“The Fierce Urgency of Peace”

The above is the title of an op-ed piece by Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. In it, he examines a bipartisan statement containing recommendations for settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It’s been presented to President Obama and the signatories are not only well-known, but hail from both sides of politics. Amongst them are Paul Volcker, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and James Wolfensohn.

Reading through their proposals, one can almost feel the tectonic plates of US politics around this issue trembling. Towards the end of his piece, Cohen summarises the core principles as follows:

The first is clear U.S. endorsement of a two-state solution based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, agreed land swaps where necessary. That means removing all West Bank settlements except in some heavily populated areas abutting Jerusalem – and, of course, halting the unacceptable ongoing construction of new ones.

The second is establishing Jerusalem as home to the Israeli and Palestinian capitals. Jewish neighborhoods would be under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, with special arrangements for the Old City providing unimpeded access to holy sites for all communities.

The third is major financial compensation and resettlement assistance in a Palestinian state for refugees, coupled with some formal Israeli acknowledgment of responsibility for the problem, but no generalized right of return.

The fourth is the creation of an American-led, U.N.-mandated multinational force for a transitional period of up to 15 years leading to full Palestinian control of their security.

According to Cohen, “their thinking coincides in significant degree with that of both George Mitchell, Obama’s Middle East envoy, and Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser.” He also notes that Obama “has told Volcker he would, in time, meet with the signatories of the letter”.

Now that would be an interesting meeting to observe.

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John Passant
John Passant
12 years ago

I don’t think a two state solution can work. At best it legitimises Palestine as a bantustan of Israel.

Without a right of return the dispossession of the Palestinians becomes complete.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

I suspect that the right of return would not be very heavily exercised in the first few years of a two-state solution anyway.

Too many current exiles who might want to wait and see how the Palestinian State turns out.

The part that I wonder about is why US-led? We are increasingly in a situation where we are ‘closer’ to our distant cousins in the third world, and thus we feel more pressingly the need for intervention. But Somalia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Iraq, etc all prove rather comprehensively that the real key is a long-term sustained commitment to troops on the ground.

If only America can do this then we are going to solve problems slowly.

Finally I wonder if anyone who approves of this also thinks we should have already let Iraq fall to pieces by itself? Aside from the signatories themselves?

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

I’m sorry, but I just can’t get excited about this. If Germans started an intafada would these guys be calling for the return of east prussia. Naturally we can’t forget Tibet. And dare we mention California, Arizona, New Mexico etc. We have it on no less an authority than a US president that those takings were plain wrong and wicked.

But the world is full of funny borders resulting from wars. The arabs started it and then lost. I don’t pretend the Israelis are sweetness and light on this issue, but please, why should they be the only guys to have to hand back territory after winning.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Ingolf, I can see how the US could be critical to binding Israel. But I increasingly think that either the US is allowed to run the world as it sees fit or the rest of the world has to contribute something. Even the ICC relies on US help to actually get anyone, and the US is its least biggest fan.

So why should American soldiers get pot-shotted at by crazy terrorists? Because no peace deal is going to get rid of them overnight, just like no peace deal has ever worked (well, because the Palestinians have never negotiated in good faith as far as I can tell) partly because there is always some Palestinian faction ready to keep shooting (and often an Israeli settler faction too, but always a Palestinian one.

Personally, I also agree at least partly with Pedro. I think the Palestinians have to renounce 85% or so of what they have already lost. In return for some such degree of reality, then I would expect Israel to be brought to the table on ‘two-State’. We can’t with a straight face ask Israel to make all the concessions, and committing to a ceasefire can’t count as a concession from the Palestinians but has to be a given.

Sorry for the incoherence of parts (all) of that. It is late here.

As for my last para, I meant that most of those signaturies were in favour of early withdrawal from a then-increasingly-bloody Iraq, a policy I (and happily George Bush) found reprehensible. I find it interesting that they seem to think that here where arguably we haven’t ‘broken it’ in the first place they seem to think that not only does it makes sense for us to go in but also to commit to a hell of a long stay there.

Not saying it isn’t sensible. Just that I admire Scowcroft and Brzezinski in particular for their mental flexibility.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Without a right of return the dispossession of the Palestinians becomes complete.

On what basis do you claim that it is not already complete?

Ingolf: you still haven’t explained why we should get involved at all, let alone urgently. All followers of Moses (and yes I count Muslims as followers of Moses, or Sons of Abraham if you prefer) have one thing in common, which is intolerance. As a Buddhist I can tell you that I won’t put up with such things. There is no profit in the Middle East.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

I understand perfectly Ingolf, and I don’t blame you.

I note only that I would worry less about Israel than I would about Israel’s near neighbours, insofar as Iran goes. My favourite quote of the week (via Samizdata):

It’s been an open secret for years that Israel possesses nuclear capability. It’s an interesting comment on the genuine – as opposed to rhetorical – threat that the Zionist Entity is deemed to pose that it’s only now, when Iran is on the verge of joining the nuclear club, that other Middle Eastern and Arab countries get concerned about developing their own programs.

observa
observa
12 years ago

I know how thrilled I’d be if the Obama administration was having a tectonic shift toward seeing a two state solution within Australia to our particular Dreamtime problem. Thankfully we’re off their radar at present. Quite frankly Ingolf, I’d like to see a 6,7 or 8..? state solution in the ME and environs, rather than the two state, Israel and Iraq one now if you get the drift.

observa
observa
12 years ago

Is that Bhuddist enough for you Tel?

observa
observa
12 years ago

Basically Ingolf, if I were an Israeli, I’d no more want the Obama administration wanting to impose its two state solution on me than I would them imposing a two state solution on Australia, in order to bring some perceived sense of historical justice to Dreamtimers, particularly if they want us to share Canberra. Dreamtimers here being not just indigenous Australians, but also a plethora of other cheer squads for the various forms of indigenous movements around the globe. To be a true state has certain connotations and practical relevance for me personally, which defies easy prescription. You might say I think Israelis long ago got it, Iraqis are getting it, but Palestinians have as much chance of getting it in the forseeable future as Afghanis. That’s not the view of Dreamtimers and their belief in rigid prescriptions for a viable state.

