Will There be a Peace Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?
An Interview with Daniel Mandel, Director of the Z0A Center for Middle East Policy
by Jerry Gordon with Daniel Mandel (November 2013)
A renewal of Israeli Palestinian peace discussions were begun after a hiatus of three years under the aegis of US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, DC on July 29th and 30th, 2013 at the State Department and with President Obama. The goal set by Secretary Kerry was completing discussions leading to a possible final status agreement on all core issues within nine months of launch. Kerry has appointed former US Ambassador Martin Indyk to monitor these discussions with senior Israeli representative Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. The cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu approved a national referendum vote for any agreement that might eventuate from these discussions. The most controversial pre-condition for these peace discussions was the release of 104 Palestinian and Israeli-Arab terrorist prisoners in stages over the nine month period. Both Israelis and Palestinians are skeptical that any agreement can be reached given the failures in previous rounds. It is unclear what the underlying objectives are of the Obama Administration in re-launching these discussions at a time of great turmoil in the countries that border Israel in the Middle East. That turmoil was initiated by the rebellion against Islamists in the Arab Spring, crystallized in the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in July 2013. This was preceded by massive protests by millions of Egyptians spurred on by the Tamarod (rebellion) national petition campaign. Sporadic violence continues in Egypt as well as in the Sinai Peninsula against Jihadist groups and destruction of tunnels underneath the Egyptian Gaza frontier virtually isolating Hamas.
Attention of the Obama Administration was diverted by new developments in addressing the overarching threat of Iran achieving nuclear weapons capabilities. With the inauguration of Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani in August 2013, Iran began a charm offensive at the UN General Assembly meetings. Rouhani engaged the Obama Administration directly in a new round of P5+1 negotiations in Geneva in late October 2013 with Iran Foreign Ministry officials to explore possible options for the curtailment of nuclear enrichment. The possible quid pro quo was lifting onerous sanctions. Notwithstanding Administration outreach to President Rouhani and Iranian nuclear negotiators Congress and the Netanyahu government in Israel remain skeptical about the prospects of dismantling Iran’s nuclear program. Separately, the 29 month old civil war in Syria reached a critical stage. A UN Security Council agreement, keyed to suggestions of Russian President Putin, dispatched the Hague–based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to undertake the destruction of the vast non-conventional arsenal with the consent of the Assad regime. Further, there are continuing concerns that the opposition in Syria had splintered with the rise of al Qaeda affiliates vanquishing alleged secular opposition. This has divided opposition sponsors Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia elected not to accept a seat on the UN Security Council in late October 2013 out of pique that the US had not been more pro-active in the Syrian conflict. It accused the Administration of succumbing to engagement with Iran seeking regional hegemony under a nuclear umbrella.
Against this background we held an interview with Dr. Daniel Mandel of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) concerning the issues and history of US involvement in Israeli-Palestinian peace discussions. Dr. Mandel is a Fellow in History with a PhD from Melbourne University (Australia) and, since 2005, Director of the ZOA Center for Middle East Policy. He is the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist. Dr. Mandel has warned of the totalitarian nature of radical Islam and its fellow-travelers; the dangerous and widely misunderstood significance of resurgent anti-Semitism; and the perils of forming Middle East policy on the basis of real or imagined Arab and Muslim perceptions of America. His research has appeared in leading scholarly journals, including Middle Eastern Studies (London), Middle East Quarterly (Philadelphia), Australian Historical Studies (Melbourne), Jewish Political Studies Review (Jerusalem), and respected reference works, including the Australian Dictionary of National Biography.
Jerry Gordon: Dr. Mandel, thank you for consenting to this interview.
Daniel Mandel: Thank you for inviting me.
Gordon: To begin why did the Obama Administration pressure Israel for a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians, the first in three years?
Mandel: I think it was Abba Eban who once said of the British Foreign Office that its traditions mature early and die hard. That’s what you have in successive American administrations regarding Oslo. It's a paradigm from which people seemingly can't escape. The idea that here are two negotiating partners who are willing and able to conclude a negotiated and genuine peace resulting in a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel is fiction. It isn't going to happen because nothing that has caused the failures of the past seventeen years has actually changed. This is persistence with a failed paradigm. John Kerry has clocked up a number of frequent flier miles since becoming Secretary of State to pursue this venture, this Sisyphean task of Middle East peace. There has clearly been a great deal of American pressure behind the scenes to bring about an Israeli unilateral concession to entice the Palestinian Authority –– not to do anything in return, not to make a concession of its own, merely to return to the talks.
