The global politics of an Israeli-Palestinian peace

I was just thinking a little more about the global-political context within which any soon-foreseeable Palestinian-Israeli final peace might be concluded… That was after writing this blog post yesterday in which I looked briefly at the question of the international auspices under which any peacekeeping/peace-monitoring force might be deployed to the OPTs.
I noted there that the body or bodies directing the PK force would most likely be the body or bodies directing the diplomatic effort to achieve the peace agreement. Which in the present context would be the U.S.-led Quartet.
The Quartet’s three “junior” partners are the E.U., Russia, and– quite anomalously– the U.N. (The U.N. certainly should not be the junior partner of any single member state. It’s supposed to represent the interests of the whole of humanity.) I very much doubt, however, if any of those junior partners would be prepared to supervise, underwrite, or contribute troops to the maintenance of a PK force sent to “keep” any form of peace that does not meet the full requirements of international law.
Most peacekeeping forces around the world are supervised by either the U.N. or by the relevant regional organization like, in West Africa, ECOWAS. One major exception, that is in the Middle East, is the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that supervises the U.S.-brokered peace treaty that Egypt and Israel concluded in 1979. The MFO has 12 national contingents, all of them coming from very strongly pro-U.S. nations. Those countries’ governments are happy to contribute forces because they know that this peace is a stable one that is strongly underwritten at the political level by the U.S.– and because it is fully based on the international-law principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. Egypt did not cede one inch of its national territory to Israel in the peace agreement, though it did of course agree to very extensive demilitarization measures, economic terms highly favorable to Israel, etc.
But because that peace is both stable and based on international law, participation in the MFO has never, to my knowledge, come in for any serious criticism from the publics of those nations contributing forces.
So now, let’s come to the challenge of forming and supervising a PK force to keep an Israeli-Palestinian peace…
Which nations are going to contribute troops to this force, and under whose supervision?
In the CNAS study (PDF) I was writing about yesterday, Marc Lynch even posited as one of the “scenarios” he was considering, the idea that the PK force– whose supervisory auspices he studiously avoided discussing– might have to engage in some counter-insurgency missions against Hamas’s very extensive networks in the West Bank!
(Hamas, remember, being the party that won the PA’s 2006 parliamentary elections.)
Truly, how many countries are going to be contributing troops to this PK force?
But also, how many governments or or inter-governmental bodies would be willing to participate– in either a supervisory/legitimizing capacity, or a troop-contributing capacity– in a peacekeeping operation designed to “keep” any peace that would fall far short of the requirements of international law?
I think the answer to that question is that only one seriously-sized government anywhere in the world would be willing to consider doing that, and that is the U.S. But this is really a non-starter. Can anyone imagine the reaction worldwide (and in the region) if the U.S. were to try to dominate a PK force in the OPTs, with a big part of the mandate of the force being to protect Israel’s illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank from the many Palestinians– including the actual owners of many of those lands– who still maintain their claims to them?
We are not in 1979.
Back then, the U.S. stood aside the world and was able to convince everyone else that it could (and perhaps even should) monopolize the entire diplomacy of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Jimmy Carter and his team were also able to persuade the Israeli government of the day that, despite its earlier desire to hang onto much of the Egyptian territory of Sinai, indeed it could not; and it would have to withdraw completely to the international border. Hence that peace agreement met the requirements of international law.
Today’s U.S. president is not nearly as powerful– either within world politics, or even, it seems, in the ongoing tussle of wills with Israel.
For all these reasons, it therefore seems to me quite implausible that the U.S. could hope to replicate the MFO model of 1979 and plan to deploy a U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” type of PK force in the OPTs.
The “willing” are far less numerous, and far less willing, than they used to be. Even NATO, having gotten dragged by Washington into both the war in Afghanistan and the beefed-up UNIFIL operation in Lebanon, now has many members who reportedly pushed back hard against Jim Jones’s late-2008 suggestion that NATO run the post-peace (and perhaps also the peri-peace) PK force in the OPTs.
I think everyone is agreed that if there is to be a two-state outcome in the foreseeable future–a HUGE ‘if’ there– then the Palestinian state that thereby emerges would be substantially demilitarized. (Personally, I think that in the context of a comprehensive peace, that includes the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks as well, then Israel should emerge substantially demilitarized, as well… But that’s a slightly different issue.)
But if the Palestinian state is demilitarized, then the citizens of that state of course need considerable reassurances that they won’t be subjected to resumed forms of Israeli aggression. They would thus probably need some form of international force to help provide that reassurance– as well as to help police their side of the border against any attempts by Palestinian militants to breach it.
Probably the best kind of force for that purpose would be one in which both the Palestinian citizens themselves, and the “international community”, and Israel, all have high confidence. A Turkish-led force is one model that immediately comes to mind. A U.N. force is another. (After all, UNDOF and UNTSO have very successfully kept Israel’s 1974 ceasefire line with Syria quite quiet for the past 36 years.) Actually, a Turkish-led U.N. force would seem to me to be the best of all possible options.
Bottom line here: Any PK force that goes into Palestine in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace has to have a high degree of international legitimacy, both in its institutional structure and in the content of the peace that it’s keeping. The model of a U.S.-led force, that worked in 1979, is incapable of working today. It’s the U.N. or nothing.
Therefore, if the folks in the Obama administration truly want to see a stable, two-state peace emerge, then they will need to find a way to hand the peace-making baton over to the U.N. as rapidly as possible.
But maybe they don’t want it that strongly?

