Welcome new thinking on the Palestine Question

In Washington today former deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset Naomi
Chazan had some great advice for President-elect
Obama. Noting that Israel’s election comes just 20 days after Obama’s
inauguration, she said Obama should wait 20 days before announcing the
US’s new policy on the Arab-Israeli peace– “but he shouldn’t wait any
longer than 21 days.”

The US might, she said, present its own peace plan. (She didn’t spell out whether Obama should do that right then, or a little later.)

Chazan– who is one of the smartest and most well-grounded people I
know, of any nationality or gender– also argued
convincingly that the whole process that goes back to Oslo and running
right through Annapolis “has dead-ended.” She said the whole way the
“peace process” has been framed and organized since Oslo needs to be
reframed, and gave some excellent suggestions on how to do this.

She was speaking along with Daniel Levy at the New America Foundation,
at an event co-hosted by the strongly pro-peace New Israel Fund, of
whose board she is president.

Chazan  provided these three examples of the kind of reframing
she envisaged:

  1. “We need to recognize
    the asymmetry there is both on the ground and at the negotiating table,
    between the Israelis and Palestinians, and find ways to rebalance that.
    So far, since Oslo, the negotiations have all tended to create a false
    idea that there is symmetry between them. There isn’t.” Later,
    Levy  amplified that point, saying that just leaving the two
    sides in a room together to deal with everything through bilateral
    negotiations wouldn’t work. Chazan agreed. Both of them said the US
    needs to play a much more activist role in the negotiations than it did
    in the whole “process” from Oslo through Annapolis.
  2. “We need to go back to looking at the root causes of the
    conflict. There’s always been this idea that doing this would be
    unhelpful to the negotiations, but actually there are ways it could be
    helpful.” Later, in response to a question about the Palestinian
    refugee issue, she spelled out that rather than dealing with it just in
    a distant and sort of technical way, if the Israeli government would
    agree to make some kind of public acknowledgment that Israel’s actions
    had “helped to create” the problem and wanted to join with others in
    finding a solution, that was the kind of action that could help move
    the whole process forward.
  3. “We could also think of trying to separate the issues of
    ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements.” In the
    discussion period she noted that the fact that settlement dismantlement
    had always, in the Oslo-to-Annapolis process, been an explicit item on
    the agenda gave the settlers and their supporters a big cause to
    mobilize around and, in effect, gave them a veto over the whole
    negotiation. “But how about if we didn’t say anything explicit at all
    about the settlements or the settlers but just reached an agreement by
    which Israel would withdraw completely to the Green Line or a line near
    it with negotiated changes, handing the area over in the first instance
    to an international or NATO force, perhaps without doing anything
    explicit to dismantle the settlements? What would the settlers do then?
    They lose their veto.”

Chazan’s visit to Washington is timely indeed. As I noted here
on Monday, when Obama announced his foreign policy team in Chicago
earlier that day, he also made prominent mention of the need to work
rapidly “a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Continue reading “Welcome new thinking on the Palestine Question”

Bloggingheads gender update

I just checked the main page of their website. They now have one woman among the 20 contributors featured on the page.
Not good enough at all, guys.
Especially when, down on the right sidebar we have this little bit of icky laddishness:

    What do you call two naked women painted to look like cows? On BhTV, we call it “playful.”

Ohmigod. So it is indeed true. For women to get any attention at this site we need to take off our clothes and have our bodies laughed at?
Actually, I find the “cow” imagery there really disturbing, as well as the nakedness.
And this is “cutting edge”? And this is the “New America” that Robert Wright’s sponsors at the New America Foundation are trying to build?

Washington losing struggle for Abu Mazen’s soul?

