Monthly Archives: September 2011
The commotion over Obama’s mention of 1967 lines was fabricated and perpetrated mostly by those who either oppose a Palestinian state out right or who are unfamiliar with the issues. For an explanation of how the borders can work go here.
The Israelis and the Palestinians are
together at the UN and something good should develop. Let’s look at a variety
of solution alternatives that ultimately lead to the selection of the two-state
solution as the only viable possibility. If both Netanyahu and Abbas are
serious about the peace they spoke so eloquently about then they should do
something about it now. The Israelis and Palestinians should go hand-in-hand to
the United Nations and seize the moment by both agreeing to support the other.
Consider some of the options advanced in the past but continue to drain the
energies of each even though they are not realistic. I will dispatch with a few
of these options quickly because they are nonstarters with no chance of serious
to Palestine: This is the Palestinian fantasy that
Israel goes away and historic Palestine is reconstituted. Hamas would support
such a position and seek the goal of an Islamic Palestinian territory free of
the alien contamination of the Jews. No one can imagine Israel simply packing
up and leaving and an insistence on such a position would result only in
to Judea and Samaria: This is the settler fantasy of
greater Israel. It’s the opposite vision of the one above where the
Palestinians disappear. It calls for Israeli control of all territories in the
Jewish state composed of a minority group that are not citizens. The
Palestinians would return to Jordan and receive Jordanian citizenship. This is
equally as naïve since Palestinians don’t see themselves as Jordanian citizens
and, even more problematic, the Jordanians don’t want them. The solution would
leave many Palestinians homeless, with essentially no place to go. It’s a
recipe for mass confusion and violence.
Binational State: this is a position supported by
many on the left – the outskirts of the left – where both Palestinians and Jews
live together happily in a state composed of two dominant groups, Israelis and
Palestinians. This would mean the end of the Jewish state called Israel and of
course would not be a Palestinian state either. Israelis and Palestinians would
form a joint government and political institutions. This solution is also
supposed to solve the problem of Israel’s democracy. Israel cannot call itself
a fully articulated democracy when about 20 % of its citizens are
disenfranchised. The solution also has the problem of eliminating Israel as a
Jewish state. Those who believe any political culture associated with ethnicity
or religion is a remnant of ancient tribalism, from which we have evolved away,
are sympathetic to this position. This solution would probably exacerbate the
problem rather than resolve it. The disagreements and conflicts between the two
cultures would intensify and probably result in violence. This solution is
equally as naïve. It means the loss of a Jewish state as well as no state for
the Palestinians. The issues of Hamas in Gaza would be very difficult to
imagine. Israel also worries about the demographic factor; that is, over time
the population of Palestinians would overwhelm the Jewish population.
None of these solutions are realistic or
even in the realm of possibility in some cases. The two state solution is crucial
and the answer to the problems of both cultures. Neither side will get
everything it wants, but that’s how compromise and conflict resolution work.
The peace process has disintegrated, the spirit of Oslo has dissipated, and the
two sides engage in continual mistrust and blame. If the two state solution is
not implemented soon Israel will continue to be at a disadvantage with respect
to the demographic argument, international opinion, and security. True, there
is much yet to be worked out such as refugees, borders (see below), and rights of
return but this is what renewed peace talks must take up.
Should Happen: Israel must reverse course and support
the Palestinian aspirations. But do it on some preconditions. The first
precondition is that Palestinians return to the table and begin final status
discussions. Secondly, the Palestinians must agree to bilateral negotiations.
Third, both states must be recognized; that is, Israel as Jewish and Palestine
as the home of the Palestinians. Once issues such as refugees have been
resolved, and once the Palestinians accept a two state solution, they should
have no trouble recognizing Israel as “Jewish.”
The two state solution should affirm the
right of self determination for both Jews and Palestinians, and all historic
claims, and agree on territorial swaps and security arrangements that satisfy
both parties. Israel should assist the Palestinians with further security
developments in the West Bank, and settlement development, and freeze
construction of the security wall. The Palestinians should refrain from
international campaigns against Israel and reject the extreme positions
associated with Hamas.
Two states – one Jewish and one
Palestinian – are inevitable. It’s the only solution to the problem and the one
accepted by the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel should
support the Palestinians and get on with it.
Two posts ago on September 6, I wrote
that the Palestinians were frustrated and expressed a certain amount of
sympathy with his frustration. Numerous commentators and pundits have made
the same point. Yet it remains the case that the UN resolution to declare
Palestine a state is seriously problematic and going to cause more trouble than
it’s worth. The list below just briefly highlights the potential problems:
- It will void the Oslo agreement,
which held that all decisions must be the result of bilateral negotiations
between Israel and Palestine. Even though Oslo is moribund, it provides a
framework for discussion and expectations. Sets of agreements that have
stimulated cooperation (such as security) will be in jeopardy.
