Ceasefire stabilization agreement close?

The Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Hamas and the outgoing government of Israel now seem close to achieving agreements on (a) stabilizing the Gaza ceasefire, and possibly also (b) a prisoner exchange involving Hamas-held Israeli POW Gilad Shait and perhaps 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners.
The ceasefire-stabilization agreement seems closer. The pro-Hamas PIC website reported today that,

    Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader, announced Friday that a ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel and would take effect as of Sunday, but he said that there was a technical problem that emerged in the last hours when Israel demanded a permanent calm agreement.
    Dr. Bardawil explained that the agreement provides for a mutual 18-month truce, during which Israel is bound to lift the siege, open the crossings and allow in 80 percent of goods and building materials.
    The Hamas leader underscored that Hamas and Egypt rejected the Israeli demand of having a permanent calm, noting that this obstacle would be eliminated in the coming hours.

The “80 percent” of goods relates, I think, to the pre-2006 rate of passage across the Israeli-controlled freight crossing points, which was 750 trucks a day.
Bardawil also gave some details I hadn’t seen before about the guaranteeing and monitoring mechanism associated with this truce-stabilization agreement:

    Bardawil also pointed out that it was agreed that Egypt would guarantee the Israeli implementation of this agreement. He added that there would be a specific mechanism to oversee the Israeli commitment to the [crossings-opening aspects] truce whereby a tripartite committee of Egypt, the UNRWA and Hamas would be formed to supervise Israel’s abidance by opening of crossings.
    As for the Rafah border crossing [the Strip’s main people-crossing point, which is between Egypt and Gaza], the Hamas leader asserted that Hamas had received a promise from Cairo to reach another agreement guaranteeing the opening of this crossing as of next March.

Today, however, some additional last-minute obstacles seemed to arise in the negotiations. AP reported from Gaza this afternoon that,

    Hamas official said Saturday that new problems have come up. Hamas wants an 18-month cease-fire. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says Israel created new obstacles by seeking an open-ended cease-fire.
    Israel sought an unlimited truce in the past. A senior Israeli official said Saturday that a cease-fire would also have to be linked to a prisoner swap that frees an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

Having a ceasefire whose terms have been explicitly agreed to by both fighting parties is obviously a lot better than the present situation of having two parallel, un-negotiated and unilateral ceasefires. Having the ceasefire text explicitly attested to by a respected governmental third party (Egypt) is also an improvement on the June 2008 agreement, of which there was never an explicitly agreed and third-party-attested text. Having a mechanism to monitor compliance with the urgent matter of crossings openings is good.
However, this agreement could be weak indeed if there is no provision for monitoring of the ceasefire aspects– which should be applied to both fighting parties.
Also, I am pretty sure the administration of the border crossings from the Palestinian side requires some sort of PA framework within which Fateh and Hamas would work together.
Israeli PM Olmert’s office, meanwhile, has said that he will not sign off on the ceasefire agreement unless the release of Shalit is also part of the deal. Hamas has until now remained adamant that it wants to keep that negotiation– which also involves the release of many Palestinian prisoners– separate from the ceasefire agreement. But if Egyptian diplomacy is good for anything, then surely it should be able to find a way to sequence and/or finesse this issue.
Olmert is said to have a very strong desire to see Shalit freed before he leaves office.
A Palestinian prisoner release on the scale that I heard talked about in Egypt (roughly 1,000 of the 12,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners whom Israel now holds) could, if done right, have the potential for helping smooth the way to the intra-Palestinian reconciliation that is so desperately needed at this point. That’s because inside the Israel’s walled prisons and detention centers (as opposed to in the open-air prisons that all parts of the occupied territories have become), the prisoners from all different factions have found better ways to get along, and to manage the political differences among them, than the people in the wider open-air prisons have.
In particular, in May 2006, prisoner leaders from all the main factions came together and produced the “National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners” which set out what still today looks like an excellent plan for reunifying the Palestinian people around a workable and broad-based plan of political and popular action.
Egypt will also be hosting/mediating the top-level Palestinian reunification negotiation, which is scheduled to start on February 22 in Cairo.
Let’s hope and pray that all these important de-escalation moves succeed. Those of us who are citizens of the US, the EU, and other powerful nations have a special responsibility to make sure our governments allow the Palestinian reconciliation to proceed on terms agreed in a fair manner among the Palestinians themselves, without outside interference.
The project the US government, in particular, has pursued since 2006 to incite, arm, and support one portion of the Palestinian people to fight, Contra-like, against the portion that won the free and fair legislative elections of January 2006 must be ended. That campaign has already inflicted far too much damage on the long-suffering Palestinian people. It did not “succeed” in replacing Hamas in the affections and loyalties of many Palestinians with affection for Fateh. Just the opposite. The support for Fateh is now considerably lower than it was when Bush aide Elliott Abrams launched his highly immoral “Fateh as Contras” project back in 2006.
Meantime, let’s hope the ceasefire-stabilization and prisoner-exchange negotiations achieve success as quickly as possible.

