Yair Hirschfeld was one of the two original architects of the Oslo accords. In this extended critical review of Seth Anziska’s Preventing Palestine. A Political History From Camp David to Oslo (Princeton University Press, 2018), he argues that the book justifies Palestinian negativism, distorts history, and perpetuates a narrative that can only lead to more disappointment and suffering for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Seth Anziska and I have much in common. We are both non-conformist, independent thinkers committed to Jewish values, and struggling for decency in a complex and often immoral world. In doing so, we have tended to adapt and change our thinking on the basis of understandings reached in regard to a changing reality. And in our late teens, we both spent one year in Israel (he in 2001-2002 and I in 1963-64), which had a formative impact on what we think, do and are.
However, here ends the similarity. Seth Anziska comes from a religious Jewish-orthodox background, I come from a Jewish left-wing secular background. The year Seth lived in Israel he spent in Judea and Samaria. The events he experienced shattered his Zionist Jewish orthodox convictions and influenced him to go back and live in the US; the one year I lived in Israel only reinforced my Zionist convictions and made me come on Aliya and live here since. Seth Anziska came to Israel to stay in Judea and Samaria in a community, where almost everybody either ignored or abhorred the Palestinians living nearby. I stayed (five months) on a Kibbutz where working on the land, found a Maccabean coin – understanding that Israel was our homeland – and joined my Kibbutz father in visiting Arab villages, seeking to build a common bond with them. At the time my Kibbutz parents were engaged in a political battle to put an end to military restrictions enforced on our Arab co-citizens. Two years later, the military regime for Arab Israeli citizens was abolished, making it evident to me that political struggle for a more decent policy could be effective and serve both Jews and Arabs.
Seth Anziska, going back to the US, has convinced himself that it is the task of the US to lead Israel and the Palestinians on the way to peace, while the spoiler has been Israel. In contrast, I am convinced that seeking peace is a vital Israeli and Palestinian interest, and it is the simplified views of American politicians and experts that have become a major spoiler. Anziska, takes the higher moral ground, and in doing so, ignores much of the ‘on ground reality’, whereas living in Israel and caring for my children and grandchildren, I have to deal with reality, while still seeking moral positions.
Part 1: Why has the two-state solution failed thus far?
While both Anziska and I seek to achieve a two state solution, for Seth it is a simple process: end occupation and permit the Palestinians to take care of their own lives. Alas, I wish this was a realistic position. When I started to work together with Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin on ways to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the early 1980s, the first thing we did was to speak to Palestinian leaders, businessmen, journalists, artists and others. One of our first questions was whether Israel should simply withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. The answer we got was devastating. ‘We Palestinians will first kill each other, and then we will start to kill you.’ And they added that Israel should discuss the way forward with the King of Jordan, as well as with Chairman Arafat of the PLO.
In November 1982, I was the note-taker in a meeting between Shimon Peres and Rashad Shawwa, the mayor of Gaza. At the meeting Peres asked Shawwa to help encourage the Palestinian leadership to accept the Camp David formula, of moving in two negotiated phases to a common solution of the Palestinian question. Shawwa asked what the Palestinians could gain and Peres answered, ‘You would obtain a veto on what we (Israel) do in the West Bank and Gaza’. When I wrote the protocol of the meeting, Peres corrected the word ‘veto’ and replaced it by the word ‘vote’. Yet regardless, it could have been a vote/veto preventing the expansion of settlements, at a time, when about 6000 settlers lived in the West Bank and Gaza rather than the 600,000 today.
Anziska argues that it has been Israel and the US who have prevented the establishment of the State of Palestine. I argue that Israel has offered repeatedly ways and means to establish a prosperous State of Palestine, living in good neighbourly relations beside Israel. Alas, internal Palestinian divisions, conflicting external influences, and the conviction that Israel is not here to stay, have prevented the establishment of a state of their own.
In the first meeting in Norway in January 1993 (eight months before the ‘Oslo Accords’), I made it clear to Abu Ala that the intention was to lead the way to a two state solution. I knew that headway had to be based on five principles: Gradualism (or what Anziska calls ‘incrementalism’), necessary to turn enmity into a partnership, and permit the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), being a revolutionary movement to become a state-building force, while allowing Israel to maintain a safety network against hostile action; Palestinian empowerment, necessary to start building the necessary state institutions; a comprehensive concept of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, in order to lay the foundations for good neighbourly relations; Security cooperation, necessary to fight against spoilers; and finally, embedding Israeli-Palestinian understandings in a wider regional context, knowing that an Israeli-Palestinian peace-finding process could not be sustained, isolated from the region.
