11 March 2007 - The Saudi plan? A debate
Israel Campus Beat is a useful resource that provides a weekly roundup of the best articles on Israel (and I’m not just plugging it because they’re running my Business Day piece on the Mandela hoax). Every week, they provide a point-counterpoint debate on a topic of current interest. This time, it has links that form an interesting four-person debate on whether Israel should accept the revived Saudi peace initiative.
The viewpoints are interesting. Gershon Baskin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, argues that the Saudi plan is an opportunity that should not be missed, because it marks a rare point of Sunni-Israeli convergence and is the best deal Israel is likely to get. He places great significance on the Arab offer to “normalize” relations with Israel, effectively meaning that Israel will be accepted as part of the Middle East.
Yossi Alpher, writing in the Middle East Times, supports the Saudi plan but suggests several modifications that are necessary for it to be accepted by Israel. These include allowances for border adjustments; more specific details of what “normalization” would mean; clarification on whether the Palestinian “right of return” is to be broad or narrow; and a staged plan for implementing the deal.
Anshel Pfeffer takes an opposing view in the Jerusalem Post, pointing out that the Saudis failed to get Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government; failed to get Iran to approve the peace plan (despite early reports); and will fail to modify the refugee clause in the plan that basically preserves the Arab strategy of using the Palestinian refugee problem as a means of destroying Israel demographically.
Finally, Khaled Abu Toameh, a Muslim Palestinian who writes for the Jerusalem Post, also predicts that the Arab summit in Riyadh will reject Israel’s request to modify the plan to limit the Palestinian “right of return.” The reason, he says, is that the Arab countries want to get rid of the refugees—and he documents the way in which Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have mistreated Palestinians for decades.
Personally, I am skeptical of the Saudi plan. I doubt a real peace initiative could have won the unanimous support of the Arab League. I think the plan is really an old Soviet-style trick: pretend to offer peace, but make sure that the democratic side is the only one to make all the real concessions; then, when the offer is declined, portray the democratic side as the aggressor that has refused a just peace.
This strategy was described by Jean-François Revel, the French resistance fighter and anticommunist writer, in his book How Democracies Perish (1983), which I am now reading. In a chapter entitled “Attack, Always Attack,” Revel described the Soviet strategy, which is echoed by today’s cut-and-paste anti-Israel propagandists, who are busy preparing the political justification for Israel’s hoped-for destruction:
“A standard Communist tactic is to mount a propaganda operation to accompany a practical operation. If the latter hits a snag, the former will leave traces in people’s minds that will help condition them to give future actions a kind reception.
“In 1958, for example, the U.S.S.R. suggested a nonaggression pact among all the states facing on the Baltic Sea, whether they belonged to NATO or the Warsaw Pact or were neutral. Because of the inequalities of power among the various countries involved, this amounted to total Soviet domination and conversion of the Baltic into a Russian lake. Although the Baltic states resisted the seduction of this magnanimous offer—those that had a choice, that is—the vague ring of the word “nonaggression” was all that sounded in the ears of more distant peoples. How could the notion fail to sink in eventually that a state that spends its time proposing nonaggression pacts could not really be aggressive? . . .
“All these offers, the oldest and the most recent, have been part of an extremely judicious Soviet tactic to impress world opinion with the notion that Moscow is seeking détente and to blackmail it with the specter of a nuclear apocalypse while the U.S.S.R. continues to build up its strategic arsenal. To judge from the results obtained in the past quarter-century, it’s not a bad system.” (109-12)
Revel went on to argue that since the Soviet Union did not have to deal with public opinion, unlike the democracies of the West, it could pound away with military or political tactics that had failed in the past because it would never be held to account. Meanwhile the West, with its cantankerous demonstrations of dissent, was weak in a response. It is a warning that every critic of Israel should heed . . .
And with that in mind, I deliver, as promised, another little excerpt of my work-in-progress on Olmert and the Lebanon War. I have received a few emails advising me that criticizing Israel is the wrong thing to do right now. I’d rather take the approach of Israel Campus Beat, and celebrate the diversity of opinions in Israel, which enshrines the right to criticize. After all, the Soviets lost, n’est-ce pas?
It almost goes without saying that none of Israel’s enemies is examining its conduct in the war. And no one is highlighting the apartheid practices of Israel’s Arab neighbours—such as Jordan, which denies Jews the right to become citizens; or Lebanon, which denies Palestinians citizenship also; or Egypt, where gay people are sent to jail; or Syria, where political dissidents are tortured; and so on and so on.
Paradoxically, Israel’s image is suffering precisely because it is a democracy, not an apartheid state. Its faults are openly investigated, debated and criticized by Israelis themselves. Nevertheless, there seems only one way to undo the damage caused by Olmert’s testimony: Olmert must resign, and new elections must be held. Only then will Israel’s morale be restored. In Israel, at least, democracy can put things right . . .