A More Optimistic View On Wye
Notwithstanding the proclamations of progress in the peace process, by supporters of the process, and condemnation of the agreement by its opponents, the Wye negotiations reflected a fundamental change in the peace process. Finally, realism has replaced the naivete that we have come to associate with the dawning of a "New Middle East." In many respects, this change is the culmination of a process that began with the change of government that occurred in May 1996.
The election of Netanyahu represented a fundamental shift in Israel's outlook toward the peace process. Ideologically, Netanyahu is opposed to the concept of Israeli withdrawal from the territories and rejects the tenets upon which the peace process is based. Moreover, he does not believe that Arafat has undergone the transformation from terrorist to statesman. Consequently, Netanyahu views the peace process as a minefield which he must pick his way through, rather than a policy to embrace.
Despite his belief that the Oslo process is fatally flawed, Netanyahu has to walk a fine line. Domestic and international forces compel him to give the process a chance to succeed, however slim he believes that chance to be, while minimizing the threat to Israel's security. The peace process is widely supported by the Europeans, Asians, many Israelis and, most important, the Clinton Administration. Israeli rejection of the peace process would not only ostracize Israel in historically unprecedented terms, but would greatly inhibit Israel's ability to influence events in the region. The erosion of U.S. support for Israel would place the country in a perilous position.
Those who view the recent accords as progress fail to remember that the peace process was designed to be incremental in nature. Each step was designed to be a confidence building measure designed to test the sincerity of both sides. Consequently, the interim accords were designed to be building blocks of peace. Each incremental step was suppose to increase the level of trust between the two sides. It was believed that only through such a process could the seemingly intractable issues of Jerusalem and "return of refugees" be resolved. Five years after Oslo, the level of acrimony and mistrust is the deepest it has been since the process began.
While supporters of the peace process claim that this deterioration began with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, it's demise actually occurred much earlier. The collapse of the peace process began in October 1993, when Arafat refused to condemn the murder of two Israeli hikers in Wadi Kelt. It's demise accelerated throughout the last five years as Arafat repeatedly failed to fulfill any of the conditions he agreed to under Oslo. In perhaps the ultimate irony, the Rabin/Peres government shares much of the blame for the collapse of the peace process. The former Israeli government disenfranchised it's Jewish citizens from the process by failing to hold Arafat and the Palestinian Authority accountable in fulfilling its obligations. It is important to remember that well over 60 percent of Israelis favor the peace process. Consequently, the May 1996 elections was not a rejection of Oslo, rather it was a rejection of the way the former government was implementing the Accords.
The Rabin/Peres government accelerated the failure of Oslo by accepting the absurd premise that it should facilitate the peace process in response to terror attacks against Israel. For the peace process to succeed, it was incumbent upon supporters of the peace process to insure that Arafat adhered to both the letter and spirit of the agreements. By becoming apologists for Arafat, and allowing him to openly flaunt his commitments with impunity, supporters of the peace process created an untenable situation, thereby allowing Arafat to play a game of doublespeak in which he spoke of peace in English and Jihad in Arabic.
Notwithstanding its flaws, the Wye agreement reflected this change in perspective. However, the Neatnyahu government must be careful. As this new agreement is implemented, it would be a mistake for the Netanyahu government to rely on CIA oversight as a reliable factor in determining Palestinian fulfillment of its latest commitments. For the last two decades the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus has become increasingly politicized. There should be little doubt that the agents assigned to monitor Palestinian compliance will be hard pressed to submit reports in congruence with the Clinton Administration's objectives. Indeed, even should the agents in the field maintain their professional integrity, their official reports will be modified by political bureaucrats within the organization. Moreover, Netanyahu should not forget that since the beginning of Oslo, the Clinton administration has been telling congress that the Palestinian Authority has been fulfilling its obligations under Oslo. Given these two factors, the deployment of CIA officials to monitor Palestinian compliance can hardly be viewed as a positive factor.
The prospects for peace are bleak. The acrimony between Israel and the Palestinians has never been deeper. Arafat's threat to break yet another component of the Oslo Accords, and announce an independent Palestinian state, provides Israel with little incentive to concede more territory. Should the Palestinians carry out their threat and announce the creation of a state, then the Israelis would be well served to immediately close its borders and declare the introduction of any foreign troops on the nascent Palestinian state a casus belli. Given its international support, declaration of a Palestinian state appears to be a foregone conclusion. However, by remaining engaged in the process, Netanyahu not only maintains a modicum of leverage but can assure that should hostilities occur Israel will have maintained its strategic and tactical dominance.
Major Shawn M. Pine is a former US military strategic intelligence officer and is currently a research student in international relations at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Pine recently joined the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies as a Research Associate.