Part 2: Where Anziska is right: The 1978-79 Camp David paradigm was counterproductive (although a different paradigm was being proposed)
Where I do agree with Anziska is that the strategic paradigm created by the Camp David Accords of 17 September 1978 was counter-productive regarding the Palestinian question. His description of US diplomacy leading to the Camp David Accords is interesting and worth reading.
The paradigm laid out in those Accords suggested a sequence neither side was willing or capable to pursue: After establishing Palestinian self-government (i.e. which we established following the Oslo Agreement) negotiations were supposed to solve all outstanding core issues of conflict, and reach ‘end of conflict’ and ‘finality of claims’. This was intended to become the ‘precursor’ to the establishment either of the State of Palestine, or of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation, or of a prolonged autonomy arrangement.
The problem with the paradigm was that it required asking a revolutionary movement – that was uniting all different Palestinian groups under the slogan of ‘armed resistance’ to make irreversible concessions in regard to Jerusalem, refugees and territory. Negotiating these issues, which lay at the heart of the Palestinian national ethos, and giving up ‘the right of armed resistance’ (muqawamma) ahead of it was unrealistic, but an essential and vital demand on behalf of the international community and of Israel.
Anziska seems unaware of the justified fear of the Israeli and Jordanian leaderships of a possibly irredentist State of Palestine. Such a state, even with the best intentions of its leadership, would be exposed to jihadist influences that all too easily could provoke an escalating vicious circle of violence. In Shimon Peres’ memoir, Battling for Peace, he expressed Israeli fears, writing: ‘In our view, a Palestinian state, though demilitarised at first, would over time inevitably strive to build up a military strength of its own, and the international community, depending upon massive Second and Third World support at the United Nations, would do nothing to stop it. That army, eventually, would be deployed at the very gates of Jerusalem and down the entire, narrow length of Israel. It would pose a constant threat to our security and to the peace and stability of the region.’
In order to counter this fear, a different strategic approach was proposed in detail in my research report: Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East: From Dependency to Interdependence (September 1992). In that report I described possible models of negotiations aiming to reach Palestinian self-government. Of the three models mentioned, one was implemented in Norway and led to the conclusion of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles. The research described how to minimise Palestinian dependency on Israel and lay the foundations for good neighbourly relations. In this context, I wrote that ‘For quite some time to come, peace negotiations are and will be threatened by radical forces, militant fundamentalists and others.’ Indeed, Yossi Beilin and I continuously beseeched our Palestinian partners to prevent violent action, knowing that Palestinian terror would feed right wing opposition to the peace process. I also argued that ‘to break the vicious circle of violence’ the establishment of a Middle Eastern Security Organization (MESO) and a Middle Eastern Economic Community for Water, Energy and Trade (MECWET) was necessary, before solving the core issues of conflict (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security, finality of claims and end of conflict).
In other words, we – the Oslo negotiators – laid out, ahead of time, the path needed to reach a Palestinian state. We believed that in order to attract foreign investment, develop a flourishing economy, and establish the necessary state institutions, the Palestinian people have a vested self-interest to give up armed resistance, marginalise militant forces within the Palestinian political system, and build a functioning working relationship with all neighbours, including of course, Israel.
Seth Anziska may (correctly) argue that my research paper (submitted to the EU) was not published. However, it is available and with small effort he could have found this and other sources, conflicting with his views, along with the many other documents, he did consult.
Part 3: The Palestinians must take their share of the blame for failure
On pages 282-287 of his book, Anziska describes, how the ‘Oslo Faustian Bargain’ aimed to prevent the creation of the State of Palestine. This is nonsense.
Anziska referenced my book Track-Two Diplomacy toward an Israeli-Palestinian Solution 1978-2014 in his bibliography, but he has either not read it, or decided ‘not to let the facts get in the way of his argument’. While none of my words should be taken to absolve Israel from its responsibility, it is important to recognise the many ways in which the Palestinian leadership failed to move toward establishing the State of Palestine.
