Thursday, May 13, 2010

Arab Israeli Peace: One Last Chance.

If the Arab Jewish conflict in all its phases is to be looked upon as a continuum then its duration is getting very close to becoming the longest war in History. It could eclipse the Hundred Year Wars between the British and France which lasted from 1337 to 1453. Jews had started immigrating to Palestine under the Ottoman Empire rule late in the 19th century but the Zionist movement picked up support as a result of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

The UN plan of 1947 recommended partition; under the infamous UNSCR 181; but on the day that the British mandate ended May 14, 1948 Israel was declared as an independent state. The Arab league declared war against the new state of Israel but its forces were defeated which resulted in having the Israeli forces in control of most of mandated Palestine and forced the Arab states to sign an Armistice agreement which still represents the internationally recognized borders of Israel. The tentative peace that followed lasted less than seven years. Israel joined the British and the French in their Suez Canal War by attacking and capturing the Sinai and the Gaza strip in October of 1956.

An uneasy peace lasted this time 11 years. On June 5, 1967 the Israeli Air Force launched a preemptive attack on Egypt followed by one on Iraq, Jordan and Syria. When the six day war ended Israel had added to the Sinai, and Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan. This was followed by the 1973 war which started with promise for the Egyptian and Syrian forces but ended up in a cease fire.

Egypt managed to get the Sinai back as a result of the Camp David Accords signed in 1979 which were followed by a Jordanian peace agreement in 1994. Meanwhile Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982 in an effort to force the PLO forces that had been thrown out of Jordan. The PLO withdrew to Tunis and Lebanon signed a ceasefire agreement with Israel in 1983.

In spite of all the misery inflicted by all of these wars there was a genuine chance for peace. Besides Camp David of 1979 the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 followed by the already mentioned Jordanian peace treaty of 1994 NS OSLO II in 1995. Unfortunately most the promise faded when Israel, in 2003, retook some Palestinian land in contravention of Oslo II. This has been followed by Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Lebanon war of 2006 in addition to the Gaza war of 2008.

So what has been achieved in almost a century of conflict besides the constant change of positions? The Israelis start in accepting a partition that is rejected by the Arabs and we move to the point when the Arabs accepted a two state solution which has not been accepted by the Israelis. The situation looks as hopeless as ever, if not even more so. But is it?

I saw today the rough outline of a suggestion by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security advisor for Jimmy Carter, that is simple straight forward and I believe vey promising if the political courage is found to adopt it: President Obama must declare in a press conference that the US will spare no effort to forge an agreement along the following four points

(1) Declare that the right of return for the Palestinians will not apply to the pre 1967 Israel

(2) West Jerusalem will become the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem is to become the capital of Palestine.

(3) The 1967 borders with very minor modifications are to become the internationally recognized borders. Any agreed upon modifications will be based on a one to one ratio.

(4) The new Palestinian state will be demilitarized with NATO forces on the border.

The only question that is worthwhile speculating upon: If President Obama is to make such a commitment then would the rejectionists have any rational excuse to turn such an opportunity for peace down? What do you think?


george said...

This sounds as a wonderful plan.If presented and accepted by most many will find an excuse to prevent its adoption.Hey , this is the Middle East, we never do anything because it is reasonable he he.

ghassan karam said...

I know that you are being sarcastic but look, at some point everyone has to become a little bit more pragmatic. I believe that rational people will do the best that they can in a tough situation i.e. minimize the losses.
Two wrongs do not make a right but the history is full of acts of injustice. There is nothing unique about our position vis a vis Israel. Actually over 5 billion people in the world are leading a life that is full of challenges , poverty and squalor only because of the accidental place of birth. Is that just? Is it fair? No but then one accepts it and life goes on.
In a sense that is what needs to happen in the Middle East. Palestinians need to accept that there is not going to be any return to old Palestine. Most will have to setle permanently in their current state of residence. A few will be given some monetary remuneration to help them start a new life.
The Israelis also need to accept that they must once and for all give up on the expantionist dreams.
If both sides give in a little and the major powers help guide the process then peace need not be all illusive.

Michelle said...

i love the title of yr blog because so much of what's covered demonstrates the irrationality inherent in war. i guess its paradoxical. i like the response to george because it places some focus on the individual's place in the world. i think often times people get so overwhelmed by issues they feel they cannot affect and they dont have to expose themselves to (as americans), that they choose ignorance. i like how yr blog is easily read, in that it recalls many important dates and occurences by name. you dont have to be an expert on middle eastern issues to follow it.

