The novelist and arm-chair strategist Mark Helprin who for some reason likes to brag about his service in the "Israeli air-force" (was he a pilot?) and looks like a British actor Edward Fox (the one above on the top) has a very silly op-ed the New York Times today:
First there is the idiotic analogy of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process, something about "similar metaphysics."
WHEN considering President Bush’s new plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it would be wise to bear in mind that because political initiatives in the Middle East are cursed with such a high failure rate analysts sometimes use the odds as a substitute for craft. After Anwar Sadat’s spectacular trip to Jerusalem in November 1977, the press, mistaking cynicism for wisdom, was skeptical. After all, in the first 25 years of its existence, Israel had had to fight Egypt four times. But the past was no guide to the future, for in the last 30 years the peace of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat has been unbroken.
Yet, at the time, few people were able to see the way ahead even as it was clearly illuminated by the facts. Educated opinion was attentive to the vicissitudes of negotiation rather than to the structural imperatives that would eventually prevail. Nearly bankrupt, its population swelling, recently divorced from the Soviet Union, irrelevant to the third world and having reclaimed its honor by partial success in the 1973 war, Egypt was predictable. So were its rivals: a front of radical Arab states and the Palestinians.
Israel and Egypt, knowing their interests and set upon their course, formed, as it were, the innermost of three concentric circles. Surrounding them was a second circle, the Arab rejectionists, which were divided, militarily weak, geographically separated and economically impotent. Except for the Soviet bloc, which did not have the agility to make up for its lack of position, the major powers that formed the outer circle were overwhelmingly in favor of rapprochement. And in the end, they used their combined strengths to break the middle circle of rejectionists against the solid center formed by the principals. A similar metaphysics has now emerged in the Middle East.
I can go on and on on why it's not the same. But just one point: Israel returned all of Sinai to Egypt, it returned to 1967 lines (minus Gaza which was not part of Egyptian territory and removed all its settlements from that region. Is that the formula Helperin wants Israel to apply in the West Bank?
Then there is all this b-s about the mess that Bush has made in the Mideast:
The United States has fought the war in Iraq as if history, strategy, maneuver, preparation, foresight, fact, integrity and common sense did not exist. Nonetheless, the effect of the war has been to shatter the politics of the region and create opportunities, one of which is the potential for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Some quarters of government, burnt by the predictable failure of the current administration to transform the political culture of the Middle East into that of the Vermont town meeting, deny this potential, as if by analogy. But the analogy is invalid. The conditions are not the same, the task is entirely different and, unlike the United States, Israel has no timetable (implicit or otherwise) for withdrawal from the region — as its enemies well know.
As America blunts its sword in Iraq, it has relieved Iran of much anxiety in regard to its own vulnerabilities, set up a predominantly Shiite government in Baghdad, and made the Arab world more receptive to Iranian views. This Shiite ascendancy is comprised of a resurgent though weak Iran, Hezbollah’s Shiite rump state in Lebanon chastened by the war it “won” a year ago (with such a victory, defeat is unnecessary), and the alignment with Iran of Syria and Sunni radicals like Hamas.
Contrary to the received wisdom, last summer Hezbollah overplayed its hand. Israel emerged shaken but with few casualties and an economy that actually grew during the hostilities. It took 4,000 of the vaunted Katyusha rockets to kill 39 Israelis, they did little material damage, and not one has been launched in the year since the war. Israel showed that upon provocation it could and would destroy anything in its path, thus creating a Lebanese awakening that has split the country and kept Hezbollah fully occupied. Though Hezbollah is rearming, it remains shy of Israel.
Hamas, too, has overplayed its hand, which has provided the opening from which a Palestinian-Israeli peace may emerge. For the first time since 1948, a fundamental division among the Palestinians presents a condition in which the less absolutist view may find shelter and take hold.
No mention that his democracy project helped bring Hamas to power. And how exactly is Hamas, an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood is part of an Iran-led axis?