Gordon: How divided are the Israeli and Palestinian expectations about any agreement arising from these discussions?
Mandel: Here I think we have to distinguish between public pronouncements and private intentions. We know something of private intentions because Abbas and his senior entourage generally speak very frankly with Arab audiences as to their intentions and their attitudes. They say no acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State, not a single Jew to be within the Palestinian State should it be created in the near future, no intention of ceasing to honor terrorists and glorify armed struggle and jihad. On the contrary, the jihadists are praised and lauded, most recently, by a PA official Abdullah Barghouti. The Israeli government also speaks publicly of making peace. What lies behind that is not so much insincerity as skepticism. The Israelis don't really believe that they are going to conclude a peace with Mahmoud Abbas but they are under such tremendous international pressure, including from the quarter normally friendliest to Israel, the United States, that they accede to their wishes. They are hoping that this will engender some good will and cooperation, though the record in this respect is bleak. Israeli confidence-building measures and unilateral concessions haven't actually engendered either Palestinian moderation or pliability, nor international trust and good will for Israel, so that, too, seems to be a very Sisyphean task.
Gordon: What preconditions did the Israelis and Palestinians set for renewal of these talks?
Mandel: None were set by the Israelis and here, I think, it must be said that Netanyahu has to some extent shed his credibility because he was very firm all along in saying that he would not agree to any Palestinian preconditions merely for the resumption of talks. Well, we now know that of course Israel did agree to the freeing of 104 jailed terrorists, all with blood on their hands, all of whom were involved in truly hideous terrorist atrocities within Israel –– and all this merely to entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table. We have also seen a complete erosion of Israeli deterrence over the years. It would be very easy to argue and prove that it has never done Israel any good to free Palestinian terrorists. Beginning in the 1980s, the Israelis began to free jailed terrorists in order to retrieve handfuls of Israelis who had been captured in combat or kidnapped by terrorist organizations. The Elhanan Tannenbaum exchange in 2004 is another such case. Elhanan Tannenbaum was an Israeli businessman abroad, kidnapped by Hezbollah. Israel made a massive release of terrorists in order to win his freedom. We now know, according to the testimony of the Israeli security services that at least 30 terrorist attacks were carried out by terrorists who had been freed under the Tannenbaum deal, a deal that didn't of course ameliorate the hostility of Hezbollah in any way. In 2008 Israel freed to Hezbollah a truly gruesome multiple murderer, Lebanese Druze Samir Kuntar, who had been in Israeli jails since the late 1970s. Once again, there were enormous, obscene celebrations at his release on the other side. What did Israel obtain? It obtained the corpses of two IDF soldiers who had been kidnapped and murdered. Now, we have a release of 104 Palestinian terrorists. This time, Israelis cannot even take consolation in the fact that they retrieved a live Israeli, or the corpse of an Israeli, or even a videotape of an Israeli –– which was, believe it or not, the only thing Israel obtained in one of the previous deals. Now, the Israelis aren't doing it even to retrieve hostages. It is clear from any reasonable point of view this was not a wise move on Israel’s part. There are many objections to releasing terrorists. It gives the terrorist groups a tremendous boost of morale and authority which is a force multiplier to their aggression. It is, of course, a moral travesty –– murderers should serve out their term in jail. It is a moral travesty also insofar as the relatives, the bereaved of the victims, are concerned. They see the people who murdered their loved ones walk free. But above all, the biggest problem is a proven record of freed terrorists returning to terrorism. The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association in Israel compiles reports on the whereabouts and activities of terrorists who have been freed under these kinds of deals. They issued a report in 2007 in which they showed that 177 Israelis had been killed by terrorists who had been freed in the period 2002 to 2007. If the paramount duty of the Israeli government is the protection of Israeli life and property, then clearly freeing terrorists ought to be inadmissible.