Zahar in Egypt; timing of ceasefire?

Gaza-based Hamas leader Dr. Mahmoud Zahhar, who was named Foreign Minister in the all-Hamas government in summer 2007, today emerged from his “secure location” in Gaza to cross into Egypt. He was at the head of a four-person team heading to Cairo to participate in the indirect (Egypt-mediated) negotiations with Israel over the terms for a Gaza-Israel ceasefire.
Zahhar and the Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh are thought to be at the head of the list for the Israeli government’s completely illegal campaign of assassinations of political leaders.
The timing for Zahhar’s emergence and current diplomatic mission surprised me a little. It’s hard to think that Hamas or anyone else believes that this close to an Israeli election, any Israeli government would be willing to commit to a firm– i.e. written and publicly witnessed– agreement with Hamas. And getting close to an agreement is what would seem to be indicated by Zahhar going to take part in the Cairo talks, in person.
On the other hand, I’m sure he has plenty of other reasons to go to Cairo. One may be just to “show his face” in public. Inside Egypt, he could certainly do that– provided he has, as I assume he has, good guarantees of his safety from the Egyptian security organs. Inside Gaza, it would presumably be a lot more risky for him to appear in public, given the widespread presence of Israeli drones and other surveillance and assassination platforms. (Also, if the Israelis attack him in Egypt, and he’s under Egyptian protection, it would cause a massive international incident between Israel and Egypt. In Gaza, tragically, the Palestinians have no recognized state authority to protect them.)
There might be a good reason for Zahhar to show his face in public, given that last week some of the Israeli hasbara organs were spreading rumors he was badly injured. (But I note that, wily and courageous as he is as a politician and strategist, as far as I can figure he doesn’t have anything like the same strong symbolic value as a charismatic leader and captivating orator that, for example, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has, in Lebanon.)
But Zahhar also presumably has a lot of other movement business to conduct in Egypt and with people and networks in other countries that are not under such intense Israeli control as Gaza is.
Anyway, let’s hope that a serious ceasefire agreement can be concluded very soon. As Bob Pastor noted in the session I heard him speak at last week, it needs to have the following elements:

    1. It should be written down in a text that is made public.
    2. The agreed text should be signed by authoritative representatives of both parties (Israel and Hamas); and their signatures and the authenticity of the text should be attested to by one or more trusted third parties.
    3. It must mandate the cessation of all hostile acts by both sides. (The definition of what constitutes a “hostile act” by Israel may well need to be spelled out. For example, shouldn’t Israeli overflights of the Strip of all kinds be forbidden? In normal inter-state agreements, it would be enough to say that each sides must respect the territorial integrity of the other. This is not a normal inter-state agreement.)
    4. It must allow for the lifting of the siege of Gaza. (Pastor noted, btw, that the pre-2006 rate of goods crossing into Gaza was 750 trucks/day. That is the rate that should be restored. Since the siege was imposed in January 2006, the rate has always been far, far lower than that.)
    5. The agreement must have a third-party monitoring and verification mechanism. Pastor said this should be provided by the Quartet. Personally I’m not sure either that the Quartet is the best candidate for this, or, indeed, that it really has any continuing relevance at all… I saw a report that mentioned a possibility that Turkey and France might jointly help monitor a re-opened Rafah crossing (that is, the crossing for people, not goods, between Gaza and Egypt.) Maybe their role could be expanded into a broader ceasefire-monitoring role?

