Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Next, Mr. President, A Peace Plan

According to people who should know, President Obama has been discretely meeting Middle East hands and political consultants over the past couple of months to explore the possibility of presenting a peace plan for Israel and Palestine, much like the one teed-up by the Olmert-Abbas talks. David Remnick's eloquent call for Obama to outline a plan suggests the president will not be without critical political support should he decide to go ahead; but this came before action in Libya. In my view, the way Obama organized this action suggests the very model for how he should proceed with a peace plan, and I explain why in today's Global Edition of the New York Times.

Last Monday night, rejecting criticism of his actions in Libya, President Obama outlined a standard for civilized multilateralism: “Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security,” he said. “Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners ... to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” If you should act, act where you can, and act together.

Obama gained a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, working with the European Union to rally the Arab League. He enlisted support from leaders of the Group of 20 in the process. His leadership, in short, did not just turn the tide against one Arab tyranny, but produced a model of statecraft for the region as a whole.

This model now has an even more important task. Obama should, and can, lead the Quartet (the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia) in presenting a new blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Whatever happens in Libya, America will never be seen as a champion of Arab democracy if it continues to appear cavalier about the occupation of the Palestinians.

The president made clear in his Cairo speech that Palestinian statehood is not simply an internal Israeli affair, nor is Israeli security the responsibility of the Israeli military alone. He knows that the chances of success in any bilateral talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are nil. He also knows what the product of good-faith negotiations must be.

From early in 2007 to September 2008, for example, Abbas and the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert held 36 meetings. On the core issues, they wound up gravitating to virtually the same outline for a deal as produced in past negotiations at Taba and Geneva.

In late January, I interviewed both leaders and laid out what they had achieved in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: Their agreements in principle on security, land swaps based on the 1967 border, Jerusalem’s “holy basin” and refugees left comparatively small gaps, boiling down to a disagreement over the fate of three large settlements and the number of Palestinian refugees who would be allowed back into Israel proper.

Obama’s blueprint would declare an American position on how such gaps would be closed. He would take into account the contiguity and economic cohesion of a Palestinian state and Israeli and Palestinian security concerns, and offer guarantees and sweeteners from the international community. Without a carefully stipulated blueprint of this kind, calls for international recognition of a Palestinian state “in the 1967 border” are meaningless.

What’s holding the president back? Some are counseling that Israelis and Palestinians must “own” the deal. Netanyahu will reject any such blueprint, they say, and Israelis are generally drifting to the right. Abbas, for his part, may not now be popular enough to implement any deal — even one he is largely responsible for designing. So why should Obama present a blueprint and set himself up for diplomatic failure?

Such advice suggests a misguided foreign policy. Obama’s blueprint should not be aimed at getting the conflicting parties to “yes,” but at getting world powers to “agreed.” After presenting his plan to the Quartet, Obama should seek endorsements from one O.E.C.D. leader after another (diplomats in Jerusalem tell me the E.U. Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton is just “waiting for the word from Washington”).

An Obama blueprint should be declared in the spirit of the Arab League Initiative of 2002. It should be endorsed in advance by key U.S. Senate leaders, such as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry.

In crystallizing an international consensus regarding what peace should look like, a blueprint will create ambient pressure on the parties. It would start a new international conversation and provide a utilitarian benchmark, like the U.N. Partition resolution of 1947.

It would be a signal to Palestinian youths that an internationally backed state is, in effect, on the horizon; that in seeking unity between Fatah and Hamas, they should continue to empower the Palestine Authority to enter into international agreements and honor Abbas’s call to refrain from political violence and abhor acts of terror.

A blueprint would have enormous impact on Israeli politics, too. It would empower the moderate Israeli political parties — Kadima, Labor and the rest — to wrest back the political center from the parties of Greater Israel — Netanyahu’s Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalists and the religious.

The Israeli center — made up of Russian immigrants, non-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, young people close to the army — is driven by fears as much as by hopes. Like “independent” voters in America, they flock to avoid what the media depict as na├»ve and dangerously against the current.

