chapter  9
Pages 17

It is difficult to accord causal value to factors. For example, even if, statistically, breakthroughs have occurred following changes in leadership, it is not certain that the new leader was the decisive (sufficient) factor even if important (necessary). Even if it were possible to find statistical indications in such a limited number of cases, it would be difficult to quantify the impact or relative weight of the various factors, such as public opinion, negative as well as positive, and it is equally difficult to quantify intangibles such as leadership status or legitimacy, trust/mistrust, personality traits, or political will, to name but a few of the factors found in the cases of breakthroughs in Israeli peacemaking. These, at least, are identifiable factors, but one is hard put to even identify, much less quantify, something like “thirst for power.” There was no direct evidence of the “thirst for power” factor in the available material, including participant accounts and psychological analyses of Israeli peacemaking. Therefore, one can only guess when or if such a factor played a role; at most it would be cloaked in the guise of other factors. Addressing first the failures, of which there are more cases than break-

throughs, the over-riding factor would indeed appear to have been intangible ideological (nationalist and/or religious) identity-related factors on the part of the Israeli leadership, to which domestic (and diaspora) spoilers contributed. Mistrust, born of the deeply engrained belief that the Arabs would never accept Israel’s legitimacy, nurtured by an historical (as well as governmentmanipulated) sense of persecution and victimhood, had become part of Israelis’ identity. Mistrust was particularly strong among the Labor leaders immediately after the 1967 war and later in the cases of Golda Meir and Rabin with regard to all of Israel’s adversaries. The rejection of Egyptian offers before the Yom Kippur War, and Rabin’s hesitations in talks with both Egypt and the Syrians, were signs of this attitude; it was even apparent in Rabin’s failed talks with Jordan over a partial agreement. His mistrust of the Palestinians, specifically the PLO, long ruled out talks with the organization, based as it was on Rabin’s conviction that the Palestinians sought a state in all of Palestine and the right of return of all the refugees, both of which would eliminate the state the Jews had created: Israel. The later changes in PLO policy (the 1988 acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and the two-state

solution) lessened some of these concerns though they did not fully eliminate Rabin’s mistrust. For Barak, mistrust appeared quite strong with regard to the Palestinians, almost surprisingly less so with regard to the Syrians, at least as an over-riding factor. In almost all these cases, mistrust led to deal-breaking demands on the part of Israeli leaders when it came to the West Bank, Egypt, or Syria, as precautions against future attack. Thus, there was a preference for what was seen as “security” over peace. The exceptions to this were Begin and Olmert (and possibly Barak). Probably only moderately less mistrustful, Begin and Olmert, each for his own reasons, was determined to reach an agreement and therefore willing to stop short of deal-breaking demands, making do with those safeguards that were obtainable. Barak seemed to be moving toward a somewhat more flexible position, at least for the distant future (due to the changes that occurred in the nature of the security threats). Still, security demands prompted by lingering mistrust contributed to the failures of both Barak’s negotiations at Camp David and Shepherdstown, as they had for Rabin before then. Clearly, the perception of the threat influenced the degree or nature of the mistrust in all the cases; but only Olmert found a way to deal with the threat as he perceived it, and the underlying mistrust, so as to prevent failure. There were those who attributed the preference for “security over peace” to

the influence of the military on the political echelon or in the negotiations themselves. This claim is based on the premise that it is the duty of the military to be mistrustful – that is, to prepare for the worst case scenario. The influence of the military (or former military) may have been a factor in the early years (under the Eshkol, Meir, and even the first Rabin governments), but it does not appear to have been a significant factor in the later failures. In fact, in some cases, the military played a positive role in support of breakthroughs (1978 Camp David, Oslo), and even in the case of the Barak Camp David failure, the military experts were occasionally more flexible than the political. This was due to their concentration on the nature of the military threat, rather than a matter of trust as such, and the nature of the military threat had undergone a change. Only later did this change directly affect the thinking of the political echelon. Mistrust also contributed to failure by precipitating misinterpretation of the

adversary’s intentions. Deep mistrust led the post-1967 war government to focus only on the “three no’s” of the Khartoum conference, thereby misinterpreting the relative moderation of the final resolution that both Jordan and Egypt had engineered in order to open the way for some kind of agreement with Israel. In the wake of this misinterpretation, Israel also missed the significance of the acceptance of Resolution 242 by Egypt and Jordan a few months later. Similarly, Sadat’s proposals of 1971 and 1973 were met with more than skepticism due to the government’s misinterpretation of Egypt’s ultimate intentions (though some in the government apparently did believe the peace offer of 1973). Suspicion and apparently misinterpretation of Syria’s willingness to make peace marked Rabin’s negotiations via the Americans, and possibly

