Last week The Jewish Press carried an op-ed column by Charles Krauthammer titled “Israel and Hamas: Does No One Remember Anything?” The piece was a study in penetrating clarity; in other words, typical Krauthammer.
It’s little wonder his book Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics (Crown Forum) topped the nonfiction bestseller lists for several months in late 2013 and early 2014 – a highly unusual feat for a collection of previously published newspaper and magazine columns.
Probably my favorite piece of writing from Krauthammer appeared as the cover story of the November 9, 1998 issue of The Weekly Standard and was titled “The Coming Palestinian State.”
As I noted several years back in one of my Monitor columns, the article, which unfortunately is not included in Things That Matter, fairly shouted crystal ball. (Note to Monitor readers: I hope to resume the column in the near future on at least an occasional basis.)
Krauthammer began “The Coming Palestinian State” with a defense of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance at the Wye River summit (this was, of course, Netanyahu’s first go-round in the prime minister’s chair), which had been derided by critics on both the left and the right.
Netanyahu, Krauthammer wrote, had by the time of his election in 1996 come to accept Oslo as a fait accompli – had in fact campaigned not on a platform of abrogating the treaty but of insisting on Palestinian compliance and reciprocity.
“The point,” argued Krauthammer, “is that Netanyahu never was a zealot. He has long believed that a solution to the Palestinian question would require some territorial compromise. He was never a ‘Land of Israel’ ideologue. He would, of course, have preferred to hold on to every inch for security reasons. But he understands realities.”
Netanyahu’s primary goals were to halt the one-sided nature of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to somehow safely steer the country through, if not completely around, the interim territorial withdrawals agreed to by the previous Israeli government.
Yasir Arafat had been under the impression that even before the start of “final status” negotiations Israel would hand over approximately a third of the disputed land in each of three redeployments – in effect leaving Israel with no bargaining chips just as the key issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood were placed on the table.
“Netanyahu’s entire strategy for the last two years,” Krauthammer explained in that 1998 article, “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.”
It was when he turned his attention to the specifics of what Arafat received at Wye that Krauthammer’s tone took a darker turn. That additional 13 percent of land promised to Arafat, he pointed out, was crucial not so much for its size as for the isolated pockets of Palestinian-controlled territory that would now be linked. And with Gaza and the West Bank connected by two special roads, the land under Arafat’s jurisdiction suddenly appeared more than ever like a real state.