The other half of the story of Obama and Israel
is Netanyahu and the United States. Like Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu
gave the impression during the election that he had a plan, he knew precisely what to do.
Unlike Obama, the Netanyahu administration gave everyone in the world the impression, immediately upon taking office, that for better or for worse, there was going to be a bold and different approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is safe to say that the little speech
of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
had the impact of a foreign policy tsunami. Pundits insisted Israel was abandoning the two state solution and the peace process. Most of this criticism (or praise, depending on the pundit) was unfair. Lieberman had emphasized that Israel
would abide by the road map, and offered peace to Israel's neighbors
But beyond Lieberman's speech, it turns out that the Netanyahu administration is evidently as clueless about foreign policy as the Obama administration. It seems that Netanyahu will not have his policy ideas together until June
, and has asked the EU to postpone a meeting with Israel
for that reason. So what was all the fuss about?
Both candidates essentially campaigned on a policy of "Vote for me and I'll figure out what to do." Netanyahu has to understand that the major characteristic of US foreign policy is that it tends to be reactive rather than proactive. It is governed by large bureaucracies that compete with each other, and are very good at shooting down initiatives that come from a rival bureaucracy. When the US has been proactive, as in Iraq, the policy often turns out to be a disaster, because it was formulated without sufficient local knowledge. In Europe, the United States has, or had, a bit more local knowledge because it was working with people and systems much like itself. A Marshall plan for Europe could succeed. A Marshall plan for Gaza would be a disaster. The bad news is that any ideas that any United States administration has for Middle East initiatives are likely to be disastrous. The good news is that the United States will likely change policy in response to initiatives of other players. But that means that the Israeli government must come up with an initiative that is acceptable to the United States as well as serving its own policy interests. There is a big opportunity here for Netanyahu and Israel, waiting to be exploited in Netanyahu's visit to the United States in June.
The Arab Peace Initiative, so called, was designed in precisely that way - to serve Arab interests while being acceptable to the United States. It is acceptable to the United States because in bold headlines, it furthers peace in the Middle East, which is a US interest. It serves Arab interests because it puts Israel on the defensive about peace, while promoting a "plan" that is more or less empty of substance and unacceptable to Israel.
Similarly, the Palestinian Authority
wisely adopted the slogan of "Two State Solution" because it suits United States policy and can be, and has been, modified to suit Palestinian Arab interests by making it a threat to Israel
tied up with "right of return" of Palestinian Arab refugees - which would eliminate Israel
as a Jewish state.
U.S. officials love the Arab Peace Initiative
and the "Two State Solution" not only because they seem to further long standing goals of American foreign policy, but because the Arabs like them, and accepting these "policies" is seen as a way to win the hearts and minds of Arab peoples and governments. It is not for Israeli officials to explain that Iranian machinations in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Lebanon are not really dependent on popular support of the "Arab Street" or that Al-Qaeda
and its followers don't care much either about the Palestine issue, which is an excuse rather than a cause. They will need to figure that out for themselves.
These broad proclamations are not policies. They are slogans. A slogan can be turned into a policy only if there is a detailed mechanism for implementation and if it corresponds in some way to reality. For example, "A homeland for the Jewish people guaranteed in international law." On the other hand, if the slogan has no relation to reality and nobody really tries to implement it, it is worthless or turns into a bad joke. Examples include "Make the world safe for democracy" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom."
"Two state solution" is a significant corruption of the original slogan, which as "Two states for two peoples." The significant difference is that the "Two state solution" doesn't require recognition of a Jewish state. The departure means that after all, the Palestinian Arabs, for all their reliance on "international legitimacy." still do not accept the right to self determination of the Jewish people that was recognized implicitly by the League of Nations mandate for Palestine
and embodied in UN General Assembly Resolution 181,
which called for a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine. After 62 years, there has been no progress whatever on that point.
