Israel Needs to Begin at the End

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Henry Kissinger in the 1970s.Credit: AFP

“The Arabs and Israelis deserve each other,” said the American secretary of state. “If they were located anywhere else in the world, we would let them have a go at each other. Unfortunately they are located in a strategic place.

“The Israelis thought we were weak and that I needed a success,” he continued. “These factors combined to make them intractable. We are not that weak. Congress cannot conduct foreign policy. It can vote money, but it can’t conduct foreign policy. Previous experience has made that clear. The fact is that no one can make peace in the Middle East except us. If we support Israel, there will be no progress. There might be a war, but no progress.”

The speaker is not U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but rather Henry Kissinger, in April 1975. Kissinger was talking about the technique of bargaining, which is best based on a steady stream of initiatives and proposals that push the other side into a defensive diplomatic and public relations position.

These are not empty proposals – not “just maneuvers” – but rather “proposals that you could afford to have accepted,” Kissinger also said around the same time. Thus the parties know, between themselves, what the other side views as the purpose of negotiations.

Little Israel of the 1940s and ’50s knew how to begin from the end – the main idea in its planning of the Sinai Campaign, as well as the acceptance of the idea of dividing the land. First determine the final objective, and then decide on the moves that will lead to it, with adjustments forced by developments on the ground and awareness of opportunities.

The distortion, of which Moshe Dayan was one of the leaders, was caused by the conquest of the territories in the Six-Day War and settling them thereafter.

Israel, which built Hamas at the end of the 1980s as a counterweight to the PLO – out of the simplistic view that the religious element is preferable to the nationalist one – appointed the PLO in Oslo as the recognized representative of the Palestinian people. Each side has a system of ratification of the agreement that its government presents.

In Israel, that system includes a – Jewish – supermajority in the Knesset and a referendum about the return of territories. The Palestinian ratification system depends on a broad public consensus, without which the agreement will not last. A small majority in the Palestinian institutions is not enough.

The question of whether Hamas and the other organizations will be in the government (like Hezbollah in Lebanon) or the opposition is not a key one. That is because its willingness to support an agreement – or at least to restrain itself with regard to implementation – will also depend on the extent of the PLO’s concessions under the leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or his successors.

Yasser Arafat did not do his part in the Oslo process; he recoiled from a decisive confrontation with Hamas, and enjoyed preserving the entities that carried out terror attacks – under his control and beyond it – so as to goad Israel into withdrawals. Israel also avoided doing its part, in that it continued to send a stream of settlers to the territories in clear contradiction of the spirit of the agreement.

Reconciliation with Hamas is merely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s transparent pretext for dodging acceptance of an agreement he would be required to enforce, through the powers of the state, on the settlers. The parallel Israeli expectation of the PLO is for a Palestinian version of the violent Altalena affair of 1948 (between the newly minted Israeli army and the underground Etzl movement). Israel has an arsenal full of excuses: Palestinian “silence” in the face of a terror attack; lack of support or too-weak condemnation; statements in English but not Arabic, etc.

Those who want peace must prepare for peace. Netanyahu’s Israel does not want peace and is not preparing for it. Therefore, it has failed in transferring to the diplomatic arena what was successful militarily before it took hold of the territories and flooded them with setters: beginning at the end.