Americanizing the Mideast Conflict
Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, October 26 1998
Is the Wye River Memorandum mediated by U.S. President Bill Clinton another
Camp David- a historic breakthrough toward Middle East peace - or a
technical accord typing up the loose ends of previous unimplemented
agreeements? The answer is "both". The rustic plantation site and the
near constant involvement of the president offered a dramatic setting to
deal with less than dramatic issues.
Virtually everything on the Wye agenda had already been agreed in principle
in the past, especially in the January 1997 Hebron Accord, the last
agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In providing numerous
detailed formulae and mechanisms for
executing the many imprecise commitments from past agreements, the Wye
Memorandum could be viewed as the Hebron Implementation Accord. However,
several aspects of the Wye agreement do have much wider reverberations.
The Israeli territorial concession at Wye is the final nail in the coffin to claim by any major Israeli political party to "all the land of Israel."
While prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud had previously agreed to
"redeploy" from chunks of the West bank, this new accord translates that
promise into reality, in a stunning way.
According to the accord, Israel
will transfer 14.2% of territory currently under joint control (Zone B) to
sole Palestinian control (Zone A). In addition, a further 13% of territory
under sole Israeli control (Zone C) would change hands - 1% to Zone A and
12% to Zone B. That would constitute a six fold increase in the size of
Zone A created when the Labour Party was in power.
agreement means that the Likud sanctions full or partial Palestinian
control of 40% of the West Bank, up from 27%. Effectively, this is the
tacit Likud acceptance of some form of independent Palestinian
entity-state? As the eventual outcome of the peace process, the only
remaining questions are how large and how sovereign that entity will be.
In return for that major concession, Israel won some significant victories
at Wye, the biggest being a strengthened security cooperation accord that
passes the muster of hawks such as Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon. Israel
asked for, and the Palestinians readily agreed to, an enhanced role for the
Central Intelligence Agency in supervising anti-terrorism efforts. This
would mark an unprecedented and potentially risky expansion of the American
role in overseeing the execution of a Middle East peace accord. US.
Intelligence officers could have a role in checking everything from the
confiscation of illegal Palestinian weapons to the size and composition of
the Palestinian police force. The danger here is that a new role as
arbiter of Israeli-Palestinian disputes would muddy the prime mission for
U.S. intelligence officers in Israel - to work with the Israelis against
common threats. Given that no supervisory mechanism in the history of the
Arab-Israeli conflict has ever been dismantled, this could entail an
open-ended, long term role for the CIA in a in a conflict not America's
own. Evidently, however, this was such an improvement over the faulty
security set-up now in place that even skeptics accept it as the less-bad
Mr. Netanyahu also won a symbolic achievement that addresses
Israeli skepticism of Palestinian intentions - yet another but far more
specific promise to modify the PLO charter. Ever since the Palestine
National Council (PNC) met in May 1996 to endorse a "decision to cancel"
clauses incompatible with making peace with Israel - an act applauded at
the time by the Prime Minister Shimon Peres and President Clinton - Mr.
Netanyahu and his supporters have fought a lonely, uphill battle to
convince the world that the PLO had promised to act but in fact hadn't.
While Yasser Arafat technically avoids a new PNC session, Mr. Netanyahu is
likely to be vindicated throughout the convening of an even larger
gathering of Palestinian notables to confirm the revocation of articles in
the charger that are antithetical to peace. The accords even specify a
date certain for this event, which Mr. Clinton himself will attend.
Similarly, Mr. Netanyahu's campaign to free imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard
may make many Americans chafe but it resonates well in Israel, across party
lines. Pollard was an Israeli spy active during a Labour Liku coalition
government: responsibility for his actions is spread across the political
spectrum. Mr. Netanyahu narrowly failed to win Pollards freedom but did
elicit a pledge from Mr. Clinton to "seriously" study the matter. On the
negative side, mixing the Pollard case with the Wye talks only confirms the
regrettable trend toward the Americanization of the Israeli-Palestinian
dispute, a process that has been gathering steam for the past two years.
On several key issues, the Wye summiteers apparently punted. Will there be
a fight over still another Israeli "redeployment"? Wye sets up a committee
to address the issue. Can Mr. Arafat continue to threaten a unilateral
declaration of statehood that would scuttle the process altogether? Wye
only reaffirms past promises to avoid "unilateral acts" that affect the
ultimate disposition of the disputed territories. And, lest we forget,
there are the core issues - Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, Palestinian
refugees and the question of a Palestinian state- that Wye does not address
In the end, the Wye agreement solves some, but not all, of the
problems that have embittered Israeli-Palestinian relations. But in light
of the unhappy legacy of past agreements, this accord will be judged not by
what was achieved on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but on whether those
achievements are executed faithfully and fully in the West Bank and Gaza.