Al-Hayat had an interesting report (in Arabic there) today saying that leadership sources in Hamas confirm that they have reached a “memorandum of understanding” with Fateh in preparation for the imminent resumption of dialogue between the two movements.
Does this look like some major steps back toward the Mecca Agreement for peaceful power-sharing between the two Palestinian movements that was achieved with Saudi mediation (and financial backing) back in February? Not surprising if it does, since Hamas’s website reports today that Hamas’s Damascus-based overall leader Khaled Mishaal has now traveled to the Saudi capital “to discuss means of restoring Palestinian national dialogue.”
To me, this indicates that the Saudis are most likely pretty disappointed with the Annapolis meeting of November 27 and the notable lack of any serious US engagement with the peacemaking at and since that meeting
When Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal attended Annapolis, from his country’s perspective it was making a huge up-front concession to the Israelis by agreeing to be there in the negotiating room with them before Israel has even done anything to announce a clear commitment to undertake significant withdrawals from the Arab territories it has occupied since 1967. The Saudis also went out on a limb, and probably paid quite a lot of hard cash, to help “persuade” the Syrians and other Arab governments to participate in Annapolis. (Though they were noticeably unable to persuade the Iraqis or Kuwaitis, both of which governments no doubt felt that Iran’s close proximity and power and strongly expressed opposition to Annapolis outweighed any Saudi urgings that they should attend.)
The Bush administration responded to the goodwill Riyadh had shown in the run-up to Annapolis by (a) showing blatant disrespect to the Syrians at Annapolis, and (b) doing nothing visible at all to push the peace process any further forward after the confab. Indeed, Pres. Bush has said nothing further in public about Israeli-Arab peacemaking since about noon on Nov. 28. As though his job has now been done?
For its part, Israel responded to Annapolis by announcing its decision to build 300 additional settler-only housing units in the occupied Arab land of Jebel Abu Ghneim, which it renamed Har Homa. Condi Rice responded to questions about that announcement that by bleating sheepishly that she had “sought further clarifications from the Israelis” regarding their plans.
Where is the vision? Where is the commitment? Where is the leadership that is so sorely needed if the peacemaking that was launched at Annapolis is ever to succeed?
Not visible in Washington.
So the Saudis seem to have returned to their original Plan A, and to be retracing the steps they took back in January to craft a new– hopefully more sustainable– Fateh-Hamas agreement.
Some in Washington may be very angry with this attempt. For my part, I think having a unified Palestinian body politic is the only way there is to then move forward to achieving a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli agreement. A politically very weak Abu Mazen (1) will not be strong enough in the negotiations with Israel to withstand or do anything to counter the overbearing demands that the Israelis continue to place on him (with a lot of help from Washington and lapdog-in-chief Tony Blair), and (2) will not be strong enough within the Palestinian community to be able to make any agreement he should happen to reach with Israel “stick.”
A unified Palestinian movement could strengthen its position considerably through the sustained pursuit of massive non-violent civil action in defense of Palestinian rights. That takes vision, discipline, and above all national unity. If Fateh and Hamas can reach a strong agreement on how to proceed, between them they could mobilize tremendous amounts of support from governments and peoples around the world as a way to counter Israel’s reliance on (a) military and administrative domination, and (b) its tight links with some power centers in Washington. And between them, if they remain united, Hamas and Fateh could make any agreement they reach with Israel stick, and stick well.
Readers may want to go back and read this JWN post from late June (shortly after the Fateh-Hamas rift over Gaza), titled “Ten reasons to talk to Hamas,” and this article I had in The Nation in early November on the need to engage politically with both Hamas and Hizbullah.
Former Israeli spy chief Efraim Halevy and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell are just two of the prominent figures internationally who now argue that Hamas should be engaged with politically and not only through the barrel of a gun.

Update Monday morning:
Haaretz is reporting that “Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s adviser Ahmed Yousuf told Haaretz that he sent a rare letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declaring that Hamas was interested in opening dialogue with the U.S. and the European Union.” On another page, Haaretz carries what it describes as the text of Yousuf’s “Open Letter”, though the provenance of this text is not clear and it is not on Hamas’s own main English-language website or, from a quick glance, their Arabic site.

Olmert pokes finger in Annapolis’s eye

In a clear challenge to the agreements reached in Annapolis, the Israeli government yesterday announced its plan to build more than 300 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa. At Annapolis, the two parties reaffirmed their agreement to comply with the steps laid out by the 2002 Road Map while they negotiate their final peace agreement. One of the provisions of the Road Map is a halt to building in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
According to that AP news report linked to there Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said yesterday,

    “Israel makes a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem… Israel has never made a commitment to limit our sovereignty in Jerusalem. Implementation of the first phase of the road map does not apply to Jerusalem.”

