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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trying to repair a legacy fit for late night comics

I don't think anyone would accuse former President Bill Clinton of being stupid.  In fact, he is probably one of the brighter people to have occupied the Oval Office in decades.  However, smarts doesn't exempt one from indulging in fallacious arguments... especially where one's legacy is concerned.

The word 'fallacy' is defined as a misconception resulting from incorrect reasoning in argumentation. By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener or interlocutor (e.g. appeal to emotion), or take advantage of social relationships between people (e.g. argument from authority).  [emphasis mine]

Let's look at a recent statement Bill Clinton made in an interview regarding the middle east peace process to see if we can spot anything that fits the definition of fallacy:

"...[not] a single week's gone by [since Yitzhak Rabin's assassination] in which I have not reaffirmed my conviction that had he not lost his life on that terrible November night, within three years we would have had a comprehensive agreement for peace in the Middle East."

First of all, the emotional trigger of Clinton's fallacy is clear:  Invoking the assassination on "that terrible November night" in his statement is not a reasonable jumping off point for making a cold, clinical 'if / then' analysis of what might have been.  But the second part of the fallacy - invoking relationships between people - is harder to spot.  But I'll see if I can help.

Aside from making an unprovable assertion that Rabin was irreplaceable to the success of the peace process (and by extension that anyone else was doomed to failure), Clinton's statement ignores such unknown factors as:

1.  Would Rabin have been willing to offer Arafat enough to gain his signature on a peace agreement (much less, ensure long-term compliance)?

2.  Was Arafat genuinely interested in peace with Israel (remember... he lived for another 9 years)?

3.  Were the successors to Rabin and Arafat demonstrably unwilling or unable to build a peace accord on the foundations that had been built by these two people (three, if you count Clinton)?

These aren't hypothetical questions by any stretch of the imagination.

First off, let's look at what Rabin was offering (as compared with what his successor(s) were willing to offer) to the Palestinians in exchange for peace:

In his last speech to the Knesset before his assassination (presumably his last verifiable policy statement), Rabin categorically rejected the idea of a full fledged Palestinian State... rejected the idea of dividing Jerusalem... and rejected the idea of Israel returning to the pre-Six Day War borders. 

But don't take my word for it... here is the quote directly from the Israeli Government's web site (with my emphasis in bold):

"We view the permanent solution in the framework of [the] State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines. 

And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution: 

A. First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev -- as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths. 

B. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term

C. Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the "Green Line," prior to the Six Day War

D. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif."

[emphasis mine]

If I had read that speech without knowing who spoke the words, I would have to guess Benjamin Netanyahu or Maybe Ariel Sharon (pre-disengagement).  But this was Yithak Rabin at the height of his push for peace!

Subsequent Israeli governments since his assassination (e.g. Peres, Barak, Olmer/Livni) have openly offered a full fledged Palestinian State with Israel making a complete withdrawal to the 1948 armistice lines (with small adjustments).  They have also placed the eastern portion of Jerusalem on the negotiating table.  

And yet, peace eluded them.

Rabin also made it clear that, aside from Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel (which were discussed separately in his speech) he envisioned other settlement blocks remaining within Judea and Samaria (the west bank).  Subsequent Israeli governments have agreed in principal to the PA's demand that all of the west bank be judenrein in preparation for a Palestinian State. 

And yet again, peace eluded them.

So if Rabin categorically rejected all of these negotiating points that subsequent governments have been willing to entertain, then it stands to reason that subsequent attempts at peace negotiations should have been more successful, not less so, right?  But they weren't.

Therefore, the thesis that Rabin's offer would eventually ("within three years") have been enough to woo Arafat and/or his successors to sign an agreement is demonstrably false, since subsequent Israeli leaders offered far more (as their starting point!), and yet their offers were rejected just as quickly as Rabin's!

We can never know if Arafat had in mind some peace formula for which Rabin could/would have been willing to make an accommodation.  We also can never know if Rabin would have become more or less flexible about the convictions he espressed in his last speech to the Knesset as time (and violence) went on. 

I have my own theory:  Unlike Peres, Olmert and Livni, Rabin was a career Military officer, a senior General and former Chief of Staff.  It is at least plausible, if not probable, that at some point he would have reverted to training and been forced to confront Palestinian violence with military force rather than continue with diplomacy indefinitely.  But again, that is just my idle speculation, as Rabin was notoriously unpredictable... even to those who knew him well.

What we do know is that Rabin's offer(s) were all met, not just with refusal, but also with extreme violence by his so-called peace partner.  So if Arafat and his successor's positions are know to us... as are those of Rabin and all of his successors... the only variable left is Clinton.  And this is where we come back to the fallacy. 

Are we supposed to ignore all the easily available evidence to the contrary (as listed above) and take Clinton's word - based not on facts, but rather on a social relationship between people - between him and Rabin ... and allow him to base his argument/thesis ('peace in three years if Rabin had lived') entirely on that?

Given that he tarnished his own presidential record with his philandering, and then pinned his remaining hopes for a positive legacy on two horses (Rabin & Arafat) who, by all indications, weren't even running in the same race, it is no wonder that at this late date William Jefferson Clinton is trying to indulge in a little revisionist history to raise his presidential legacy above the level of monologue fodder for late night comics.

Posted by David Bogner on November 15, 2009 | Permalink

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Maybe someone should forward this post to Bill.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Nov 15, 2009 7:46:26 PM

"...a comprehensive agreement for peace...

Even if so, an agreement is just paper; It doesn't guarantee peace. In the Arab/Israeli dispute, it pretty much is irrelevant to peace. So yeah, we might have had a piece of paper...

Posted by: Fred | Nov 15, 2009 10:50:34 PM

So if Rabin categorically rejected all of these negotiating points that subsequent governments have been willing to entertain, then it stands to reason that subsequent attempts at peace negotiations should have been more successful, not less so, right? But they weren't.

If I may say so, I think you're the one making a fallacious argument here. Maybe just because Rabin was less willing to compromise than his successors, he would have been more successful in bringing Arafat to a point where he would have signed an agreement rather than holding out for more concessions. We'll never know now.

Posted by: Simon | Nov 16, 2009 1:38:42 AM

Fred -- Do you think that Clinton's point was that Rabin was less willing to compromise than Netanyahu?
(I don't.)

Posted by: zalman | Nov 16, 2009 1:57:28 AM

I don't know if what I heard Clinton say is from the same speech you cite here, David, but I heard Clinton's audio clip on Reshet Bet online Sunday night (Monday AM for you) and he brought up the problem of demographics vs. democracy. He raised the problem of Israel as a democratic state (rights for all citizens within its borders) vs. the growing number and birth rate of Palestinians. I think he actually said "They're having more babies than you." This seems to be the more essential problem, in my mind, and the specific personalities involved (Rabin, Sharon, Clinton, Abbas, Netanyahu, or whoever from years past) are not as important. Big deal, so Clinton thinks Rabin had the answer for peace. Maybe yes, maybe no. A more important question now is the demographic reality of the population make-up of "Greater Israel" going forward.

Posted by: Gary | Nov 16, 2009 8:49:45 AM

Ilana-Davita ... I'd guess he doesn't much care what a little blogger in Israel thinks. :-)

Fred... Which is why I added the bit about compliance.

Simon ... At every step of my post I made it clear that I am making supposition and that none of the points (mine or Clinton's) can be proved. That is exactly my problem with his statement. It's as if McCain had made a speech and said the economy would be in much better shape if he had been elected. We can never know since he wasn't.

Gary... The old demographic time bomb story is just that. Jewish birthrates (especially in Judea and Samaria) are just as high (and in some areas higher) than those of the Arabs. Inside the green line it isn't that much different since the Religious sector of the Jewish population is far outstripping everyone (except maybe the Bedouin) in terms of family size. But any way you look at it, there is no connection between the demographics and peace... at least as far as the Arabs are concerned. Our presence here is the problem, and even if we were a 99% majority, they would be at war with us.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 16, 2009 9:09:27 AM

Simon...That is exactly the reason that we shouldn't compromise with them at all. The Arabs perceive compromise as weakness and will never accept anything that our leaders will offer them, holding out constantly for more in the hope that the next time the political pendulem swings to the left that there will be a yet greater appeaser at the helm who will eventually grant them their maximalist positions (And thus ensuring our own self destruction)

Posted by: Bryan | Nov 16, 2009 1:51:13 PM

I think you might be able to say

"Bill Clinton could have been correct for the wrong reasons". Peace might have "broken out" when Israel decided to not surrender as Ariel Sharon did at Gush Katif. Then again, perhaps the extreme left might have collapsed had they not had the "Rabin legacy" card to play. Consider the conspiracy theories of the Rabin assassination (:-)

THen again, we do not have to ability to go to "alternate history worlds" as in science fiction novels. All we can do is live in the world that we are faced with.

Posted by: Sabba Hillel | Nov 16, 2009 7:05:20 PM

Consider that after PM Rabin was assassinated, over the next few weeks his successor, Shimon Peres withdrew from Kalkilye, Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem and (I think) Bethlehem. These were withdrawals that Rabin to that point had not made.

Now did Arafat become more amenable to peace? No. Given even more authority he failed to secure the cities Israel withdrew from and in early 1996 Israel was struck by a series of terror attacks. Up until those attacks, Peres likely would have won re-election on account of the post-assassination backlash against Netanyahu.

In other words, Clinton blames the failure of peace on Israel or what happened in Israel. In fact it was the Palestinian failure to stop terror that made the "peace process" such an anathema in Israel.

Posted by: soccer dad | Nov 16, 2009 7:27:32 PM

Aw, leave poor ol' Bubba alone. His revisionism isn't nearly as harmful as that of his fellow ex-Prez, Jimmy "Peace Not Apartheid" Carter.

And I'll say this much - had Rabin not been assassinated, Israel may well have been much more peaceful. Why? Because once he was martyred for the cause, woe to any Israeli politician who didn't at least give lip service to Palestinian sovereignty, land-for-peace, and constant concessions with zero in return. Eventually, had he lived, Rabin would have probably been defeated politically, and the whole concept would have collapsed of its own weight, thus saving countless lives lost to the cause in the years since.

Or maybe not. In any case, probably not what Mr. Clinton had in mind.

Posted by: psachya | Nov 16, 2009 11:35:44 PM

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