A blueprint, backed by everyone from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would allow Israeli globalists to argue that the die is cast; that the situation in Gaza must be changed; that they alone can preserve relations with Washington and save Israel from international isolation. Obama could drive home the force of world opinion by visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah — perhaps addressing a mass rally in Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s globalization.

There are risks. Machiavelli wrote that great leaders must be prepared to be feared as well as loved. Obama must continue to risk making world opinion fearsome. But if he misses this opportunity, ostensibly to pursue some safer political course, moderates on both sides will lose.

The status quo means yet more settlements — and a pathetic American record of trying to halt them. Worse, it will mean Balkan-like violence enveloping the parties; every Palestinian bomb or missile, every Israeli Army assassination or errant shell, will pull more moderates to the extremes. Abbas told me he will resign if there is no tangible progress by September.

Obama will lose, too. Instead of becoming the region’s statesman, the author of a plan endorsed by global powers, Obama will run for re-election having alienated the Arab square without reassuring American circles supporting the Netanyahu government.

America, Obama concluded in his speech, must lead “support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders ... governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.” He does not have much time.

19 comments:

Y. Ben-David said...

With all the turmoil in the Arab world and a real possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood getting at least a share of power in Egypt and Islamists making moves for powier in other moderate countries like Tunisia, and even among the Palestinians (i.e. the unity talks between Abbas and HAMAS) who among the Arabs is going to push or force the Palestinians to make the concessions necessary to accept this imposed peace plan?
There is even less chance of such a plan being accepted now than there was 6 months ago, when it was practically nil.

GENE Schulman said...

Editor
International Herald Tribune
Paris France

Sir,

Bernard Avishai (Next, an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, IHT, march 30, 2011) is either very naive or just plain disingenuous. First, he praises President Obama for "getting it right" in Libya, then uses that argument to suggest what he should do to get it right in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is not at all sure that Obama got it right in Libya. This little escapade just may turn into another Iraq and drag on for some time, continuing to bring death and drain financial resources. But even if Mr. Avishai is correct about Libya, that does not assure that Obama will follow his advice on Israel-Palestine. Obama is well known for his flowery, but empty, rhetoric. He will say anything to make his fans think he is working on their behalf, then turn about face and do exactly the opposite, as he has from the beginning of his mandate. Why Mr. Avishai, or anyone else, should believe Obama will act on what he says reminds of the wolf in sheep's clothing. In the case of Israel-Palestine, Obama will continue to follow orders from the Lobby.

Eugene Schulman

12 Ave Adrien Jeandin
1226 Thonex, Geneva
Switzerland

Tel: 022 348 12 18

Potter said...

This is a very convincing argument and, I think, very much worth having been made despite all the naysaying in response and even if it goes nowhere.

I have skepticism about Obama's willingness to push and risk especially prior to his 2012 campaign. That said, such a plan, a bold move, could give him a spectacular boost here despite the Jewish right wing lobby. Other voices, I believe, would be heard in support that would drown them out.

But who or what ( ambient pressure) is going to move your prime mover, Obama, to be bold, to push a blueprint especially one that would have US and international commitment attached beyond the "yes"?

With the Libya decision we heard it was the women here that pushed our reluctant leader:Susan Rice, Hilary Clinton and Samantha Powers. The media was on board and you had France already chomping at the bit.

Anonymous said...

This is a utopian dream of how peace is made. The recommendations given would never work in the real world. Arab regimes need Israel as a scapegoat to distract away from their mistreatment of their own citizens. If an agreement was forced upon the parties as this article suggests, that scapegoat should be removed, however, the Arab world will just invent another reason to Nate Israel, and the cycle will continue.

Until the Arab public is deprogrammed from their generations of Jew hatred, peace is not possible. so the Palestinians will have a state. Hamas will still Nate the Jews. They will still launch rockets, send bombers, and employ every dirty trick to hurt or kill as many Israelis as possible.

Joel A. Levitt said...