- Arafat undermined the ‘local’ leadership: In October 1993, shortly after the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, Shimon Peres suggested I speak to Faisal Husseini (the most prominent leader of the PLO who resided in Jerusalem and was not part of the Tunis leadership) and tell him that Israel wanted to hand over most documents of the Civil Administration in order to allow for a smooth transfer of authority to the Palestinians. Husseini, who had to consult Arafat, responded after a week saying: ‘We as an occupied people cannot take documents from the occupiers.’ This was of course counter-productive to the aim of state-building, but it was not counter-productive to Arafat’s political interests. During the first Intifada, Husseini and Sari Nusseibeh had created the ‘Technical Committees’, which in effect were the beginning of a governmental structure. Arafat was determined to undermine the emerging power structure, and in order to put an end to the ‘Technical Committees’, he created a competing structure named PECDAR (Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction). It was a first sign that internal Palestinian politics were more important than any serious effort of state-building.
- The Palestinians rejected people-to-people activity and created the policy of ‘anti-normalisation: In October 1993, Arafat’s brother, Dr Fathi Arafat suggested the building of working committees for what we called ‘people-to-people’ activities, aiming to lay the foundations of good neighbourly relations. The idea was to prepare cooperation programs, with the blessing of the UN, and then implement them. Joint teams worked for 14 months on a wide range of programs, but less than a week before travelling to New York, we were told that the PLO opposed the move. A Palestinian friend who had participated in the effort subsequently told me that the PLO ambassador at the UN, Nasr el-Kidwa, opposed the move as ‘it would have shown the Israelis in a positive light’. This policy was followed by the emergence of a PLO supported strategy coined ‘anti-normalisation’. It meant that any Palestinian who tended to cooperate with Israelis could and would be castigated. In face of a reality, where Israeli peace groups offered most needed help, there were always exceptions to the rule of ‘anti-normalisation’. However, the major message delivered and understood by Israeli society was that good neighbourly relations were not part of the deal, even if this would undermine Palestinian well-being and prosperity.
- The Palestinians walked back the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement: In October 1995, a small group of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepared what is known as the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding, which was a blueprint for a Permanent Status Agreement. Abu Mazen (Mohammad Abbas) had followed the preparation of the agreement throughout the process and at the end of November he came to our ECF office in Tel Aviv and said he viewed the document as an important basis for future negotiations between both governments. I took Abu Mazen in my car to the residence of the Egyptian Ambassador Bassiouni in Herzliya and on the way he told me: ‘Yair, we will get there’ supporting his statement with a movement of his hands, describing a serpentine way ahead of us. When, in the summer of 2000, there was an Israeli Government determined to negotiate a Permanent Status Agreement, the understanding we reached in October 1995 had the chance of being translated into reality. Alas, Abu Mazen publicly withdrew his consent. When we phoned him, he answered in his own voice, telling us that he was not at home.
To be fair, six weeks before we concluded the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding in 1995, Arafat separately warned Beilin and me not to seek a blueprint for a Permanent Status Agreement. He told me: ‘Yair, we are not ready for this. The gap between both positions is too wide. And if you will go ahead, Yossi Beilin will undermine his relations, both with Peres and with Rabin.’ Arafat understood that an ‘everything or nothing approach’ cannot work. And that an incremental strategy was an absolute necessity.
Sari Nusseibeh actually explained this to me in analytical terms. ‘Yair,’ he said, ‘if the Labor Party is in government in Israel, you people will tend to move too fast, and it will create major pressures on the Palestinian political system. This all too easily may become counter-productive.’ And he continued: ‘However, if the Likud is in government, progress will be slow; the Palestinian leadership will need and will be able to count on the support of the Israeli peace camp and it will be possible to gradually move forward.’
- The Palestinians did not advance economic development: Palestinian economic development, being an important component in the creation of an independent state, was largely determined by the Paris Protocol, signed in May 1994. Anziska and others (such as Toufic Haddad’s book Palestine Ltd. Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory) may argue with some justification that the Paris Protocol limited Palestinian state-building capacities. Hence in 1999, with Norwegian financial support, an Israeli and Palestinian team prepared what we called EPS – an Economic Permanent Status Agreement. The Israeli team was led by David Brodet, who had negotiated the Paris Protocol in 1994. And the Palestinian team was headed by Maher el-Kurd, who was one of Arafat’s most senior economic advisors. After the EPS was concluded and signed by both sides, Dr Muhammad Shtayeh (now the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority) was asked to review it. As in 1993 (when the ‘Technical Committees’ were replaced by PECDAR), PECDAR again denied the Palestinians a major step forward towards nationhood.
