The American sponsored peace initiative seems to have little rational thinking behind it and little chance of success. But while the President of the United States may not be right, he is certainly the President of the United States. Israel cannot afford to forget that. Nonetheless, Israel's first responsibility must be to ensure that it has a viable defense.
A great peace initiative is being undertaken by the United States. The general idea seems to bundle a remodeled Arab Peace Initiative
for regional peace, Palestinian-Israeli peace based on a two state solution and a solution to the problem of Iranian nuclear weapons development. Lately, a fourth element was apparently added - general nuclear disarmament and arms control, including hints
that the U.S. expects Israel to become a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty. All this will somehow, so the theory goes, make it easier for the United States to secure its withdrawal from Iraq, and prevent a disaster in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United States is not acting alone. Russia has invited
UN Security Council members to a meeting to promote Middle East peace. The EU has come on board with any part of the plan that involved pressuring Israel. Germany's Angela Merkel, has expressed enthusiasm
for the renewed peace process, which should do its business in the next few months and should be based on a two-state solution. Tony Blair announced
that a new Middle East peace plan will be unveiled in 5-6 weeks, and Jordan's King Abdullah is supposedly
at work on formulating a new and improved Arab peace initiative. This is a relatively well coordinated, multilateral and multidimensional effort - an attempt by everyone to solve everything at once. The driving imperative is that the current mess cannot be allowed to continue. It is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, bad for America, and provides wonderful issues and opportunities for Iran and al-Qaeda.
One may be forgiven nonetheless for expressing skepticism. The key drawbacks of the Arab peace plan in principle are the insistence of return of Palestinian refugees, denial of Jewish rights in East Jerusalem, and failure to explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Of implementation there is nothing to say, because there is simply no method of implementation and no guarantee that any Israeli concessions will produce a peace agreement. The Palestinians and others have already said that the peace plan will be precisely the same as the 2002 Arab peace initiative. As for Mahmoud Abbas, Maannews
summarized his position and that of the Arabs:
He affirmed that the Arab side would be submitting the Arab Peace Initiative to Washington when he met with them, and that all sides were in agreement over its soundness. "We will not be bringing a new document,"
Moreover, given that the Palestinians do not control Gaza or Hamas, it is unlikely they could deliver on any peace plan that might be signed.
Tony Blair insists that resolving the Middle East conflict is critical to curbing Iran. Since the Middle East conflict was not resolved in several generations of diplomacy and war, that is about like saying that that in order to cure the patient it is only necessary to turn lead into gold. Rahm Emanuel, along with Blair, insists on the linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid it on the line:
"For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand"...
She also insisted that a two state solution is inevitable, As for the grand plan that is supposed to stop the Iranian nuclear development project, there is no sign of it in sight. Not even a hint. The United States has declared that it is not seeking Iranian regime change. It has more or less taken the military option off the table, and has publicly warned Israel on more than one occasion and through more than one official, not to take military action on its own. There is no practical sanctions plan that can be implemented, since Russia and China would not agree to enforce or obey sanctions, the Swiss, suppliers of refined fuel to the Tehran regime would not agree to sanctions either, the UAE trades freely with Iran, and the Qataris have apparently aligned themselves with Iran.
The Arabs, the EU, The Americans, the Palestinians and the Russians are all a part of this effort. Everyone is involved in preparing this initiative or initiatives except Israel. That is ominous, to say the least.
A skeptic with some knowledge of the Middle East might be forgiven for doubting that either Middle East peace or a solution to the Iranian threat can come out of all this frenetic activity. The US is seemingly playing with an empty hand and counterfeit money. The real linkage between a peace settlement and the Iranian issue is in the opposite direction: No peace sponsored by the United States can succeed as long as Iran is there to torpedo it. The US has no leverage on Iran or Syria. It has already abandoned Lebanon to the Hezbollah, Iran's client. It has already given away its leverage on Syria by announcing that it will push for Israeli-Syrian peace. In Iraq, it is fighting to cover its withdrawal against a mounting tide of violence, probably encouraged by Iran. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it it is soliciting help from Iran in combating the increasingly successful Taleban uprising. The Arabs have already announced, for the most part, that they are not going to be changing their peace initiative in any way, and even moderate Arab opinion fully expects that the only thing that must come out of this peace initiative is unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The Palestinians are nowhere near forming a unified government that will conform even nominally to any imaginable peace process.
