Henry Siegman e-mailed me last week his latest article in The National Interest, “The triumph and tragedy of Greater Israel”.
Siegman, a wise scholar and politician, is truly an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Often he is very critical of Israel’s political behaviour and of those who usually condone it. I knew him since he was at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York since 1995 and kept in close touch. In the last 12 years, he visited Jordan a number of times and we held extended discussions on the situation.
As president of the U.S./Middle East Project, which he still is, even much earlier he tried to introduce ideas and put together some plans to narrow the negotiating gap between the Palestinians and the Israelis, without much success. He has always been optimistic that with some reason, flexibility and mutual confidence many of the obstacles that blocked progress over the years would eventually disappear.
Along that road, he antagonised many of the concerned parties. Israelis were never fond of his ideas. Yasser Arafat was furious with him when he sponsored a harsh study on the Palestinian Authority’s mismanagement and corruption, in the late 1990s. While at the Council on Foreign Relations, the management was advised to dispose of him due to what was viewed as his “disagreeable” positions towards Israel.
Although I always respected Siegman’s intellectual integrity, courage and objectivity, I hardly agreed with his enthusiastic outlook about a possible peace settlement. While he seemed to genuinely believe that a workable formula really existed, except that both sides had hitherto failed to grasp it, I repeatedly warned that Israel was never serious about reaching a quick settlement with the Palestinians, and aimed simply to complete its long-planned colonisation programme in most of the Palestinian territories designated as home for the envisaged Palestinian state.
My clearest position, which he considered highly impractical, if not outright extremist, was that there would never be peace, or successful negotiations, without, at a minimum, agreeing on removing the Israeli settlements and returning to the exact 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem, in the same way it happened between Egypt and Israel. This, in addition to restoring the rights of Palestinian refugees and Palestinians within the 1948 boundaries of Israel.
It took Siegman almost 10 years of hard work, search and lobbying to reach the exact same conclusion.
He begins his September 6 article in The National Interest by saying: “[T]he Middle East peace process is dead. More precisely, the two-state solution is dead; the peace process may well go on indefinitely if this Israeli government has its way.”
And he adds: “[T]he two-state solution did not die a natural death. It was strangulated as Jewish settlements in the West Bank were expanded and deepened by successive Israeli governments in order to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. The settlement project has achieved its intended irreversibility, not only because of its breadth and depth but also because of the political clout of the settlers and their supporters within Israel who have both ideological and economic stakes in the settlements’ permanence.”
Siegman then moves to assert that the certain result of such Israeli policy is not only creating the threat of a one-state outcome, as “it has already done so”. He also sees it as leading to what “can legitimately be called apartheid”.
“Palestinians,” he went on to say, “live in a one state reality, deprived of all rights, and enclosed in enclaves surrounded by military checkpoints, separation walls, roadblocks, barbed-wire barriers and a network of ‘for-Jews-only’ highways.”
Siegman blames major players’ disguising and even strengthening this Israeli colonial project. He blames Netanyahu’s pretense that he is pursuing a resumption of talks for a two-state solution with Mahmoud Abbas, and blames U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders for repeatedly affirming their belief that a Palestinian state can be achieved by resuming the peace process.
While ploughing through these powerful words, I thought Siegman has finally washed his hands of the many recycled projects that have all filed.
But that did not prove to be the case.
His conclusions are totally incompatible with his analysis. His concerns, understandably, are over the “calamity” that Israel may face as a result of such policies.
He therefore concludes by once more advising Israel to offer the Palestinians statehood based on the 12-year-old Clinton parameters to avert the calamity. That is a surprise.
The Clinton parameters were the worst peace plan that was ever devised by an Israeli committed supporter. It was specifically designed to consolidate all Israeli colonial gains that Siegman is now condemning.
The Clinton plan aimed at keeping the settlements, in addition to granting “what is Jewish to Israel” in Jerusalem, which meant all enlarged Jerusalem.
Probably at the time some parts in the Jerusalem were not Jewish yet, but for sure they are now.
The application of the Clinton idea is likely to be more profitable to Israel now than what it was at the time of its floating. But Israel will not settle even for that, because it is set to gain more.
The experience of almost 20 years of futile “peace making”, failed negotiations and worthless mediation has not been enough to cause meaningful reconsideration of failed tactics or to make it crystal clear where the obstacle for peace lies.
Siegman is right to infer that Israel is facing a calamity, and so is the entire Zionist project. He is right to note that the situation in the region is changing in a manner that will not enable Israel to maintain its subjugation of the Palestinians or, more precisely, its aggression in the region for much longer.
But he is wrong to advise the application of the same prescription that caused the problem to be used as the solution.
The writer is a columnist at the Jordan Times, where this article was published on Sept. 11, 2012