- The Palestinians withdrew consent for the trilateral security team: In order to take care of Palestinian and Israeli security interests, three teams – Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian – prepared a blueprint for what we called ‘Security Permanent Status’. The basic idea was simple: in order to take care of Israeli security interests and facilitate the end of occupation in the West Bank, security arrangements with Jordan could serve all three sides. Israel needed the external borders of Jordan as its security borders; Palestine needed to take care of internal security with no – or extremely limited – Israeli presence, and Jordan had an interest to cooperate both with the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. When this concept was concluded, King Abdallah of Jordan and Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel, met to implement various suggestions made in the document. The Palestinians, however, withdrew their original consent.
- Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters: Negotiations on an Israel-Palestine permanent-status agreement reached its potential conclusion in December 2000, when Clinton submitted his proposed guidelines for an agreement, offering the Palestinian people not only the right to establish a state of their own, but similarly resolving the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements and security. Yet, Arafat said ‘no’. In his memoirs, Clinton wrote that: ‘Perhaps he simply couldn’t make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman. He had grown used to flying from place to place, giving mother-of-pearl gifts made by Palestinian craftsmen to world leaders and appearing on television with them. It would be different if the end of violence took Palestine out of the headlines and instead he had to worry about providing jobs, schools, and basic services. Most of the young people on Arafat’s team wanted him to take the deal. I believe Abu Ala and Abu Mazen also would have agreed but didn’t want to be at odds with Arafat. When he left, I still had no idea what Arafat was going to do. His body language said no, but the deal was so good I couldn’t believe anyone would be foolish enough to let go.’
I do blame Arafat for not accepting the Clinton parameters, but I am the last to blame Chairman Arafat for the failure of the Camp David Summit of July 2000. In preparing the summit everything was done the wrong way, based on the US-Israeli lack of understanding of Palestinian sensitivities and needs. Thus, in the summer of 2000, the opportunity to conclude the establishment of the State of Palestine, without determining its borders, was squandered. Arafat at the time asked Israel to recognise the establishment of the State, allow it to control 53 per cent of the West Bank territory, allow for Palestinian elections in the Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, create certain limits on settlement activities, and commit to negotiate for a further two years (see Hirschfeld pp. 246-247 ). The opposition of Barak and Clinton to such an incremental approach and the commitment to an ‘all or nothing’ approach, meant this opportunity was lost.
- The Palestinians launched the Second Intifada leading a war – the al-Aqsa Intifada – against an Israeli peace government. The al-Aqsa Intifada caused more than 1000 Israeli and 3000 Palestinian deaths between September 2000 and March 2004. The Israeli national economic loss was estimated in June 2002 to amount to more than US $5 billion, or 3 to 4 per cent of Israel’s gross domestic product. The terrorist attacks caused malls, cafes and hotels to empty. A Tel Aviv university research study found that 40 per cent of the children it surveyed were suffering from symptoms of trauma, and up to 40.000 cars a year were stolen through Israeli-Palestinian criminal collaboration. I respect Seth Anziska, who lived at the time in the West Bank, for his sensitivity toward the suffering of the Palestinians. Alas, he ignores that it was Palestinian action that destroyed the fabric of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and caused a tremendous set-back to the efforts at reaching an agreed two-state solution.
- The Palestinians wasted the opportunity provided by disengagement: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from the entire Gaza Strip and the Northern West Bank provided another opportunity for the Palestinian leadership that they wasted. True enough, Sharon did not make it easy for the Palestinian side to take advantage of a policy they had not been consulted on. However, Vice-Prime Minister Peres offered an orderly transfer of the entire real estate and equipment created by the settlements, to the Palestinian Authority, both in Gaza and the Northern West Bank. Together with Palestinian counterparts, the Economic Cooperation Foundation had prepared a comprehensive plan: the Gush Katif area could have become an attractive tourism area allowing particularly Arabs from the Gulf to enjoy the Mediterranean; it was suggested that the settlement Netzarim become a centre for agricultural research; the four settlements in the Northern West Bank could have been transformed into sport and culture centres; and agricultural research and much more. These plans, and the existing real estate could have attracted most substantial international investment and jump-started much needed economic growth. Instead, the Palestinian Authority, assisted by the US-led international community, argued that any settlement activity was illegal according to their interpretation of international law, and insisted that Israel destroy real estate worth more than $4 bn. In place of economic development, what everybody saw was war-like destruction.