However, there is nothing to be gained by panic on the part of Israel or of it supporters, and there is not a good foundation for assuming, as some do, that the United States has betrayed or abandoned Israel. We have not seen the American initiative yet, nor the Arab response. President Obama enjoys immense prestige. Since World War II, the president of the United States has always been recognized as the most powerful leader on earth, but Obama probably has more power to persuade than any president since Harry S Truman, and more determination to succeed at peacemaking than most previous presidents. The scary headlines about demands for Israeli concessions by Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or others usually conceal concomitant rock solid commitments to Israeli security and a fair peace, as well as calls for Arab concessions. If nothing at all comes of this initiative other than an agreement in principle by Arabs to abandon the right of return issue in return for Israeli concessions such as agreement to a two state solution, it can still be a huge victory for Israel and peace, and it can be spun as an American victory and a Palestinian victory that will enable whatever mysterious process the US will undertake to attempt to curb Iran. The implementation of the agreement will of course be conditional on rectifying the situation in the Gaza strip and ensuring that Palestinians can really be responsible for security. Don't hold your breath until that happens.
But in order to get that benefit, Israel must play ball. The alternative to Israeli cooperation with the United States is disaster for Israel. The initiative has broad support. Israel cannot possibly stand alone against the united opinion of virtually the entire world. At some point, probably when Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Washington, Israel is going to have to commit not only to a two state solution, but possibly agree also to some other painful concessions, if the Obama administration can deliver the requisite Arab concessions. It is always necessary to ensure that Israel and its supporters are on the side of peace and are not perceived as totally isolated in the world community. That is exactly the effect that Palestinians are trying to create, and that media are trying to create with scare headlines. President Shimon Peres struck the right notes both in his remarks at the AIPAC policy conference and in his public remarks with US officials. Benjamin Netanyahu likewise struck a positive note in his brief address to the AIPAC policy meeting: Israel is prepared to resume negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Iran is the common danger. Every position should emphasize points of agreement. Each move should be considered carefully. We must never give away something for nothing, but we should never make enemies or portray ourselves as bellicose for no reason. If we have to say "no," we need to say it nicely. Was it wise, for example, of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announce that the "peace industry" as he called it, is a waste of money? What did that remark gain, and what will it cost Israel?
It is very likely that this peace initiative will lay a great big egg, but it is also undoubtedly true that the United States government thinks that it is helping Israel and that it must have "progress" in Middle East peace. We can either be partners with our friend the United States in this venture, or we can be forced to give up the same concessions reluctantly and in bad humor, and then get blamed for the failure of the venture.
For nothing is more certain that when the great peace crusade fails once again, scapegoats will be sought, and scapegoats will be found, and will be duly sacrificed. After the last disastrous fiasco, Bill Clinton was gracious enough to pin the blame where he thought it belonged. But he was out of office by then and could afford to tell the truth. The media are already setting the stage with giant headlines about pressure on Israel, many of which are not just quite justified by the content of the stories. There is no reason to aid in this endeavor.
And what about Iran? Who will save poor little Israel from Iran? The United States is counting on negotiations and sanctions to get Iran to stop building nuclear weapons. There is no chance of any such negotiations succeeding inasmuch as the United States has absolutely nothing to trade that the Iranian regime wants more than nuclear weapons. As Joseph Kechichian points out, such negotiations are futile. The attempt to link Iran to Israeli-Palestinian peace is not impressive. The Arab states have very little to offer that could solve the crisis, so that cannot be the reason for linkage. It is hard to believe that they would invite Iranian nuclear enforced hegemony over a "Shi'ite crescent" just to spite Israel. The United States itself may or may not be short-sighted enough to be willing to live with a nuclear Iran. That cannot be a guide for Israeli policy.
The answer for Israel, as difficult as it may seem, has to be the same as it always was, "If I am not for myself, then who is?" We must make the diplomatic conditions for Israel as best as they can possibly be, but our fate is in our hands. We cannot depend on others to provide our defense in a vital issue such as this. That is the real meaning of independence. It has a cost, but if we want to be independent we must be ready to pay that cost.
