Bush Needs a Push
Jude Wanniski
June 26, 2002


Memo To: Sen. John Kerry [D MA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Zbig's Strategy for Middle East Peace

You may have read the New York Times editorial Tuesday about President Bush's peace plan for the Middle East, which the Times points out does not have a road map. He paints a rosy picture of the Promised Land, with Arabs and Israelis living side by side in a prosperous land of milk and honey. But how to do you get from here to there? The reason I write to you, Senator, is you seem to have self-selected yourself for the role of pushing the President from the Democratic side of the aisle. He needs pushing, and I think would privately appreciate little shoves and nudges from you, in order to find his way to the Palestine he envisions within three years.

The original idea for a strategy of this kind came from a Democrat, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter's national security advisor. I wrote about it in this space last December as "A Zbig Idea," and recommend you not only take a look at it, but also give Zbig a call and work together on this. The President has stuck his neck way out, but unless he has a serious Democratic leader sticking his neck out too, the Zbig plan will not work. There have to be a series of small steps taken on the road, and if either Israel or the Palestinians refuse to take even the smallest steps, there has to be someone like you making a stink that the White House is sleeping at the switch. This is especially important when it comes to Israel, as the Israeli Lobby does not want Israel nudged at all. The President, for example, has asked for new leadership from the PLA and has asked that Israel stop adding to the settlements on the West Bank. Here is a place to start, because there will be resistance from Arafat and from Sharon on even these beginning steps. See what I mean? Here is the Brzezinski memo of December 5, 2001:

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You've really done it this time, Zbig, a really terrific idea! Minister Louis Farrakhan called me from Phoenix this morning at 5 a.m., Phoenix time, to tell me he saw you late last night on television, CNN's Lou Dobbs I think, with a great idea for peace in the Middle East!! My wife got me out of the shower to hear about it from him and as soon as I heard it, I knew it was a Zbig idea that might work when all seems lost. Min. Farrakhan said he was so sick at the escalating violence in Israel and on the West Bank that he really had not slept. He agreed with you immediately that neither the Israeli government nor Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority could now produce a peace settlement... and that only America could solve the problem. As I understand it, you made the argument that if President Bush would put forward a peace plan that would seem to be fair and balanced -- and sufficient to win the support of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians Ariel Sharon and Arafat would have to focus on the Bush plan itself instead of how to restart a peace process aimed at getting to an optimum plan. Min. Farrakhan said it is always the simple idea that solves the most complex problem. "When people seem to be going crazy, losing their minds, it often takes only the slightest nudge in the right direction for them to regain their reason."

He did not say what he thought the peace plan might look like, but I told him we have all more or less had a picture of what it would look like if the parties could ever get over the barriers erected by the extremists on both sides to PREVENT a final settlement. Your idea essentially says we should forget about those barriers by leaping over them, which takes the extremists out of the process. My own guess, based on all I read about what President Clinton was trying to achieve in his last days in the White House, was that the settlement would look like this: The Palestinians would get all of the West Bank and Gaza. The existing Jewish settlements could remain if they wish, but would be part of the Palestinian State and be Palestinian citizens. If they did not wish to remain, they could choose a cash payment for resettlement outside Palestine. The Palestinians would give up the "right of return," which they have insisted upon since 1948, but which would undermine the Jewish demographics of Israel proper. Finally, Jerusalem would become an open city, along the lines of the Vatican, administered by Christian, Muslim and Jewish clerics. This cohesion at the epicenter of the Holy Land would pacify religious clerics the world over and remove whatever incentives Al Qaeda has to recruit young terrorists.

Knowing your thinking in broad outline, Zbig, I would imagine you would accept something like this plan at least in broad outline, with the kind of reservations that would be needed by both sides to accommodate to it. The devil, as you have told me, is in the details here. As soon as I heard Minister Farrakhan explain what he had heard from you, I did contact folks I know in the Bush administration who are of course looking for fresh ideas. I also ran the suggested "peace plan" by Peter Signorelli, my expert on Mideast political history, and he kicked himself, as I did, in not thinking of your approach. His guess was that Arafat would instantly accept the Bush proposal, with unspecified reservations that would enable him to bargain on those devilish details. He guessed that one third of Israelis would embrace the idea, that one third would reject it out of hand, and that the third in the middle would be open to persuasion, needing assurance that once the ink was dry on the settlement that the Palestinians would not be pushing for more. The extremists on the Palestinian side, says Pete, would be unhappy, but they would be marginalized, and Arafat he thinks would be empowered to really go after the bad guys without losing control of the PLA center. I'd like to think the suicide bombers would be stopped in their tracks, as the Muslim McVeighs, as I have termed them, would not be motivated to die or kill for just one more chip on the bargaining table.

