an inside view on US role in Israel – Palestine
Aaron David Miller tells a tale of how Palestinian and Israeli leaders made an art of missing every opportunity, and how American administrations, left and right, helped them perfect that art.
Disclaimer: I only read the book review by David K. Shipler
One gloomy day in January 1997, an experienced negotiator from the State Department, Aaron David Miller, found himself crawling around with a tape measure on a street in Hebron, figuring how to create a boundary between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the seething West Bank city. Only Americans could implement this aspect of the Oslo accords, apparently; neither side trusted the other to measure the width of a road.
The incident became a famous metaphor at the time, illustrating the desperate suspicions that had frustrated American “peace processors” for decades, and Miller now tells the story as a bit of self-deprecating comedy. “I felt small and ridiculous,” he writes, “certainly as a representative of the world’s only superpower.”
The verdict on American contribution?
Sometimes, when the United States gets intensely involved, the parties negotiate more with the Americans than with each other, setting up an unhealthy dynamic. And major progress has been made behind Washington’s back: the first Egyptian-Israeli breakthrough in secret talks between Moshe Dayan and Hassan Tuhaimi; the Oslo accords of 1993, hammered out by Israeli and P.L.O. officials meeting without Americans; and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, worked out clandestinely by the two countries on their own.
But as always, Bush tops them all:
In 2004, the President arrived for a photo with nearly 200 Israelis and Arab teenagers who had spent three weeks at a camp in Maine run by Seeds of Peace, which Miller led after leaving government. Having reached across the chasm of distrust, the youngsters represented hopeful elements of the next generation, and when Miller asked Bush if he’d “offer a word or two of encouragement to these remarkable young leaders,” Bush replied, “Gotta go, gotta go,” strode away, then stopped and called back over his shoulder before disappearing, “Gotta implement that road map, gotta do it.”
According to Miller, for the last couple of decades America has been treating Israel as that cute spoiled nefew:
He blames himself as much as anyone else. Under Clinton, he admits, the Office of the Special Middle East Coordinator, headed by Dennis Ross with Miller as deputy, was insular, improperly supervised, and imbued with such a “pro-Israel orientation” that “not a single senior-level official involved with the negotiations was willing or able to present, let alone fight for, the Arab or Palestinian perspective.” As the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza grew by 46 percent during the Rabin years, “None of us ever gave much thought to challenging the prime minister,” he observes. “I don’t recall a single tough, honest conversation in which we said to the Israelis, Look, settlements may not violate the letter of Oslo, but they’re wreaking havoc with its spirit and compromising the logic of a gradual process of building trust and confidence.”
but that doesn’t mean they were any better with Arafat –
Paradoxically, the Clinton administration didn’t lean hard enough on the Palestinians, either. “We failed to press [Yassir] Arafat sufficiently” on the corruption, cronyism, incitement, and terrorism over which he presided as the Palestinian Authority, created by the Oslo accords, took over parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Miller says.
Should we call in Putin?