Gordon: Let us turn to an analysis of the negotiators in these discussions. I refer in the first instance to Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. What has been her previous experience in prior Palestinian peace negotiations and conceivably what limitations has the Israeli Cabinet placed on any eventual agreements that she might come up with?
Mandel: Tzipi Livni was leader of the Kadima Party and a former foreign minister. She came to the view that a deal must be reached with the Palestinians in the vital Israeli national interest. This is actually essentially the mantra of the left wing of Israeli politics. Not the left of center, but the left wing. The fact of the matter is that, whether something is vital insofar as Israel is concerned tells us nothing about the willingness of the other side to come to a deal and oblige Israel by signing an agreement. On the contrary, it may well be the best inducement to Palestinians to avoid any kind of agreement if they believe Israelis desperately need one for their future viability and survival.
Gordon: On the Palestinian side you have the venerable Saeb Erekat who keeps turning up like a bad penny at each of these discussions. What conditions is he likely to pursue on behalf of President Abbas? The pundit Charles Krauthammer referred to Mr. Abbas as being in the ninth year of a four-year term. What does that say about governance under the Palestinian Authority?
Mandel: It is not popular to say this, but Abbas is a dictator. The fact that he is not an all-powerful dictator, that he is hemmed in by other forces that are particularly violent and perhaps could prove in a contest more powerful than he, doesn't mean of course that he isn't a dictator. He disposes of fairly extensive powers in a chaotic but authoritarian network in the West Bank; limited to the West Bank since he lost Gaza in 2007 to Hamas. Abbas has refused to call elections for years. One could make the excuse that he is facing the strategic difficulties that I've described. What one can't excuse is the way Western leaders and, it has to be said, Israeli leaders, talk of him as being a peacemaker. One could quote a dozen statements spoken in Arabic to Arabs repeatedly indicating that he doesn't accept a Jewish state, won't make peace with the Israelis, hasn't abandoned the path of armed struggle, neither in theory nor in practice, nor discarded the Palestinian revolutionary discourse on the elimination of Israel. People continue to describe him as a moderate, as a peacemaker, as a responsible leader. This, by the, of a regime that does not have even the decency to international donors to be relatively free of corruption.
Gordon: It is curious that we are so anxious to negotiate with someone who has a doctorate from the University of Moscow in Holocaust denial. Doesn’t that show a lack of good sense?
Mandel: It is considered bad taste to bring that up and people will very often refer to how Abbas said he hasn't denied the Holocaust. However, the nature of his book was to deny the magnitude of the Holocaust to such an extent it was a case not merely of Holocaust minimization but Holocaust denial.
Gordon: Secretary Kerry has delegated monitoring of these peace discussions to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, and Philip Gordon, National Security Council Coordinator for Middle East and Persian Gulf. Can you tell us about their respective backgrounds and views regarding negotiations between Israel and the PA and frankly some of their more recent exploits which are troubling?
Mandel: Martin Indyk has been amongst the small group of American senior diplomats whom I have described as being inveterate peace processors. They are the sort of people who, when they despair and publicize their despair at the way things have gone, claim to have learned lessons. His memoir on the subject is called Innocent Abroad. Nonetheless, they shed their lack of enthusiasm and revert to type as soon as there is an opportunity. By opportunity I mean an administration willing to employ them at a senior level. Martin Indyk falls very much in that category. Dennis Ross is another example of the same tendency. I interviewed Dennis Ross back in 2001 after the failure of the Camp David talks and the final talks in which the Clinton parameters were outlined and essentially rejected by Arafat. Dennis Ross was very clear to me in 2001 about what the U.S. had done wrong. He admitted that they had simply ignored Palestinian non-compliance and broken agreements. As he put it, I thought very eloquently, “we became so preoccupied with this process that the process took on a life of its own. It had self-sustaining justification. Every time there was a behavior, or an incident or an event, that was inconsistent with the process, the impulse was to rationalize it, finesse it, find a way around it and not allow it to break the process.” From all this, Ross concluded that the U.S. should abandon peace-making for conflict management. That was in 2001. However, Ross became very voluble in 2008, saying that America under George W. Bush had avoided peace negotiations for six years. So apparently what Mr. Ross believed in 2001 America could no longer do is something he believed in 2008 the US should have been doing for roughly six years. Aaron David Miller was another one of the negotiators involved, who has become disillusioned with the whole peace process racket. Martin Indyk, too, expressed skepticism and doubt about pushing it forward in recent years but now it seems now to be the right policy. There is a good article in the Weekly Standard pointing out very effectively the fact that Martin Indyk has had more positions on this subject than the Kama Sutra.
