Monday, February 27, 2006

Norman Finkelstein & Shlomo Ben-Ami: Complete Transcript Finkelstein, of course, is very good, but its a pleasant surprise to see how good Former Israeli Foreign Minister Ben-Ami is, especially after having had to put up with the programmed disinformation and propaganda of Ehud Barak. Finkelstein pays Ben-Ami a nice compliment when he says "if representatives of the Palestinians were to sit down with Shlomo Ben-Ami in a room, weren't subjected to the sorts of political pressures that Dr. Ben-Ami describes from Israel, I think a reasonable settlement could be reached."

The two have some different and intriguing interpretations of the tragic failure of the Camp David/Taba negotiations.

FINKELSTEIN: The Israelis chose Arafat [as negotiating partner after the Iraq war], not only because Arafat himself was desperate [to return to Palestine and resume control]. They chose him because they thought he would deny them what they were entitled to. He would suppress all resistance to the occupation. And then, finally, the day of reckoning came with the Camp David talks. It turned out Arafat was not willing to make those concessions to deny Palestinians what their rights were under international law, and I think that's where the impasse occurred at Camp David and at Taba.

And the standard interpretation, which comes — which is — you can call it the Dennis Ross interpretation, which, I think, unfortunately Dr. Ben-Ami echoes, is that Israel made huge concessions at Camp David and Taba; Palestinians refused to make any concessions, because of what Dr. Ben-Ami repeatedly calls Arafat's unyielding positions; and that Arafat missed a huge opportunity. Now, it is correct to say that if you frame everything in terms of what Israel wanted, it made huge concessions. However, if you frame things in terms of what Israel was legally entitled to under international law, then Israel made precisely and exactly zero concessions. All the concessions were made by the Palestinians.

BEN-AMI: What Dr. Finkelstein said here about international law, I want to make it clear, it is important, it is vital for a civilized community of nations to have an axis of principles based on international law, around which to run the affairs of our chaotic world. It is very important. It is vital, etc. But at the same time, when you go into political issues, and you need to settle differences, historical differences, differences that have to do with political rights, security concerns, historical memories, etc., it is almost impossible to do things on the basis of international law, but rather, on something that is as close as possible to the requirements of international law. The very fact that, as Dr. Finkelstein rightly says, the Palestinians were ready to make this or that concession is the reflection of them understanding that there is no viability, there is no possibility really to reach an agreement that says let us apply automatically and rigidly the requirements of international law.

The thing is that we need to understand that with all — frankly, with all due respect for the requirements of international law, at the end of the day, at the end of the day, a peace process is a political enterprise. And there are things that governments can do and things that they cannot do, because if you do things that leave you without political support, then you can do nothing. You can write poetry, not make peace. And we have been writing poetry ever since, because we are not in office. We have been advancing all kind of peace dreams. It is only when you are in office and you have a political support that you can move ahead. This is the only way that peace is done. We have done our very best. We went to the outer limits of our capacity for compromise without disintegrating entirely our home front, and this is an exercise that Sharon decided not to make, precisely because he learned from our experience. He said, "Listen, we are not going to do that. I am going to be unilateral. I don't believe in negotiations." It's very bad, but this is the lesson that he learned from the sad experience of the collapse of the peace process in the last year of Clinton's presidency.

The problem is Israel wants to have its cake and eat it too. Even a corrupt leader like Arafat could not accept Israeli grasping and arrogance on this scale, and Israel could not see the lost opportunity, that 'in justice lies the truest and highest expediency.' The talks were doomed to fail.

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