Des­per­ate diplo­macy

Alan Gold

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

IT’S a pity that for­mer US pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter and diplo­mat Martin Indyk didn’t col­lab­o­rate on the ti­tles of their two books. Carter’s should have been called An In­no­cent Abroad, and Indyk’s We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, be­cause the ti­tle of one de­fines the con­tent of the other.

Carter’s book, far from show­ing him able to solve the Arab-Is­rael dis­pute, iden­ti­fies him as part of the prob­lem. He, not Indyk, is the in­no­cent abroad, hav­ing shown him­self re­peat­edly to be par­ti­san, naive and gullibly in­gen­u­ous, prey to the lies and dis­tor­tions of Mid­dle East­ern politi­cians, be­liev­ing that what is said is the same thing as what is meant.

By dra­matic con­trast, if any world-rank­ing diplo­mat has an un­der­stand­ing of how peace re­ally can be achieved in the Holy Land, it’s Indyk, whose years as a ne­go­tia­tor have taught him the art of un­der­stand­ing the labyrinthine minds of those who say one thing in a meet­ing with a US pres­i­dent, yet re­port an en­tirely dif­fer­ent thing when they re­turn and play to a home crowd.

Deal­ing with the same events in the same places at the same mo­ment in his­tory, the dif­fer­ence in per­spec­tive be­tween the two books is stag­ger­ing, il­lu­mi­nat­ing both the byzan­tine pol­i­tics of the Mid­dle East and the power of rea­son over emo­tion in find­ing a so­lu­tion.

Indyk, an Aus­tralian who rose to be pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s am­bas­sador to Is­rael, ex­hibits a univer­sal­ist grasp of the im­mense com­plex­ity of the is­sues and brings an adroit mind to the nu­ances of the lan­guage, deeds and hid­den agen­das of the main play­ers.

Carter, how­ever, trots out the same hack­neyed, ado­les­cent view­point he has al­ways held in his un­der­stand­ing of the Arab-Is­rael con­flict. In Carter’s sim­plis­tic view, ex­em­pli­fied here as well as in his pre­vi­ous book, Is­rael is the prob­lem, Is­raeli con­ces­sion to Arab de­mands is the an­swer, and so Is­rael is the tar­get of his cred­u­lous ap­proach.

To be fair, Carter has some­what soft­ened his rhetoric in his lat­est book; in the past his anti- Is­rael par­tial­ity has opened him up to se­vere crit­i­cism not just from Jews, but from US ad­min­is­tra­tions. Carter’s pre­vi­ous writ­ings on the sub­ject, which sculpt his mes­sianic self­im­por­tance, have been widely dis­cred­ited for bias, inac­cu­racy and even pla­gia­rism.

Den­nis Ross, a Mid­dle East en­voy for both Repub­li­can and Demo­crat ad­min­is­tra­tions, ac­cused Carter of us­ing maps as his own without ci­ta­tion or ac­knowl­edge­ment. So to some ex­tent this lat­est book, sub­ti­tled A Plan That Will Work, is an at­tempt to de­fine him­self as an hon­est bro­ker. But his con­clu­sions about how peace can be achieved are de­void of any fresh per­spec­tive.

Is­rael must ne­go­ti­ate with its en­e­mies, Is­rael must make con­ces­sions over set­tle­ments, Is­rael must ac­cept a two-state so­lu­tion; he merely re­it­er­ates what ev­ery­body else is say­ing and think­ing. His book was writ­ten specif­i­cally to be read by Barack Obama — Carter says so — in the hope that the new Pres­i­dent will fol­low the for­mer pres­i­dent’s path­way to peace and in­volve him and the Coun­cil of El­ders in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Indyk’s book, by con­trast, is a cor­nu­copia of eru­dite thought and gives us a detailed back­ground of the be­hind-the-scenes pulling and push­ing that went on in Clin­ton’s mis­sion to be the man who brought peace to the Holy Land.