- It will inflame both the Israelis
and the Palestinians (albeit for different reasons) but could still result in
violence. The proposed Palestinian state will be like no state imagined by
Israelis. It will make it difficult for Israelis to control their own religious
sites, settlement blocs, and various other resources. This declaration could
create a very difficult atmosphere that triggers an Israeli or a Palestinian
- Whatever borders the resolution
declares will automatically define Israel as an occupier with no jointly
recognized outlets for resolution. But on the Palestinian side it would fix
their boundaries and make future boundary negotiations difficult. A unilateral
declaration of any boundary is by nature illegitimate.
- The Palestinians will give up
their claim of being a stateless people, a status that has benefited them. The
Palestinians lose their international moral standing if the conflict becomes one
of simply border disputes. The PLO, according to one Palestinian consultant,
will lose its legal status as a representative of the Palestinian people. After
a state is declared refugees outside the boundaries of that state would be left
- There is at this moment minimal
unity between Hamas and Fatah and hence the Palestinian state will include
about 40% of the West Bank. This leaves portions of the West Bank, East
Jerusalem, and Gaza, in the hands of Hamas. This is nothing but a combustible
situation that could explode at any time.
- Interestingly, it is the Israelis
who have typically been blamed for acting unilaterally. It is now the
Palestinians who are acting unilaterally and if they set expectations that
cannot be met and the situation will be even worse.
- The current security on the
ground is a real success for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is essential
for any progress and has been the result of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. If
the UN resolution results in the loss of this cooperation, then everyone’s
efforts will have been in vain.
- It’s curious that in 2003 the
Palestinians were offered the opportunity to establish the state first, and
negotiate final status agreements later. They rejected this proposal because
they figured that they would lose negotiating power by establishing a state
without final status issues being resolved. Now, they have reversed course and
are pursuing this very goal but doing it outside the confines of agreements
with others. This seems to be to their own disadvantage.
- The majority of Israelis support
a two state solution. The two state solution is very important and the only
sensible solution which can guarantee the national identity and dignity of both
sides. But such a solution must be the result of direct negotiations and
agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. This unilateral action
jeopardizes the two state solution, and might cause an Israeli diminution of
Israel puts its friend the United States in a difficult position and increases
the alienation and isolation from the Arab world. But the Palestinians are also
alienating a potential friend in the United States. Currently, the US is more
supportive of Palestinian interests than ever before. This unilateral
resolution interferes with the Palestinian US relationship.
Palestinian frustration with Israel –
Netanyahu in particular and the right-wing coalition – is justified. And the
two state solution is the only way to preserve the idea of real peace. It’s
crucial that the two states be established and Israel begin the process of
developing itself as a Jewish state alongside the Palestinians. The existence
of two states serves the interests of both parties – not to mention the
positive implications for the Middle East and the world. The two sides must
find a path back to negotiations, paths that cross one another and do not head
off on their own.
Next week, a modest solution proposal.
Let me describe a few realities and you
tell me the common explanatory factor. First, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo is attacked
and the Israeli government sends jet fighters to evacuate the ambassador and
his staff members. Protesters stormed the Israeli Embassy and significantly
damaged the building. Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and used the
flotilla incident as evidence of its damaged relationship with Israel.
Netanyahu presides over and intransient right-wing coalition that has paralyzed
him. He cannot maintain his government unless he placates this coalition and
that prevents him from conciliation, negotiation, and movement toward the two-state
solution. The Palestinians are going to the United Nations to have the UN declare
the Palestinian state. It seems as if no amount of pressure from the United
States will stop them. Israel is increasingly isolated and the declaration of a
Palestinian state by the General Assembly is likely to cause violence,
confusion, and release a hornet’s nest of attacks on Israel as the Palestinians
gain access to United Nations resources such as the International Criminal Court.
The declaration of a Palestinian state –
even an observer state – will be nothing less than deadly for the peace
process. Israel will not recognize the conditions of the state and a half
million Israelis who live outside the recognized boundaries of Israel proper, but
inside the geography of the new Palestinian state, will be classified as
occupiers. As the relationship between the PLA and Israel deteriorates, and
their mutual security agreements fail, the PLA will slip into the hands of Hamas.
This cascade of events will result in an even worse situation in the Middle
East than is presently the case. What explains it? It is explained by the
coming Arab Muslim Empire.
The tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria,
all of which is supposed to be associated with an Arab Spring, has offered a
reality in striking contrast to expectations and images of a fledgling
democracy. Whether it be Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, or Tunisia it is
possible in every case to result in the rise of Islam. And even if dictators
and brutal leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Syria needed to be ousted the
alternative might not be very satisfying. And the not so invisible hand of Iran
is in the shadows of the background.
We have seen this all before: military
leaders enriching themselves; a few elites pulling the strings of power; inept
and incompetent state institutions; whining blame reserved for other cultures,
mostly Western; and the humiliation associated with the Palestinian situation.
In the earlier part of this century revolutions led to dictatorial leaders,
emancipatory political ideologies such as Marxism, and military rule. But this time
it is going to be Islam that is the big winner. Mark my words, Egypt is not
going to be ruled in the future by the enlightened young Facebook intellectuals
responsible for the revolution and who looked good on television. These people
do not fit the model of traditional communities; they will be out maneuvered by
stronger and more organized religious forces.