And then this:
Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian president, is weak in many ways, but he has decisively isolated the radicals. Hamas loyalists in the West Bank (according to the latest polling, less than 25 percent of the population) face a different demographic than they did in Gaza, and a different economy that can be richly watered if Israel is wise enough to do so. Surrounded and penetrated by the Israeli Army and Palestinian Authority forces, they are not what they once were.
In economically besieged Gaza, Hamas is corralled by Israel, Egypt and the sea, its apparent strength exaggerated by Mr. Abbas’s decision not to fight on this battlefield but rather to profit by its loss, much as did King Hussein in regard to the West Bank in 1967.
The starving and oppressed Gazans who watch Hamas fire rockets, the chief effect of which is to summon Israeli tanks, may soon see a prosperous West Bank at the brink of statehood and at peace with its neighbors and the world. The quarantine of Gaza will cast a bright light upon the normalization of the West Bank. And although Hamas leaders portray Mr. Abbas as a collaborator, it is they who may be held to account for keeping more than a million of their own people hostage to a gratuitous preference for struggle over success.
The sudden and intense commonality of interest between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is the equivalent of the Israeli-Egyptian core of 1977. But today, the Arabs, in the second circle, have largely reversed position. Fearful of Iran’s sponsorship of war, chaos and revolution, they will apply their weight against the rejectionists.
Egypt, the Persian Gulf states and Jordan have so much to contend with at home and in the east that they cannot afford an active front in their midst, and are therefore forming ranks against Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, bringing most of the rest of the Arab states with them.
This is extraordinary and it is where we are now: on the verge of a rare alignment of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the leading Arab nations and the major powers. Though it is true that one of Moscow’s chief interests is to keep the Middle East roiled so as to preserve the high oil prices that are now Russia’s lifeblood, when the region moved from Soviet to Western arms Moscow was relegated to the periphery, where it remains. Though Europe is militarily paralyzed, it wields great economic incentives; and though the United States has of late been a graceless lummox drunkenly knocking everything awry, its powers remain pre-eminent and its will constructive.
The principals, the important Arab states and the leading powers of the West are arrayed against a radical terrorist front that, unlike the one in Iraq, is geographically fractured, relatively contained, terribly poor and very much outnumbered. Anything for the worse can happen in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and usually does; but now the chief pillars of rejectionist policy lie flat and the spectrum of positions is such that each constructively engaged party can accommodate the others.
In the heat of a failing war, historical processes have unfrozen. If Israel and the Palestinian Authority can pursue a strategy of limited aims, concentrating on bilateral agreements rather than a single work of fallible grandeur, they may accomplish something on the scale of Sadat’s extraordinary démarche of 30 years ago. The odds are perhaps the best they have been since, and responsible governments should recognize them as the spur for appropriate action and risk.
Read Uri Avnery's Saving President Abbas. He makes an excellent counterpoint to Helperin, especially here:
IF ABBAS can be saved at all, it is in one way only: by the immediate start of rapid and practical negotiations for achieving a peace settlement, with the declared aim of setting up a Palestinian state in all the occupied territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Nothing less.
But that is exactly what the government of Israel is not prepared to do. Not Olmert. Not Tzipi Livni. Not Ehud Barak.
If they had been ready to do this, they or their predecessors would have done so long ago. Barak could have arranged it with Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Ariel Sharon could have agreed it with Abbas, after Abbas was elected president with a huge majority. Olmert could have settled it with Abbas after Sharon left the scene. He could have done it with the unity Government that was set up under Saudi auspices.
They didn't. Not because they were fools and not because they were weak. They did not do it simply because their aim was the exact opposite: annexation of a large part of the West Bank and the enlargement of the settlements. That's why they did everything to weaken Abbas, who was designated by the Americans as the "partner for peace". In the eyes of Sharon and his successors, Abbas was more dangerous than Hamas, which was defined by the Americans as a "terrorist organization".