July 26, 2000
It is hardly reason for despair that the Camp David "summit" called mainly so Boy Clinton could burnish his legacy seems to have ended in ostensible failure. It is doubtful that the failure will erase the modern superstition that wise and enlightened diplomacy and sustained negotiations can solve any problem in the world. But if it even raises a few cautionary flags about the capacity of the keepers of the New World Order to bully or buy whatever they want in other countries especially if the next U.S. administration pays attention it might prove helpful in the long run.
President Clinton, in acknowledging defeat, sounded almost precisely the wrong sentiment: "I think they both remain committed to peace," he said. "I think they will both find a way to get there if they donít let time run away from them."
But it might be healthier precisely to let time run away from them. To give him some credit for insight, President Clinton did note that while the issue of the final status of Jerusalem was the most intractable issue, he claimed there was not "a great deal of disagreement" on the practical, operational questions of the way people there would live under some future accord. Somehow, despite disagreements among their political leaders disagreements that may be inevitable and long-standing Israelis and Palestinians will find ways to coexist.
This suggestion doesnít rule out the possibility, of course, that the immediate aftermath of the Camp David failure might involve some rioting, violence and general instability. But to the extent that the interests of both sides are served by minimizing violence, people will find ways to get along, even if with little warmth. And if both sides have little interest in getting along, any agreement reached by leaders closeted with the Boy President will be a phony peace.
Some signs are relatively hopeful. When I talked to the British historian Sir Martin Gilbert a few years ago, when his useful history of Israel had just been published, he explained that when he went to Israel and traveled, for example, to Bethlehem, he moved quite smoothly between Israeli and Palestinian jurisdictions with little trouble or fanfare. The Palestinians might not have a de jure state, but there are Palestinian border guards, Palestinian police and Palestinian authorities in the territories over which Arafat and his minions have sway. It might as well be a state with the few positive but mostly negative results such status confers on a territory.
If the Israelis and Palestinians can bring themselves to ignore President Clintonís advice and "let time run away with them," the de facto division will come to seem more and more normal. The lack of a "final status" agreement with every detail laid down in black and white will seem less and less important as people become accustomed to the facts on the ground. As the divisive issues become less important because the sides have lived with minimal mutual violence for a while, perhaps they can be resolved. But it will take time and patience and, of course, it might not happen. But the cessation of violence is more important than having a diplomatic package tied into a neat little bundle.
The world seldom resolves itself into neat little bundles. But neat little bundles are what most diplomats and politicians in search of a legacy generally desire. May they be frustrated.
That long-term optimistic view is hardly inevitable, of course. In his "Jerusalem Dispatch" in the July 24 issue of the New Republic Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi outlined some of the obstacles Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak from the domestic political scene in Israel.
"There are essentially two deals Barak can make," Halevi wrote before the acknowledgment of failure at Camp David, "and neither is acceptable to the Israeli public." Accepting Arafatís demands in their entirety full withdrawal from the West Bank, refugee return, and recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem (excluding the Jewish Quarter) is one. But that would provoke open revolt against a leader who had faced a humiliating vote of no-confidence that almost ended his government a couple of days before Camp David began.
The second deal would be to "accede to most, but not all, of Arafatís demands," which would mean withdrawal from most of the West Bank, limited family reunification for Palestinians and Palestinian control over outlying Arab Jerusalem suburbs. But that, Halevi believes, wouldnít end the conflict, though it would keep it at a relatively low level. But it would divide the Israeli public hopelessly.
Something like the second deal is possible (though hardly inevitable) over time, and informally though trying to formalize it would probably provoke conflict and reasons for both sides to hold resentments. So maybe itís better not to try to formalize it, not to struggle to put all the issues into a diplomatic instrument.
The G-8 meeting that President Clinton decided to attend while the Camp David negotiations continued offered a lesson that few American politicians will want to hear but that should be heeded. Itís time to think seriously about removing American troops from Okinawa, and before long from the rest of Japan and eventually, as a GAO report that coincided with the meeting suggests strongly, from much of the rest of the world.
The immediate occasion for a protest against the US military deployment on Okinawa was the use of the island for the G-8 meeting of leaders of industrialized countries, with concern heightened by the recent alleged molestation of a 14-year-old Okinawan girl by a drunken American serviceman. But the issues and the resentment are deeper.
The impetus to hasten a fundamental reconsideration of US global strategy should be strengthened by a report Friday from the General Accounting Office, Congressís investigative arm, noting that despite some improvements many US military bases overseas have poor security and remain vulnerable to possible terrorist attack. The report was an assessment of a security improvement program begun in the wake of an incident four years ago when a truck bomb killed 19 Americans at a US military complex in Saudi Arabia. The question of why US troops are even in oil-rich Saudi Arabia was not asked, but it should be.
US policymakers would do well to consider the possibility that the best way to prevent terrorist attacks against US military personnel and equipment might be not to have them deployed in overseas locations, among people already inclined to resent what they might see as US imperialism. Along with concerns about security, questions should be asked about what positive US interests are served by having troops in Saudi Arabia and Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.
The protests on Okinawa suggest resentment of a magnitude US officials would do well not to shrug off. Between 25,000 and 27,000 protesters (on an island with a total population of 1.2 million) surrounded the massive Kadena Air Base, linking hands to form a "human chain" demanding an end to the US military presence. News reports did say some protesters were flown in from other parts of Japan; even so, that is a huge demonstration. President Clintonís promise to reduce the US "footprint" on the island is far from sufficient acknowledgment of the fact that the Okinawa bases are a continuing source of irritation and burgeoning anti-American sentiment among those we are purportedly defending.
From an American perspective, the Okinawan base and, indeed, the US military presence in the rest of Japan and in South Korea are artifacts of an earlier era. Right after World War II and during much of the Cold War, it might have made strategic sense to keep so many American troops in Asia. But South Korea and Japan can defend themselves now. If anything, US troops are more a tripwire guaranteeing that any future conflict would be more complex and potentially global than necessary than a deterrent to future aggression.
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