Well, Israel may make a “clear distinction” between the West Bank and Jerusalem, but the rest of the world does not. The rest of the world considers East Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank and, like the rest of the West Bank, to be occupied territory.
Therefore, the moves that successive Israeli governments have taken over the years to (1) unilaterally expand the boundaries of Jerusalem; (2) implant hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers– and because of the role of various all-Jewish Quangos in this process, these settlers are only Jewish Israelis– into new housing developments built exclusively for them there; (3) implant several headquarters complexes for Israeli government bodies; and (4) re-define the Jews-only settlements in East Jerusalem as merely “neighborhoods”, like any other neighborhoods in a city– all these steps have been illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In the context of a peace settlement the base-line position in international law is that all these steps should be reversed. If Israel wants to not reverse any of them, it should negotiate that non-reversal with the Palestinians and any other interested parties.
(In the UN Partition Plan of 1947, the whole of an even larger Jerusalem– east and west– was supposed to have been a special international zone, being administered as a “separate body” from both the Jewish state and the Arab state planned for Mandate Palestine.)
The US government’s position on the status of East Jerusalem has become increasingly slippery over the years. Several recent US presidents, including Bill Clinton, have said they don’t necessarily see settlement-building in East Jerusalem as illegal, though US presidential and State Department spokespeople usually bend themselves into pretzels rather than give a definitive answer on this question. And of course, in his infamous April 2004 letter, Pres. G.W. Bush told PM Sharon that he thought the large existing settlement blocs in the West Bank should stay under Israeli control. (And by extension that could be thought to apply also to the E. Jerusalem settlements.)
In taking these increasingly pro-Israeli positions on Jerusalem, US presidents have nearly always been under strong pressure from the US Congress, where AIPAC and its associated group of pro-Israeli lobbying groups have had great success in “selling” the idea that the expanded Greater Jerusalem should remain under Israeli control forever. As, too, that the US administration should move its embassy in Israel which, like the embassies of nearly all the other governments in the world has always been “diplomatically” been located in Tel Aviv, to a site in East Jerusalem.
But the last time I checked, neither the US Congress nor the US administration had any mandate from the rest of the international community to be able to issue authoritative judgments on the status of Jerusalem. Am I wrong?
… And in related news, President Bush has announced that he will make a trip to the Middle East in January, and he is highly likely to visit both Israel and Palestine while he is there… And the Israeli military has announced it has completed the planning for a “large offensive” in Gaza.
Will all these things be happening at the same time? Will the Israelis stage a repeat in Gaza of their stunningly “successful” (irony alert there, folks!) July 2006 assault against Hizbullah in Lebanon? Will Bush use his visit to the region to urge the international community, as Rice did in July 2006, to “give Israel the time it needs to complete the job”?
God help the people of Gaza and God help all of us if this is what is planned. An all-out Israeli assault on Gaza would sink the few remaining hopes any of us has that the “two-state” outcome aimed for at Annapolis will ever come to pass.

My CSM op-ed on post-Annapolis diplomacy

Today’s Christian Science Monitor carries the op-ed I wrote (last Friday morning) about the post-Annapolis diplomacy. The title is For Mideast peace, think bigger; Regional stability involves more than the Israelis and Palestinians. You can also find it here.
Specifically, I call in the piece for:

    1. Far greater, more evident, and more effective involvement by President Bush in the post-Annapolis diplomacy;
    2. Equal attention to be given to the Syrian-Israeli track as to the Palestinian-Israeli track; and
    3. Awareness that other significant players in world politics also have interests and a stake in the stability of the Israeli-Arab arena.

Regarding the Syrian-Israeli track– an issue I have worked on a lot over the years, in addition to my work on Palestinian-Israeli issues– I give three reasons why it is important to pay attention to that track, as well as the Palestinian one.
Regarding the international dimension, even as I was writing the piece Friday morning, US Ambassador to the UN Zal Khalilzad was being forced humiliatingly to withdraw the text of a Security Council resolution he had proposed the night before, that would have expressed the SC’s “support” for the Annapolis process. That was a strong indication that the (anti-UN, anti-Syrian) hardliners in Dick Cheney’s office were muscling in on the decisionmaking in Washington and showing their willingness to ride roughshod over the decisions and strategies adopted by Secretary of State Rice and her people, of whom Khalilzad is one.
Not good news, to say the least.
Another very worrying indicator is that ever since Olmert and Abbas had their final photo-op at the White House Wednesday, Bush himself has done little or nothing to sustain the pro-peace momentum created by the Annapolis confab. I was really shocked, for example, to see that his weekly radio address Saturday made zero mention of it. That is unconscionable!
If I were Condi, I would resign. But I shan’t be holding my breath for that. After all, one of her main mentors was that perennial “good soldier” Colin Powell…
In this JWN post that I wrote on the day of Annapolis itself (11/27), I wrote: “with the broad turnout [Bush] succeeded mainly in creating extra pressure on his own administration to perform effectively in the diplomacy started in Annapolis. All those invitees are all now, to one degree or another, invested in the process… ” I also speculated that the time might well soon come when the other members of the “Quartet”, who at Annapolis itself were consigned to the role merely of a praise-singing Greek Chorus, would seek a much more active role for themselves in the diplomacy.
Those other three Quartet members are : Russia, the EU, and the UN.
Russia– where President Putin won a strong victory in yesterday’s referendum– is planning to host the next substantive political follow-up to the Annapolis confab, in Moscow, early next year. That important Nov. 29 news report from Robin Wright and Michael Abramowitz notes that the Syrians and Russians are hoping to revive the Syrian-Israeli track at that meeting. (Note also, this report on the growing Russian role, from Haaretz’s Ben Caspit.)
In Washington, Cheney and the neocon ultras who surround him– and also Elliott Abrams– are known to be particularly hostile to any move that might loosen the isolation in which they want to keep both Syria and Iran trapped. (Remember that in the iconic neocon document on the Middle East, “A Clean Break” (1996), Syria was defined as the central target.)
Regarding the Annapolis and post-Annapolis peace diplomacy in general, I was extremely skeptical during the lead-up that the gathering there would be anything more than a content-free photo op. And indeed, I still entertain the strong concern that that may, indeed, be what George Bush and his vice-president still want Annapolis to be.
However, the breadth of the participation in Annapolis caught my attention and fascinated me. It really did a lot to reframe “Annapolis” as being the very last chance Washington has to make good on 33 unbroken years of promises that Washington, and Washington alone, is the power capable of brokering a sustainable Israeli-Arab peace.
In my CSM piece, I noted that,

    All major world powers today have large stakes in the [Arab-Israeli] region. They need the peacemaking to succeed. If Bush’s current peace gamble fails, that will seriously dent America’s power and standing around the whole world.