This is the continuation of the argument I have with the Tels of the world and you perhaps, that if you disagree with that, then set out your prescriptive set of rules for your mythical Palestinian State. Tel could perhaps fax off his ideal Bill of Rights to the Obamessiah to run it past Hamas and Fatah for their perusal and implementation in their new ideal state. While he might have a cerain outlook on the right to bear arms, I might have a different view. Perhaps- ‘We the Palestinian people hereby declare the fundamental right to bear arms, legs and other body parts as Gaia originally intended them, but no belts of any description, particularly under our new saffron robes.’ Yeah, I and Israelis wish, so in the absence of any such practical demonstration of the Dreamtimers and their idealised Palestinian state, we various Zionists, Hindus, Christians, atheists, Bhuddists, etc, will ignore such calls and continue to bumble along with the practical examples of our ideal states, until we can see some progress along our lines. Then perhaps we’ll sit up and take notice of their claims to statehood.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Observa: You seem to believe that repetition of misinformation makes it true. I’ll accept that it’s a popular approach to debate and not far different to what passes for policy when our members of parliament are interviewed. For this reason, I’ll repeat what I’ve already told you several times to prevent further misrepresentation of my point of view.

I’m not pushing for a Bill of Rights, I’m pushing for limitations to government power and something to discourage the slip towards centralised authoritarianism.

I never proposed a two state solution for Israel and Palestine. Sooner or later, the eye of the world will lose interest in Palestine and when that happens Israel will kill them in large numbers, yes that makes me sad, no I don’t lose sleep worrying about what to do to fix their problems. The surrounding Arab states are sitting on their hands waiting for this to happen so they can gnash and wail about Israel but they are just as guilty because they don’t want Palestinians on their land either.

All told, Australian Aboriginals have been treated a hell of a lot better than most native peoples around the world, at least in the last 50 years or so. They will eventually integrate into the rest of Australia, so might as well let that happen at it’s own speed. I have no problem with some percentage of my tax going to support things like native title, charity begins at home.

Defence forces are strictly for defensive purposes (not speculative defence, not “best defence is a good offence”). I don’t want to see any of my tax going into Middle Eastern wars regardless. If you believe in the cause by all means go there yourself.

Please understand that if you can’t be bothered reading and understanding other people’s positions, you are essentially talking to yourself.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

Ingolf, I certainly agree that a serious shift in the US away from Israel would be tectonic.

I can’t see it happening in any serious way because ultimately the US needs Israel to the counter-balance the Arab world. I don’t think that the palestine question has much to do with the resurgence of muslim fundamentalism, but it is a strong focus of that fundamentalism and thus perhaps helps keep them bottled up in the Mid East.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

Re your last commment Ingolf, I always get amazed at the complaints about the Israeli blockade of Gaza. That blockade is only relevant because the Egyptians are blocking their border with Gaza.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

It doesn’t, on an absolute level. But the fact is that no-one wants to give Hamas an open border. Israel is criticised for closing its (despite what would appear to be some of the most serious justification going, in the form of a willing conga-line of virgin addled bombaramas) but Eygpt gets largely away with closing theirs, even though that
a) significantly aggravates the humanitarian implications of the prima-facie justifiable (and prior) Israeli closure much more serious than it otherwise would be; and
b) suggests that Israel is even more justified than thought since Eygpt, far less an immediate enemy, also feels sufficiently threatened by the idea of an open border.

Now other facts such as Eygpt’s desire to control the Muslim Brotherhood might be at play, too, but the fact is Hamas make rotten neighbours. If I understand correctly they are far from welcome in Jordan either, which leaves them their kindred in the North.

Tel is certainly right that the surrounding countries find the Palestinians a bit embarrassing at best and smelly and rude at worst. Again Iran is important since Hamas is really closer to the Iran-Hizbollah axis than the greater Middle East.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

“Im continually astounded at the fear and loathing that Hamas (and Hezbullah etc etc) seem to arouse in the West. I know theyve committed terrible acts, and will probably do so again in the future. Unfortunately, thats what tends to happen when peoples backs are against the wall. ”

I can’t see why you are astounded and I disagree that Hamas acts the way it does because their backs are to the wall. Why is the West Bank different? Why isn’t Jordan like Lebanon and Hezbollah? The plain fact is that Hamas wants to fight and does not want peace.

The point about the Egyptian border is that the Israeli blockade would be pointless without an Egyptian blockade. So the complaints against Israel with respect to the blockade are humbug.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

I’ll agree to disagree. My third paragraph simply says that 2 countries are blockading Gaza and only one cops the criticism. The Israelis have a much better reason for the blockade than the Egyptians.