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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Why Wye Won't Work




Already the "land for security" Wye understandings have hit the skids. After Friday's vehicle bombing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended his Cabinet's ratification vote, thus derailing implementation even before it began.


But it's hard not to wonder whether that matters. It's hard not to wonder whether, despite the intense, personal involvement of U.S. President Bill Clinton, Jordan's King Hussein, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CIA director George Tenet and others, last month's Wye summit ever held the real potential to move the parties closer to real peace in the region.


Why? Because Wye's central decisions will not help the Palestinians win back their occupied land, and will not provide Israelis with their definition of security.


For the Palestinians, Wye's key gain was a fiercely resisted 13 percent redeployment of Israeli troops; for Israel, it was a new Palestinian commitment to security. For months, the news was filled with accounts of the 13 percent Israeli redeployment. Over and over, we heard reminders that with that additional 13 percent, the Palestinians would have "full or partial" control of 40 percent of the West Bank. Not bad - if it was real.


In fact, today the Palestinians have full authority of only 3 percent. On another 27 percent, they share "partial" control with Israel. The Palestinian Authority, in that 27 percent (called Area B), is allowed to run the schools, pick up the garbage, deliver the mail. But Israel retains control of security, which means Israeli troops remain on patrol on the roads, surround the scattered pockets of Palestinian-run land with military checkpoints and prevent the movement of Palestinians within or between towns.


Wye's 13 percent will come out of the 70 percent of West Bank land (Area C) still fully under Israeli occupation. But only 1 percent will come under full Palestinian control. The other 12 percent will be shifted to the "shared" Area B. So the few Palestinians living there will have new rights to their own garbage collection and post office, but Israeli control of the roads and checkpoints will remain unchanged.


And the land under real Palestinian authority will grow only from the current 3 percent to 4 percent. Yasser Arafat's acceptance of the U.S.-initiated 13 percent proposal is hardly something most Palestinians see as a significant move. (The Wye memo also calls for 14 percent of the "shared" land to move into full Palestinian control, in stages, but the lack of maps raises serious doubts about Israel's intentions to implement such an agreement.)


As to the demand for Palestinian security guarantees, what is astonishing is Israel's success in redefining "security." Traditionally, diplomatic agreements deal with national security: respecting borders, stopping invading armies. Now Israel has redefined the security to mean absolute personal safety for every individual Israeli. No government could make such a guarantee.


Nor is it realistic to expect the Palestinian Authority, with its limited, derivative jurisdiction, to be able to prevent every act of terror: The Palestinians cannot provide a personal safety shield to every Israeli. And the specific pledges being asked of them are eroding the Palestinian Authority's shaky commitment to democracy. For example, Israel demands that the authority do what Israel's military occupation forces have done for years: arrest Palestinians solely based on their alleged association with Islamist organizations like Hamas, regardless of involvement in military or terrorist attacks. In the United States, courts have ruled for almost 50 years that arrest based on political association is unconstitutional.


And bringing in the CIA to work with the Palestinian security agencies in determining who should be arrested and who should be released from prison is no answer. Given the agency's no-longer-secret history of aiding, or at least looking the other way, while CIA-backed authorities massively and violently shredded the human rights of civilian populations from Pinochet's Chile to the Shah's Iran, we can hardly have confidence that American spooks will encourage stronger respect for democracy in their junior counterparts. U.S. voices are challenging this new high-visibility role for the spy agency.


Wye states that security matters should be taken up with "due regard to internationally accepted norms of human rights." But if the CIA reflects the U.S. commitment to those rights, where was it when Israeli military authorities continued their roundups of Palestinians, 3,000 of whom are still held in Israeli prisons? (Despite claimed Israeli agreement to release 750 of the Palestinian prisoners, the Wye memo does not mention any release of detainees.)


President Clinton, one White House official told reporters, thinks that if "you've got capital, you've got to use it." But in this case using capital would have to mean exerting pressure - real pressure - on Israel.


Israel is Washington's closest ally, and the largest recipient in the world of U.S. aid (close to $4 billion each year, with an anticipated $500 million to $1 billion extra this year to offset Israel's post-Wye "security risks"). However, the Clinton administration has chosen not to exert any serious pressure on Israel. Without that pressure, the claimed potential of the Oslo process to bring a lasting peace to the region will not happen.


The Wye talks created an air of urgency - but unfortunately one reflecting only the desperation of a photo-op driven presidency, not the urgency of holding the key to real and lasting peace. The stakes are still high - but the potential of this summit never matched those stakes.


Wye bother, unfortunately, sounds like about the right response.


Phyllis Bennis is a fellow specializing in Middle East issues at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She contributed this comment to The Baltimore Sun.