As Robert Malley and Hussein Agha argued
in the New York Review of Books,
“Islamists of various tendencies are coming in from the cold.”
Islamists are the largest group in all of these cultures and the best
organized. They have been silenced and repressed in the past but a little
democratic air will allow them to breathe more freely. There was an outcry when
Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza in 2006, but the same is true of
democratic elections as is freedom of speech – in for a dime, in for a dollar:
If we’re going to accept democratic elections as legitimate expressions of the
polity then we have to accept outcomes we don’t prefer. Islamic groups played an
important behind-the-scenes role in Libya, Egypt, and in Syria. They provide a
moral code that speaks to the population and will certainly be the primary
warrant for arguments about the political future of these cultures.
And Islamic parties will probably play
it smart. They will have learned that presenting themselves as Jihadists would
be a mistake and will likely do the opposite; that is, explain to the world
that they are the best defense against Jihadism. The US has dreamt of
democratic forces taking a stronger foothold but we will be mostly
disappointed. And even though the liberal democratic culture of the United
States is quite divergent from conservative Islamic cultures, we will be in a
better position than Israel to curry favor with these new developments. Still,
our political and democratic sympathies lay with Israel whose future in the
Arab world will be beset on all sides by the forces of difficulty.
In 1998 the then Defense Minister Ehud
Barak was asked by the journalist Gideon Levy what he would do if you were a
Palestinian. Barak answered that he would have joined a terrorist group and be
protesting in the streets. Barak’s answer caused quite a stir in Israel, but it
does represent the deep but unspoken identification with Palestinian
frustration. And Israelis apparently never held it against him because Barak
beat Netanyahu in the elections of 1999.
Even the most persistent defender of
Israel, and I count myself among them, must sympathize with Palestinian
frustrations and the extent to which they have been blocked at every legitimate
avenue. Who can blame them for looking to the U.N ( Palestinians go to the UN) for some sort of
recognition and approval? If Ehud Barak’s identification with the Palestinian
cause is so strong that he would have joined a terrorist group, surely he
appreciates the effort at recognition from the United Nations. Just look at the
obstacles the Palestinians have had to overcome. I am not, mind you, excusing Palestinian
violence and political ineptitude. But if Mahmoud Abbas is to be given any
credit at all, if there’s anything at all genuine about his efforts at state
building and negotiating with the Israelis then he deserves our sympathy.
The peace process is dead and even if it
were still breathing it probably lacks the strength to sustain itself. The
peace process has not maintained Palestinian national aspirations, nor has it
significantly impeded Israeli settlements. After 25 years of trying to achieve
peace the Palestinians are besieged by frustration and failure. Seeking some
sort of “win” by going to the United Nations is a therapeutic act.
And both Israel and the United States
have been nothing but bumbling and unsuccessful at making any sort of progress
in the peace process. The UN recognition gambit is born of nothing but
frustration by the Palestinians who remain Balkanized and politically anemic.
The US has failed to mediate the conflict and cannot reconcile its support for
both Israel and the need for a two state solution. The decision to seek
recognition by the United Nations stimulated the reconciliation of the PLA and
Hamas. I wrote in an earlier post (see June 25, 2011) that this might not be
such a bad idea, and is probably inevitable, but it does complicate matters.
Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization and makes dealing with United
States and Israel even more difficult.
Moreover, the Palestinian political
situation could become even more volatile. The PLO may have once represented
the “glorious Palestinian resistance”, but to many young Palestinians
they are also the old guard who are failing to accomplish political goals.
These young Palestinians are more committed to political ideals then to
The Palestinians are seeking membership
in the UN as a state. The political question about what actually constitutes a
state is a little slippery but typically involves four conditions including a
population, a territory, governing institutions, and the ability to engage in
international relations. None of these conditions are met to the full
satisfaction of everyone but they all are probably “good enough.” Still,
the United Nations is not going to take close measurement of these four
conditions and make some sort of rational technical vote. Even though everyone
expects the Security Council to veto the Palestinian bid, it will pass easily
in the General Assembly even though it is nonbinding. The United States will
veto the Palestinian bid in the Security Council and once again maintain its
support of Israel while voting against its interests with respect to solving
the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
The consequences for Israel are surely
negative. Israel will once again be criticized and delegitimized and be on the
losing end of the General Assembly vote. In fact, it will be a wipeout as most
countries in the world will support the recognition of the Palestinians as a
state. The Palestinian bid will define itself as having borders along 1967
borders, establish increased legitimacy for its weak political institutions,
and make all sorts of UN resources available to the newly recognized state.
There have been agreements on none of these issues between Palestine and Israel
and the tension between the two will be exacerbated rather than diminished. It
is true that the Palestinian recognition by the UN will be symbolic, but that
does not mean unimportant.
The consequences of this international
political move by the Palestinians remain unclear. It involves some serious
risks that include increased confrontation with Israel, the United States, and
the failure of the peace process. But one thing is clear – Palestinian