On monitoring and verification, it’s important to note that the Israelis always hate such agreements, which they see (quite rightly) as hobbling the extensive freedom they like to retain to act just as they want, militarily, against their neighbors.
I note, too, that in Lebanon Hizbullah won a crucial achievement in 1996 when, after the brutal election-related war that PM (now President) Shimon Peres launched against them that year, he was forced to sign a ceasefire agreement that included, for the first time ever, an international monitoring mechanism. That monitoring group was made up of representatives of the governments of Lebanon, Israel, Syria, France, and the US.
The 1996 ceasefire was considerably stronger, and better for Lebanon, than the one that had preceded it, which was concluded at the end of Israel’s 1993 war of choice against Lebanon. The 1993 agreement contained no provision for monitoring, and thus gave Israel considerable leeway to launch the 1996 war.
(Oh, did I mention that Peres lost the election in 1996, anyway? He did so mainly because the Palestinian Israelis stayed home from the voting booths in droves, in protest at the war. Thy might do the same this time around. But it would be less decisive, because Labour is nowhere near sitting close to victory.)
Anyway, after the conclusion of the 1996 agreement, Israel could no longer play around militarily in Lebanon as freely as it had before, because now the French and the Americans were watching their every move there. That situation formed an essential backdrop to the decision that Ehud Barak made when, as newly elected Labour PM three years later, he decided to simply pull Israel’s troops out of Lebanon completely, and unilaterally (i.e., without negotiations.)
Of course, back in he late 1990s, there was also a fairly strong peace– or anyway, pro-withdrawal– movement inside Israel. It was spearheaded by the “Four Mothers” group, founded by mothers of IDF soldiers serving in the dangerous theater that Lebanon was for the IDF in those years.
Now, there are many different factors in the political and strategic equation between Israel and Hamas. But it would still be really good for the people of Gaza if Hamas and Israel could conclude a durable ceasefire that ends up working.
And yes, it would be fine, too, if the PA/Fateh could be brought into the arrangement. Probably an advantage, as the Palestinians could then hope to resurrect the final peace negotiations much more quickly, as well.