Indyk, one of Amer­ica’s most skilled diplo­mats, was at the epi­cen­tre of events as Clin­ton tried to solve the world’s most in­tractable con­flict, and his in­sights are in­valu­able.

He writes about those dis­cus­sions from the per­spec­tive of one who stood just be­hind the seats of power, whis­per­ing into the ears of the rulers, ad­vis­ing and ca­jol­ing.

In­no­cent Abroad de­scribes the skills he used to ne­go­ti­ate a path­way through the mine­fields of diplo­macy and is open and hon­est about his team’s fail­ings.

‘‘ Crit­ics of the Amer­i­can ap­proach at Camp David make much of our fail­ure to in­volve the Arab states in the sum­mit,’’ he writes of the fi­nal col­lapse of Clin­ton’s ini­tia­tive to bring Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat to­gether.

‘‘ They ar­gue that Arafat would have been more re­spon­sive had he known that Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia would sup­port a com­pro­mise on Jerusalem. Cer­tainly, we were re­miss in our over­all ap­proach to the Arabs in the run-up to Camp David and once there.’’

Indyk clearly de­fines the mon­u­men­tal ef­forts of diplo­matic me­di­a­tion be­tween in­tractable en­e­mies, even though the re­sult was fail­ure. Carter, how­ever, takes up most of the pages in trawl­ing through well-known back­ground and his­tory, adding lit­tle to our knowl­edge of what went on af­ter his pres­i­dency, dur­ing which he came close to bring­ing peace to the Holy Land, but ul­ti­mately failed.

Carter’s book seems an at­tempt to atone for his pre­vi­ous, Pales­tine: Peace Not Apartheid , which, when pub­lished, prompted the res­ig­na­tion of 14 top-level ad­vis­ers from his Carter Cen­tre. That ti­tle alone shows him to be un­suit­able as a me­di­a­tor for Obama, a role for which he patently yearns. Re­leased on the day of Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion, his book seems to be lit­tle more than a job ap­pli­ca­tion. Yet this is the man who, against the strong­est ad­vice from the US State Depart­ment, went out of his way to meet some of the world’s most egre­gious dic­ta­tors and leaders of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, be­liev­ing his qual­i­ties of open­ness, Chris­tian faith and be­lief in hu­man rights would en­cour­age them to change their ways.

Indyk, by con­trast, raised and ed­u­cated in Aus­tralia, where he earned his doc­tor­ate in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, and twice US am­bas­sador to Is­rael, shows how he and his team of peace ne­go­tia­tors tire­lessly trod the road strewn with ob­sta­cles, ul­ti­mately arriving nowhere.

His book, un­like Carter’s, is an in­struc­tion man­ual for how Obama will need to ne­go­ti­ate if he is to be part of a fu­ture peace agree­ment.

De­tail­ing the fre­netic day-by-day ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­raeli and Arab leaders, his is an ac­count of hope turned to bit­ter ashes, of great prom­ise de­stroyed by lies and dou­ble deal­ing, and of great ex­pec­ta­tions that turned the White House into Bleak House.

One can al­most feel the frus­tra­tions that Clin­ton, Indyk and other Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tors felt at that fi­nal mo­ment in Camp David when Arafat was of­fered so much, but didn’t have the courage to reach out and ac­cept it.

‘‘ Had [ Ehud] Barak re­fused to con­tinue the ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til the vi­o­lence stopped, he might have spurred Clin­ton into a more se­ri­ous ef­fort to achieve a last­ing cease­fire,’’ Indyk writes.

‘‘ But Barak’s will­ing­ness to con­tinue the ne­go­ti­a­tions and to keep on im­prov­ing the Is­raeli of­fer en­abled Clin­ton to fo­cus in­stead on the diplo­macy of the deal and en­cour­aged Arafat to keep the vi­o­lence go­ing, which de­manded a higher price.

‘‘ It would prove to be an im­mense tragedy whose pro­por­tions are still be­ing de­fined.’’ Alan Gold is a nov­el­ist and a past pres­i­dent of the anti-defama­tion unit of B’nai B’rith.

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