April 13, 2010
Obama's Pie in the Sky
There is no solution to the final status issues of Jerusalem, borders, and refugees that both sides will agree to. Nevertheless, President Obama is committed to achieving an agreement.
Recently, two top administration officials advised David Ignatius of the Washington Post to the effect that President Obama is "seriously considering" proposing an American peace plan which would be based on "agreements nearly reached" in the past. This is outrageous, as I will explain, and it has no chance of succeeding.
Of course, they repeated the mantra that "[e]veryone knows the basic outlines of a peace deal," but they omitted to say that neither of the parties agrees to it.
This is the first time an administration official acknowledged the linkage between solving this problem with solving the problem of Iran. "It's not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both." The official went so far as to say,"[w]e want to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level that can involve Jordan, Syria, and other countries in the region,"
Apparently, after spending a year on making settlement construction and Jerusalem the key issues, the Obama administration is finally admitting defeat and moving on. Undaunted by their failure so far even with Syria and Iran, they are going to focus on a regional solution. "Incrementalism hasn't worked," they say. Effectively, the administration is opting for a grand design.
The formula for success, they say, is to "take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security and the requirements of Palestinian sovereignty in a way that makes sense." Sorry, but Israel isn't buying. Obama has been trying to frame the solution that way for a year, but it ignores that Israel wants, and is entitled to, more than having its security needs met. She has very strong legal and historical claims to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Obama has done his best to ignore them.
Israel will not accept a deal which forces them to give up on the settlement blocks, including Ariel and Maaleh Adumin. Even if that were offered to them, Israel would still have to uproot about 70,000 Jews at a cost of over $100 billion. Most if not all of Jerusalem as annexed by Israel forty years ago would have to remain under Israeli sovereignty. Israel would not agree to anything less. While Israel might accept a return of a token amount of refugees, the country will be looking for redress for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
On the Palestinian side, Obama wants to satisfy the "requirements of Palestinian sovereignty in a way that makes sense." This tells us nothing about what he thinks the Palestinians should get.
But last year, after arduous shuttle diplomacy, the following "terms of reference" were agreed upon:
Today's announcement [partial temporary freeze] by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.
In order to reach agreement on these terms, the administration had to allow for considerable diplomatic ambiguity -- so much so that there was no agreement at all. The Arabs still resist recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and accepting an end of conflict agreement.
Even within the confines of these terms of reference, the difference between the parties' positions is enormous. How can borders based on the '67 lines, even with mutually agreed swaps, be reconciled with "borders that ... meet Israeli security requirements."
Look for a great deal of pressure on Bibi to capitulate.
Netanyahu has demanded that final status issues be negotiated without preconditions. When speaking to the UNGA last September, Obama said, "... the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues."
What Netanyahu meant was that he rejected starting with previous Israeli offers, and Obama evidently agreed. Yet in the position presented in the Ignatius article, Obama intends to start with what the parties almost agreed to. Furthermore, the most generous offers Israel made in the past were made by left-of-center governments headed by Labor or Kadima. The Netanyahu government is right of center and will not match those offers, let alone better them.
Throughout the entire peace process, Israel was assured that all final status issues would be negotiated between the parties. That gave Israel an out if they didn't like where negotiations were headed. It also enabled them to agree to parameters they were not comfortable with. No more.
Obama, for his part, will not suggest that the Arabs compromise much because it would undermine his Muslim outreach. Therefore, his plan will favor the Palestinians by a country mile. It will resemble the Saudi Plan.
Finally, there is the small matter of Gaza. The land for peace formula which was articulated by UNSC Res 242 was always intended to mean peace with Arabs living in Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza. There is no chance that Hamas, who controls Gaza, would go along, to say nothing of Syria and Iran. Although Obama wants a regional approach -- i.e. from 30,000 feet -- these players won't play.
If Obama does in fact announce his plan, he will be ending the peace process. The Oslo Interim Accords provided that "[n]either side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent-status agreement." When Fayyad announced that he intended to unilaterally declare a state, Netanyahu said that if he did, Israel would be free to annex Judea and Samaria. The same logic would apply if Obama announced a plan.
Were Obama to announce such a plan, he would be plunging his administration into a battle royale with the American people just when the fall elections are underway. Even the Democratic candidates will be against it.
Announcing such a plan is one thing; enforcing it is another. No doubt the EU, the Arab League, and the U.N. will sing its praises. The EU and the Arab League are already on record of threatening an imposed solution. Thus, expect a U.N. Charter Chapter VI resolution to be passed by the U.N. imposing such a plan. Next would come a Chapter VII resolution providing for sanctions and/or military intervention. Congress and the Senate will not authorize either. Without their cooperation, there can be no effective enforcement.
Of course, if the U.N. limited itself to the Chapter VI resolution, it could expel Israel from the U.N. for not complying.
The attempt to link Iran with a deal on this conflict will not succeed because Iran must be solved this year, regardless of progress on solving this territorial dispute.
Ted Belman is the editor of Israpundit. He recently made aliya from Canada and is now living in Jerusalem.