Gaza ceasefire-consolidation talks update

I’ve been busy recently: I’ve been in New York with editors and (separately) the new grandbaby… Also, preparing for my next reporting trip to the Middle East, which starts this afternoon as I head off from freezing Washington DC to Cairo.
Cairo is the place where negotiations have been continuing over the past two weeks to consolidate the still extremely shaky, in-parallel, and un-negotiated brace of reciprocal ceasefires across the Israel-Gaza border that went into operation January 18.
A negotiated, and therefore mutually agreed, ceasefire is absolutely essential if the military actions that have already marked the period since January 18 are to be prevented from escalating, at any moment’s notice, into yet another full-blown war between Israel and Gaza. This negotiation need not be direct. In fact, both sides at this point probably prefer strongly not to deal directly with the other. But it does– as Jimmy Carter’s point-man Bob Pastor pointed out at the excellent panel discussion of his that I attended last week– need to be written down, and to have some form of third party authentication, oversight, or even more preferably still a continuing, third-party verification and monitoring mechanism. (Evident parallels there with the development of Israel-Hizbullah relations that took place between 1993 and 1996. Btw, the 1996 war was also launched by an Israeli PM as a part of his general election campaign… )
Bob Pastor said that Hamas and the Israeli government had notably disagreed, thoughout last summer and fall, about what exactly Israel had promised, regarding lifting the siege on Gaza, in the Egyptian-negotiated, six-month-long, mutual ceasefire (tahdi’eh) the two sides reached on June 18 last year; and that’s why, if the new ceasefire is to have any durability t needs to be written down, signed, and counter-signed. It also makes elementary sense that, in a situation of such grave mutual distrust, any agreement needs to be written down, signed by authorized representatives of both parties– and those signatures and texts authenticated by a third party whose third-party role is trusted and authorized by both of them.
Several Hamas people have expressed grave distrust in the role that Egypt has been playing as mediator/intermediary. But apparently Egypt– and in particular, Egyptian intel boss Omar Suleiman– is still trusted “enough” by both parties that he is once again the main intermediary/channel between them.
That’s one reason why it’ll be interesting for me to be in Cairo. From there I’ll proceed to Amman, Israel, and Palestine and perhaps also Syria, depending on a number of things.
As far as I understand the Hamas-Israel negotiation, Hamas has been adamant that any renewed ceasefire agreement must include solid provisions for lifting the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza ever since Hamas won the January 2006 elections. The present Israeli government, for its part, is facing tough elections next Tuesday. The war on Gaza did not go nearly as well as Olmert, Livni, and Barak had hoped. The intermittent descent of Gaza-launched rockets onto southern Israel that has occurred– along with many Israeli military actions against Gaza– even since January 18, reminds Israeli voters that the Olmert government has not “solved” the problems with Gaza that the war was, they had promised, intended to solve. Pressure from (and support for) the rightwing Israeli parties has intensified…
Under these circumstances, it’s unclear to me whether Olmert even has any motivation at all to conclude– far less announce!– any ceasefire agreement with Hamas before next Tuesday. Probably the only thing that just might make such an agreement acceptable to Israeli voters, in their current state of great anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Hamas frenzy, would be if it included the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli POW who has been held by unidentified militant groups in Gaza since June 2006, and by Hamas since it took control of the Strip in June 2007.
Hamas wants to keep the prisoner-exchange negotiations separate from the Gaza-ceasefire (and siege-lifting) negotiations. More than two dozen elected Hamas negotiators from the West Bank– including the speaker of the Palestinian parliament– have been held by Israel, without charges, as apparent bargaining chips for Shalit. Israel also holds a further 11,000-plus Palestinian detainees in its extensive complex of prisons for political prisoners. Most of these are being held without trial. Many of them are Hamas supporters and activists– though they come from all branches of the Palestinian national-liberation movement.
The rightwing Likud party is now clearly expected to win in Tuesday’s elections– and parties even further to the right like Avigdor Lieberman’s “Israel Beitenu” party have been moving up in the polls. Israel Beitenu now outranks Ehud Barak’s Labor Party as #3 in the opinion polls. (This marks yet another phase in the long decline of Israel’s once completely dominant Labour Party, which I have chronicled since 1998.)
… In other news, George Mitchell returned to DC a couple of days ago after completing his first “fact-finding” tour of the Middle East in connection with his role as the special envoy appointed jointly by Pres. Obama and Sec. Hillary Clinton. He reported back to both Clinton and Obama– in the White House’s Oval Office, yesterday. Tuesday, Clinton had earlier jumped the gun in terms of public announcements, by declaring that Hamas would still have to meet the three tired old, and very exclusionary “requirements” before it could be included in any US peacemaking. (Commitments not to use armed force and to recognize Palestinian rights have notably not been reciprocally required from the Government of Israel.)
Time has been running out for Obama to say something principled and clear about our country’s own strong interest in and commitment to a fair and durable Israeli-Palestinian peace, in time for that statement to resonate effectively with Israeli voters before they go to the polls Tuesday.
That’s a pity. I guess Obama has had a few other things to deal with, like the still-imploding national economy and the tanking of his nomination of old buddy Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services. But he really does need to keep his eye on this Israeli-Palestinian ball; and I hope that george Mitchell is dedicated to helping him do that.
This matter certainly can’t be left to the uncertain capabilities and understanding of Hillary Clinton.
Well, that’s it for now… Watch this space for continuing field updates as I travel. (Also, given how clunky the hosting service has become here at JWN, I’m considering shifting over to WordPress sometime soon. No change for JWN readers, though Don and Scott, as occasional authors, will need to get the new info when I do that. But until I can get that switch organized, I’ll probably be doing a lot of Delicious-ing of online resources I find helpful– check them out on the JWN sidebar. I’ll also be Twittering as the spirit moves me. So check that out, too. I’ve figured how to do that from my cellphone… I think.)