The right wing of the Likud Party would of course yell and scream, as would their backers here in the U.S. But Minister Farrakhan suggests the world community would see the holdouts as preferring to cut the live baby in half rather than share custody of it in peace. Good job, Zbig. It may not get anywhere, but your idea strikes me as a dandy one.

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Lou Dobbs Moneyline: December 2, 2001

DOBBS: As we've reported to you, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge today warned of another terrorist threat to the United States. U.S. warplanes have intensified their attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. And violence has exploded between Israel and the Palestinians. Joining us now from Washington, the former national security adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezenski. Good to have you with us.


DOBBS: These are extraordinary times. Let me turn first, if I may, to the situation in the Middle East. With these -- now of the apparent movement of ground forces, Israeli ground forces, into Gaza, this is an escalating situation. Give us your best assessment.

BRZEZENSKI: Well, it's not only escalating, it's deteriorating. The fact of the matter is -- I think it should be obvious to everyone by now -- neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians together can solve this problem. And as it continues to boil and to erupt into violence, it is going to get worse and worse. If we're not careful, before too long, Arafat is going to be overthrown, perhaps assassinated. We'll have Hamas in charge of the Palestinians. The Israelis may then reoccupy the rest of the West Bank, the parts that they had vacated. Then there will be an underground war against the Israelis, and the whole process will be set back more than 10 years, which is roughly when it started (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

DOBBS: Does that not assume, however, that it will be a repetition of a cycle that has gone on now for the better part of half a century, and that is, could it be that Ariel Sharon means precisely what he said, that this is a war on terror, that he means to prosecute in full?

BRZEZENSKI: He certainly is determined. There's no doubt about it. But the point is, you cannot define that problem entirely as a war on terror. The fact of the matter is that there are unbridgeable gaps between what the Palestinian aspire to, and what the Israelis have a right to expect. Each side mistrusts the other totally. And each side is convinced that the other wishes it ill. And as a consequence, neither side is prepared to make some very difficult compromises. The resumption of occupation is no solution to the problem.

DOBBS: Difficult compromises, but this has been such a long standing problem. President Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin made extraordinary progress. Some would argue the only progress that has really ever been made in the conflict, is it possible that we are consigned to watch this unfold without a U.S. or European solution to the Israeli and Palestinian issues?

BRZEZENSKI: I have taken what, to many people, is a controversial position. But my view is that precisely because neither side can take the final step, it would be helpful, even if it is initially disliked, for the United States, backed by Europe, to outline, in detail, what a fair peace would actually involve. What would be the details. Initially, I'm sure both sides wouldn't like it, but eventually at least, they would have something to react to. And I believe eventually, more and more would say yes, that's better than continuing.

Right now the Palestinians are convinced the Israelis want them to do them in, and the Israelis are convinced that the Palestinians ultimately want to destroy them. And hence, there is no basis for a compromise.

DOBBS: Without compromise in this situation, it is obviously conflict. What is your best guess or estimate as to how this will proceed from here?

BRZEZENSKI: I think it is going to get worse. That is to say, the Israelis have the power to beat up the Palestinians. There are casualties on both sides. Unfortunately most of them are innocent civilians, killed either by Palestinian terror, or by Israeli counter- military actions, which involve also killing innocents. This I am afraid is going to continue until the United States musters the political courage to take a clear-cut stand. Secretary Powell came close to it a month ago, but still he packaged it in such a way that only experts really know what he meant when he talked about the settlement. It needs to be spelled out in politically simple detail.

DOBBS: And, at this point, in Afghanistan it appears that's the coalition, the U.S.-led coalition, is prevailing in its war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Give us your assessment of how that situation is progressing by your view.

BRZEZENSKI: The U.S.-led coalition is prevailing militarily, but it is beginning to divide politically in terms of its real objectives. For example, we have argued that the Northern Alliance shouldn't take Kabul, the capital. We have felt all along, that there should be some sort of a coalition super national government involving the Pashtuns. That's being negotiated, but with great difficulty.

The old game between Britain and us and the Russians and the Iranians and Indians and Pakistanis is resuming behind the scenes, and the maneuvering is quite intense.

DOBBS: And do you believe that irrespective of the double and triple games that you're referring to, that the United States is progressing effectively and successfully?

BRZEZENSKI: I think we're doing extremely well militarily. I'm less sure that we will have our way politically or at least entirely. I am quite sure we will destroy the Taliban. I'm quite confident we will wipe out at al Qaeda, maybe even get Osama bin Laden. But politically, our objectives will be more difficult to accomplish.

Zbigniew Brzezenski, thank you for being with us.

BRZEZENSKI: Good to be with you.

DOBBS: Good you see you.