Of course, Washington’s international standing has already been dented very seriously indeed by its fatal strategic over-reach in Iraq. But a widely watched and understood demonstration of its failure to “deliver” on Israeli-Arab peace would certainly continue that process.
The world’s non-US powers are meanwhile in something of a bind. They need the Middle East not to erupt into any further chaos and bloodshed. They need a successful and sustainable settlement of all strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. They are not, in any conceivable combination, capable of achieving this on their own, without the cooperation of the US. But the US refuses to cooperate with them and continues, arrogantly, to arrogate to itself the “right” to monopolize the post-Annapolis diplomacy. (As spelled out in the final para of the “Joint Understanding” reached by Israel and the PA at Annapolis.)
In my op-ed, I concluded by writing: “The stakes could not be higher. The world watches, and hopes.” Perhaps I should have added that if those hopes are rebuffed, then the non-US powers will most likely soon start planning their own alternative approach.

Post-Annapolis score: Israel/Cheney – 1; World – 0?

Yesterday, US Ambassador to the UN Zal Khalilzad was humiliatingly forced by the powers-that-be in Washington to withdraw the text of a draft resolution he had presented to the Security Council less than 24 hours previously, that would have expressed the SC’s support for the Nov. 27th Annapolis peace meeting.
Colum Lynch’s reporting in the WaPo linked to there makes very clear:

    (1) that Khalilzad had had the approval of Secretary Rice before he presented the draft Thursday evening (contrary to some of the other reports on the incident); and
    (2) that Khalilzad told Lynch that Israeli PM Olmert and other Israeli leaders had become “very upset” when they saw the text of Thursday’s draft.

Israeli governments have for many years strongly– though by no means always successfully– resisted all attempts to have the UN play any role at all in brokering or monitoring peace agreements between it and its neighbors. (That, despite the fact that Israel’s birth certificate as a state in the modern world came from the UN’s Partition Plan of 1947.) The draft that Khalilzad presented Thursday merely “endorsed” the Israeli-Palestinian statement concluded at Annapolis– which allocated a clear leadership role in the follow-opn diplomacy to the US, and not the UN. But even having the UNSC say anything at all about Annapolis was apparently too much for Olmert and Co. to bear.
Khalilzad was forced to fly to Washington DC on Friday, presumably to get a dressing-down from people higher up in the administration for his “presumption” in having presented the pro-Annapolis draft to the SC. My reading of this matter is that only someone politically weightier than Rice could have forced her and Khalilzad to back down on this matter. To me, that means Cheney.
What a humiliating fiasco for Khalilzad, Rice, and US diplomacy in general.
Especially since in Tunis, yesterday– and this was presumably before Khalilzad’s about-face– PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas had told a press conference, “I must say that we felt the seriousness of the U.S. administration… Among the signals about the U.S. seriousness, there is a draft submitted by the U.S. to the U.N Security Council to endorse the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.”
And China Daily reported from New York that,

    Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar, the only Arab member on the Security Council, said Thursday “we are happy with the language as it is” in the US draft resolution. “I am happy that the council is dealing with this issue,” he said. “For me, this is the main thing.”

So, as I wrote in the headline, the immediate score in this affair looks like:

    Israel/Cheney – 1; World – 0

However, if the Bush administration’s handling of the post-Annapolis diplomacy continues in this inept and extremely one-sided vein, the longer-term score on this important aspect of global diplomacy will probably turn out to be more like:

    US – 0; World – 188

(Or however many countries there are in the whole of the non-US world.)
As I discussed in this Nov. 27 JWN post, the shifting balance among the world’s great powers– that is, the US’s decline from the Uberpower-hood it enjoyed in the 1990s– is an important backdrop to the post-Annapolis peace diplomacy. And the post-Annapolis diplomacy will meanwhile itself be contributing to the shifts in the global power power balance. Especially if the Bush administration keeps shooting itself in the diplomatic foot in this most recent, jejune, and damaging-to-everyone way.
(I have an op-ed on the broad Annapolis-in-global-politics theme that will be in The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. Too bad I finalized the text before this latest Khalilzad fiasco got reported.)
What I have specifically been looking at, in general, is the balance in the post-Annapolis diplomacy between the role of the US and that of the rest of the “Quartet”: Russia, the EU, and the UN. Worryingly, from my perspective, the text of the “Joint Understanding” that Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas agreed to at Annapolis gives the US a specified, special role monitoring both sides’ implementation of the 2002 “Road Map” dealing with interim issues, and spells out that satisfactory– from the US standpoint– implementation of the Road Map is a precondition of implementation of the final peace agreement that the two sides are supposed to conclude before the end of 2008.
(So actually, maybe not having the whole of the UNSC sign off on Annapolis in a formal way may not be such a bad thing?)
I see, too, that lapdoggish as ever, the Quartet’s so-called “special envoy to the PA” Tony Blair has been telling HaAretz and others that he “no longer believes that ‘land for peace,’ in and of itself, is sufficient”, and that,

    “There won’t be a Palestinian state unless it is coherently governed and run, and anyone who tells you different is misleading you.”