Gordon: What of this chap who shares my last name, Dr. Gordon? What is he all about?
Mandel: He had been heading for some years the European Affairs Office within the State Department, so it makes him something of a stranger. However in March 2013 he was appointed by the White House National Security Council to be Coordinator in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Thus, he does have some involvement in the Middle East on his resume. However, in the absence of any public record of his views, that simply means that he is on board. There is a whole structure of thinking that says that there is a peace process and a peace treaty that is there for the taking if it's pursued diligently enough. I expect he'll be hardworking and frustrated.
Gordon: When Secretary Kerry said at the State Department Iftar Dinner during Ramadan that all core issues would be on the table, what was he talking about?
Mandel: Core issues refer to such things as refugees and certainly that too is a misnomer. There are very few Palestinian refugees of the 1948/1949 war alive. That should mean that it's not a question of refugees at all but, of course, there is a Palestinian exception or exemption on this. A Palestinian refugee need not be someone who actually fled the war zone in 1948/1949 in the former British Mandate of Palestine. A resident fleeing a war zone is a prerequisite for designating someone a refugee in any other conflict. But not here. One can still be a Palestinian refugee merely through being descended on at least one side from someone who was a refugee. We are now up to of course the fourth and fifth generation of such people. The Palestinian refugee population has ballooned rather shrunk in number over time. Unlike every other refugee problem of the 20th century, the Palestinian refugee problem hasn't been resolved by resettlement. The demand is that it be resolved, not by resettlement, but by repatriation, and not within a Palestinian state that might be established alongside Israel. They mean return to Israel itself; clearly a part of a design to subvert Israel as a functional state. Other core issues include Jerusalem, borders, and so on but the point is it is not going to happen.
Gordon: Why did Secretary Kerry announce a nine month deadline to achieve a so-called final status agreement?
Mandel: I suppose with negotiations you do want to set a date. If the issues were simply the hot button issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, meaning of course the descendants of refugees, and so on, you could reach agreement. But you don't have two willing sides. To end the war you need at least one side to give up its war ends. The Palestinians haven't given up theirs. They have not relinquished their aim of eliminating Israel. The Israelis, of course, could have relinquished their war aim, which is much more limited: to achieve acceptance and peace from its immediate neighbors. Now of course Israel could relinquish that goal in which case it disappears. The problem wouldn't have been solved, but it would have simply ceased to exist. But Israelis aren't likely to do that.
Gordon: Given the current turmoil in the Middle East why did the Obama White House choose this time to make this a priority for attention?
Mandel: We don't know the answer in every individual case but we do know that the Obama Administration sets great store on it. They may well do it for the reasons they have stated which is that they regard an Israeli/Palestinian peace as central to pacifying the Middle East. Now of course you couldn't probably have more turmoil than this at any time in decades. With this turmoil, the Israeli/Palestinian situation really ought to be the last of their concerns. It ought to be the last concern also in view of how it connects to every other conflict in the region, which is to say not very much. If you were to sit them down and ask people, no one seriously believes that the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia would lay down its arms and stop murdering people if there was an Israeli/Palestinian treaty. No one really thinks Afghanistan is going to be pacified if the Israelis and Palestinians embrace. The conflicts are unconnected.
Gordon: Given the Foreign Policy fiasco with Russia's Putin over Syria's chemical weapons and outbreak of violence in Hebron and attacks against IDF soldiers, will this peace process round come to naught like the others before it?
Mandel: Given all we have already discussed in terms of Palestinian goals and attitudes towards Israel, I’d be very surprised if anything positive comes of it.
Gordon: How isolated is Hamas? We don't hear much about that other than allegedly some recent meetings between Hamas and folks from Iran?