- The Palestinians gave no answer to the Olmert offer: During Ehud Olmert’s premiership (March 2006 – March 2009) the Israeli government prepared for a two-state solution. In September 2008 Olmert submitted Israel’s proposal to Abu Mazen. It fitted hand in glove the terms of reference for negotiations, submitted to us by Hussein Agha and Ahmed Khalidi, Abu Mazen’s most trusted advisors. Palestinian PR excused the refusal by claiming that Olmert had submitted a ‘take it or leave it’ proposal. This is not true. After waiting for an answer from Abbas, Olmert sent former Oslo negotiator Ron Pundak to Ramallah to ask the Palestinian president what he wanted to change. Pundak returned to Jerusalem empty-handed. In January 2009, Olmert discussed his proposal with me, telling me that Abu Mazen had de facto rejected it. Knowing how comprehensive and how forthcoming Olmert’s peace proposal was, the Israeli Prime Minister intended to obtain support from the US, Europe, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to implement parts of the plan unilaterally. He intended to develop a strategy, which we called ‘coordinated – multilateral unilateralism’. It meant to engage in Palestinian state-building in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, while permitting Abu Mazen to reject the proposed final deal. Had Olmert remained in power this might have paved the way to a two-state solution.
- The Palestinians’ perennial ‘No’ to American administrations: Since then, Abbas has said ‘no’ to Secretary of State Kerry’s first proposal; ‘no’ to his second proposal, which aimed to take care of Palestinian sensitivities; he said ‘no’ to Kerry’s terms of reference, published when the Democrats were already voted out of power; Abbas said ‘no’ to the Quartet proposals of early July 2016, and he is saying ‘no’ to President Trump’s proposals.
Yes, we have to understand the reasons for the perennial ‘No’ of the Palestinian leadership to each and every constructive peace proposal, either by Israel, the US, or the Quartet powers (US, Russia, EU and the UN). But while the reasons are complex, this does not allow Seth Anziska to put all the blame on Israel and/or the US, for not reaching a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Part 4: What is to be done? The Four Pillars of Progress
If the paradigm created at Camp David in September 1978, prevented rather than eased progress towards a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution, and if we accept that Anziska’s apparent idea of solving all core issues at once at the start, and allowing the creation of the State of Palestine on the entire territory of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem was and is unrealistic, does this mean that there is no hope?
No, it means that a less ambitious paradigm must now be pursued. Creating a two state solution has to be built on four pillars:
- First, the Palestinian leadership and people must set their mind to state-building – creating the necessary state institutions and a prosperous economy;
- Second, it is essential to minimise the prevailing gap regarding the agreed territory of the emerging State of Palestine;
- Third, it is crucial to develop optimal cooperation with Israel, the Arab world and the international community for building a prosperous state;
- Fourth, it is necessary to upgrade security cooperation and coordinate action against spoilers.
If we understand that every Israeli government has to take care of the interests of over 400,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, the real territorial conflict is on 10 per cent of the land of the West Bank. This means that a sufficient majority on both sides of the divide would gain remarkably from an agreement on 90 per cent of the West Bank and 100 per cent of Gaza, leaving the core issues of conflict for follow up negotiations. Thus, thinking out of the box is needed on how to deal with the conflict over the remaining 10 per cent of territory. One way would be to reach state-to-state agreements on the 90 per cent and postpone negotiations on the remaining 10 per cent for later. Another way could be, to establish Special Zones in the area of the 10 per cent and agree not only on a land swap, but also on various other measures in support of a flourishing, prosperous and contiguous State of Palestine.
In 2000 Arafat wanted to proclaim the State of Palestine on 53 per cent of the West Bank territory, while not giving up one inch of land, but leaving this for later negotiations. Salam Fayyad understood that the real Palestinian challenge was to build the institutions of the future state, as well as a prosperous economy. Against the mutual incitement, hate and growing radicalisation this approach may be difficult to achieve today. Nevertheless, it is the only way forward.
Anziska’s claim that US and Israeli policy has prevented the establishment of the State of Palestine is at best a half-truth. The second half of the truth is that the main task of establishing the State of Palestine falls upon the Palestinian leadership and people. Saying ‘no’ to every Israeli proposal or engaging in violence does not build a state. It has only caused tragedies and repeated setbacks.
Writing an academic account that justifies Palestinian negativism does not only distort the historical events, it also perpetuates a narrative leading to more disappointment and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike.