The Hagel booboo you won’t hear about


On Twitter today, a lot of back and forth between me, Ali Gharib of the Daily Beast and the Republican Jewish Coalition, on J Street’s alleged failure to make public Chuck Hagel’s address to its 2009 conference.

Yair Rosenberg, who scribes for Tablet, did the "duh" thing we all should have done, and found the prepared comments online. (Did Hagel deviate? Our own Eric Fingerhut was present at the speech, and recorded nothing out of the ordinary.)

But going over the speech, I noticed one major lapse in recent historical knowledge — one big enough that it may qualify as a lapse in judgment. My bold:

In July of this year, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for Arab-Israeli dialogue and referencing a “potentially immense” peace dividend for all countries and the prospects for communication and trade between countries and peoples.  He said, “when stability pays, conflict becomes too costly.  We must do more now to achieve peace.”

The Crown Prince’s op-ed began with reference to the Arab Peace Initiative, offered by then Crown Prince now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Arab League Summit in Beirut, in March 2002.  It was a significant breakthrough.  It was significant because for the first time ever all 22 Members of the Arab League had come forward with a unanimously agreed to peace initiative.  This, after years of the U.S. telling the Arabs that they must get involved and take responsibility and leadership for helping resolve this conflict.  They did but the last Administration ignored it.  At its core, the Beirut Initiative offers to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, enter into a peace agreement with Israel, provide security for all states in the region, and establish normal relations with Israel… in return for Israeli withdrawal from all land occupied since 1967, a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and acceptance of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel could not have immediately accepted the Arab initiative in its totality.  All of these issues will require negotiation.  But this was an important opening… a very important opportunity.

Did the last administration ignore the Arab League initiative?

In fact, at the 2007 Annapolis talks, an event choreographed in its entiretly by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with the backing of President George W. Bush, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert embraced the Arab league initiative — and did so under the conditions prescribed by Hagel: not in its "totality," but with an openness to its possibilities.

After Olmert recalled the events at last year’s J Street do, I had a back and forth on Twitter with Emily Hauser (who like Gharib blogs at Open Zion), who was disbelieving — and then she graciously conceded the point.

Not to resurrect "Who Blew Annapolis." And I doubt that this will be used against Hagel by his conservative critics.

But there’s a conspiracy of rivals when it comes to suppressing the truth of Bush and the peace process — from at least 2003 on, he was dedicated to its advancement. Denying this slides nicely into two prevailing narratives in Washington — one that posits that Obama is more invested in peacemaking than his predecessor, and the other, that Bush was not Obama’s equal in pressing Israel to come to the table.

Yet this is salient, no? If Hagel as Republican senator was so dedicated to advancing peace how could he not be aware that his president of the same party was equally so?

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