comments?
Spiegel: There aren't enough discussions like this—either in track-two diplomacy between Arabs and Israelis or on the American scene—in which people of different views talk seriously to each other, spelling out their own assumptions and challenging each other. We Americans do not debate enough what our policy is or should be in the Middle East.
Pipes: That is our idea here, to get away from the specifics of the moment. It is sometimes most useful to have individuals who agree on first principles explore their disagreement on strategies.