Mandel: Hamas is not entirely isolated but it is hemmed in with some new difficulties. Some of them have been unpredictable. One would have thought with a Muslim Brotherhood regime as you had in Egypt until recently, Hamas being an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, one would have thought that cooperation would massively increase between two sides. The trouble is that Hamas also is active with many other jihadist movements, some of which don't particularly like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Morsi regime. We saw this in attacks upon Egyptians in Egypt which obliged the Egyptians into using heavy forces and weapons to deal with the problem. That means that they are not necessarily particularly happy with the problems that Hamas and its enthusiasm for jihad have created for it.
Gordon: There are reports that Egypt is considering destroying nearly the thousand tunnels between the Rafah gap and Gaza that have supplied in excess of 300 million in cash. If that occurs, how crippling would that be to Hamas?
Mandel: It's definitely going to create problems for Hamas. The Egyptians and this would apply both to the military regime and to the Morsi regime that it supplanted, do not want the jihadists attacking Egypt. They want a monopoly of power within the Egyptian State, which includes the Sinai. They are not worried that weapons are being brought into Gaza to murder Israelis; they are very much perturbed that weapons are coming out of Gaza and used to kill other Egyptians.
Gordon: One of the longstanding objectives of Israel is to retain control of the Jordan Valley. Besides being strategic, where did that conception originate historically?
Mandel: You'll note that when, following the Six Day War in 1967, President Johnson wanted to have some clear idea as to what Israel could realistically be expected to concede in negotiations pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 242. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked to devise a memorandum that would indicate what the Israelis would probably need for their defense and he was surprised to discover that they need to retain much of the disputed territories. You have literally dozens of points of access into Israel if Israel is confined to the 1949 armistice lines. Coming into possession in 1967 of the high ground of Judea and Samarian hills, Israel obtained greater strategic security. Previously, Arab armies had been peering down into Israel's very narrow, fertile, productive and heavily populated coastal belt. The Jordan River provides a natural barrier against external aggression from the east. You essentially have only three points of easy entry, for mechanized forces into Israel from the east if Israel is holding the Jordan Valley. That is why Israel has sought to retain it. Until President Obama, no U.S. president asked Israel to relinquish the Jordan Valley. People will of course point to the fact that President Clinton effectively did just that at Camp David and in subsequent talks that failed during 2000-2001. However, he didn’t go public with the request as President Obama has. It was part of a last-ditch negotiating effort to produce the elusive agreement and even then there was talk of Israel having some kind of enduring presence for at least a few years thereafter. The Israelis in their desperation to reach an agreement would have accepted it; probably a very unwise strategic move. I don't expect the Israelis to necessarily accept that again. The Jordan Valley is something that Israel needs and if it's considered heresy to say that, it is worth pointing out that Yitzhak Rabin, in his last address to the Knesset in October 1995, about a month before his assassination, laid out very clearly the parameters of a future agreement. He said that the Palestinian entity would have to be less than a state, which means, apart from anything else, no standing army with mechanized forces. He also said that Israel’s security border would remain the Jordan Valley “in the fullest sense of that term.” This is coming from the architect and visionary behind the Oslo Agreements. It is interesting to see how Israeli leaders have diverged from that in subsequent years which I think is testimony, not to their flexibility, but their desperation and testimony to the pressure under which they operate in the international arena.
Gordon: Recently the IDF announced a new force structure doctrine for Israel's security. It looks like a leaf that was taken out of a playbook from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the first Bush term. Can Special Forces and high tech defend Israel more efficiently than massive field armies?
Mandel: The first thing to say with respect to America in Iraq and Afghanistan is that this type of force structure hardly worked out well. The biggest problem is that you didn't have the forces for the surge.
Mandel: They had to be almost manufactured. When then-Senator Obama was running for office in 2008 with an eye towards a more security-conscious segment of the electorate, he spoke of expanding the U.S. military by 90,000 personnel. Of course we've seen the opposite.
Gordon: Senator Kerry at one of his conferences with Mr. Abbas mentioned a four billion dollar investment fund for the PA to induce them to come to the table. I read a piece in Forbes Magazine about "Peace Through Profits? Inside The Secret Tech Ventures That Are Reshaping The Israeli-Arab-Palestinian World." One interesting name that surfaced on the margin of that article was George Soros. Where do you think those four billion dollars of funds are likely to come from if they come at all?
