… 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.