What on earth kind of neo-imperial arrogance is this?
Of course we all want the Palestinian state to be as well-run, as democratic, and accountable as possible. But to make this a pre-condition for national independence? This is Shcharansky-ism run wild!
Also, Blair is really not a good person to speak about these things, since in the run-up to the January 2006 Palestinian elections he was the one who covertly despatched a small team of Labour Party campaign advisers to Ramallah to try to salvage Fateh’s already-failing election campaign. That was a quite unwarranted (and therefore kept-hidden) intervention into Palestinian politics, and therefore a violation of democratic norms in Palestine.
Also, as we know, he has been a strong supporter of the mass-punishment policies sustained against the Palestinian people after they held their elections and he and George W. Bush didn’t like the outcome…
So much for yesterday’s man. Meanwhile, if you’re as interested as I am in the shifting global balance question, go back and look at all three pages of that China Daily report I linked to above in connection with the reporting on Qatar’s reaction. That is some pretty thorough and wide-ranging reporting– and in English, too. Even though the architecture of the article, the way it’s published on the web, is definitely sub-optimal: it’s impossible to bring up the whole text on a single, clean “print” page…
The Chinese are evidently watching what is happening on this issue pretty closely. Plus, they have been investing heavily and quite effectively in upgrading their English-language web presence. US commentators who mock China’s supposed weakness in the realm of soft power often don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
Interesting times we live in.

Israeli precedent in France/Algeria?

I went to an interesting discussion today. It was led by the Franco-Israeli writer Sylvain Cypel, who was talking about his recent book Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse.
I asked him about the state of the Israeli peace movement these days, wondering aloud if it is really in such chaos and disarray as it seems to be.
His answer was interesting. He said that the essential issue that Israelis and all others need to focus on is the need to end the occupation, rather than “peace” as such. And he recalled how, growing up in France in the 1950s, those on the French left for long time had a main slogan regarding Algeria that was “peace in Algeria,” and didn’t make too much impact with that. But then, he said, in around 1959, they switched their slogan to “Withdraw from Algeria”, and that was when the political system inside France really started to shift on the issue.
So I thought about that quite a bit afterwards. It is true, isn’t it, that everyone right across the political claims that their goal is “peace” between Israel and its neighbors. Including those who specifically negate the idea that this peace needs a robust territorial basis, such as for example, those who argue that what’s needed is a “peace for peace” deal, rather than a “land for peace” deal.
Cypel argued that what is required, first and foremost, is a clear Israeli statement that it will withdraw from the lands occupied in 1967, and then on the basis of that the modalities of the withdrawal, including the possibility of balanced adjustments in the final border, and the nature of the post-withdrawal relationship can all be effectively negotiated. But, he stressed, they should be negotiated in the context of a clear prior Israeli commitment to withdraw. Which is what international law requires of Israel, anyway.
(By the way, this is a principle that needs to be applied in the case of the US’s current occupation of Iraq, as well.)
On a broadly related note, when I went to the panel discussion with the Anglo-Israeli peace activist Daniel Levy yesterday, one of the most striking things he said was that it is quite unreasonable to ask the occupied people to provide assurances for the security of the occupiers and even for the settlers from the occupying country.
He also said that making “absolute security” for Israel a firm precondition for the conduct or completion of any final-peace talks– as the Annapolis process currently does, with its references to the really damaging “Road Map”– is a recipe for sure failure. “How can the Palestinians assure the security of Israelis? They don’t have a state, they don’t have anything!”
Parenthetically, I’d add that the PA is quite unable to assure the security of Palestinians, so how can anyone demand that they assure the security of Israelis, as well?
Levy’s bottom line was that completion and implementation of the final-status Palestinian-Israeli agreement simply cannot be held hostage to conditions placed on either side in the arena of interim measures.
This is what I’ve been arguing for the past 14 years. Since Oslo. It’s a crazy idea, and one that gratuitously gives the whole peace negotiation over as a hostage to hardliners on either side who, when they want to torpedo it, have merely to launch yet another escalation or provocation.
Today, by the way, Cypel reminded us that the first terrorist event after Oslo was that undertaken by the American-Israeli settler extremist Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 worshipers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, and wounded 150 more, during his February 1994 rampage there.

