Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Today’s Troubles

As a lawyer and in business, I always told the other side in any negotiation that no individual term of a deal was final until the entire deal itself was final.

In other words, any point on which we had reached an understanding was subject to renegotiation until we reached an understanding on all points.

A decent negotiator understands that all contended points in a negotiation are connected.

I might agree to concede point x if the other side would concede point y, but if we had an impasse on point z, we might have to revisit point x again to forge ahead on point z.

This brings me to Menachem Begin. I always felt that Menachem Begin made a terrible mistake in signing over all of the Sinai in exchange for a piece of paper from a dictatorial Egyptian regime—even if everyone likes the dictator.

There are a few reasons I feel this deal was a mistake—in spite of the cold peace that has lasted for nearly 30 years—but the negotiator’s reason is the one that I’d like readers to appreciate.

Once Egypt received 100% of the captured territory it held before the ’67 war, it painted Israel, Syria and Jordan (later the Palestinians) into what I call a “negotiating corner.” It is difficult to get out of such a corner.

How could Syria or Jordan (now the Palestinians) possibly accept different terms from Israel from those offered to Egypt?

Rather than waiting for the right time to negotiate a final peace with all the Arab countries, so that the Arab parties could weigh their success or lack of success against each other, the “Egypt only” deal set the benchmark.

For any sitting Syrian or Palestinian regime, accepting anything less than 100% of the pre ’67 territory (allowing for minor border adjustments) will be unacceptable.

And the deal with Egypt was destined to bind the international community, sooner or later, to pressure Israel into making the same deal with the other regimes that it made with Egypt—notwithstanding any perceived differences (from the Israeli point of view) in circumstances.

I am mindful that Menachem Begin had at his disposal more pertinent information than I do today, and hindsight isn’t a fair standard by which to judge any decision.

So I wonder…

I wonder if his motivation for a separate deal with Egypt was the thought that there wouldn’t be a western front should there be another war with other Arab regimes.

I wonder if he thought the deal he made would help him reestablish a Jewish presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

I wonder if Jimmy Carter exerted so much pressure on him—i.e., take the deal or we will cut Israel off—that the Prime Minister felt he had no choice but to take the deal, or risk Israel’s survival.

He must have weighed many factors before agreeing, knowingly or unknowingly, to paint Israel into a future negotiating corner.

Still, I think it was a wrong decision.

In my eyes, Menachem Begin does not stand alone in this negotiating failure. And maybe he was left with no alternative.

Jimmy Carter, the President whose failed foreign policy eased the way for the Ayatollahs to come to power in Iran, must share in the blame for the current troubles.

The former President takes credit, and credit is given from many quarters, for his “achievement” at Camp David.

I think history will take the credit away for this failed policy. A partial solution that in all practicality prevents a workable full solution is no solution at all.

Now that all leaders in the Middle-East are boxed in by the Camp David Accords, the international community is forced to deal only with the part of the negotiation that remains “unsolved.”

And what to do? Conventional wisdom dictates that the only solution is to split Israel and the territories between Israelis and Palestinians.

But if there cannot be a viable Israel and a viable Palestine within the borders of Israel and the territories, how will forcing this solution on the parties, serve anyone in the long term?

If the “only solution” cannot work, there can only be trouble ahead.

That is why it is imperative to persuade international leaders to explore new ways of looking at the situation.

If Israel is to be viable in the long-term, if the Palestinians are to be allowed to escape from their current plight, the deal that puts to rest the Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict must involve more than negotiating concessions from the Palestinians, Syrians or Israelis.

--David Naggar

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