The Magazine


Wye is the bridge to next year's Middle East showdown

Nov 9, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 09 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The "interim phase" as negotiated by Rabin and Peres was one in which Israel would make three "redeployments" -- unilateral grants of West Bank territory -- after which final-status negotiations would begin. Netanyahu understood that if that were to happen, Israel would have no bargaining chips left when the most crucial issues were to be decided. There would be nothing left to do but give up East Jerusalem, acquiesce to a Palestinian state, allow the influx of huge numbers of Palestinian refugees, and so on. Arafat understood this too. Which is why he kicked and screamed in March 1997 when Netanyahu offered only a token first redeployment. Arafat rejected it out of hand. He demanded 30 percent of the West Bank.

Where did he get that figure? It is written nowhere in Oslo. But clearly he understood from Peres that he would get about a third of the land in each of the three redeployments, giving him just about all the occupied territories by the start of final-status negotiations.

Netanyahu's entire strategy for the last two years, undertaken at huge diplomatic and personal political cost, has been to reduce Arafat's expectations. He had to make Arafat realize that whatever the provocations, whatever the diplomatic damage, however sour Israeli relations with the Arabs, however damaged Israeli relations with the United States, however many rock-throwing and tear-gas incidents this would provoke on the West Bank, Arafat was simply not going to get 90 percent of the land in the interim phase.

On this he won. Wye ratifies the victory. Arafat had 27 percent of the territories when Netanyahu came to power. Wye gives him 13 percent more. Oslo's interim phase will end with Israel having given up 40 percent of the land.

From the Israeli point of view, this is an extraordinary achievement. It leaves Israel with a serious chunk of territory on the West Bank to bargain with.

How did Bibi do it? The three redeployments have essentially been folded into one, the famous 13 percent as demanded by the United States. Formally, the 13 percent counts as fulfilling redeployments numbers one and two. What about number three? Arafat had been pushing very hard for there to be yet another redeployment after Wye. He got that. But Netanyahu got crucial American agreement that its size would be entirely up to Israel, and Netanyahu has indicated that it will be no more than 1 percent, i.e., essentially meaningless.

The other major Israeli gain at Wye was on security. It is a measure of how inept Labor's negotiating of Oslo had been that at Wye the security issues Netanyahu was trying to nail down were precisely the same ones that Rabin claimed he had gotten from Arafat five years ago.

Rabin thought he had secured a change in the PLO charter; five years later the charter had not been changed. He thought he had secured a promise to crack down on terrorism; five years later nothing had been done. He thought he had secured an "end to war" pledge from the Palestinians -- matching the "end to war" atmosphere that Sadat had taken back to Egypt from his 1977 visit to Jerusalem; instead, the new official Palestinian media have been sources of egregious anti-Semitic incitement, and the new Palestinian schools raise children on the glories of martyrdom and jihad.

Palestinian reciprocity was essential. But how to get it? Netanyahu's consistent strategy has been that, because Arafat's word is not worth the paper it is written on, the United States would have to be brought deep into the process to make Arafat deliver.

It was a historic gamble. Traditionally, Israelis do not like to bring in third parties. Trilateral negotiations subject them to more pressure, while increasing their dependency and reducing their freedom of action. Nonetheless, Netanyahu understood that no Palestinian promise would be carried out unless the United States demanded it.

He thought he had enlisted the United States with the Hebron agreement of January 1997. At Hebron, he gave up most of Judaism's second-holiest city in return for (a) a host of Arafat promises -- these were entirely discounted -- and (b) more important, an American "Note for the Record" prepared by Dennis Ross codifying Palestinian obligations.

To Netanyahu's enormous disappointment, Ross's paper turned out to be as worthless as Arafat's. For example, the written U.S. assurance that Israel alone would decide the size of its next redeployment was ignored; the United States instead dictated 13 percent. The change in the Palestinian charter, the cracking down on terrorists, the anti-incitement provisions, all went unfulfilled and unenforced.