60th anniversary of Palestinian Partition Plan

I was at a fascinating post-Annapolis briefing this afternoon, jointly delievered by two Israeli peaceniks (Daniel Levy and Ori Nir), two Palestinian negotiations officials (Ghaith al-Omary and Greg Khalil) and one American negotiations expert (Scott Lasensky.) It was hosted by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, whose Executive Director Phil Wilcox chaired the session, and had many other great pro-peace organizations supporting it.
All the contributions from the panelists were interesting, some very inspiring indeed. Levy, who had been a key advisor to then-FM Shimon Peres during the very hurried negotiations of the last months of Barak’s premiership in 2000, is a very smart young British-Israeli. (His dad is the slightly disgraced and controversial Blair fundraiser/crony, Lord Levy. But Daniel seems smart and very thoughtful in his own right, as well as being, obviously, very well-connected.)
He reminded the hordes gathered there in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill that today is the 60th anniversary of the UN’s passing of the Partition Plan for Palestine.
“That was truly an amazing day,” he said.

    We had the nations of the world standing up and saying there should be a Jewish state on 56% of the land of Mandate Palestine. And Annapolis was similarly amazing, because there we had so many nations of the world– plus so many important Arab states– standing up and saying they recognize a Jewish state on 78% of Mandate Palestine. 78%!
    So why would Olmert or anyone go to the Israeli people and say we need to fight for another decade or two to get to, what, 80%? What would be the point?

The 78% of the land of M.P. was what the Jewish state ended up controlling after the fighting of 1948-49– right up to the Armistice Line agreed on in the Armistice (ceasefire) Agreements of 1949. The remaining 22% of M.P. is what the Palestinians and the Arab peace Plan want to see as the territory of the independent Palestinian. Both Levy and Khalil noted that the Arabs are not now talking about the 22% of land that Israel conquered in 1948, that the UN had earlier allocated to the Palestinian Arab state. You can see a good mapped representation of those areas in the the Wikipedia page linked to above.
Levy also warned, incidentally, that the Annapolis-launched negotiations really represent Israel’s last chance at retaining a Jewish state. “If they fail,” he said, “Israel will become more and more like South Africa (I’m assuming he meant pre-democratic South Africa ~HC) and international support for it will fall, especially among US Jews.”
Anyway, there is a lot more to write about the event. I’ll have to wait a while to do that, though, as I have a bunch of other things to catch up with.
So mazel tov to all Israelis on the anniversary of the birth-certificate of your Jewish state! Do remember, though, that there was a twin brother given a birth certificate at exactly that same time, in the same incubator, but he hasn’t been allowed to see the light of day yet. It strikes me that the fate of both peoples is still irrevocably intertwined.
(Note to commenters: Yes, I am well aware the Arab states rejected the Partition Plan at the time. A regrettable but in the circumstances not incomprehensible position to take. Now, they are seeking significantly less than the P.P. We have discussed the Arab rejection of the P.P. here on JWN many times and don’t need to revisit it in this discussion. Let’s be forward looking! What can be done to help realize the hopefulness there is in the Annapolis process– however small it might appear as of now?)
Update, 20 mins. later:
Levy has put a thoughtful assessment of Annapolis up on his blog, here. I thought his analysis of the speeches the three principals made there was very perceptive. especially this comment:

    Only President Bush came up short, sticking to a simplistic good-versus-evil narrative that was not only patronizing, divisive and lacking any resonance with the Arab world, but might very well prove counterproductive.

Personally, I wish Levy were running US diplomacy right now. Couldn’t we naturalize him with the same haste that the Australian Zionist activist Martin Indyk was naturalized here in 1992 in order that he could immediately jump into helping run Clinton’s Middle East policy, and then have Levy be named Condi’s deputy?
Update, a further 30 mins later:
I have just checked my notes, and actually in making the reference to the two-state solution and South Africa, levy made clear that these were remarks that Olmert had made in a very recent interview with HaAretz. (And here it is in English.) Of course, this makes it an utterance of considerably greater political weight and impact. Sorry about the mistake.

Saudi-Syrian deal gives Lebanon a President?

So it looks as though– just as Pervez Musharraf has been stripping off his uniform in Pakistan– in Lebanon Army Chief of Staff Michel Suleiman may be about to move into the Presidential palace in Baabdah.
Suleiman has been one of the candidates favored by Syria. For me, this immediately raises the question of whether there was a Saudi-brokered deal that involved the Syrians sending a (not high-level) representative to Annapolis, and them then getting a presidential candidate in Lebanon with whom they feel they can live?
It was a switch to Suleiman’s candidacy by the Saudi-supported Saad Hariri’s “Future Movement” that made Suleiman the front-runner. Some constitutional issues still persist– namely, that a government employee of his stature is not supposed to become president. But no doubt Musharraf could teach him the dance of the seven combat boots. And anyway, many Lebanese harbor some fairly fond memories of the presidency of Fouad Chehab, who took over in 1958 after a successful, nation-building term as Chief of Staff.
Re the possibility of a Suleiman-Annapolis ‘deal” recall that in Point 3 of this Nov. 22 post on JWN I wrote:

