Negotiating 'Peace' and Not Getting There
The Middle East Quartet (United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia) is promoting new "peace talks" as a means of holding off the Palestinian bid for independence. American pundits are proffering ways for the United States to "jump-start" the talks, including "American" positions on core issues.
Barbara Slavin at AOL is one of those. Slavin believes that the Palestinians are way out in front of the Israelis in offering "detailed proposals" on core issues, so the U.S. should simply announce where borders might usefully go and then move on to other things. She cites the work of David Makovsky, an American longtime observer who is preparing maps. "Where geography meets demography," Makovsky says. The maps themselves sound reasonable -- Israel keeps the main settlement blocs and the Palestinians would get maximum contiguous territory, rather like President Bush's 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon.
Makovsky's maps, however, require the Palestinians to diminish their national aspirations to a rump state wedged in the east between a hostile Israel and a hostile Jordan, and in the west wedged between a hostile Israel and a generally hostile Egypt. They didn't accept it from President Bush; why should they accept it now? And Israel cannot trade the tangible ability to deploy its army in strategic space for Palestinian promises.
Slavin claims, "Israelis could also rally around something tangible. Arab leaders who have been loath to extend recognition to Israel would have a new impetus to move forward. Spoilers such as Iran, Hamas and Hezb'allah would be thrown on the defensive. Al-Qaida terrorists who accuse the United States of responsibility for Palestinian oppression would lose one of their most potent propaganda tools."
There is nothing tangible about "new impetus" for Arab states to recognize Israel, "spoilers" being "thrown on the defensive," or al-Qaeda losing "one of their most potent propaganda tools."
Slavin and Makovsky are not alone in starting from the wrong end. Frustrated Americans including Secretary of State Clinton have been known to say, "We can't want peace more than the parties." Secretary of State James Baker famously told Prime Minister Shamir to call when he was interested in peace. If "peace" is the goal of the "peace talks," the parties are doomed to fail.
Peace is not quantifiable. There is, after all, a just peace, a secure peace, a cold peace, and the peace of the dead. There is peace that contains the seeds of the next war, such as with the Versailles Treaty, and peace that leads to long-term amity and prosperity, such as the American occupation of Germany and Japan. Concessions to Hitler in the 1930s didn't keep the peace any longer than Hitler intended. Peace talks in December 1943 wouldn't have had the same impact. "Peace" could be addressed only after the issues -- WWI and WWII -- had been concluded to the satisfaction of the Allies.
If peace is not a negotiable proposition, it might be expected to emerge from the resolution of issues important to the parties. What are the issues here?
For Israel, there are three:
- Recognition of the Third Jewish Commonwealth -- the State of Israel -- as a permanent and legitimate part of the region and the community of nations (also known as "end of conflict, end of claims");
- "Secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" -- the promise of U.N. Resolution 242 -- and
- The capital of Israel in a united Jerusalem.
For the Palestinians, there are also three:
- International recognition of an independent Palestinian State without recognizing borders for the Third Jewish Commonwealth;
- Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state; and
- The right of refugees of 1948/49 and their descendants to live in places from which they -- or their antecedents -- claim to have originated inside the boundaries of pre-'67 Israel.
Israel's interest in a united Jerusalem is practical as much as anything else. The U.N. had promised Jewish access to Jewish holy places within the city in 1948 but failed to a) deliver access and b) prevent the wholesale destruction of Jewish patrimony on the eastern side after the expulsion of the Jewish community. Israel is unlikely to substitute future promises of access for its current ability to operate an open city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
On the Palestinian side, Abbas has no authority to concede the so-called "right of return" of Palestinians to Israeli territory, or to agree that Jews can live east of the 1949 Armistice line. He is beholden to his most radical elements and remains in power only because the IDF provides security in the West Bank. He has no authority at all in Gaza, which ousted his Fatah in a short, brutal civil war in 2007.
To understand the requirements of both parties is to understand that something other than "peace" is at issue. And that would be a starting place for realistic goals and limitations on the Quartet and on the American government.
Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.