Obama, act now for peace and humanity!

When Israel was still bombing Gaza full-bore, back until two days before the end of George Bush’s presidency, president-elect Barack Obama said he did not want to adopt any kind of public position on the war because “We have only one president at a time.”
Now, he is it.
Israelis go to the polls on February 10. The parallel-but-unnegotiated ceasefires announced by Hamas and Israel on January 18 are looking very shaky indeed. Israel’s Military Intelligence has reported that it is the non-Hamas groups that have continued launching some hostile acts (an ambush, some small-scale rockets) against Israel since January 18. Today, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert promised to undertake “disproportionate” retaliation against Gaza for the latest rocket attack from Gaza, sendung warplanes against Southern gaza and threatening even greater escalations over the days ahead.
Olmert himself is not running in the upcoming election, though he is campaigning desperately to save the “legacy” of a term as PM that was stained by the strategic debacle of the 2006 war against Lebanon and the corruption charges that have snapped ever closer and closer to his own heels (and which forced him to step down as head of Kadima some months ago.)
Though Olmert is not running, his colleague at the head of Kadima, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, most certainly is. And so is Labour Party head Ehud Barak, currently the Defense Minister. Since January 18, this troika has come in for considerable criticism from Israel’s hard-right parties who claim– with some justification– that they did not “finish the job” they started when they launched the war december 27, in terms of suppressing the ability of the Palestinian militants to fire their (often home-made) projectiles against Israel.
Over the past few years the major political momentum inside Israel– including among an apparently broad swathe of the Jewish-Israeli public– has been pushing toward ever more hawkish stances and actions, though there are now, as always, several significant voices in the country that point out that suppressing the Palestinians’ will to resist Israel’s occupation and siege is an unachievable task and therefore Israel should seek to engage Hamas in negotiations.
But what of Barack Obama? Now, as the violence starts to re-escalate, he needs to speak out forcefully for de-escalation, and for a return to authoritative final-status peace negotiations, human solidarity, and calm.
He needs to do this before February 10, otherwise the bellophilia that has been holding so many Israelis in its thrall might sweep a very heavily rightwing and anti-withdrawal government into power.
He needs to do it now, to try to knock some sense into the heads of the current Israeli government, who throughout eight years of the Bush presidency got used to having a complete “carte blanche” from Washington, regardless of the serious bad effects that their actions had on US interests spread throughout the region. (For many years now, Washington has been overwhelmingly the main provider of help to Israel at the military, political, and financial levels. Everyone in the world knows that.)
Obama also needs to do this now because the people of Gaza are still suffering. During the recent war, Israel– using overwhelmingly US-supplied weaponry– bombed thousands of their homes and businesses and the physical facilities of many of their major social institutions to smithereens. People are in tents, and the Gaza winters can be biting cold. The work of physical and social reconstruction urgently needs to get underway– but the Olmert government still won’t allow even basic construction materials to pass into the Strip.
There is an urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But the crisis is not the kind of “humanitarian” issue that can be dealt with only by endlessly sending food and hygiene supplies in to Gaza’s people. It is, at its core, part of the deep and continuing political crisis of the Palestinian people– a crisis that has been awaiting an authoritative political resolution for 61 years now.
Obama did despatch Sen. George Mitchell to the region for a “listening tour,” last Monday. So I hope that, even though Mitchell is still in the Middle East, he has already been able to convey back to Obama some of the urgency of the situation he has found there.
But now, even before Mitchell gets back to Washington DC, Obama needs to start speaking out: for de-escalation, for a true spirit of human solidarity with the peoples of Gaza and of Israel, for strengthening the ceasefire in Gaza, and for launching a top-priority, international project to secure the terms of a final-status peace between Israelis and Palestinians within the next nine months.
Diplomatic delay has always been fatal on this issue. The US has only one president. President Obama: step up to the plate now!