12 thoughts on “The global politics of an Israeli-Palestinian peace

  1. Michael W.

    “The U.N. certainly should not be the junior partner of any single member state. It’s supposed to represent the interests of the whole of humanity.”
    I thought the UN was a collection of governments, not of humanity. If the UN is to truly represent humanity, all of its members must select its governments (who then select UN ambassadors) democratically. Much of the Africa group and the Islamic group (which is like half of the UN) do not have democratically elected governments.
    “Egypt did not cede one inch of its national territory to Israel in the peace agreement”
    Both Egypt and Jordan did not regain all territory from Israel that they controlled before 1967. Ironic that in order for a Palestinian state to be established, the “occupying colonist power” (aka Israel)has to take the land first from the Arab regimes.

  2. David

    Helena,
    Do you have any reference source for this claim: “Jimmy Carter and his team were also able to persuade the Israeli government of the day that, despite its earlier desire to hang onto much of the Egyptian territory of Sinai, indeed it could not; and it would have to withdraw completely to the international border.”

  3. David

    Nothing demonstrates the differences in the thinking of the two camps than startments like this: “Personally, I think that in the context of a comprehensive peace, that includes the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks as well, then Israel should emerge substantially demilitarized, as well… But that’s a slightly different issue.)
    But if the Palestinian state is demilitarized, then the citizens of that state of course need considerable reassurances that they won’t be subjected to resumed forms of Israeli aggression.”
    Israel thinks it’s military responses are due to provaction, like rockets and suicide bombers. You and your readers think Israel’s existence is provaction which causes the Arab actions.

  4. HARRY VERBERNE

    Your blog and Juan Cole’s are the only independent sources of information about what is really happening in the Middle East. Israel will continue to slowly but surely attempt to deport all the Palestinians from the West Bank and probably from Israel proper to Gaza. If your expecting Obama to condemn and/or condemnation from the US Congress over Israels attempt at ethic cleansing, then you are in for a surprise.
    I have clearly lost hope that the U.S.A. can ever be the honest broker between the Palestinians and the Israeli’s; the U.S.A. is too much in bed with whatever Israel wants to do. The U.S.A. will prevent the U.N. from ever being allowd to attempt to broker a peace agreement in Palestine.

  5. 5 dancing shlomos

    peace? pieces.
    lets see: a concentration-extermination prison and prison cells. this will be the palestinian “state”. peace keepers will be guarding this to prevent them from attacking their beloved neighbor.

