DIE, PARADIGM, DIE!

Noah Pollak is concerned that the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis might subvert the dominant paradigm:

"The risk is that if and when the peace conference fails — these events do not exactly have a promising track record — Israel will have set itself up to be blamed for the debacle, and we will then witness a reversal of the paradigm that has been dominant during the past seven years, since the failure of the Clinton-Arafat-Barak negotiations at Camp David in 2000. That summit was certainly a failure in delivering a peace agreement, but in historic and diplomatic terms it was actually something of a victory -- it demonstrated to every fair-minded observer that Yasser Arafat and his minions were not actually serious about peace. For American policymakers, the conflict was thus cast in a stark light, and Israel thereafter enjoyed a great deal of latitude in defeating the terror war that the Palestinians launched in 2000, and more generally in achieving for Israel the perception -- a correct one, I think -- that it had made an unprecedented and genuinely good-faith attempt at ending the conflict.

America, Israel, and the Palestinians have just set out on the most ambitious peacemaking project since Camp David in 2000, and Palestinian strategists are well aware of what has come into play -- namely, the ability to chip away at the idea that Israel is a constructive partner for negotiations. Israel's reluctance to agree to timelines and specifics that it knows the Palestinians cannot fulfill will thus be portrayed as Israeli bad faith, and if not played correctly Israel could suffer a serious diplomatic and public relations defeat."

I appreciate Pollak's attempt to speak for the views of "every fair-minded observer," (yes, nothing says "fair-minded" like a reference to Arafat's "minions") but the actual consensus among scholars (as well as participants who, unlike Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross, weren't looking for someone to blame for the failure of what was intended to be their crowning diplomatic achievement) is that there were serious failures on both sides of the table, and moreover that Arafat was arguably justified both in refusing what was offered him at Camp David, and in recognizing that Barak's offer at Taba was essentially a dead letter (That is, Arafat refused to agree to timelines and specifics that he knew Barak could not fulfill, which the Israelis then portrayed as bad faith.) There is a rather substantial literature on this subject, of which Pollak is apparently unaware, or more likely simply ignores because it threatens to intrude on his Manichaean fantasy of peace-loving Israel and warlike, duplicitous Arabs.

It is unfortunately correct that the "Arafat refused peace!" myth has become the dominant paradigm in regard to the way the Israel-Palestine conflict is presented in U.S. media. In the wake of the failure of the Camp David and Taba negotiations, Israel's apologists (with the aid of Bill Clinton, who publicly blamed Arafat for the talks' failure after explicitly promising beforehand that he would not, in the event that the talks failed) constructed an entire propaganda framework around the contention that Arafat's "refusal" proved that Israel had "no partner for peace." This has been hauled out to defend every questionable Israeli act since 2000, to propagate the ridiculous idea that it is Israel, with the most powerful military in the region, who is under siege, to obscure the brutal reality of Israel's occupation and the provocative, illegal settlements that the occupation facilitates, and to effectively retroactively discredit the peace process itself. This is one paradigm that can't be subverted soon enough.

--Matthew Duss

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