If there is a viable two-state solution in Israel/Palestine…

… then my judgment is that it will lie somewhere between the cluster of ‘plans’ that emerged between December 2000 and mid-2003– the ‘Clinton parameters’, ‘Geneva Accord‘, and ‘Nuseibeh-Ayalon Plan‘, which collectively we can call CGNA– and the Arab Peace Plan proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the Arab League meeting in Beirut in 2002.
Probably, closer to the Arab Peace Plan.
The Arab Peace Plan is the only one of these that has the explicit support of (in this case, a large number of) the regional governments concerned, including the Palestinian Authority. The Clinton Parameters were then-Prez Clinton’s restatement of what he understood to be the points of convergence between negotiators from the then-outgoing Ehud Barak government in Israel and negotiators from Yasser Arafat’s PA. The Geneva Initiative was a well-meaning and well-funded Swiss project, undertaken after Ehud Barak fell from power, to get some of Israel’s out-of-government pro-peace actors to reach an agreement on details of a possible peace agreement with people very close to (still in office) Yasser Arafat. Nuseibeh-Ayalon was a similar attempt, focused on one pro-Arafat Palestinian and an Israeli figure who had previously been head of the Shin Beth.
One problem with all the CGNA projects is that they did not involve in any way either Hamas or that vast portion of the Palestinian nation (five million or more people– a number greater than that of Palestinians now living in the land of Mandate Palestine) who now live outside Mandate Palestine. These diaspora Palestinians include around 2.5 million UNRWA-registered refugees and an equally large or larger number of Palestinian exiles who still have demonstrable claims on property and national rights inside Palestine but who are not, for various reasons, registered refugees.
Another problem with the CGNA projects is that they completely ignored the requirements of international law, which underline the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, the complete illegality of a country planting its own settlers in land it holds only through belligerent military occupation, and the right of refugees to return to the land of their origin.
The problem with the Arab Peace Plan is that deliberations on it did not involve Israel’s seven million people, a good proportion of whom– though by no means all– could be expected to object to its international-law-based insistence on a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homes and farms.
Back in 2000, and perhaps as late as 2003, it looked plausible– sometimes even advisable– to many people in the US and elsewhere in the west to proceed with Israeli-Palestinian “peacemaking” according to a model that relied on US monopolization of the whole process. Given the immense power of the pro-Israel and indeed also the pro-settler lobbies within the US political system, this tipped the balance systematically against any fair and equal consideration of Palestinian rights, claims, and needs.
In April 2004, President Bush went further than any previous US president in bowing to the demands of the pro-settler lobby when he gave Israeli PM Sharon a letter saying,

    In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers [i.e. West bank settlement blocs], it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949 [i.e. the pre-1967 lines], and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

