Lessons for Obama

In this week’s piece at Souciant, I look at the lessons Bill Clinton’s mistakes at Camp David II hold for Barack Obama today. Many of the conditions have changed, of course, but Photograph courtesy of RahelSharon Published under a Creative Commons license.Clinton’s mis-steps, as well as what he did right, hold general lessons that Obama must keep in mind if he ever decides to seriously re-engage in this issue.

New Stuff: Miller, Avishai and J Street

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My latest blog piece is now live on Allvoices.com. You can check it out by clicking here.

Stumbling Down the Road to Annapolis

My e-mail box has seen a great many messages in the past week calling for protest of the upcoming Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, MD. These have provided more evidence of how well the extreme right and left actually get along quite well despite disliking each other so intensely.

Americans for A Safe Israel is bringing its demonstrators to Annapolis. They essentially object to any settlement of the conflict that is not tantamount to a complete surrender on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states. They will be joined by the starkly Orwellian-named Shalom International, a Christian group that opposes any withdrawal by Israel from the Occupied Territories on religious grounds.

While no left-wing groups have, as of yet, announced any intention of physically protesting the conference, messages of protest from various small groups have been circulating. Most of these have been based on the point that the “Bush agenda” is being forwarded at the conference and therefore it should be opposed out of hand. Typically, alternatives are not presented nor, from my experience, even thought about for a moment.

Two liberal Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, have also announced that they plan to demonstrate in support of the conference.

In truth, this is much ado about nothing. The agenda for the conference has yet to be set, but the past few months have seen the Americans, Israelis and the Palestinian Authority all working overtime to tamp down expectations of this conference. And with good reason. Continue reading

Getting Past Blame: Present Realities and How To Move Forward

Virtually any article, except for unusually long ones, necessarily narrows its focus and leaves out important aspects of the broad subject it is discussing. In facile, pseudo-intellectual attacks, those who disagree with such articles often point out what is not there, as if it is possible, in just a few pages, to consider the breadth and scope of any problem, much less one as complex as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the new edition of the London Review of Books, there is a pair of articles, however, which, when taken together, give a fairly rounded view of the situation as it stands now in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Making them perhaps more valuable and credible, the article criticizing Israel is written by a Jewish former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman; while the article criticizing the Palestinians is written by an American of Palestinian ancestry, Prof. Rashid Khalidi.

Khalidi continues a theme explored in his superb book, The Iron Cage:The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Palestinians are often portrayed, by themselves and others in very distorted ways. By pro-occupation zealots, they are depicted as far more powerful than they are, and powerful enough to constitute a substantial threat to Israel. That characterization is absurd on its face, and it is a measure of the hysteria this subject can generate that there is a significant, albeit minority, number of people who actually believe it. But they are also often portrayed by their own supporters, and even at times by themselves, as completely helpless actors who are pure victims and have no role in creating the situation they now find themselves in. Khalidi’s valuable self-criticism paints a more realistic picture.

In “Shared Irresponsibility,” Khalidi draws careful attention to the actions of both Fatah and Hamas in creating the split that exists now in the Palestinian political body and which finds its expression in a geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Khalidi writes, “Fatah and Hamas have been fighting for control of a Palestinian Authority that has no real authority. The behavior of both has been disgraceful…In the four decades since the founding of the PLO, there has never been such a gulf between two parts of the [Palestinian] national movement.” Continue reading

The Myth That Stays With Us: Camp David 2000

06barakclintonarafat.jpgAlthough I’m something of a historian by trade and inclination, in this space I try to keep to current events. But some historical events are of particular importance because they continue to shape today’s events. This is especially true of the failed attempt at Camp David in 2000 to cobble together a final peace agreement based on the Oslo process between israel and the Palestinians.

The common view that Arafat was solely responsible for the Camp David failure is false, but it is widely believed and that belief has colored the politics of the conflict to this very day. But some alternate versions, where Arafat is held blameless and painted as an innocent victim of American and Israeli machinations are equally false. Continue reading