Barak’s efforts as well. At the very least, Israel’s negative interpretations of the adversary’s intentions (Jordan, Egypt, Syria) may not always have been justified, and they were often contested by more positive interpretations on the part of third parties. Actually, for Rabin mistrust was perhaps at the core of his peacemaking approach. It was apparent not only in his occasional misinterpretation of Syria’s positions and his insistence upon proofs of Assad’s peaceful intentions, but it was also built into the Oslo Accords (viz. their interim nature), along with Rabin’s avoidance of any commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state and insistence upon the Jordan River as Israel’s security border. In the end, mistrust also affected Israel leaders’ political will or determination

to pursue an agreement. Not only did it generate deal-breaking security demands but, also, the belief that a genuine peace agreement was unattainable. This belief was characterized by the post-1967 Eshkol and Meir government approaches and Rabin’s attitude toward the Palestinians for many years (though he was will to test). It was also apparent in Rabin’s negotiations with Syria that dragged on and on, eroding whatever political will may have existed on either side. Ideology – that is, nationalist ideology in the case of Labor governments –

contributed significantly to policy with regard to the West Bank. All of the Labor leaders, including the “younger” generations of Rabin, Peres, and Barak, adhered to the attitude, indeed the conviction, that the territory of theWest Bank is “ours,” to keep or give up, to control, to divide, as they saw fit – perhaps depending upon other factors. For the right-wing and religious parties, ideology (whether nationalist or religious or both) obviously stopped at the “it is ours,” with nothing of Eretz Israel to be relinquished. Insofar as Labor was willing to keep or “give up” part of the land, the party claimed to be guided purely by security-related considerations. Yet its ideological stance was apparent in the settlement project it undertook and supported from 1967 onwards. Settlements such as those in Gush Etzion or the Gaza Strip belied the purely security argument, with settlements ultimately becoming a deal breaker themselves, due to pragmatic if not ideological considerations, in the territorial discussions under the later governments of Barak and of Olmert (as the security relevance of the Jordan River border diminished). But even earlier, for Begin the ideological attachment to the settlement enterprise almost prevented the breakthrough of the Camp David accords with Sadat. The other “deal-breaker” behind the failures was the Israeli position on East

Jerusalem. Historically, before 1967, the difference we saw above between Labor and the right wing with regard to the West Bank was generally the same regarding Jerusalem. Given other considerations, some compromise on Jerusalem was viewed as possible (viz. Ben Gurion’s acceptance of the 1947 Partition Plan despite the absence of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem). But after 1967, until 2008, this difference virtually disappeared, as both political camps defined Jerusalem as the historic as well religious focus of Jewish legitimacy in this land. Even the secular Barak, who was willing to consider relinquishing control of at least some parts of East Jerusalem, would not

forgo Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount even when it constituted a deal-breaker. Religious and nationalist ideology, along with mistrust, was the main factor

among the spoilers from the political echelon (though economic interests may also have motivated some). One may assume that there were economic interests among those who sought to hold onto the occupied territories; but aside from pointing to actual business deals and investment, it is hard to find evidence of direct influence on the political echelon (unless one adopts a single factor analysis that explains the occupation as a colonialist enterprise of Israeli governments since 1967). In the failures (and in the breakthroughs) the political spoilers did not make life easy for the leaders who sought peace agreements, but the degree to which they negatively influenced the process varied. The political spoilers, with their threats to the government’s majority and encouragement of public opposition, weakened Rabin and Barak, despite the legitimacy both of them had in the eyes of the public. For Barak this was to be a critical factor, at least on the Syrian track, as he questioned his ability to get an agreement past the government and the Knesset. Right-wing governments, such as that of Begin, did not have this problem to the same degree inasmuch as they could count on the support of the opposition, Labor and the left, in case of an agreement. The spoilers within Begin’s own camp did have some impact upon the content of the agreement actually reached with Egypt, but not to the point of preventing the breakthrough. Insofar as spoilers from the political establishment allied with or encouraged public action against the government in the Oslo period, they could certainly be counted among the various factors responsible for the failure. The assassination of Rabin, largely due to incitement created by the political and public opponents to Oslo, brought a halt to the process that Peres was unable and Netanyahu was unwilling to revive. Precipitous decisions by Peres to advance elections brought a halt to the talks with Syria as well, though Netanyahu did authorize resumption of at least indirect talks (via Ron Lauder) in 1998.1 Some might argue that timing was a critical factor for the 2000 Camp David and later Annapolis failures, namely, in both cases, the impending departure from office of both the Israeli leaders and the American presidents. Olmert, however, would argue (indeed, he has argued) that the timing was, in fact, the result of political spoilers who harassed him incessantly with corruption allegations even of their own creation, to the point of cutting short his period in office. If his accusations were true, they could be held responsible for the shortened time period left for reaching a final agreement (though the Gaza war may also have been a factor, further cutting short the time remaining). Blaming his opponents, Olmert (but also Abu Mazen) considered timing to have been the critical factor that rendered the Annapolis process only a “near breakthrough.” Somewhat connected to this, Olmert’s political rivals (with their advice to Abu Mazen that he wait for a new leader) may have been a factor in the Palestinians’ hesitation to conclude a deal with Olmert as he was leaving office, though that could only be considered one of many factors in the failure.