Henry Siegman’s Israel Problem

Out to save Israel from itself, no amount of Palestinian malfeasance and corruption really bothers Siegman.

Siegman Henry

Poor Henry Siegman. Despite his best efforts to promote Palestinian statehood and demonize Ariel Sharon, Israeli voters have “suicidally decided” (his words) to reelect Sharon as prime minister by an overwhelming majority.

Siegman, the New York-based Senior Fellow on the Middle East for the influential Council on Foreign Relations, is having conniptions. His advice is being ignored.

From his perch atop the council, and in his regular column in the International Herald Tribune, Siegman is out to “save Israel in spite of itself” – just like former State Department official George Ball of 20 years ago.

Siegman is so sure that the establishment of a full-fledged, completely independent Palestinian state is “an existential Israeli need” that as of this month, he has taken to calling upon Washington “to knock some sense into the belligerents” — referring of course to those belligerent Israelis as well as the Palestinians.

It is hard to believe that Siegman was once executive director of the American Jewish Congress, a position he held for over 20 years. Today he spends his time championing Yasser Arafat, who has been, he thinks, unfairly “demonized” by Ehud Barak and Sharon.

The main problem with Oslo is not Palestinian treachery and terrorism. The most important reason for the collapse of Oslo, Siegman says, was its “failure to spell out what the Palestinians would get at the end of the process.” Oslo was clear about Israel’s gains – it was to get security, right away – while the Palestinians “had to renounce immediately and unconditionally any recourse to violence in pursuit of their objectives” while waiting five years for unclear results.

Even worse in Siegman’s distorted scale of values is the fact that “That kind of renunciation by one of the two parties engaged in a bitter national struggle is problematic in the best of circumstances.”

In other words, asking Arafat to forgo terrorism is unfair. Siegman declares that “it should not come as a surprise that Palestinians failed to observe Oslo’s proscription of violent resistance to the occupation.” Why? “Because of the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements on their land.” This is what “destroyed Palestinian trust and confidence” in the process and led, understandably, “to the killing and chaos that now reign.” If this is not a bald apology for terrorism, I don’t know what is.

IN SIEGMAN’S view, any process that doesn’t meet “even the minimal Palestinian national aspirations” – defined as removal of all the settlements and a complete withdrawal to the 1967 lines (allowing for minor border corrections and land swaps) – is a farce meant to swindle the Palestinians out of their rightful place in history.

The fact that Barak offered, and Arafat rejected, 97 percent of “everything” at Camp David is of no consequence to Siegman. It was just another Israeli “cleverly fabricated pretense” at peace-making.

What really upsets Siegman is not Palestinian terror, but the unfair shake Arafat is getting. The newest Washington-Jerusalem “transparent ploy to delay a political process” is the “absurd idea” that a peace process with the Palestinians must await the transformation of the PA into a democratic and accountable institution.

No amount of Palestinian malfeasance and corruption really bothers Siegman, and he regularly mocks the Bush Administration’s newfound emphasis on Palestinian accountability and transparency. This, despite the fact – or perhaps because of the fact – that Siegman serves as director of an International Task Force for Palestinian Institution Building that is funded by the European Commission and by Norway.

The other argument that gets Siegman apoplectic is the “mind-boggling,” “outlandish,” “pernicious” and “absurd” idea that “Israel’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza is on a par with that of the Palestinians.” Heaven forbid that Jews should even claim historic, religious or national rights to these God-given Palestinian territories.

So who are the true bad guys in the Arab-Israeli conflict? “Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon, Meir Dagan, Aharon Zeevi and Efraim Halevy” – who “all are cut from the same military cloth.” They all believe “that the Palestinians must be defeated militarily” before Israel returns to any political process. Siegman doesn’t comprehend that most Israelis today think this way, and correctly so.

Worst of all is Sharon, whom Siegman considers a “stealthy hawk who pretends to be a moderate,” an “executioner” whose “brutal policies” and “egregious offenses against the peace process” are being ignored by the international community.

Siegman writes that Sharon “unashamedly wants to crush the Palestinians and lead to their abject surrender.” Never mind that Sharon has spoken of crushing Palestinian terrorism and advocates the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In Siegman’s eyes, Sharon is the root of all Mideast evil. The apparent dangers of Palestinian statehood have never been considered by Siegman in any of his IHT pieces. Just the opposite.

“If Israel does not return essentially to its pre-1967 borders and facilitate the emergence of a viable and successful Palestinian state, the glorious Zionist enterprise will come to an end,” he declares.

Undoubtedly, Henry Siegman would terrifically mourn that loss.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on February 9, 2003

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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