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Realist Retreads

As some of you may recall, the Boston Globe is not my favorite newspaper. But my broad brush is unfair to some of their terrific reporters.

Two of the best are Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman. I learned an enormous amount more about President Obama's Iraq pullout plan from a dispatch Bender helped report than from the articles in other dailies. And Stockman's article about the administration's intentions to approach Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei made them seem almost plausible. Now, this scrupulous journalistic team has smoked out an initiative by ten senior eminences--one could more accurately refer to them as has-beens, but why be nasty?--urging the administration, in a letter to Barack Obama, to engage Hamas in what the Globe's headline writer calls "dialogue." Does anyone really think that one can dialogue with Hamas? As much as one can dialogue with Hezbollah. Or Al Qaeda. (To be fair, the Globe story is not the first one about the elders. The Economist had a similar report about a month earlier but with all of its usual sneering at Israel that makes anything on the conflict in the British weekly unreliable.)

Eight of the ten are really quite predictable: Zbig Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Theodore Sorensen, Lee Hamilton, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Chuck Hagel, Carla Hills, and Thomas Pickering. They were never big fans of Israel, democracy or not, targets of relentless terrorism notwithstanding from 1948 and on... and on. (The only missing personage from the team is James Baker. But "fuck the Jews" has somehow disqualified him from even pretending that he is not a flat-out enemy of Israel.)

Of the other two, I know one quite well, and he is James Wolfensohn. He succeeded me as chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, a position which he mostly punted and left off his resume when he was maneuvering to become the head of the World Bank, which in due course he became. He served two terms, respectably, I'm told by people who watch these matters. But he didn't win any significant battles with the bloated bureaucracy. And, so, the World Bank lumbers on.

I suspect Jim still thinks of himself as a Zionist. He was also one of those special deus ex machina emissaries to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and saw it as his function to get Jerusalem to do more (and more) to "advance the peace process." There is a certain unavoidable logic to this. The Palestinians can't be persuaded to do anything to advance the peace process. Who would you persuade anyway? So it was all left in Israel's court, and to be sure Israel disappointed the many goodwill intermediaries.  

Poor Wolfensohn. When Israel departed Gaza, he became involved in the tragicomedy of the greenhouses in the now empty Jewish settlements. They were bought with $14 million from prominent American Zionists, including $500,000 from him. He had had a dream for the Palestinians of the Strip, a dream that, of course, replicated Jewish pioneer agriculture on the kibbutzim and moshavim of the country during the British Mandate and after. The real Palestinian tragedy is that they ignored or rejected the Mandate which would have prepared them for independence, refused the state proposed to them in 1947 by the United Nations, let thefive neighboring Arab countries invade and make their war on nascent Israel, and once that war was lost took UNRWA aid which kept them unproductive but permanent "refugees." That is, they were refugees in their own land, except it was no longer their land. The West Bank was annexed by Jordan. Gaza was administered by Egypt more or less as a prison, no going in, no going out. I don't think anyone truthful will be able to improve on this skeletal narrative, although it deserves more than a skeletal narrative.

You probably remember what happened to the greenhouses within weeks of their hand-over to the Palestinians in the summer of 2005. They were destroyed, and it was the Palestinians who destroyed them, unprovoked and without cause. The great agricultural project of Wolfensohn's beneficent imagination--and it is a beneficent imagination--simply collapsed. As soon as I saw the Globe story I expected  Wolfensohn's name would show up on the list.

Paul Volcker also shows up in the letter. Frankly, I admire Volcker, who happens to be one of Wolfensohn's business partners, as an economist and as a personality. But I'd never thought he had especial knowledge of the long-brewing conflict, although he has lent his vaunted name to the jaundiced cause of putting enormous pressure on Israel several times. (To be sure, neither do Sorenson or Hagel or Kassebaum-Baker or, for that matter, Hills possess much expertise in these matters.) Nonetheless, Volcker did exploit his position as one of Obama's advisers in the enonomic calamity in which we now find ourselves to slip him the hush-hush VIP missive. I'd think it'd be more fruitful if Volcker were to keep his advice to Obama on the melddown on which he has authority.

And not putting himself in the hands of Henry Siegman who is a desperate man. Ever the organizer, Siegman has been behind every letter of the crew. I don't recall when his apostasy from Zionism materialized. But it was nothing like St. Paul on his way to Damascus, (Siegman was actually a Zionist bureaucrat, running the American Jewish Congress whose major activity, if truth be told, is running senior citizens' tours to Israel.) But for the last few years he has primarily been a writer of op-ed pieces for newspapers, arguing that Israel will be to blame if the Palestinians (and the other Arabs) don't make peace with it. Now, writing op-ed pieces here, there and everywhere cannot be a gratifying vocation. Still, every so often his graceless manifestoes also appear in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books whose editors are as obsessed with Israel as I am. Except they wish it ill. That's why the NYRB's natural early commentators on the issue were Noam Chomsky and I.F. Stone. Palestine has always been for these periodicals and their writers a left-wing cause. 

But Palestine is for James Baker and most of the present signatories on the missive to the president a cause, not exactly of the right, but of the cold realist school. This school cares not at all that the Palestine of its imagination is likely to be a brutal Islamic millenarian polity, something even the royal house in Riyadh does not welcome. So what normative aim do these obsessives have? (Oh, I know, they don't really believe in normatives.) I am convinced that what they want is to punish Israel for daring to reject their perilous counsel. The rancor of the signatories is mostly personal, as with Chas Freeman. After all, Jews were supposed to cower before the mighty. They cower no more. This is one historic meaning of Jewish sovereignty.