By Toby Klein Greenwald
David Makovsky, on leave from the Washington Institute, was named to the State Department’s Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiating team last month. Makovsky will be a senior adviser to team leader Martin Indyk, who has expanded the team from two members to eight.
When I asked Makovsky a number of questions regarding his own writings and views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he replied that he could not have any contact with journalists, and referred me to a State Department official.
Some background: Makovsky covered the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from 1989 to 2000. In an article titled “Oslo Still Relevant at Twenty,” published in September of this year by the Washington Institute, Makovsky praised Oslo and wrote, “Violence has dropped sharply in the West Bank as a result of Oslo, especially since President Mahmoud Abbas came to office eight years ago and Israel constructed its security barrier. Of course, if the nonviolent approach is somehow discredited and Abbas fully leaves the political stage, this relative quiet could end.”
However, in the years following Oslo, approximately 1,500 Israelis died at the hands of terrorists, about 300 of those even before the bloody second intifada that began in 2000. (He is correct about the effectiveness of the security barrier, though.)
In an article Makovsky published in The Atlantic this past January, he wrote, “President Abbas has also appeared recently on Israeli television, stating that he renounced any personal ‘right of return’ to his home town of Safed—and that Palestine today means the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, but not pre-1967 Israel, ‘now and forever.’ The U.S. should ask him to repeat those assurances, along with his public disagreement with Hamas about its rejection of the principle of peace with Israel.”
Therefore, my first question was: Has Abbas, in fact, ever made these assurances in Arabic? Or disagreed with Hamas in Arabic? And what about the fact that the focus of the Palestinians’ plan of action is on the right of return inside Israel as opposed to living in the West Bank?
The State Department official, whom Makovsky referred me to, replied, “Regarding that first question, I will have to talk to my colleagues; I need a little bit longer. It will take some research.” Almost two days later, he did not reply. He seemed to be a diligent and serious professional, so I can only assume that it takes quite a while to discover an item that may not exist.
However, he did answer, in an e-mail interview, these questions:
Toby Klein Greenwald: What are the implications, for the peace process, of the ongoing praise on PA TV for those who murder Jews, and Abbas’ glorification of released terrorists?
Department of State: The United States government is committed to anti-incitement efforts. From Secretary Kerry on down and throughout the State Department, we take incitement seriously, recognize it is a serious issue and are working to combat it in order to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We have consistently called on all parties to refrain from provocative rhetoric that only serves to raise tensions. Such hateful rhetoric has no place in the region.
TKG: Since the term of Abbas actually finished four years ago, and the last Palestinian election, in Jan 2006, witnessed the Hamas victory in the entire PA, what guarantee do we have that any agreement that Abbas reaches will be honored by the Palestinian population?
DOS: Achieving a final status agreement is what the parties are working toward. It is up to both parties to determine the steps they need to take once they achieve that goal, but we know that we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point. Beyond this, I am not going to comment on internal Palestinian politics or their political process and would refer you to the parties.
TKG: What about the precedent of Gaza attacks on the rest of Israel, once the IDF retreated from Gaza? Do you fear that if the IDF withdraws from areas on the high ground in Jenin and Ramallah, they will become staging grounds for rocket attacks on Gush Dan, including Ben-Gurion Airport?
DOS: Security is paramount, especially to the Israeli people as they contemplate taking calculated risks for peace. The outcome of these negotiations needs to leave both sides feeling more secure, not less. General Allen has been working as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense focusing on security in the context of Middle East Peace. He has been working closely on the ground with his Israeli counterparts to support our comprehensive efforts to find a way forward that meets the legitimate security needs of Israel.
TKG: What is your realistic assessment of what the outcome will be of the current peace talks?
DOS: We remain focused on our goal: achieving a final status agreement on all the core issues between the parties which resolves the conflict, ends all claims and creates peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The President spoke to what we are striving for in his address to the UN General Assembly: “The children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them,” and “The United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.
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It will, I think, be clear that not one of the answers given really addressed the questions I asked. What is the U.S. position on TV shows that glorify terrorism? What use is an agreement made with those who are not the current leaders? How is the current situation different from Gaza? And, going back to the first question, what has Abbas actually said, in Arabic, about the legitimacy of Israel?
The fact that the State Department official cannot (or will not) give answers to these critical questions may indicate that there is a gap between the wishes of the U.S. government regarding the Palestinians’ plans, and the reality on the ground. v
The author is a contributing editor of the
5 Towns Jewish Times.