The False Prophets of the Middle East
As President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry moved to mediate the Hamas-Israel War on Monday, it is worth recalling that Mideast peace plans and Mideast wars each produce their share of casualties and gains, false prophets, and real profits.
When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat set up a stable Egyptian-Israeli peace, both sides reaped real profits: decreased danger of war and lower defense costs that sped Israel’s development and somewhat slowed Egypt’s cycle of decline.
Jimmy Carter, who had planned to impose his own ideas with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev at a Geneva summit, was totally stunned by Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977, but he grabbed the chance to cast himself as the Camp David deal-maker. The truth is more prosaic: Carter was a pest. Egyptian and Israeli interests met without him.
Bill Clinton also framed himself as the host of the signing of the PLO-Israel pacts known as “The Oslo Accords,” but here, too, Israel and the PLO met on their own as the vision of Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin coincided with the “Strategy of Stages” (Barnamaj al-marahil in Arabic) of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.
Who was the prophet and who profited?
The PLO, shunted to exile in Tunisia, got a power base in Israel, while Israel got the worst decade of terror in its history. More than 1,000 were killed in ten years. Some in the Israeli Labor Party, called them korbanot shalom – a term in Hebrew that can mean “sacrifices for peace” or “victims of peace.”
On a personal level, Arafat, Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin profited at first. Each got a Nobel Peace Prize, but each ultimately suffered as the vision of “Oslo” exploded.
Prime Minister Rabin, who had been unsure about the Peres-Beilin plan, was murdered. For the Israeli Left, Rabin remains a martyr of peace. Many more Israelis came to see Peres and Beilin as false prophets of peace, and they were shunted aside from the helm of the Labor Party.
Peres lost Party battles to Ehud Barak and even to the hapless Amir Peretz, the union leader who became a joke as a defense minister, who pretended to review military exercises through a pair of closed binoculars.
Peres and Beilin were forced into political exile, Peres joining Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party, while Beilin joined the far-Left Meretz Party, failing to win a leadership contest or even get elected to parliament. Beilin can now be found as a color commentator on the peace process, when Israeli TV needs to fill an empty chair.
After Israel’s president Moshe Katsav was charged with rape, then-86-year-old Peres won the largely symbolic job. From this lofty but ceremonial post, Peres pretended to be a virtual prime minister and to claim that peace with the PLO was still a great idea whose time would yet come, if only he (Peres) would live to be 120.
Ever the gambler, Arafat played poker, raised the stakes, and lost, by directly attacking Israel under the next three Israeli prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Ariel Sharon.
Netanyahu beat Arafat down in limited fashion in 1996, when Arafat exploited an archeological dig as a pretext for war (The Jerusalem Tunnel Affair). About 20 Israelis died along with more than 50 of Arafat’s hired guns. Arafat pulled back.
In 2000 when Ehud Barak was prime minister, Barak offered Arafat about 97 percent of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Arafat declined the offer, upped the ante, and declared the Al-Aqsa Intifada, claiming that Likud Party leader Sharon “polluted” (Tadnees in Arabic) the Al-Aqsa Mosque during a Temple Mount visit.
Sharon was guilty of many things, but desecrating Al-Aqsa was NOT one of them. Barak’s feeble vision and weak retort to Arafat sparked a huge two-to-one landslide election victory for Sharon over Barak – a victory that Yasser Arafat misinterpreted.
Arafat’s Fatah and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s Hamas continued to escalate terror against Israel, often cooperating in attacks. After several terrible suicide bombings, Sharon launched an attack on Fatah strongholds in the West Bank, re-establishing Israeli intelligence assets, and isolating Arafat, physically and politically.
None of the Israeli leaders had the courage to rip up the badly soiled Oslo pacts, and Sharon, floundering under charges of political corruption, executed a unilateral pull-back in 2005 from Gaza, also expelling about 10,000 Israelis from their homes.
Sharon had promised to heed his own party’s decision on the pull-back, but he violated the promise when he lost a vote in the Likud convention and then lost another special Likud plebiscite.
Facing a revolt in the Likud, Sharon set up the Kadima Party, taking cast-offs from Likud and Labor to join him – among them Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, and Shaul Mofaz. Sharon’s party won the Israeli election, but began to decline when Sharon fell ill and leadership went to Olmert and Livni.
Olmert was beset by serious corruption charges, and Livni became Kadima leader, promptly losing every single political battle she entered, finally ceding Kadima leadership to Mofaz, who led Kadima a rousing result of two seats in the last election.
Arafat, the big winner of Oslo, died a slow death in a French hospital, his wife Suha and his PLO buddies picking over his papers and possessions. Sharon withered away for years, scarcely alive in the narrowest of senses.
Abbas, who signed the Oslo Accords and who was selected to succeed Arafat, expired as a political force entirely. Abbas (sometimes called Abu Mazen) held on to Gaza for barely a year, before being thrown out by Hamas in 2006, officially he is not leader of the Palestinian Authority because his term expired seven years ago.
Arafat’s political legacy is two-fold:
- Always saying no to a permanent peace agreement;
- And a Palestinian movement that is a hollow shell.
Sharon’s political legacy is three-fold:
- The Kadima Party, that will disappear entirely in the next election;
- The single-minded destruction of the Jewish community in Gaza;
- And the establishment of the Hamas terror base there.
In 2009, Barack Obama set out to re-mold the Middle East, engaging Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad, castigating Egyptian leader Husni Mubarak, and demanding a freeze on Israeli settlements.
The results were at least three-fold:
- Mubarak was toppled, and the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, throwing Egypt into tumult;
- Syria began a cruel crack-down that sparked a civil war that has widened into millions of refugees, more than 100,000 dead, and an incipient take-over of part of Syria and Iraq by “the Islamic Army of Syria and the Levant;”
- And Mahmoud Abbas of the PLO began escalating attacks on Israel at the UN, calling for isolating and boycotting Israel, while refusing to talk to Israel directly – all in contravention of the Oslo Accords.
In the last year, Secretary of State John Kerry promised to solve what he called the worst problem in the world – the Palestinian-Israeli peace process – in nine months, and he fell flat on his face, as his top negotiator, Martin Indyk, quit in frustration.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas tried to reunite with Hamas.
So as Obama and Kerry get ready again to stop war and save peace, it is worth remembering what they and others have done in the past.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Threshold/ Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University , was strategic affairs advisor in Israel ‘s Ministry of Public Security, and was the Schusterman visiting professor at University of California , Irvine for 2013-14.