The first task of the Netanyahu government is thus to make "Two states for two peoples" the acceptable slogan and the policy of the United States. The second task is to point out that the implementation mechanism supposedly exists in the quartet road map, which must be updated to take account of new realities. There cannot be any progress toward peace as long as the Hamas
movement is in power in Gaza
, and as long as the Palestinian Authority
does not prove that it is capable of governing and maintaining security without the intervention of the IDF
, and as long as nobody can find a way to contain the influence of Iran through the Hamas
and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
. Both of those organizations are sure to torpedo any US inspired peace. There also exists an agreed upon framework for negotiating peace, and that is the Oslo Interim Agreement
. The agreement was violated by allowing Hamas to participate in the elections at the insistence of the United States, and the current impasse is the result of that violation. The Annapolis talks were an attempt to circumvent the provisions of the quartet road map, again at the insistence of the United States. Both resulted in disaster, because the United States would not follow its own plan or modify it in accordance with reality rather than wishful thinking. It is up to the Israeli government to challenge the Americans to show how the very real obstacles to a real two state solution can be overcome. Israel should also offer a moratorium on settlement housing construction providing the Palestinian Authority is willing to make a public declaration supporting the right of the Jewish people to self determination in Israel.
As for the Arab Peace Initiative
, Israel can say that it welcomes the initiative to recognize Israel and make peace based on international legitimacy, and that it is prepared to accept a solution that includes peace based on secure and negotiated borders as required by UN Security Council Resolution 242
as well as recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self determination, and that it is prepared to meet at any time with Arab leaders to negotiate such a solution.
Realistically, it will probably be a cold day in August in Saudi Arabia before any Arab leaders will accept any of the above, but it is the only realistic way to bring about peace. It will also give the United States what it thinks it needs - progress in the peace process.
Since 1949, the principles of Arab peace diplomacy have not varied. A solution is always offered which looks "reasonable" to Americans, but which incorporates features that add up to destruction or dismemberment of Israel - generally these have included territorial demands such as cession of parts of the Negev and always they have included acceptance of large numbers of Palestinian Arab "refugees." The United States has always been beguiled by such plans and thought they were genuine attempts at peace. Israel can carry the war to the enemy in this field, simply by announcing that it accepts a solution of two states for two peoples based on the Clinton Bridging Proposals,
provided the Palestinians will accept them as is and not "as the basis for further negotiations. The Clinton proposals of 2000 include this wording:
The solution will have to be consistent with the two-state approach - the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The agreement will define the implementation of this general right in a way that is consistent with the two-state solution. It would list the five possible homes for the refugees:
1. The State of Palestine
2. Areas in Israel being transferred to Palestine in the land swap
3. Rehabilitation in host country
4. Resettlement in third country
5. Admission to Israel
In listing these options, the agreement will make clear that the return to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and area acquired in the land swap would be right to all Palestinian refugees, while rehabilitation in host countries, resettlement in third countries and absorption into Israel will depend upon the policies of those countries.
It is hardly possible for the United States and for Hillary Clinton to repudiate the Clinton Proposals. It is hardly possible for the Abbas government to approve the wording regarding recognition of a Jewish state or non-implementation of "right" of "return" to Israel.
Netanyahu should also understand that he had better not come to Washington with a big laundry list of "perks" and demands. That puts him in the position of a client state asking for favors from its patron. Each wish that is granted is another string that binds Israel to the United States. Independence is more important than a few dollars in aid or some probably worthless foreign policy concessions. Regarding Iran, Israel. has to understand what the game plan has been all along: The United States will do precisely what it thinks it is convenient, expedient and possible to do, and Israel has to preserve the option to do what it feels it needs to do. That has always been the game plan, not only for this crisis, or for Israel-US relations, but in all relations between independent states. It can never work any other way.
As Meir Amit proved just prior to the Six Day War, making clear to the United States what you will do is the only way to do something that everyone wants done, but nobody has the guts to tell you to do. As long as you ask, they have to say "No." No United States administration will ever be caught telling another country it is OK to go to war. If Israel has come to the conclusion that an attack on Iran will be necessary at some point, it must prepare to implement that attack independently of the United States, and if it has that capability, it should make it clear what it will do and in what circumstances it would do it.
If Israel does not have the capability to attack Iran without United States cooperation or active assistance, it has no bargaining chips. It should not ask for favors because it will not be granted any. At most, the United States would do whatever it was going to do anyhow and exact a price for it from Israel. If the United States cannot understand that Iran is going to build a bomb unless it is stopped, and that this is a threat to the United States and its Arab allies, it is hardly likely that anything Benjamin Netanyahu says or does will change their minds.
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