Mandel: Mr. Soros is a man of considerable resources but I can't believe for a second he's putting all of his own money in it. However, don't underestimate the ability of the international community, meaning chiefly Western governments, to come up with money that Saudi Arabia could provide tomorrow. The most important point though is to understand that this isn't about economics. The Palestinians are not about to sell their birthright as they see it for a mess of pottage. As far as they are concerned it's an Islamic Waqf that cannot be relinquished. The Israeli State controls land previously occupied and governed by Muslims. It must remain in Muslim hands in perpetuity or be retrieved as soon as practicable. It is quite true that most Palestinians aren't necessarily Islamists. However, there is a small matter called Muslim supremacism and it has really been undergirding this conflict from the very beginning. You have to remember the whole Zionist enterprise came about in a world in which Muslim power had suddenly been withdrawn from a large chunk of the Middle East and replaced by non-Muslim powers. Moreover, rights were conferred on minorities throughout the Middle East like Jews in Palestine and Christians in Lebanon over whom Muslims were accustomed to exercising dominion. I think this very strongly explains the very cutting and rigid attitude the Palestinians have adopted towards Zionism. Further, it explains today why they are not even prepared to lie by signing a peace treaty they would never intend to honor. It would tear them apart if they were to do it. So it is not about money, it is not about inducements. Palestinians will pocket concessions but they won't make peace. Something has to change in the entire approach and attitude of Palestinian society and its leadership. Until that happens, and we see no sign of that happening, we can't expect these kinds of inducements to bring about the peace for which Secretary Kerry will undoubtedly labor very hard.
Gordon: September 13, 2013 was the 20th Anniversary of the Oslo Accords. What in your view has it achieved for Israel, the Palestinians and the US?
Mandel: The Oslo assumption was that Palestinians had changed their view on this and were now pragmatic enough to accept Israel providing they had their own state. For the reasons we have already discussed, this was not the case. Oslo is perhaps Israel’s greatest blunder and self-inflicted wound in the 65-year history of the State. Since the Oslo Accords, over 1,500 Israelis have been murdered and many thousands more wounded and maimed by Palestinian terrorists operating from Palestinian-controlled areas. In fact, more Israeli civilians were murdered by terrorists since Oslo than in the entire 45 years of Israel’s existence that preceded it. Oslo gave legitimacy, respectability and influence to Arafat and the PLO which they had previously failed to obtain. Since Oslo, despite Israel having made major land concessions, Israel has lost respect in the world and is enduring a major campaign of delegitimizing its very existence. By going into the Oslo process before Palestinians had truly changed and reformed their society and institutions and accepted Israel as a Jewish state, Israel sent a message to the world that there was no peace because there was no Palestinian state. The issue was a question of territory, not Palestinian non-acceptance of Israel’s existence within any borders. In short, the gains have all been Palestinian, the losses all Israeli and American. America is constantly pressured to produce a peace that is actually presently unobtainable.
Gordon: Hassan Rouhani began his term as the elected President of the Islamic Republic in August and rolled out his charm campaign at the UN General Assembly in September 2013. What can you tell us about his background that might paint a more realistic picture of him than is typically presented by pundits in the West?
Mandel: There is a little cottage industry dedicated to detecting moderation in the Iranian leadership. On its face, they have some sort of ground for this, because the Iranian governing elite is in fact riven by factional and institutional struggles. But I tend to see these struggles as bearing on personalities and tactics, not strategy and goals. The ultimate goal on which there is unity is Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, a Shia ascendency and Israel's destruction. Rouhani has had a central role in deceiving Western interlocutors and negotiators about Iranian nuclear activities. We are not dealing with someone who is a moderate. We are dealing with someone who, unlike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is prepared to say accommodating things and adopt a less apocalyptic vocabulary. The trouble is that his words fall on very fertile ground. The inclination, of Western leaders generally when it comes to Iran, not just now but in decades past since the Iranian Revolution, has been towards self-deception. They hope that we actually can find what the previous Iranian contender for moderate leader, Mohammed Khatami, called a dialogue of civilizations and global reconciliation. Well, it's not going to happen. A savvy Iranian, an experienced leader who knows how to talk to diplomats and say what they want to hear without making actual substantive concessions means we are in for a hard time. That said history is often the story of new opportunities, of unexpected occurrences that change the situation. We really don't know what will happen.