Though this letter has often been seen as an important new “fact” in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, it actually has no force of law whatever and is merely an exchange of views between two government leaders. Neither George W. Bush nor any other US president is, after all, the “boss of the whole world” or of the Middle East; and pronouncements by the US president have no particular force in international law, though they– as in the case of this letter– considerably complicate the efforts of diplomacy.
The entire US diplomacy from, or before, the time of the ill-fated Oslo Agreement of 1993 until now has also been very centrally based on “letting the two parties to this dispute work it out between themselves.” This approach built on a generally attractive opposition to the idea of imposed peace settlements. On the other hand, it built on and further propagated a myth that the two parties in question were in some way “equal” in stature and power. They never have been. Israel is a long-established state with its own power in the international system and its own army. The Palestinians are not a state but a dispersed and dispossessed people, some 3.8 million of whom now live directly under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
How can representatives of the prisoners “negotiate” on an equal basis with jailers who currently hold them captive, controlling their economy and their every movement, and who have repeatedly shown their readiness to use blunt force to control, punish, and impose their will on the imprisoned people?
Those were the structural problems behind all the attempts (some well-meaning, some perhaps not) to reach simply a “bilateral” agreement between the two sides, with the US government playing merely a role to “facilitate” that negotiation. A more accurate description of that version of the US role would be that it was to protect that extremely inequitable encounter between the imprisoned and his jailer from any demands for equity or international legal standards that might come from outside the closed room of their “negotiation”.
Hamas and other Palestinian groups always rejected that model of negotiation. Many other actors in the Arab world, including many Arab governments, also always had strong reservations about it. The Arab Peace Initiative poses a distinct contrast to the CGNA approach, primarily because it is based on international law and makes no assumption about the special or authoritative value of highly inequitable “direct, bilateral negotiations.”
Meanwhile, in the five years since George Bush’s extremely arrogant letter of 2004, the US’s relative position within world politics has been tumbling. There still seems to be a working assumption in much of Washington that the US can continue to monopolize Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, and apply ground-rules very similar to those it has used since 1993; but I believe that Pres. Obama and his advisers will rapidly discover that this is no longer the case.
A more truly international, UN-based and international law-based approach is the only sure way forward. (This could also, incidentally, provide Obama a sort of “Well, the UN made me do it” argument with which to counter the storm of internal criticism he’ll doubtless get from the pro-settler constituencies in both the Jewish and evangelical-Christian communities in this country, when and as he moves towards a more even-handed and law-based approach. After all, the US citizenry very evidently does need the active support of a range of other world powers at this point, if it is to avoid complete cataclysmic disasters happening to our badly over-stretched armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, or further, even worse additional disasters striking our already badly battered national economy.)
So what would an international-law-based outcome look like on the ground? Probably, something very much closer to the Arab Peace Initiative than to the CGNA plans. The 470,000 illegal settlers whom successive Israeli governments have planted into the occupied West Bank (including occupied East Jersualem) and the 17,000 it has planted into Golan will just have to deal with this. Perhaps some of them would be willing to stay where they are under Palestinian (or in Golan, Syrian) governance; and perhaps those new governments could help to arrange some sort-out for the complex property issues involved if some settlers did choose to stay. But extra-territorial civil status of any kind for these (former) settlers would be a quite unworkable can of worms. They have lived as completely privileged “Lords of the Land”, lording it arrogantly over their dispossessed Palestinian neighbors for far too long to allow any “special civil status” arrangement to be viable.
The vast majority of the settlers will simply have to go back and live in Israel proper; and the Palestinian (and Syrian) governments can then decide in a fair and inclusive way how the very lovely housing stock thereby released can be allocated among the many claimants from among their respective citizenries.
Special arrangements could be made to protect the access of religious pilgrims from the Jewish and other faiths to holy sites in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank; and perhaps some special religious institutions could be built near those sites to service those pilgrims– but still under the national sovereignty of the rightful Palestinian government. The Muslim and Christian authorities in sovereign Palestine might also want to gain reciprocal access and facilities for pilgrims from Palestine who want to visit holy sites and graveyards inside Israel.
But one central point here is that, while claims for “pilgrimage access” and the facilities attendant thereto should always be considered with favor by national authorities, the idea that pilgrimage or any other kind of religious claims can provide any kind of property or sovereignty “right” in international law is plainly untenable… What would Rome look like now if every Catholic from anywhere who now is able to go and pray there thereby acquired a “right” to settle in Rome, instantly become an Italian citizen, and then take over Italy and make it into their own new kind of religio-national state?
Another central point: We need to be able to identify who the “primary stakeholders” to this conflict are. They are, surely, members of the following groups:

    a) All Israeli citizens, whether ethnically/religiously Jewish, or ethnically Palestinian/Arab;
    b) All Palestinians, including both those who currently residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza and those forced into exile from mandate Palestine over the past 61 years, and the descendants of those “original” exiles.

