Aaron David Miller, a former Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" point person in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, is correct to assert in his Jan. 26 Times Op-Ed article that the recent cache of formerly secret documents on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leaked to Al Jazeera "are bound to have a chilling effect on a process already in the deep freeze."
He errs, however, in lamenting the potential demise of a U.S.-sponsored "peace process" that is premised on Israel's demands, not Palestinian rights.
"As harmful as these leaks are to Palestinians, the Israelis don't look very good either," Miller notes. The Palestine Papers, as the leaks are known, portray Palestinian negotiators bending over backward to concede their rights, with Israel pocketing the concessions while demanding even more.
Take, for example, a U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian trilateral meeting in 2008 in which the lead Palestinian negotiator offers to allow Israel to annex all but one of its illegal East Jerusalem settlements, which Israel rejects out of hand as not being generous enough.
The illegality of its settlements has no consideration whatsoever in Israel's negotiating posture on the issue, because, as then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared in a 2007 bilateral meeting, "I am a lawyer.... But I am against law —international law in particular. Law in general. If we want to make the agreement smaller, can we just drop some of these issues? Like international law, this will make the agreements easier."
Miller should have added, however, that the Palestine Papers don't convey U.S. mediation efforts — under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations — in a positive light either. U.S. interlocutors are portrayed as backing Israel's negotiating positions and pressuring Palestinians to agree to them. As, for example, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei in May 2008, after he informed her that no Palestinian leader would accept Israel's future annexation of the illegal Ma'ale Adumim settlement, "Then you won't have a state!"
Perhaps more than anyone else, Miller should know that the dynamics of a U.S.-sponsored "peace process," as currently configured, are bound to fail. In a May 2005 Op-Ed article in Washington Post, "Israel's Lawyer," Miller candidly admitted that "many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel's attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations. If the United States wants to be an honest and effective broker on the Arab-Israeli issue … surely it can have only one client: the pursuit of a solution that meets the needs and requirements of both sides."
Yet this sensible advice goes unheeded every time the United States attempts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and President Obama's halfhearted attempts to restart negotiations that broke down last fall after only a few weeks illustrate the point. Politico's Laura Rozen reported earlier this month that the White House has convened two different task forces to provide the administration with new ideas for moving its efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace forward.
These new ideas are desperately needed, but the president won't find any by looking in all the old places. The efforts are being headed up by Sandy Berger, Stephen Hadley, Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross; in other words, many of the primary architects of failed U.S. "peace process" efforts under Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama himself, and probably the exact same people Miller had in mind when referring to "Israel's attorneys."
Ross, now eclipsing George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East peace, in all but title as the main policymaker on Obama's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is the last person in the world to look to for new ideas, especially ones that are not biased in Israel's favor.
In his 2004 book, "The Missing Peace," Ross revealed his management style: " 'Selling' became part of our modus operandi — beginning a pattern that would characterize our approach throughout the Bush and Clinton years. We would take Israeli ideas or ideas that the Israelis could live with and work them over —trying to increase their attractiveness to the Arabs while trying to get the Arabs to scale back their expectations. Why did this pattern emerge? The realities dictated it."
It is difficult to imagine a statement more revelatory than this of the United States abdicating any pretension to be an "honest broker."
The Palestine Papers only reinforce and provide additional evidence for the extreme bias in U.S. policymaking admitted to by Miller and Ross. Given that the U.S. "peace process" efforts appear to be congenitally gamed to favor Israel's interests, it's no wonder they fail.
As evidenced by Palestinian diplomatic efforts to take their quest for statehood to the United Nations this fall, the breakdown of a profoundly flawed "peace process" opens up new and exciting opportunities for Palestinians to achieve their long-denied rights and a just peace. Israel will continue to suppress both of these outcomes as long as U.S. diplomacy has its back, no matter how egregious its contempt for human rights and international law is.
Josh Ruebner is the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He is a former Middle East affairs analyst for the Congressional Research Service.