    In my work on my 2000 book, I examined the question as to whether, for this Baath Party regime in Syria, their interests in Lebanon or in Golan were weightier. And I concluded that at that time, it was their Lebanon interests. This time, of course, Syria’s situation in Lebanon is very different…

Well, perhaps not so different after all?
On the question of why Syria cares so much about what happens in Lebanon, there are, of course, hundreds of reasons. (You’ll have to read at least three of my books to find out everything I have to say on the subject.) Right now, though, Syria’s Baathist rulers and their many supporters have a vivid fear that the “joint”, Lebanese-international tribunal investigating the 2005 Hariri murder and a string of other political murders since then will be used by the US-dominated “international community” to in some way weaken and perhaps bring down the Baathist regime in Syria. Within Lebanon the president is one key player, but not the only one, in the decisionmaking around the tribunal.
(But since Syria did go to Bush’s party in Annapolis, does that mean it can now have some assurance that the Bush administration will be easing up on the panoply of regime-needling, regime-weakening, and otherwise very destabilizing things it’s been doing against Syria in recent years? We’ll have to see.)
One strong illustration of the intense hostility that some Lebanese have toward the Asad regime was provided when long-time Lebanese Druze feudal leader Walid Jumblatt addressed the strongly pro-Israeli “Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s annual conference last month. Walid’s father was killed by the Syrians during the Lebanese civil war of 1977; and in late 2004, the Syrians (or someone) tried to blow up the car carrying Walid’s close political confidante Marwan Hamadeh. So you can perhaps understand that Walid is very strongly anti-Syrian at this point. (Though for most of the period between 1977 and 2004 he was a fairly close ally of Syria. Go figure.)
Actually– how can I say this kindly, which I want to do to since I’ve known him fairly well since before his father’s death?– Walid is, ahem, not the world’s most stable individual.
Anyway, if you read the transcript of his presentation at WINEP, you’ll discover it is full of incitement against Syria. Including this exchange, with the well-known failed diplomatist Dennis Ross:

    Ross: … if regime change [through military means] isn’t likely in terms of American policy towards Syria, what do you want to see the administration do? What could it do at this point? Beyond what you described in terms of supporting prosecution, what could it do more than it’s doing today to try to effect the ongoing killing machine as you described it?
    Jumblatt: Look, I might be — how should I say — blunt. I might also be — you might find my remarks quite unusual. It was not a mistake in the absolute to remove Saddam Hussein…
    So back to your question, there hasn’t been effective sanctions against him [Asad]. What do you want me to say? I’m speaking to a diplomat.
    No, I’m not going to be a diplomat. If you could send some car bombs to Damascus, why not?

A few exchanges later, he tried to pass off that remark as “just a joke”… I was, actually, fairly shocked to read the whole transcript of that session and see how extremely belligerent and batty the guy has become… Or perhaps, to see how very belligerent in form of mental instability has now become.
Remember, too, that he was not speaking to a collection of backwoods, powerless people there at WINEP. The place is stacked high with former and future mid- to high-level officials in administrations both Republican and Democratic. It is “revolving-door central” in the systematic effort the tough pro-Israelis in this country have mounted to put their people into positions of power and influence. All the more worrying, therefore, to me as a US citizen– and presumably also to the Syrians?– to see that Walid’s original remark about the car-bombs was greeted by the audience with, according to the transcript: “[Laughter, applause]”
Meanwhile, back in Lebanon, it is by no means a done deal yet that Suleiman’s backers can pull together all the votes they need to get parliament to elect him. But it definitely looks as though something interesting has been getting unblocked in the country’s previously deadlocked political geology.
That’s good news. Let’s hope this trend toward de-escalation can continue.
Update, way past bed-time: I just saw Josh Landis’s take on this. He writes: “If … Suleiman becomes president of Lebanon, Syria will be a winner as a result of Annapolis. Lebanon as well.” I’m not as convinced of that as he seems to be… But the general trend-line seems good.

After Annapolis: Bring the Syrians back in!

