The Spine

The Peace Process is Finished

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Martin Indyk, of whom you may or may not know, has been in the "peace process" business for almost three decades. People so involved are usually very self-important, and Indyk is no exception. This is the case even though he has also regularly gotten himself into difficulties, including security clearance troubles while serving as U.S. ambassador to Israel. He is not exactly trusted. But Indyk has at his disposal lots of cash, siphoned through the Brookings Institution by a weird partnership of Israeli-American Hollywood mogul Haim Saban and the Emir of Qatar, with which he convenes conference after conference on, well, yes, (what else?) the peace process. During the past week-end he convened the most recent of these gatherings at which the theme seemed to be that it was well, nigh all over.

But not quite. On the Friday before, Indyk published in the Financial Times a prelude to his gathering. Now, the FT is a weird SP place to write about Middle Eastern peace since it has less than zero empathy for the Israeli predicament. Apparently, so does Indyk.

He first feigns the assumption that a formula for the borders of two states puts us back to June 4, 1967. But quite quickly Indyk drags us further into reverse, to November 1947 when the General Assembly passed the Partition Plan for Palestine (a "Jewish" state and an "Arab" one), for which the boundaries are far more inimical to Israel and, in fact, literally impossible. This is demented sleight-of-hand. You cannot ignore 63 years of history. And you should not. The Partition Plan was not frustrated by the Israelis. It was rejected and waged war upon by Jordan, Egypt and Syria all of which wanted Palestine for themselves.

Focusing on the borders leads naturally back to the original idea in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution that sought to deal with the conflict over Palestine – partition of the land into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, with a special regime for Jerusalem, and equal rights and equal protection under the law for all citizens of the two states.

Given the failure of the negotiations of 2000 carried on by Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat and those of 2008 pursued by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, in both of which Israel made unimaginably generous concessions, it is hard to see what would satisfy the Palestinians now. For the fact is that the Lebanon and Gaza wars have changed the modalities of combat. Although defeated by Israel in both, Hezbollah and Hamas have already deepened the terrain of the inevitable warfare to come. Alas, the circumstances within the territory between the river and the sea are more fraught with armed peril to ordinary Israeli life than ever before. The preconditions for quiet are intricate and will surely impinge on whatever authority devolves on a Palestinian state.

Instead of facing these realities squarely, Indyk indulges in the old formulaic based on great good will that is not apparent. He wants the parties to "jump-start" the talks by reaching conclusions to which they are not ready to assent.

To jump-start new negotiations, why not have Israel declare that it recognises the Arab state of Palestine, with equal rights for all its citizens, and have the PLO declare that it recognises the Jewish state of Israel, with equal rights for all its citizens? Both could then announce they are entering into state-to-state negotiations to define the border between them. The Arab states could welcome Israel’s recognition of the Arab state of Palestine and take their own steps of recognition of the Jewish state of Israel. These dramatic steps could turbo-charge the negotiations by giving each side something fundamental that they both demand – mutual recognition of their national aspirations.

Finally, the parties should commit to reaching an agreement on borders by September 2011 so that the state of Palestine can be seated when the UN General Assembly next meets, as Mr Obama has promised. Of course there will be objections. But there surely can be no debate about the need to find a more creative way forward. Going back to basics – two states for two people separated by an agreed border – is a good place to start.

It is not only the peace processors who are daydreaming. The European Union has for years had the fantasy that it can (or should) be central to the making of Israeli-Palestinian peace. One would think that given the fragility of the E.U. and its constituent economies, given also the uncertainty of anything the Union does or says, its plenipotentiaries would be reluctant to issue dicta to the parties to the conflict. The scenario actually begins with has-been plenipotentiaries: seven former prime ministers, three ex-presidents and seven past foreign ministers. They themselves are responding to an initiative of even more has-been American plenipotentiaries like Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, united in their rancor toward Israel. According to an article by David Gardner in Monday's Financial Times, the European initiative, sparked by Lord Patten, follows in the spirit of President Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech "calling for a new chapter in US relations with the Middle East and the Muslim world." This is a circle-jerk. It's hard to think of a presidential pronouncement that met with less real resonance.

The E.U. is summoned by les anciens to pursue an Israeli moratorium on Israeli settlement building as a warrant of good intentions in the peace process. The former French "this" and the former Spanish "that" have apparently not realized that it was precisely the tactic that locked the Palestinians into accepting Israel's 10 month halt in construction without so much as sitting down to talk. But once great statesmen have an idée fixe it is hard for them to abandon it. So...

Focusing on the borders leads naturally back to the original idea in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution that sought to deal with the conflict over Palestine – partition of the land into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, with a special regime for Jerusalem, and equal rights and equal protection under the law for all citizens of the two states.

To jump-start new negotiations, why not have Israel declare that it recognises the Arab state of Palestine, with equal rights for all its citizens, and have the PLO declare that it recognises the Jewish state of Israel, with equal rights for all its citizens? Both could then announce they are entering into state-to-state negotiations to define the border between them. The Arab states could welcome Israel’s recognition of the Arab state of Palestine and take their own steps of recognition of the Jewish state of Israel. These dramatic steps could turbo-charge the negotiations by giving each side something fundamental that they both demand – mutual recognition of their national aspirations.

Finally, the parties should commit to reaching an agreement on borders by September 2011 so that the state of Palestine can be seated when the UN General Assembly next meets, as Mr Obama has promised. Of course there will be objections. But there surely can be no debate about the need to find a more creative way forward. Going back to basics – two states for two people separated by an agreed border – is a good place to start

 

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