Published in The Jerusalem Post on, June 28, 1998
Dear Mr. President,
You’re having a tough time, they say, deciding how to handle ties with prime minister Netanyahu and what to do next in Arab-Israeli regional diplomacy. Here’s a few pointers, gratis:
* Stop pining for Yitzhak Rabin *. Your penchant for reminiscing about the late prime minister in every meeting with American Jews or Mideast leaders and in interviews — is honorable and touching, but unhelpful. Rabin is gone, unfortunately. Accept the fact that Netanyahu was duly elected and will be around, it seems, for quite some time.
Respect our democracy and secure some patience. It takes time to build support for the controversial redeployments demanded by Oslo, and Rabin wouldn’t have had an easier time. In fact, just the opposite is true. With Rabin (or Peres) at the helm I betcha that this second redeployment, not to mention any further withdrawals or concessions – would never go through.
* Don’t threaten. * It’s unwise to issue ultimatums when you can’t and won’t make good on the implied threat. You appear weak when Albright talks of “two weeks” for the parties to respond to the latest American proposal, and nothing happens when “deadline” after “deadline” passes without anybody noticing. I know that you want to provoke a sense of urgency in Jerusalem and Gaza, but you’re losing credibility with these Potmekin-like warnings of “critical” decision-making dates.
* Stay away from the Palestinian state thing.* Many important Palestinians think you’re hinting that Washington could support, next year, a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. I know that you’ve never said anything like this, but Hillary’s incautious remark on “Palestine” hints at it, and the State Department’s subsequent denial was unconvincing. This sends the wrong signal to Arafat, who may led into thinking that all he has to do is ride out the year without living up to Oslo commitments. Discourage such thinking.
* Drop the alarmist line * about the “explosion of violence” that is “certain” to take place if the process does not advance. This line of argumentation creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and essentially extends a measure of legitimacy to Palestinian violence if and when it erupts.
* Take ‘reciprocity’ seriously.* It is at the core of Palestinian credibility in the process. You can’t really expect us to ignore the Palestinian Authority’s continuing diplomatic aggression at the UN, or the continuing anti-Semitic and virulently anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian press. This time, unlike the Hebron agreement, Netanyahu has a right to “get” from Arafat what we’re paying for: tough PA action against Hamas infrastructure, a reduction in the size of the PA “police” forces as per agreement, extradition of terrorists, covenant renunciation, etc.
* Stay out of internal Israeli politics.* If there’s a referendum on the next redeployment, don’t do what you did last elections, when you, Mr. President, and Ambassador Indyk were perceived as intervening in the race on behalf of Peres. Clearly, the US has an interest and a right to make clear to the Israeli public its view on the implications of acceptance or rejection of a diplomatic deal — on US-Israel relations, regional stability, etc. But be cognizant of the fine line between explanation and interference, between mediation and interjection.
* Demand fuller communication and coordination from Netanyahu.* You can’t allow yourself to be sandbagged by the prime minister, not on the opening of Hasmonean Tunnels nor on Jerusalem expansion plans or the like. You also have a right to insist that Netanyahu not embarrass you politically by cozying up to the extreme right-wing American religious fundamentalists who so bitterly have attacked your presidency. And please, try to work together on strategy for final status negotiations.
* Get some regional credibility * by acting toughly against the nuclear weapons-hungry countries in this area, like Iran, India and Pakistan. It’s a real shame that last week you vetoed the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, which would have imposed sanctions on foreign companies that provide missile technology to Iran. You missed an opportunity to send a strong message, and I hope Congress will override your veto. Get tough with belligerent Egypt, which has played a deleterious role in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, yet now seeks even more military assistance from Washington along with dangerously-advanced weaponry in massive quantities. (For what purpose…?)
* Rein in Jamie Rubin *, the super-self-confident and increasingly contentious State Department spokesman. His broadside against Netanyahu regarding Jerusalem last week was hasty and unmeasured, as have been some of his other recent remarks on the peace process. Were Rubin to term Washington Post reportage on any topic an “ejaculation”, as he saw fit to characterize the Israeli press, the young man would be toast overnight. I know that Albright loves him, and that his impending marriage to CNN’s Christine Anappour provides him with soap-opera star status, but arrogance has its limits.
* Clear-up your policy on Jerusalem.* What’s wrong with Bibi’s Jerusalem municipal extension (mostly westward)? You know as well as I do that Maale Adumim and Givat Zeev will come under Jerusalem’s authority in any final status deal, negotiated by any Israeli government. And why can’t my child born in a western Jerusalem hospital be registered as being born in Israel on his US passport?
And please explain to me the following. Last week, Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee chairman Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked Secretary Albright – “In what country was Al Gore speaking when he addressed Israel’s jubilee ceremony at Givat Ram in Jerusalem?” Her answer: “Well, Senator that’s a subject for negotiations…” Really? Would it have been too difficult to say – “Israel, of course”, and then reiterate US policy on an undivided Jerusalem?