Avishai has offered an excellent suggestion, one that a large number, perhaps a majority, of American Jews would applaud. However, the suggested strong leadership does not seem to be consistent with President Obama's character.

Y. Ben-David said...

What I find amazing about Dr Avishai is that he is completely insulated from the world and what is going on it. Very much like the old-time Marxist-Leninists, everything that is going on in the world is colored by their ideology which has nothing to do with reality. Dr Avishai is absolutely convinced that the "entrepeneurial elites" are the only people that matter, even though they are generally a small minority, even in the Western democracies, and all the more so in the Arab-Muslim Middle East, and that the vast majority of mankinds supreme value in life is making as much money as possible.
As I wrote above, Dr Avishai ignores all the upheavals in the Arab countries. It seems that in Egypt and Tunisia, the political Islamist movements (in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood) are in a position, if not to take power outright (at least in the beginning) but to at least win a major share of power, in a situation where the existing ruling clique is forced to share at least part of the national assets they have accumulated with the Islamists.
If this happens, we are likelly to see a strengthening of political Islam throughout the region, including in places like Syria, Libya (which has a maverick form of Islam in power with Qaddafi that is alienated from the rest of the Islamic world), Algeria, the Palestinians and Iraq. The Islamists will say that the destiny of the Middle East is with them, and what's more, the Obama and US is quite sympathetic with them. In other words, everything is going their way.
If we don't take a worst-case view , we will see regimes in power with Islamists like those in Turkey. Now, Turkey once had pretty close relations with Israel, now the Turks have come out and pretty much declared Israel as an enemy state. So how can Dr Avishai think that the Arab countries are suddenly now going to pressure the Palestinian to make fatal concessions to Israel in order to facilitate the imposed peace Dr Avishai is proposing? The Western countries Avishai is hoping to mobilize to make pressure in this direction ARE IN NO POSITION TO PRESSURE THE ARABS TO DO ANYTHING AGAINST THEIR WILL. If Obama's advisors are claiming that the US needs to support hard-line Islamic movements in order to be "on the right side of history" EVEN IF THEY ARE ANTI-AMERICAN how can anyone possibly think that Avishai's imposed peace plan could ever be coerced on the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs.
As I said, this is NOT the worst-case scenario. That is where Egypt goes all the way with the Muslim Brotherhood which ends up acting like HAMAS. That is a whole other ball-game where full-scale war could emerge. Let's hope not.

Potter said...

Ben David- You are really having trouble figuring out how to deal with a status quo that is not status quo anymore. The thinking on this side has always been to take away the issue of Palestine by RESOLVING it equitably ( the Arab Initiative is still good I hope and the others should be MORE willing to chaperone this, not less). So time is short.

The Muslim Brotherhood may not be the BOOGIE MAN you wish for either- nor Islamists all subscribers a fundamentalist interpretation of their book that clashes with Jewish fundamentalism. Maybe some who you call Islamists are not those boogie men at all, are more NORMAL people also interested in economic progress but wanting to do it THEIR way without the tyrants or our hegemony.

Israeli's must be so tired of being seen increasingly as greedy outlaws and oppressors when they have so much that is good to offer globally. If things get much worse ( as you predict) Israel will lose it's best and brightest, it's future, and turn into Pakistan as Dr. Avishai has warned. ( Why would they stay?)

Israel has painted itself into a corner while thinking there are the years left to stall. When it is said here there is not much time my hope is that we will not get to see the consequences that will arise out of the present path Israel is on.

Y. Ben-David said...

Potter-
I'll tell you what....if you think Dr Avishai's idea of the world getting together to impose peace on recalcitrant countries, why don't they first make peace between Turkey and the Greek Cypriots whose land they are occupying and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir which is Muslim but occupied by India. Those are a lot easier to solve and they can then serve as an example for us stubborn Israelis.

David Green said...

Obama's actions in Libya are consistent with an imperialist mentality. That mentality is consistent with the never-ending "peace process" that continues to deny the Palestinians their rights. Mr. Avishai engages in, at best, wishful thinking. He seems out of touch with the goals of Empire, perhaps because he is invested in the notion of a "good" Empire.

