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

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  1. John Peeler says

    Walter, Thanks for the correction regarding Hamas’ position on Israel within the pre-1967 borders. If they mean it, that makes their position compatible with the Arab peace plan.

    Joe, the longer Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories,the more it resembles the old apartheid regime in South Africa: a “democracy” for the dominant group built on the suppression of the occupied. People who love Israel for its humanistic and democratic vision ought to be demanding that this occupation end. And how better to end it than by harnessing the real interest of most Arab governments and most Arab people in having peace?

    You are, by the way, absolutely right that the Arabs in general & Palestinians in particular have repeatedly rejected outcomes that they later wished they could have back. That was certainly true in 1948 (as you point out) and in 1967. I think it may be the case today with Hamas: they will want a return to the status quo ante, but it will be too late.

    Israel’s determination to continue to occupy and colonize the West Bank seems calculated to prevent a peace settlement. But what will they do when the Arabs outnumber them? Will they still argue that they are not like the South Africans? Will they undertake ethnic cleansing on a scale to shame Karadzic? Will the Arab towns become concentration camps? This is what I mean when I say that Israel is risking its very soul.

    I am actually very pessimistic: see my earlier essay on this site, “The Middle East: The Sword is Trump.”

  2. says

    It’s easy to become obsessed with the notion that because there is a continuing foreign conflict that therefore it’s terribly important – especially for World Policeman USA – to work overtime for a ‘solution’.

    But sometimes, a ‘cure’ is worse than the disease and sometimes the ‘only viable solution’ is no better or even worse than the problem.

    In this case, the conflict is one whose existence and exacerbation owes to the elective choice of Arab Islamist movements and some Arab states

    The ‘Arab Peace Plan’ calls for Israel to one-sidedly surrender territory – and indeed agree to yet other restrictions – in return for something BOTH (or ALL) sides SUPPOSEDLY WANT AND SHOULD WANT AND NEED EQUALLY, namely lasting peace.

    These provisions deliver neither actual peace nor a formula for a stable peace. Rather they call for a one-sided giveaway. And for Israel – and the United States – it would all be for nothing except yet more problems down the road.

    During 1949-1967, Arab states had the very territory they now claim they need for peace. But then they couldn’t accept it then as sufficient or even useful for peace. In fact Syria then used Golan largely not for civilian purposes but as Hamas has focused on using Gaza – as a fortified staging area to rain cannon or missiles on Israelis.

    Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Palestinians had the opportunity for an independent Palestinian Arab state – something which had never existed – on more land than was left to them after the 1949-1967 armistice. But their leaders didn’t then – and to some extent still don’t – actually care about a Palestinian state. For one thing, some of them thought then – as Syria in some ways STILL does now – that Palestine anyhow should be a part of Syria (the good ole’ Damascus caliphate). Anyhow, far more important than having another Arab state, even one of their very own, they couldn’t tolerate the thought that Jews – who after all were dhimmi (tolerated second-class peoples of inferior religion) should have a state – however miniscule – within the Islamic Near East.

    That attitude continues to underly the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iranian stance.

    I guess it’s good news that in their plan some ‘moderate’ Arab states seem to claim that a rollback to 1967 is the only big obstacle to peace. Actually though, they’ve sneaked in another obstacle too – the so-called ‘just solution’ to just one of the two refugee problems (the Arab refugees – omitted are the equally or more numerous Jewish refugees from Arab lands) created during and by the Arab-Israel conflict.

    For Israel, the so-called ‘solution’ is nothing more than a surrender of concrete land and possibly also of refugee compensation and resettlement options – in return for vague promises of ‘security’ and of ‘considering the conflict ended’. Again, we are speaking of a conflict whose existence was and largely remains the elective choice of the proponent Arab states and of non-state thug groups.

    The resulting ‘peace’ is supposed to somehow ‘guarantee’ (more than now?) security to Israel. No country in the world actually has guaranteed security. However, insofar as its security is supported, it’s primarily by a country’s own armed forces. But suppose, despite all the nice words, someone – whether the parties to the ‘peace’ or maybe some non-parties, be they states like Iran, or some of today’s non-state thug groups – decide afterward anyhow to attack Israel. Who is then supposed to try hardest to ‘guarantee’ her security? Compared with her present borders and demography, Israel will be much weakened, so instead of a capable self-defending ally Israel could become mainly a permanent burden to the USA.

    So really what’s in all this for the USA and Americans? Presumably ‘better relations’ with that version of ‘the Arabs’ that comprises the regimes that have most to gain from the Arab Peace Plan – notably those which are not already at least nominally at peace with Israel. So we are really speaking especially of the fundamentalist Saudi monarchy and the Syrian dictatorship. Maybe the Arab Peace Plan (sponsored after all by the Saudis) will give us brownie points with those wonderful regimes.

    Before Americans enthuse too much over this idea of working hard to dismantle an allied democracy in order to gratify pleasures of autocratic regimes, we should at least take note of a similar prior experiment – and its similar rationales, provisions and wishful thoughts – by Britain at Munich in 1938.

  3. Walter Ballin says

    John, This is an excellent article with one exception. While I don’t support Hamas or endorse their tactics it is not true that “the Islamists elected as the Palestinian government, officially reject any outcome short of the annihilation of Israel.” The Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Heneyeh has stated on numerous occasions that Hamas recognizes Israel within the pre-June 1967 borders. Representatives of Hamas also told Jimmy Carter this during a couple of visits by him to Syria. Here are THREE links to articles on this AND

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