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Kerry, the Palestinians and the Vietnam model
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Kerry, the Palestinians and the Vietnam model

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was recently asked to retract his accurate diagnosis of US Secretary of State John Kerry, but Kerry himself keeps getting away with being outrageous and embarrassing. Earlier this month (on January 2), he referred to Vietnam as a possible model for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Vietnam is what Kerry has in mind, Israel has good reasons to worry.

In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accord officially partitioned Vietnam into two states: North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The agreement was immediately violated by the Communists, who attacked South Vietnam and conquered it within two years. Embattled in the Watergate scandal and driven from office in 1974, President Richard Nixon abandoned the South to its fate. At least one million South Vietnamese were sent to “reeducation camps,” an estimated 200,000 were executed, and millions fled their country on boats, with hundreds of thousands dying at sea.

Obviously, Kerry wasn’t thinking (for a change). But he should be thanked for accidentally reminding us that the Vietnamese precedent is precisely what the PLO means by “two-state solution.”

After Yasser Arafat took over the PLO’s leadership in 1969, he went to North Vietnam to study the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare waged by Ho Chi Minh. This is also when the PLO started translating the writings of North Vietnam’s General Nguyen Giap into Arabic. Arafat was particularly impressed by Ho Chi Minh’s success in mobilizing sympathizers in Europe and in the United States. Giap explained to Arafat that in order to succeed, he, too, had to conceal his real goal and should use the right vocabulary: “Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights,” Giap told Arafat. “Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.”

What Giap taught Arafat is that, in asymmetric struggles, the militarily weaker side can win thanks to what became an integral part of warfare in the 20th century: the media. Ultimately, Vietnam defeated both France and the United States because Giap knew how to brilliantly manipulate the media in order to convince the French and the Americans that they were sacrificing their sons for an unjust and hopeless war. This is how Giap summarized his strategy: “In 1968 I realized that I could not defeat 500,000 American troops who were deployed in Vietnam. I could not defeat the 7th Fleet, with its hundreds of aircraft, but I could bring pictures home to the Americans which would cause them to want to stop the war.” It worked.

Giap not only taught Arafat the wonders of propaganda in the age of modern media. He also introduced him to the idea of “phased strategy.” What the Communist Vietnamese meant by “two-state solution” was the conquest of the south in phases: first sign a “two-state” agreement with the US, and then repeal it unilaterally by invading the south after the withdrawal of US forces.

This is how Arafat endorsed the phased “two-state” strategy. In June 1974, the PLO adopted the “Phased Plan.” It called for the establishment of a “Palestinian National Authority” in the West Bank and Gaza as a first step toward the “liberation of Palestine.” The Phased Plan was adopted in light of the Arab failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and in light of the success of the “two-state” strategy in Vietnam.

In an interview with Egyptian TV Orbit on April 18, 1998, Arafat confirmed that the Oslo Agreements with Israel were meant to implement the 1974 Phased Plan. In an interview published on June 24, 2001 in the Egyptian newspaper Al Arabi, Faisal Husseini declared that the Oslo Agreements were a “Trojan Horse,” the true purpose of which was the phased and total “liberation of Palestine” (the interview was published shortly after Husseini’s death). On September 23, 2011, PLO official Abbas Zaki declared on Al Jazeera that the PLO’s strategy is still to eliminate Israel in stages, but that saying so openly is unwise.

Mahmoud Abbas and other PLO leaders never pronounce the phrase “two states for two peoples.” They only use the expression “two-state solution.” What they mean by this “solution,” however, is not the end of the conflict after the establishment of two distinct nation-states, but a “two-state solution” Vietnam-style. This is why Abbas refuses to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, this is why he insists on invading Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees, and this is why he flatly rejects the idea of a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state.

There is really no reason for Mr. Kerry to apologize. Rather, he ought to be thanked for reminding us of the Vietnam “peace agreement” and of what the PLO means by the “two-state solution.”

Dr. Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communications Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.

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