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Replies: 3 Comments
I agree with more of this piece, than I usually do with your pieces. I have come to the conclusion from both study and experience that it is only Israelis can hurt Israel, all of those other nations are now on the balance, and they need you to be resolute, clear, concise, convincing and courageous. My experience with non-Jewish Canadians, even when I encountered bigots, was that they will always back down when they meet a resolute, clear, concise, convincing and courageous, person, all the time and everytime.
Larry Riteman, Friday, May 8th
Generally a good analysis, Ami, pity that it has to be spoiled by left wing ideology. Living in Israel, it should be clearer than in the diaspora, that any concession to Mohammedans only leads to further demands. Any agreement signed is rejected before the ink has dried. No Mohammedan ruler will agree to anything that exposes him to the accusation of departing from Islam or the line of "resistance": the dhimmi must be put in his place! Clinton was useless because he played the diplomat when he should have been true to the facts and when Arafat denied any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, true to his heritage. Sneering at Lieberman's identifying the "peace industry" does a disservice to the peace process; he said what has to be said. Concessions like limiting settlements, or even more perniciously natural growth, accedes to Arabs demands: it creates facts on the ground through giving legitimacy to any Arab claim however falsely and maliciously concocted. Realism demands that Arabs, Mohammedans and third world regimes be treated differently to Israel and western democracies. If the peace industry wants what it claims are its aims, putting pressure on the barbarians, who would destroy it if jihadists triumphed, to make concessions in return for Israeli concessin would be the first step. Only then could a two state or even a three state solution (Jordan could get access to the Mediterranean) be considered. At present Pres Hussein Obama and the peace industry are just huffing and puffing at the only party in this Arab created that is amenable to reason.
Paul Winter, Friday, May 8th
For once I am going to agree with some of the broad strokes made in this article. It’s important to note that countries who have endorsed the roadmap tend to view the situation from both sides. In Israel, clearly Israelis see the infractions of the other side – those of the Palestinians who are divided geographically and politically with half their population supporting a racist exclusivist political agenda in Gaza.
Yet in the spirit of working with the Obama administration, giving some credit to new initiatives and showing basic humility by acknowledging that not always does Israel know best – maybe the US really has something to offer - some real and meaningful cooperation must be now take place.
The first and foremost position needed to be made is that Israel supports, endorses and proclaims clear agreement to the concept of two states for two peoples. It must be categorical without ifs ands or buts. The “Jewish” demand now merely adds another” if or but” to the way this is being viewed by Israel’s closest supporters. When the fine details of how this two-state solution takes form, it will be evident as to whether from the Palestinian perspective it is real goodwill or a step intended to dilute the Jewish State into non-existence. This hand was played to Clinton by Arafat in 2000 and it didn’t work and there is no reason to believe it will work with Obama in 2009.
The second process that needs to happen urgently is a complete moratorium on all settlement expansion and an end to illegal outposts – categorically, without ifs ands or buts. That means no more building under the guise of needs for “normal growth”. It means and that adding on a room to a house in a settlement in what was agreed as future Palestine will not be tolerated. One simply cannot proclaim with any integrity the need for a lasting peace with two people living side by side when one people continues to colonize the land of the other.
The third process needed where the onus falls on Israel is to halt the development of superior infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water for Jewish settlements to the detriment of local Palestinian inhabitants in occupied territory which is producing a de facto segregated, unfair and racially discriminating state of affairs inveighing slanderous comparisons of Israel to ugly regimes that have not survived history.
The fourth urgent step is to ease up on the multitude of humiliating checkpoints within the West Bank where for hours simple folk line up and wait merely to see a relative, to plow a field, trade their ware or work – all within the constraints of reasonable security needs.
Note that none of the above compromises at this time Israel’s control of borders or security measures.
These are not matters for negotiation, They are obligations that must take effect and should have been put into place long ago.
If these obligations can be made and undertaken, instead of fighting the Obama initiative, Israel will be running with it. Possibly even leading it. Rather than proclaiming in vain Iran first, then Palestine, Israel secures the high ground, politically and morally. If unilateral action must eventually be taken against the threat of a nuclear Iran, all of this will serve to mitigate the consequences, whatever form they may take.
jayzed, Thursday, May 7th
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