Enuf already

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall suffer frustration (always) and failure (frequently). The sweet satisfaction of something like success comes rarely and fleetingly; perhaps it never comes at all. Two cases in point:

Yugoslavia The downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia seemed impossible when he called for early elections this past summer. To the surprise of many, the pressure of economic sanctions, the Serbian defeat in Kosovo, and the persistent organizing of student dissidents finally brought the political opposition to an unprecedented level of unity and cooperation. When Milosevic’s opponent, Vojislav Kostuirica, was denied his first-round victory in the election, a general strike, peaceful demonstrations, and concerted appeals to the military and police finally brought Milosevic’s concession. His rule over Yugoslavia has ended-at least for the moment.

Here is where peacemakers will hold their breath. For Milosevic continues to control the Serbian parliament, his own political party, some 40 percent of the electorate, and those who have enriched themselves under his regime. What of the victor? The winner Kostuirica also appealed in the election campaign to Serbian nationalist feeling, not so strongly as Milosevic to be sure, but enough to overcome Serbian fears of capitulation to European and U.S. demands. Kostuirica has said that he will not turn over Milosevic to the International Tribunal at The Hague, which indicted him for war crimes in Kosovo, and that he will work to keep the remnants of Yugoslavia tied to Serbia-Montenegro and more explosively Kosovo. Yet, in marked contrast to Milosevic, Kostuirica is a man of law, a supporter of constitutional rule, and a politician apparently untainted by corruption. Whatever his own credentials and intentions, Kostuirica walks an extremely fine line. To thwart a return to the hard-line policies of Serbian nationalists, he must turn his electoral victory into effective governance, he must negotiate with Milosevic’s still powerful allies, he must deal with the simmering hatreds in Bosnia and Kosovo, and he must respond to Western pressures and opportunities.

And the Serbian people themselves? Having thrown off the isolation that Milosevic’s rapacious policies brought down upon them, how patient will they be with incremental change after a decade of economic decline? How badly damaged is Milosevic by his current loss of face and of power? Will he rise again? Most critically, how will the Serbs come to terms with the genocidal consequences of their own nationalist passions and policies? Serbian nationalists have long portrayed themselves as victims, most recently of NATO, but also of the Croatians, the Albanians, and the Bosnian Muslims. Some form of reckoning must be given for genocide, rape, and ethnic cleansing carried out in their name and often enough with their approval. Sending Milosevic to The Hague would be a good way to begin.

Europe and the United States, having achieved an important goal in the removal of Milosevic by democratic means, can afford to be patient. Even so, peacemakers must be vigilant in helping to resolve the unstable relationship of Serbia and Montenegro and the even more difficult questions that remain in Kosovo.

Israel and Palestine In the meantime, the high hopes of August for a final settlement in the Middle East have been shattered. The Israelis and Palestinians have fallen upon one another in bloodcurdling violence, almost, it would seem, to stamp out forever even the possibility of peace. For many reasons, the current situation does not look like a temporary setback; it does not seem to be the storm before the calm.

Each side blames the other. Each seems ready, even eager to provoke more violence-sometimes officially, sometimes quasi-officially, and too often ad hoc on the ground. Apportioning blame is unlikely to help-and will itself cause new frictions and accusations. Everyone-Israeli and Palestinian-is responsible. Peacemakers must feel disheartened and dismayed.

Resuming peace negotiations-something that President Bill Clinton heartily wishes for-is far-fetched and counterproductive. Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have run out of time. Until a new administration is in place, it would seem that little can be done. In any case, what can be done in the face of continuing clashes, the hardening of the Israeli position, and the erosion of control by Yasir Arafat? It is clearly time to ask whether the United States is any longer able to assist in peacemaking. Is it past time to ask a more difficult question: Does the United States delay a settlement by its peacemaking efforts?

We have supported the Clinton administration’s strenuous efforts to bring about a final settlement. But has the cajoling, befriending, promising, monitoring, subventing, and guaranteeing made the demands and expectations of both Israelis and Palestinians ever more unrealistic: the Palestinians always holding out for more than they can realistically get; the Israelis withholding as much as possible however unrealistic? In other words, neither side has to be responsible for the hard work of peacemaking so long as the United States does it for them.

In the seven years since the Oslo Accords, on which all peacemaking efforts now rest, successive Israeli governments have permitted settlements in Gaza and the West Bank; they have denied Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem residence and construction permits, while permitting Israelis to buy land there; and they have created a system of roads and bypasses that will make the Palestinian-controlled West Bank a series of disconnected and isolated communities. Dare we use the word Bantustan?

On the other side, the Palestinian Authority, put in place by the Oslo Accords, has failed to democratize its rule, to police its own people, to provide basic services, or to control the territory it occupies. Islamic fundamentalists have made deep inroads among the young who see nothing change for the better and little chance that it will. Little wonder that Yasir Arafat cannot control the situation. Dare we use the word nihilism?

In recent weeks, the mob-slaughter of two Israeli soldiers under the protection of Palestinian policemen, and, on the other side, the killing of Arab citizens of Israel by Israeli police, are but two examples of the depths of hatred and even racism that sustain the violence. Would Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David of a final settlement have been acceptable even to his own people, much less to the Palestinians? The rolling violence now seems a more accurate reflection of the Middle East mindset than photo-op handshakes by Arafat and Barak.

Perhaps the optimism of American policymakers that peace will come when political leaders talk to one another is mistaken and even destructive. More than five decades of violence and failed promises require something else: a stark calculation by Israelis and Palestinians of the future consequences of their current situation-a future with each other and without the constant mediation of the United States. The two must stand back and contemplate, on their own, a future of endless violence in which neither side can have a normal life, neither side can live in peace, neither side can be secure, and neither side can depend on the United States to keep them from making a realistic peace.

Published in the 2000-11-03 issue: 
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