Gordon: By the next Persian New Year, Nowruz, in March 2014, will the Iranians have enough enriched uranium to assemble nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them?
Mandel: That is of course always the risk and the fear. If we reach that date without Iran having voluntarily chosen to curtail this program, it becomes a military matter. I think the big tragedy in all of this is that there was a period in the last eight years in which there might have been a chance for diplomacy and sanctions to do the job. There were sectors of the Iranian hierarchy that wanted to avoid a catastrophic showdown with the West over this and was prepared to put the nuclear issue somewhat on the back burner. That would have meant not getting a nuclear weapon next year but perhaps in five or ten years or even 15 or 20 years. That is no longer on the table, not when you have an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. The sanctions that were put in place both before and after Obama entered office were essentially of a kind which could do great grave damage to the Iranian economy but weren't of the kind that was actually going to stop the regime. People think an Iranian economy that is damaged is one that can't produce nuclear weapons. This isn't so. It's one in which there is of course a great drop in Iranian living standards, a serious erosion of Iranian infrastructures but it doesn't mean the leadership is impoverished. It doesn't mean that the military capacity of the country or a nuclear program is necessarily going to be harmed. That means we are left with only a military option at the end of the day if that turns out to be the case. If we don't have willingness on the part of the Americans, the Israelis, however reluctantly, could well do it in their own interest. The alternative is Israel finding a way to live with an apocalyptic Shia regime with a nuclear trigger; not an easy proposition.
Gordon: Recently the Israeli Knesset passed significant changes in the basic law that would stabilize the vast array of these finite parties that roil activities inside the Knesset. I am referring to the possible elimination of extremist religious parties and Palestinian or Arab list parties. Should there be an actual proposed final status agreement, how will that change the basic law and affect a national referendum?
Mandel: I can't really say. There was in fact an Israeli political party in the 1990s dedicated to ensuring that there be no Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and to submit a Syrian peace deal that encompassed that to a referendum, but such a deal never materialized.
Gordon: Let’s hypothesize a situation in which the peace process ends in failure and Israel turns to the Palestinians and offers to incorporate them into the State of Israel? Israel would take over all the security arrangements; demilitarize Fatah in exchange for the PA to become a viable, economic entity. Is that plausible? Is it unrealistic and demographically would it be a danger to Israel?
Mandel: Are we talking here about the formation of a demilitarized Palestinian state, so-called, or are we talking about the incorporation of Palestinians within Israel?
Gordon: I think we're talking about a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Mandel: It would be a small state because the territories are only so large, irrespective of the way you draw the borders but we are not going to have a demilitarized Palestinian state and not purely because of the Palestinian position. There is no such thing as a demilitarized state. There never has been. No state has ever been created or subjected to conditions of permanent demilitarization. We have some very sobering examples from history of states that have resisted the implementation of a demilitarized regime and those states weren’t necessarily belligerent regimes. Weimar Germany was one. Weimar Germany, a genuine democracy, never truly accepted the requirement for virtual demilitarization under the Treaty of Versailles. It engaged, interestingly, in a very similar strategy to Saddam Hussein in terms of evading and subverting international efforts to prevent its rearmament. It trained military men under civilian cover. It trained the future Luftwaffe under the guise of civilian aviation and Lufthansa, which already existed in those days and is one of the world's oldest airlines. It also tried to split the victors of the war and exploit various rivalries and weaknesses, exactly as Saddam Hussein did and with the result of course that Weimar Germany was never fully demilitarized. It can't be done. Since it can’t be done successfully, the viability of your scenario dissolves. It's not likely to be achieved for any length of time and quite honestly even if this could be done for a decade, what do you do in ten years when by law and by treaty the Palestinians would be able to obtain a standing army? Incidentally, even if a permanent Palestinian demilitarization was written into the terms of a peace treaty, how do you enforce it? There is no mechanism for exacting compliance on something of this kind even if it were an explicit term in an Israeli/Palestinian peace treaty.
