Breaking the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse: Obama’s Agenda

It’s been going on for sixty years. Or a century. Or a millennium. Or more. It depends on how you look at it, but the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation defiantly resists resolution, yielding an unending harvest of blood. Decades of inconclusive conflict have made clear that neither side can achieve its goals by purely military means.

It is also clear that, absent a solution that is accepted as just by both sides, the Palestinians will find their means to continue to resist against overwhelming Israeli power. Israel faces the dilemma of continuing an occupation that will make it progressively more like apartheid South Africa, or allowing a hostile Palestinian state to threaten it every day.

And although the combined territory of Israel and Palestine is just a bit larger than New Jersey, this conflict in a very small place holds the key to the persistence of deadly conflict and the surge of Islamic fundamentalism all over the Middle East and the larger Muslim world. The fundamental error of the Bush administration after 9-11 was to think they could confront and defeat terrorism without solving the Palestinian-Israeli conundrum.

The majority of both Palestinians and Israelis want peace and are willing to make concessions to achieve it, but the two peoples are caught in a familiar extremist dynamic whereby the hard-liners on each side can always scuttle any peace plan by staging an outrageous attack, thereby provoking a retaliatory spiral. Peace depends on breaking that dynamic, and the incoming Obama administration has an opportunity to do just that.

The key is for the United States (Israel’s only unconditional friend) to back off from its reflexive pro-Israeli stance enough to pressure Israel to accept the Arab Peace Plan. This plan, first proposed in 2002 by the Arab League, offers peace and normal relations in return for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Bush and the Israelis brushed it off in 2002, and Hamas, the Islamists elected as the Palestinian government, officially reject any outcome short of the annihilation of Israel. But most people in the Middle East and around the world accept that a solution must entail the security of Israel and of a viable Palestine. The Arab Peace Plan is the template for such a solution. First, the Arab states call upon Israel to affirm its commitment to a just peace, and to commit itself to these steps:

  • Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
  • Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.
  • The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return, the Arab countries affirm the following:

  • Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
  • Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

[ad#angies-list2-300-250]Obama needs to let the Israelis know early on that while he supports their security, he will not refrain from pressing them to make accommodations in the pursuit of a peace that would be in the best interests of both Israel and the United States. And his best way of getting a hearing from the Arabs (especially the Palestinians) is to make clear that the Arab Peace Plan is the basis for negotiating peace in the region.

Israel ought to accept the plan because it is the only plausible model of a viable settlement. If it persists in the present conflict, it will soon occupy a Palestinian population larger than the Jewish population of Israel. As Ariel Sharon saw, that must not be allowed to happen. Conversely, Israel cannot successfully engage in ethnic cleansing or genocide on the scale necessary to rid the territory of Palestinians, and if it did so, it would lose its very reason for existence: it would become the very kind of oppressor state that Israel was founded to prevent. Israel would lose its soul.

john-peeler.gifPerhaps Hamas and other militant groups will reject this proposal, but if Israel and the US were to do the unexpected and accept it, that would put the onus on Hamas. In contrast, the present massive Israeli attack on Gaza simply rallies Arab support for Hamas. The only way out of the impasse is for someone not to follow the script. That someone should be Obama. Now.

John Peeler

Articles by John Peeler:

Published by the LA Progressive on January 1, 2009
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About John Peeler

John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.