Acuumyst Report said...

Hello Guys, This blog gives me opportunity to ask question to both sides:
1. Y.Ben-David - can you tell me what concessions Palestinians have to agree to make a peace?

2. David Green - Although I am assuming you are not Palestinian, What rights inside Israel are denied to Palestinians?

Potter said...

(Green)...or invested in global community with it's growing body of international laws that need to be enforced especially in Israel-Palestine after all these years of occupation and "peace process". Enforced lest nothing has been learned from the past, lest the death and destruction be meaningless, lest international laws be meaningless, lest the concept of international law be meaningless. Let everyone who criticizes "empire" step up to the plate to do what needs to be done and let this "empire" fade gladly. We can't afford it, many of us don't want it ( and this may include Obama I don't know) and YET they come knocking at our door.

This may be wishful thinking but also a way forward if taken.

Potter said...

Ben David- Look at Ireland if you want an example. Stubborn Israeli's ( and their supporters) don't need or even want an example to pick apart; they know what needs to happen and they are asking to be forced.

Y. Ben-David said...

A. Report-
The deal killer is the so-called "Palestinian Right of Return" and the associated demand that Israel accept responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem when in reality it was the Arab declaration of jihad against the Jews and their proclaimed intention of driving the Jews into the sea, which fortunately failed.
The Palestinians insist on an unrestricted right of return (regardless of whatever concessions the Al-Jazeera leaks may claim) and no Israeli government will ever agree to that, but the Palestinians can not give it up. Thus the impasse.

Potter said...

No Ben David it was the Arab refusal to accept what the UN imposed on what they felt was their lands. They did not agree to the partition and at the time were quite angry about that. What you are saying is that they should have rolled over and had no right not to. I would say they had a right though it became costly because force and the international will prevailed to legitimize Israel. Still this does not erase the fact that Arab were dispossessed in order for there to be a Jewish homeland. This Israel must acknowledge.

#2 The Palestinians are not insisting ( nor is the Arab League) on unrestricted right of return. They have agreed that israel within the 67 lines must maintain a Jewish majority. YOu can disregard what ever statements you prefer but it does erase them.

Please stop peddling misinformation to suit your position.

Neptune said...

Response to Accumyst:

"David Green - Although I am assuming you are not Palestinian, What rights inside Israel are denied to Palestinians?"

I'm not sure the relevance, but if you don't know, than it's because you don't want to know. You can begin with Sabri Jiryis, and get back to me with how much (or little) things have changed.

David Green said...

David Green is sometimes from Neptune.

David Green said...

About Sabri Jiryis' classic work:

An overview of the first decades of the Zionist regime. The touches on the results of the ethnic cleansing of 1947-1949, the fate of the internally displaced persons, and decades of life under a military regime. From today's perspective, it looks like a grand rehearsal for the methods that were further sophisticated in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. This book really deals with the areas controlled by Israel since 1948 only, and is invaluable to people who believe that all that is needed for peace is a retreat from the territories occupied in 1967. The disenfranchisement of Israel's Palestinian citizens has not ended.
This book, originally written in Israel in Hebrew, makes extensive use of verifiable Hebrew sources. Israeli military censorship blocked its publication. In 1973, the author, now living in exile in Lebanon, rewrote and updated his book, and had it published in Arabic. This English version was made in 1976 by someone with no knowledge of Hebrew, and some Hebrew names are therefore mangled, which stands out to people who are used to Israeli sources, but must be understood, given the manner in which this book came into being.

The English version comes with an introduction by Noam Chomsky who, in 1976, sounded exactly like he sounds now, and believed a two-state solution was not only unavoidable, but imminent. This, too, is enlightening.

Having grown up in Israel and being well-read in its history, I found this book an invaluable addition to a chapter of its past that is hushed up and entirely unknown, inside Israel and outside of it.

Dan Kelso said...

Earth to David Green, 700,000 Jews were kicked out of the Arab countries.

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