Each person who is a member of one of these groups should count as one, and none as more than one, to use the old Benthamite definition of human equality. And though many of the rest of us– American Christians, French Jews, Buddhists from China, or agnostics from Sweden– may have special feelings of affection (or even religious longing) for various aspects of life or objects of devotion in that area of Israel/Palestine, we are not actually, direct stakeholders at all. We are outsiders, and have no special claims.
There are around seven million Israeli citizens. And though the counting of Palestinians– especially those in the diaspora– is less precise, the total of Palestinian “insiders” and “outsiders” (but excluding those 1.2 ethnic Paestinians who are citizens of Israel) doubtless comes to more than 7.5 million, perhaps a lot more.
A person does not lose his claim to be a Palestinian if he leaves his home under situations of duress and is thereafter denied the right to return to it; and nor do his children lose the rights they would otherwise have had to and in their homeland, simply because their parents were refugees. This principle of the continuation of the property and political rights of refugees is well founded in international law. In the political settlements of recent years in South Africa, Bosnia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, those exiled from their homeland were included in voting and referendum processes on an equal basis with those who were never thus exiled. Palestinians are no different.
(Hence, incidentally, I find the arguments of many of those who discuss the “demographic threat” that Israel now faces as the number of Palestinians in mandate Palestine starts to overtake the number of Jews residing there quite ill-directed. Everyone who uses those arguments has already assumed the longterm disfranchisement and marginalization of that majority of the Palestinian people forced to live in complete exile from their homeland for, in many cases, the past 60 years… Some of those exiles have found citizenship and a modicum of a decent life elsewhere. A troubling number have not. But whether they have or not, nothing has happened that annuls the full citizenship rights they have as part of the Palestinian citizenry.)
… So, to return to the main topic of this post, if there is a two-state solution in Palestinian/Israel that is viable at the all-important political level, then it will be one that lies somewhere between the CGNA guidelines and those of the Arab Peace Plan-cum-international law approach, but most likely closer to the latter than to the former.
I know a lot of people who put a lot of effort into the Geneva Initiative. And I know a lot of people for whom the name “Clinton” is itself (fairly inexplicably to me) quite golden. But I think the advocates of these two approaches, and of Nuseibeh-Ayalon, need to understand that their approaches were centrally flawed because they so deeply excluded and marginalized the claims of the Palestinian exiles and of international law. I urge everyone who worked hard on behalf of any of the CGNA plans now to work just as hard promoting the Arab Plan.
My gut sense is that it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, for all, or indeed, for many at all, the claims of the Palestinian refugees to their lands and homes in Israel to be met. (And the provision of UN GA resolution 194 which detailed that right of return also prescribed that the returnees should live peaceably in their homes under the prevailing government, which might not be easy for them to accept, anyway.) But the needs of most of the refugees could surely be sufficiently met through some combination of compensation for properties lost and an expression of remorse from government authorities in Israel for the harm caused in the fighting of 1947-49.
Meantime, it is the needs and claims for political and other forms of inclusion of that vast body of the Palestinian refugees who are also exiles from historic Palestine that now need urgently to be brought back into the peacemaking agenda. If their needs and claims can be sufficiently met within the contours of a politically robust Palestinian state, then a two-state solution can still– not without difficulty– be salvaged.
But this needs to start happening very soon indeed. In this JWN post yesterday I outlined the seven important steps that President Obama should take, to get us on speedily on the path to this.
If a two-state solution cannot be salvaged, then the only alternative– down the road– will be an inclusive, South-Africa-style, one-state solution within Mandate Palestine. But that outcome will be far harder, and more damaging, for the region to get to than the presently offered road to a workable two-state outcome. It would involve, most likely, regionwide turmoil and upheaval on a scale we have not seen yet, that would directly threaten supply lines vital to the US and other world powers, and also the peace and security of the entire world system.
It would be the height of folly and recklessness for President Obama to even risk going anywhere near that road. Using the opportunity that’s presently offered to work with the world community to win a viable two-state outcome may look difficult. But it is by far the wiser course. And with a substantial portion of both the world and the US citizenry urging him on, he can start to spell out visions of an Arab-Israeli theater at peace that have been literally unimagineable for most of the past 60 years.