  6. epppie

    It’s charming that at last you acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, Obama doesn’t give a crap about peace. Now the next step might be to recognize that he’s already looking like possibly the biggest warmonger we have ever had in the WH.

  7. bevin

    The matter of 1967 cannot be dealt with before those arising from 1948.
    What Israel’s more pacific elements, and their friends abroad, are proposing is that unwanted, undigested portions of the spoils of 1948 should be offered in exchange for strategically desirable positions in the territories conquered in 1967.
    It is no wonder that the political descendants of those who led the terrorist expulsions of 1948, having had their crimes sanctioned by the US and its allies, assure Israelis that, in time, the world will get used to the digestion of the West Bank and Jerusalem.
    The truth about “Peace’ is that there are millions of refugees (among whom are naturally included the descendants of the expelled)whose interests cannot be ignored.
    Any peace process which does not give high priority to a scrupulously balanced and honest discussion of the rights of these people, wherever they are currently living, is an incitement to further ‘ethnic cleansing’ and wider problems down the road.
    The United States has no capacity to deal with this issue, which has become entirely disconnected from International Law, ideas of justice and even of rational behaviour. It needs to be taken out of the hands of the United States.
    No deal arbitrated by the United States can possibly work: the Senate would never pass a treaty that Palestinians could accept.
    Unequal treaties and diktats, as we know, always lead to war.The great problem here is that Israel is ruled by those who want war, who positively lust after blood. They detest peace and fear nothing more than the friendhip of their neighbours.
    The first step to peace is for the world to tell Israel that further aggression will not be tolerated. This will involve asking the United States to stop encouraging such aggression, to stop financing it and to stop furnishing Israel with the munitions without which their threats would be mere vapourings.

  8. Salah

    Helena,
    Although you believing and talking about two state solution in ME, whatever your strong believe in this scenario will works in this case you should realise this not in your hand or US and one else.
    The problem lay between the tow sides in ME although Palestinians have some form of acceptance Hamas position still in question here, also Israelis ” political power” far from to agree to this solution.
    No force Israelis to come to this or other solution in ME although Arabs comes forward long distance than what Israelis imagined but the pasts 60 years approved that Israelis temptation as spooled boy in the hand of US and western world, I have no doubt that this matter no end for it.

    Israel prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, but the country also has a controversial practice of censoring reporting on military and intelligence issues.

    Interview with Israel’s Chief Censor

  9. Stella Goldschlag

    Why not have Iranian Revolutionary Guards serve as the PK force? There would be plently of incentive for enforcement by the Iranian Pasdaran. Include Hezbollah as well

  10. Salah

    . Israel is the country with the highest record of UN condemnation. 500+ times

    . Israel is the country with the highest number of protective US Security council vetoes.100+ times

    . Israel has only two countries to defend its policies in the United Nations. These countries are America & Micronesia.
    The population for Micronesia as of June 2008 is only 108000

    . Israel despite being a rich country, receives the highest financial aid, more than the sum aid to all sub-Saharan Africa!

    . Israel is the county that has introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East. But the only country in the Middle East that
    refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty

    by Ken Freeland (founding member of Houston Coalition for Justice Not War and only participant in the Assembly from Texas)

  11. Eurosabra

    The UNDOF experience is a result of the fact that Syria maintains a state monopoly over the use of anti-IDF force on the Golan, while the mess that exists on the Israel-Lebanon and Israel-Gaza border is a reflection of the fact that violence is decentralized down to the the level of a 3-man cell and artisanal rocket. UNTSO’s signal failure in 1967 is so apparent that one forgets the 1956-67 period in which life in Jerusalem was rendered somewhat livable by the modus vivendi of the UN working with two strong, stable states with an incentive to keep the peace. Also resurrecting the UNTSO demilitarized zones in Jerusalem may be impossible, as Israel regards them as its sovereign territory. Time runs on.

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