Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Idea of the Obama Administration Supporting an "Imposed Solution" on the Israel-Palestinian Issue Takes a Big Step Forward

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By Barry Rubin

Is the U.S. government going to present its own comprehensive peace plan on the Israel-Palestinian issue? There is growing evidence it is thinking of doing such a thing, though that is by no means certain. If the Obama Administration does move in this direction, however, I predict that it will be a major failure and humiliation for that government.

The latest development is an apparently well-informed New York Times article about a meeting chaired by National Security Advisor James Jones, known for being hostile to Israel, and including former national security advisors, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft—also known for being anti-Israel—and Samuel Berger. All three (it should be mentioned that none of this trio covered himself with glory when in office and are not exactly foreign policy geniuses) reportedly favor the idea. Former national security advisor Colin Powell disagreed, but he’s a Republican (though a pro-Obama one) and probably less influential. (Two recent other Republican national security advisors who probably would have agreed with Powell were not invited at all.)  Oh, and President Obama dropped in to hear the discussion.

One might ask a lot of people who voted for Obama if they are happy having Brzezinski and Scowcroft as top advisors on Middle East policy. Again, though, it should be clear no decision has been made and such an initiative might never happen, assuming clearer heads triumph.

But, the reporter writes:

“Still, for all of that, a consensus appears to be growing, both within the administration and among outside advisers to the White House, that Mr. Obama will have to consider suggesting a solution to get the two sides moving.” This might happen also if indirect talks fail.

Let us pause a moment to consider that this whole approach is the opposite of being brilliant. First, the administration has just signaled to the Palestinians that they want to make the indirect talks fail, since then the U.S. government will make an “imposed” offer that will adopt almost all of their demands. After all, if it doesn’t, they can sabotage the proposal, knowing that the Obama administration will never punish or criticize them. Since the government desperately wants to succeed, it is giving the Palestinian Authority all the leverage.

Of course, Israel is going to reject this idea, which then lets them sit back and enjoy more U.S.-Israel conflict. Thus, the whole strategy in advance is doomed to fail.

In addition, the strategy is deeply against diplomatic norms. U.S. policy has always been to insist that the two parties will decide on the issues. For many years, Israel has been making concessions based on an understanding that there would be no attempt at an imposed solution.

This, then, would be the third commitment from past years that the Obama administration would break.

The first was that any diplomatic solution could include Israel keeping some areas—settlement blocs—across the pre-1967 borders (though a State Department note back in October 2009 hinted that would be possible). The second was agreeing that Israel could build in east Jerusalem if it stopped building in the West Bank, a promise noisily and insultingly broken recently. Why, then, should Israel trust any promise in future made by this government?

The agreement outlined in the article is that there would be no return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and the 1967 borders with possibly some modifications. There would be U.S. or NATO security guarantees for Israel, and possibly troops along the Jordan River. And finally, that Arab states would recognize Israel.

Leaving aside the problems that such a proposal would bring for Israel, on its face the idea is absurd and doomed to defeat. To start with, there is no consideration of a little problem called the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas and would never accept this plan. Then there is the fact that Arab states would not recognize Israel for a variety of reasons, including the question of Syria’s interests in the Golan Heights.

The sole expert quoted by the Times, by the way, is Robert Malley who, of course favors it though he stresses it won’t be easy. Malley is very close to the PA and very far away from Israel. His influence with the administration seems to be growing and he has been seen closely advising Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and leading na├»ve person on these issues. I could write a great deal about Mr. Malley but suffice it to say that Israel’s survival is not a major concern for him.

There are many factors here but let me cite just two. First, high-ranking administration officials are not exactly deeply understanding of the issues at stake. Any plan presented by them will be full of holes and dangerous errors. Second, the notion that they can solve this issue and the whole Middle East will fall into place is absurd. See here, for example.

Yet the outcome would be the exact opposite of what they expect on the regional level. Islamists and many others in the Arab world will present any plan as treason, proof that America is against them. Obama would become less popular, attacks on the United States (both verbal and terrorist) would increase, as the radicals would do everything possible to sabotage any deal. If PA leaders accepted it—which they won’t—or even appeared sympathetic, opposition to them within Fatah would increase.

It would be nice if those favoring or reporting on current policy mentioned these problems and tried to refute them in some way. Instead, they are usually just ignored. How can you write about an imposed solution and not even mention that little detail regarding Hamas! At least the Washington Post version--which as usual is superior to the Times reporting from Washington--says something about Gaza. But neither points out how this is a reversal of all previous American promises.

In reality, the United States would gain nothing and lose a great deal through such a strategy. What happens after the Obama Administration makes such an approach and it fails miserably? Where will its credibility in the region and its prestige at home be then?

After the British technical victory at the battle of Bunker Hill during the American revolution, suffering very heavy losses, a British officer wrote home: One more victory like this and there will be no one left to report it.

With the Obama Administration, having mishandled both Israel-Palestinian issues and sanctions against Iran (one could mention a few other foreign policy issues in this context), it could be said: One more initiative like this and there will be no one left in office. Even the New York Times editorial board won’t be able to protect them. Can you say: One-term president?

Finally, one reason why I’d prefer that the administration did something right on foreign policy is so I could stop writing articles like this and find some good things to say about them. After all, the fact that the United States is doing so poorly in the world is bad for all freedom-loving peoples as well as the American people themselves. I beg the administration to stop being "one-sidedly" wrong so I can stop being "one-sidedly" critical. But I'm not holding my breath.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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