The bicycle is going forward, over rough ground, and very shakily. It might lose momentum at any time. And then, how many of those now perched atop it will tumble to the ground?
Or, is there anything those now aboard it can do to give it some real forward momentum?
This is an interesting question. George Bush may have thought that, by succeeding in getting so many participants to come to Annapolis, he would put added pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians– well, especially the Palestinians– to make the concessions that would be needed for a diplomatic success.
He may have thought that by getting such a broad turnout he would succeed in increasing the diplomatic isolation of Iran.
I think, though, that with the broad turnout he succeeded mainly in creating extra pressure on his own administration to perform effectively in the diplomacy started in Annapolis. All those invitees are all now, to one degree or another, invested in the process. (In the case of the Saudis, I would say that in both cash and political terms, they are are, actually, invested very heavily in it at this point.)
But the Brits, the Russians, the Chinese (as a permanent member of the UNSC), the EU, and the UN itself are all also heavily invested in the post-Annapolis “process”. And not, mainly, by virtue of their having gone to the confab itself, though that is definitely a part of it. But also by virtue of all those parties having very strong interests of their own in Middle Eastern stability, and the fact that post-Annapolis is now “the only game in town” for defusing and resolving the potentially extremely destabilizing Israeli-Palestinian crisis… And it is, as is now quite clear, a very high-stakes game indeed. As of today, the goal has been defined: a final-status agreement between Israel and Palestine before the end of 2008.
So the Bush administration, as the party that prepared, stage-managed, and hosted this gathering, is now in the hot seat. And if Washington cannot perform well in the diplomatic tasks ahead of it, then those other parties, who may have been invited along to Annapolis to play the role of Greek Chorus, may well come to the conclusion that the stage director is wrecking the play– and is causing grievous harm to their own interests in the process– and they, or a sub-group of them may feel they need to move in and take over the show.
This peacemaking business will certainly not be easy, whoever does it. Of course, the rifts within the Palestinian community are huge. (And so will be the rifts inside Israel if the government moves significantly towards the kind of “painful compromises” that Olmert talked about in his speech.)
One thing I really wish Bush had done that could have made a significant difference in the dynamic of the negotiation was to spell out clearly and compellingly that the goal of this process is to have an Israel that is– finally!– at peace with all of its neighbors… an Israel that is no longer threatened by invasion but has straightforward and constructive working relations with not just all its neighbors but also all the Arab states beyond them, too. This is, I know, a good part of the intention of the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. But it corresponds to a much older and deeper dynamic, too: the idea that an Israel that is at peace with all its Arab-state neighbors will have a lot more of the self-confidence required to make those “painful concessions” to the Palestinians who are currently lodged with their necks under the IDF’s boots.
That’s why I think it is a huge pity that Bush was so peremptory and dismissive of the Syrians at Annapolis. In fact, he didn’t even mention Syria in his address, and neither did Olmert or Abu Mazen. [Correction, Wed. evening: Abu Mazen actually did mention the need to end the occupation of Syrian Golan, and the need for “Arab-Israeli” peace as well as Palestinian-Israeli peace. Sorry about my too-fast reading of it last night. ~HC] Olmert mentioned “normalization” with Arab states– but he didn’t mention the vital other part of that equation, which is a successfully negotiated final peace agreement with all of Israel’s Arab neighbors, and Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied lands in Syria and Lebanon, as well as Palestine.
If a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace is to be reached, that requires active engagement on the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks. And Syria is not a small or weak power. It has considerable influence inside the political communities in both Lebanon and Palestine. Bringing the Syrians fully into the process at Annapolis would have served the cause of peacemaking on all three of the remaining “tracks” and would have transformed the political dynamics of the whole Near East.
By contrast, tricking the Syrians into coming to Annapolis– which is what it looks like right now– and then giving them the cold shoulder once they got there will end up serving nobody’s interests. Doing that may well end up riling a number of the other “big powers” who were represented at Annapolis. And it almost certainly portends further trouble down the road for the hard-pressed people of Lebanon.
I would love for someone to explain to me why the idea of a truly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, one that ends the state of war that has existed for decades now between Israel and all three of these Arab neighbors, was not enthusiastically embraced and proclaimed in Annapolis by Bush (or, come to that, by either Olmert or Abu Mazen). Does this idea– which seems so inspiring and so powerful to me– somehow induce fear in the members of the Bush administration?
I suppose some people might say, “Well, it’s going to be hard enough to get a decent peace between just the Israelis and Palestinians– but trying to get an Israeli-Syrian peace and deal with the hornet’s nest of Lebanon all at the same time would make the task impossible!” But I think that reaction seriously mis-states the dynamic at work here, which I see roughly in the way I outlined above. Remember, too, that (1) the Syrians have tremendous power– if they are thus motivated–to help bring aboard the peace train (or bike, to keep my metaphors somewhat straight here) numerous Palestinians and Lebanese who would otherwise be inclined to oppose the idea of concluding a final peace agreement with Israel. And (2) just the broad reframing of the whole peace project, by itself– the proclamation that “the goal here is to end the state of war in this whole region and to build it up into a region in which everyone has the chance to live and to thrive in peace”– could have a powerful political effect in communities exhausted and drained by so many decades of war. Especially if it is the whole world, except Iran, who is saying this.
The “vision thing”: that’s what Pres. Bush the Elder used to talk about sometimes, in fairly derisive terms. But I don’t think this particular peace bicycle has any chance of moving forward without it. So if the bike collapses shakily to the ground, who will be the ones falling off?