Gordon: Some Obama cabinet officials have advocated using a muscular, multilateral force to enforce an agreement. How realistic is that?
Mandel: The leading spirit in the Obama Administration for what she called a massive protection force for the Palestinians is US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. During her Senate confirmation hearings she felt compelled to write off her own words as rambling, incoherent and bizarre. The scheme is of course rambling, incoherent and bizarre if you understand that this would have to be implemented by America. The idea of America, confronted and overburdened, as it is, with serious security threats to itself and its allies across the world, would somehow be able to come up with a massive protection force against the imaginary threat of Israeli aggression against a Palestinian state is ludicrous.
Gordon: Does the U.S. Congress support Israel in view of this current round of peace negotiations?
Mandel: The U.S. Congress is and has been extremely supportive of Israel and this reflects, by the way, not the allegedly insidious power of the Jewish lobby, ala the Mearsheimer/Walt thesis and of course the thesis of virtually every anti-Semite who looks at the problem. This is not widely understood abroad. The American public, unlike perhaps the public of virtually any other society in the world, including societies of other free countries, is generally supportive of Israel. It sees in Israel an ally. It wants to support it. It doesn't particularly trust Israel’s enemies and it believes that Israel’s enemies don't wish America well. They saw the scenes of Palestinians dancing in the streets on 9/11. They don't believe Hanan Ashrawi when she said it was a small crowd and that the PA stepped in immediately to send them all home. Repeated polling data shows this behavior in abundance. I could produce for you a list of polls in recent years that show by a margin of 7 to 1, 8 to 1, and 6 to 1, depending on which poll you look at, Americans favor the Israelis over the Palestinians, regard them as an ally, and don’t regard the Palestinians as an ally. They don’t believe Palestinians seek peace with Israel. They show much more clear-mindedness on the subject than politicians in Washington. When I say politicians, I mean the Administration and the State Department, not the Congress which represents them. Congress by and large is deferential to the view of the American public and reflects it. Even Congressmen who may not be friends of Israel have generally felt compelled to support it not because of the insidious power of a Jewish lobby, but because their constituents expect it. Lee Hamilton, one of the least pro-Israel Congressmen in recent times, said as much at a conference in the 1990s. The American public, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate represent a massive and not always deeply utilized resource and reservoir of pro-Israeli power in Washington. The Congress, after all, is a co-equal branch of government under the American Constitution. It controls the purse strings. The Senate does have to advise and consent on cabinet level appointments. It is not simply the case that foreign policy is the exclusive preserve of the President. If it is, someone will have to explain to me how Congress failed to ratify Jimmy Carter's SALT Treaty with the Soviets. Someone will also have to explain to me why Congress was able to disagree with Ronald Reagan on the funding and arming of the contras in Nicaragua. Clearly, despite it being a major American interest as understood and defined by the President, the Congress was free to disagree and cut off funding. Congress has a role to play and it can play a role here larger than the one that it has played. As someone who supports Israel, I think Israel should be working more closely with the Congress to see that it gets the support it needs. If you want an example, I'll mention one. Israel is being demonized and isolated, not just in the court of international opinion, but in terms of the perversion of international legal norms by the United Nations and other transnational organizations, which all work by the way not merely to Israeli disadvantage, but to the disadvantage of all Western countries. A serious symptom of the problem is the virtually universally held position that it is supposedly a crime for Jews to build homes and move into communities in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria. That isn’t the case, but legal norms can take on a life of their own and like a language, it can be perverted and corrupted by continual usage and misusage. I think it would be excellent for Israel to ask the American Congress to come out with an authoritative resolution of its own saying that it doesn't accept this perversion of International legal norms, with reference to the West Bank and reaffirming the actual law. Repudiating the abuse of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention by which Israeli Jews become war criminals, not for slaughtering civilians or for some other recognized crime, but for merely moving into a house in Judea/Samaria. At the moment, to read a communiqué from European governments about the West Bank is to read a flat-earth assertion to the contrary.
Gordon: Dr. Mandel we appreciate the time taken for this engrossing and informative discussion with you
Mandel: Thank you very much.
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