On the face of it, the nomination of Daniel Pipes by President Bush to be one of the 15 directors of the United States Institute of Peace seems weird. The nomination, which now awaits confirmation by the Senate, has quite predictably outraged Arab Americans, who see Pipes as their enemy. But though it is curious that Bush would gratuitously provoke the Arab-American community, the more serious question is why the president would select a vigorous enemy of the “road map” — indeed, of any negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians — as his choice for any high office.
Here is the president, in a March 14 Rose Garden speech: “America is committed, and I am personally committed, to implementing our road map toward peace.”
And here is Pipes, in the February issue of Commentary: “Then there is the road map, which asks the Palestinians to undertake a temporary reduction in violence, in return for which they will gain a state…. And while ultimately it is up to the Palestinians to liberate themselves from the demons of their own irredentism, others, especially Israelis and Americans, can indeed help — by holding firm against the seductive appeal of road maps that lead exactly in the wrong direction.”
And Pipes again, more broadly, in the February 25, 2002, issue of the New York Post: “Diplomacy rarely ends conflicts. Hardly a single major interstate conflict has concluded due to some one’s clever schema. The idea that a ‘peace process’ can take the place of the dirty work of war is a conceit.”
Odd, no? Is Bush playing both ends against the middle, waiting to see whether Secretary of State Colin Powell develops any traction regarding the road map? Or is the president being duplicitous, endorsing the peace plan to placate British Prime Minister Tony Blair and, in lesser measure, the State Department, fully expecting that the road map will fail — and prepared, if by some chance it does not, to find a way to scuttle it?
Pipes, for his part, voted for duplicity in the March 4 issue of the New York Post: “The road map is for show, not true policy, and U.S. endorsement of a Palestinian state remains remote.”
Of the failure of the road map we can, alas, be reasonably confident. It is doubtful in the extreme that the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will choose to confront Hamas, nor is it at all clear that if he is emboldened to confront them, he will succeed.
It is as doubtful that Prime Minister Sharon genuinely welcomes the road map. He may show sufficient warmth to keep the United States happy, perhaps even to seduce the remnants of Israel’s Labor Party — now, yet again, led by the indefatigable Shimon Peres — to join his governing coalition, but there is ample evidence that such warmth as he may evince is no more than tactical.
Not only has the Israeli government made no secret of its specific reservations — 15 of them so far — but now that Washington has rejected the Sharon demand that all violence must cease before negotiations can be resumed, Jerusalem has asserted a new precondition to negotiations: The Palestinians must formally abandon the “right of return.”
No one in the pro-Israel camp, not even the flightiest dove, is prepared to acknowledge the blanket right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to “return” to Israel. But no Palestinian can do more, at this stage, than what some — including even Yasser Arafat — have already done, which is to acknowledge that the right of return will have to be negotiated within the context of Israel’s demographic situation. If Israel is to remain a Jewish state, the right of return will have to be attenuated in major ways. Palestinian readiness to bargain it away may or may not be forthcoming — but to assert its unambiguous abandonment as a precondition can only make sense if one is trying to derail rather than facilitate negotiations.
So if Bush is counting on the self-destruction of the road map, he is on fairly solid ground. And that means that the Pipes nomination is not the anomaly it seems to be at first blush.
How could it be, in an administration riddled with warmongers? Pipes is the least of them. We learned this week that Elliot Abrams called Sharon to reassure him, on the eve of Powell’s trip to Israel, that the United States would not pressure Israel. And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is on record referring to the “so-called occupied territories.”
And, most ominously and most tellingly, we have the extraordinary 1996 document “A Clean Break,” a paper that outlines “a new Israeli strategy,” the product of a study group that was chaired by Richard Perle, until recently chair of the Defense Policy Board, and included among its members Douglas Feith, now undersecretary of defense for policy.
The paper, prepared as a policy proposal for then-newly elected prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recommends that Israel abandon the previous government’s “peace process” (quotation marks in the original) and adopt instead a policy of “preemption” — including efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
The neo-cons in and around the Bush administration have won the day, and it is a delusion to suppose that they have snookered the president. It remains to be seen if, against all odds, Powell can succeed in moving the process forward — and if he cannot, if the neo-cons and Sharon are allowed to subvert his effort, whether the secretary of state will, at last, resign.
Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).