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Play It Again, Zbig By: David Frum
National Review | Thursday, February 13, 2003


In Washington, few things are quite so powerful as an idea whose time has passed.

On this morning’s Wall Street Journal editorial page, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski jointly publish a call to – guess what? – renew the so-called Palestinian-Israel peace process by “articulating” a vision of a final settlement between the Jewish state and its would-be destroyers.

They propose:

1. The Palestinians would get a state on all the land occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war.
2. The Palestinians would get shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. Brzezinski and Scowcroft express hope that the city would remain physically undivided “insofar as possible.”
3. Palestinian refugees would receive international assistance, which the authors call a matter of “justice.” (Jewish refugees from Arab lands, long since resettled in Israel at Israeli expense, would of course receive nothing.)
4. Palestinians would get some international guarantees for their security and their claim over non-Jewish holy sites.
5. Palestinians would get an immediate cessation of all Israeli settlement activity in the 1967 lands.

And what would Israel get in return? Only this: a promise by the Palestinians to make a“100% effort” to halt terrorism. Note however that the Israeli concessions must proceed regardless of whether the Palestinians honor their promise to halt terror. No, I’m not making this up. Listen: “[T] he U.S. and its partners ... must insist on an unconditional cessation of Israeli settlement expansion (including so-called natural growth) that is independent of actions required of Palestinians.”

And Brzezinski and Scowcroft make it very plain that they themselves do not seriously expect the promise to be honored. “As the president declared, the Palestinian people deserve leadership and institutions not tainted by terrorism and corruption. It is a goal the U.S. should continue to encourage vigorously, yet without conditioning the peace process on the replacement of a particular individual.” (Italics added.) In other words, Arafat can stay – with all that implies for future Palestinian deceit and violence.

There are three obvious questions about the Brzezinski-Scowcroft plan for unilateral Israeli concessions.

Question 1: Why should the Israelis accept such a proposal?

This is a deal that offers them nothing - it doesn’t even pretend to offer them anything. The Advisers’ do not explicitly answer this question, but their repeated use of the word “insist” hints at their unspoken meaning: Israel would accept because it would be compelled to accept.

Question 2: Why would the Palestinians accept such a proposal?

This is a trickier question than it seems. Israel’s Arab neighbors have been offered something for nothing deals repeatedly over the past half century. (In 1954, for example, the U.S. and Britain offered Egypt much of the southern half of pre-1967 Israel in exchange for a peace agreement.) These offers have been repeatedly refused, because from the Arab and Palestinian point of view, “something for nothing” is not good enough – they want everything for nothing. The Scowcroft-Brzezinski proposal essentially recapitulates the pair of deals the Palestinians were offered by Bill Clinton in 2000. Some Palestinians now repent of that rejection. But there’s no apparent reason to believe that the internal political forces that led to the rejection have altered over the past three years – and, tellingly, Brzezinski and Scowcroft do not indicate any non-apparent reason either. In fact, they do not even address the question.

And what’s even more baffling is that the one external event that might conceivably soften Palestinian rejectionism – the destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq – is something that Scowcroft and Brzezinski both oppose. The two of them remind me of the economist in that joke about the three academics marooned on a desert island with boxes of canned food: Their answer to the most difficult problem they face seems to be – “assume we have a can opener.”

Question 3: Why should the U.S. bother?

Over the years from 1993 to 2001, the Clinton administration invested enormous effort and prestige in the attempt to broker the creation of a Palestinian state along exactly the lines Brzezinski and Scowcroft favor. What did it get in exchange? An ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq and an intensification of al Qaida terrorism. In fact, Clinton seems to have shunned action against Iraq and al Qaida precisely because he feared that military action against America’s Arab enemies would distract the U.S. from the supreme imperative of creating an Arafatistan.

If any U.S. policy can be pronounced a definitive failure, this Clinton “Palestine first” policy can be so pronounced. Yet Brzezinski and Scowcroft demand that we give it one last try. Why? Here their answer is at last forthright – and yet weirdly limp.

“Arab countries and much of the Muslim world, as well as most European countries, see a direct link between their ability to be more forthcoming in supporting U.S. goals in Iraq and our commitment to working for a fair [i.e., completely one-sided] settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

So: Brzezinski and Scowcroft are advocating that the U.S. embark on another probably doomed attempt to midwife a Palestinian state in order to win European, Arab, and Muslim support for an Iraq policy that Brzezinski and Scowcroft oppose. That’s illogical enough. But what elevates the illogic to almost postmodern levels is that the U.S. is in fact already winning the Arab and European support that Brzezinski and Scowcroft say it cannot win. Meanwhile, the countries that continue to oppose U.S. policy in Iraq – like France and Russia – do not even bother to cite the Palestinian issue as an excuse.

I’m beginning to wonder whether for a certain type of foreign-policy expert, the “Middle East peace process” isn’t becoming a Pavlovian response: Ring the bell and they start demanding an Arafatistan. They themselves no longer remember why they do it. And they certainly cannot explain why anybody else should follow them.


David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and writes a daily column for National Review Online.


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