DD, the imaginary Israeli Defense Dove, surprised me with an analogy when she got back in touch.
"I know you come out of the American left. Remember those interminable arguments in the Old Left about whether or not there are preconditions for an egalitarian society ("socialism")? Jargon often obscured clear thinking. The result: will power displaced consideration of circumstances and catastrophe came."
"Think of the USSR," she added, "Or think of a recent case based on a different but relevant illusion: just rid Iraq of "totalitarianism" - Saddam and his Ba'athi thugs -- and presto!, Jeffersonian democracy will materialize."
"Your Secretary of State Kerry's last Israel-Palestine peace efforts failed -- it was predictable -- because the preconditions weren't there."
"Broadly speaking, there have always been two basic peace making approaches to the Mideast conflict," she went on. "One aimed for a comprehensive bargain, hoping to resolve all matters in a big negotiated swoop. Everyone recognizes everyone and everyone gets what everyone wants. President Carter thought this way when he came to office in '77."
"To me," I interjected, "this always seemed like standing in front of a huge iceberg in sub-zero temperature and shouting 'Melt! Melt!' Well, icebergs are perhaps not ideal Mideast metaphors."
"But the point is right," she commented. "Imagine a peace conference back then. Imagine it brought together all interested Mideast parties and Washington and Moscow. What would be missing? Something essential: a context that allowed for success. All parties would have angled, each pursing advantage at the expense of others (remember that Syria was Moscow's client and Egypt had just moved towards the U.S.)."
"The chance of an agreement: zero," judged DD, "I give Carter due credit for his later negotiations between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. It led to a treaty. True, it was a 'cold peace' during most of the Mubarak years. It left important issues open. Still, it sure beat all the earlier wars."
"But the treaty was possible only because Sadat bypassed Carter's initial "comprehensive" strategy, knowing it would flop. Instead, he went directly to the Israelis, convinced them that they would get peace if they returned the whole of Sinai to Egypt and tore down settlements there. He then went to Jerusalem. Carter's achievement at Camp David was only at the last stage, when later Israeli-Egyptian negotiations ran into trouble."
"What's an alternative to 'comprehensive'?," I asked.
"Moving step by step. I know you are no Kissinger fan because of Vietnam and Chile, but his diplomacy after the '73 war was really effective here. Each step -- interim accords, disengagement agreements -- made it more difficult and expensive for combatants to return to battle and make it worthwhile to take another step."
"Devising steps -- that seems to me to be the intelligent approach now," DD asserted. "But I'd add this: we also need, bit by bit, to regionalize progress to fortify it. Sunni Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan - fear Iran and worry that the U.S. could abandon them. Consequently, they are ready as never before to open a new cooperative page with Israel. Their backing can help since Palestinian leadership is either weak (Abbas) or anti-peace (Hamas)."
"Of course, I know Palestinians want their own state right away," she added. "And they know we want a Jewish state with secure and recognized boundaries. Let's bracket our big wants for a while and work on the ground, step by step, but also with some symbolic - but not definitive - measures."
"Could you elaborate?," I pressed.
Then we had another Sheherazade moment. Muffled Hebrew. Something about Lebanon, Hizbollah, Iran, Syria and missiles.
"Speak to you tomorrow," said DD. The line went dead.
Next Post: DD elaborates.
Mitchell Cohen is editor emeritus of Dissent Magazine and professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. His book Zion and State (Columbia University Press) examines the intellectual origins of the conflict between the left and the right in Israel. It has just been republished in Paris by Editions la Decouverte.