From The Jerusalem Post of April 14, 1997

A PERNICIOUS UTOPIAN VIRUS

By ANGELO M. CODEVILLA


"President Clinton," writes the New York Times, emerged from his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week deeply wary about Mr. Netanyahu's idea of a dramatic, six-month push toward a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians...." Clinton and his advisers pressed the Israeli prime minister to get "a more gradual negotiating process... going again."

The prime minister, for his part, had just unloaded on the American public his unwillingness to go through innumerable rounds of negotiations, in each of which Israel makes concrete concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the promises of an end to terrorism, only to see the Palestinians revoke those promises in order to get the next round of concessions.

"We refuse to pay for the privilege of not being killed," said Netanyahu, implying that his real objection was to having to pay repeatedly, and still getting killed.

Clinton's objection to the prime minister's suggestion that all sides lay their ends and means on the negotiating table at once is that "six months down the road" it might appear that an Arab-Israeli agreement was impossible in the first place.

Some day this exchange will be used in university courses on international affairs and to train diplomats the world over, because it illustrates so well one of the fundamental principles of statecraft: The first function of negotiations isto ascertain the extent to which the objectives of the two sides may be compatible.To pretend that agreement exists about fundamental objectives where it does not, and then to protract negotiations over details invites both parties to fight while they talk, thereby gradually breaking down their opponents' will to resist.

So, the protracted negotiations that nowadays are called "peace processes" drain whatever goodwill there may be on both sides. They are less instruments of peace than operations of war. None of this is news. It has been taught in schools of diplomacy from time immemorial. Yet, for the Israeli government until almost yesterday, and for Clinton and his aides even now, the notion of determining the compatibility of objectives is scary for the simple reason that if objectives truly happen to be incompatible, they are afraid to say so. Why?

The US does not lack unhappy experiences with such negotiations. In Korea between 1951 and 1953, in Vietnam between 1968 and 1973, with the Soviet Union with regard to arms control beginning in 1969, American negotiators tried to square the circle.

Passionately wanting agreements that would be good for all sides, loath to use force to compel the communists to accept US conditions, American diplomats told the American people that the communists were dealing in good faith, and that everything would turn out all right, given enough skill and perseverance. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush invariably said that Brezhnev et al shared their basic goals.

The communists, meanwhile, increased their military pressure while accusing the American authorities of having insufficient goodwill, never mind skill and perseverance. The American authorities, for their part, were afraid to confess to the American people that they had misjudged the situation, and that peace on easy terms was not possible. So the Americans habitually signed agreements that they were unwilling to enforce. America's international position was saved only by the domestic troubles of communist countries.

Beyond political cowardice, the reason Western politicians reflexively tell their publics that the dictators with whom they deal are men of goodwill (the morally neutral term "leaders" is now de rigueur) and that agreements on fundamentals exist where they do not is the widespread assumption that things just must be this way.

Three quarters of a century ago Woodrow Wilson infected all Western statesmen with a utopian virus that has yet to run its course. Since Wilson, Western statesmen are almost expected to say that the world's problems are fixable, that comprehensive solutions good for everyone are readily acceptable to everyone except for a few enemies of peace, and, above all, that those who do not speak this way thereby identify themselves as the enemies of peace.

There are thus powerful incentives against pointing out the sad fact that in some cases the satisfaction of some parties can occur only by the annihilation of the others, and that in such

cases a kind of armed vigilance may be the best solution available. Given this incentive, it is understandable that diplomats proclaim peace at the start of negotiations, and leave the thorniest problems to be worked out later.

But, of course, this way of doing things gives the incentive to the most bellicose parties in the negotiations to settle the big issues by bringing force to bear on the party that has already declared peace. In such a contest, democratic statesmen are at a disadvantage because, having declared that fundamental "understandings" exist, they cannot easily act as if they did not. Thugs like Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Assad and, yes, Yasser Arafat, whom they created, are not so bound.

When future professors describe the self-made net in which Israeli and American statesmen have been struggling of late, one of their most vivid images should be of the words of Yossi Beilin, published in Ha'aretz's magazine of March 7.

"At no stage," queries the interviewer, "did you ask yourselves where all this was leading? "No." "You never talked to [Yitzhak] Rabin about the long-range meaning of Oslo?" "Not once." "And with [Shimon] Peres?" "I didn't talk to Peres about it, either."

The interviewer then asked how Beilin et al could possibly have gone into such a process without understanding the practical problems involved. Beilin's answer:

"I want to live in a world where the solution to our existential problem is possible. I have no proof that this is really the case.... I am simply not prepared to live in a world where things are unsolvable."

That is to say, that for Beilin, as for Woodrow Wilson, as for the Clinton administration, if the world does not conform to one's own views, so much the worse for the world. Alas, solipsism is the negation of statesmanship. Bigger countries can sometimes afford bigger doses of it than smaller countries. None can afford much of it for long.

Given such blatant disregard for the fundamentals of international statecraft, the wonder is not that Israel is in such trouble, but that its troubles are not bloodier.

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ANGELO M. CODEVILLA directs the Division for Research in Strategy at the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jerusalem and Washington, and is professor of international relations at Boston University.


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