Theodore Arz said...

There's a bit more to be read in fine print maybe.

On the 1-to-1 ratio for land swaps one has to be weary. As can be seen from the path the notorious Israeli separation wall is taking in the West Bank, the importance of the land in many cases is the water reserves is sits over. Any land swap agreement should take this into account.

A related point can be made with respect to the right of return. We tend to think of the two-state system as one that is territorially coherent (for good reason), but if the Israelis doves (and US negotiators) cannot work around the serious problem of Jewish settlements in the West Bank where does that leave the peace process?

One alternative would be to setup Palestinian settlements in Israel. Such a move would be hotly contested, especially by the Israelis, as it would ultimately entail the loss of sovereignty over some territory they already control -- not to mention the logistical/security infrastructure such an agreement would require. -- but at this point it seems just plausible (and viable!) as anything else being put forward.

ghassan karam said...

As we all know "the devil is in the details" but I think that the first and most important obstacle is that of trust. Once both sides develop some trust then they can negotiate in good faith.

ghassan karam said...

I am so glad that you noticed the paradox that is very much meant in the name of the blog vis a vis reality.
Don't be shy in expressing your point of view whenever you feel like it.

A Purple Monkey said...

Ghassan this proposal is pretty much along the lines of the the Arab Peace Initiative except for the last point. Lebanon is a case-in-point of why a country in the Middle East should have a strong army. So I really dont how a "de-militarized" Palestinian state will be stable at all.

I think the Israeli greed will not allow them to accept a withdrawal to the 1967 borders so I dont see why the Arabs should not support any peace proposal centered around that point. They will gain the support of international public opinion as is the case right now (which is increasing albeit at a slow pace). That being said, the Palestinians should never have the two-state solution as their ultimate goal for it is an unjust solution.

The ideal solution is when the international public opinion gets fed up with Israeli practices, and when a new generation of international law makers arises, one that has rubbed shoulders with Arab students in Western Universities and read books written by anti-Zionist intellectuals. Its a time-consuming process, but a one state solution is the only fair and just solution. It will come at a time when Israel will be treated as the Apartheid state that it is, and be subject to wide spread divestment, sanctions, and protests. I say the continuation of Jewish settlement building in the West Bank is nothing but an advantage to the Palestinian cause.

ghassan karam said...

Purple Monkey,
I am in agreement with many things that you state but in disagreement with others. I do not think that a continuation of the status quo is good for the Palestinians simply because nothing that elongates the misery and suffering is good. Don't forget that this has been the Arab line for 62 years. What I find also to be disturbing is the Palestinian argument, which you read in many personal letters to the editors in various newspapers, is the call to win through a higher fertility rate. As if a society of ten million malnourished and uneducated is superior to say 5 million very well educated one.
As you might know, I have been an advocate of a Buberian bi national state for a long time. I do believe that the long run solution is a single state. Maybe that is what you mean by saying that time is on the Palestinian side.
I do not think however, that a bi national state is something that is realistic at the time being. It does require a population that is not interested in ethnicity, religion, hate etc... and that is why I do not see a contradiction between a two state solution and the ultimate goal of a bi national one. A two state must be the first step so that both sides will learn to accept each others humanity.
I believe that I also have a disagreement on the need for arms. Strong armies are needed for only one purpose; defend the bordersof a nation state. If one can arrive at an agreement that would gaurantee these borders without the need to waste resources on armies then so much the better. That is why I do not think that Lebanon needs the Resistance of Hezbollah/Iran. If Lebanon could sign a mutual defense agreement say with NATO then the question of armies and Hezbollah resistance will become moot. All what we would need then is a strong ISF. (In a sense the current Lebanese army functions as an ISF and pretends that it is an army.

R said...

This is only tangentially relevant but I have always found it interesting how people can think of a "cause" defeating another "cause" - and have that make sense to them. What does it mean for the Palestinians to have time on their side (regardless of the truthiness :) of the claim), when the current generation will be dead by the time favorable conditions magically materialize out of the collective Palestinian womb?
It is amazing how the word "we" can be so loaded as to delude people into thinking that they are part of a collective/continuum that spans the ages (this applies to both sides of this conflict by the way). They start to somehow believe that their very real sacrifices of today will be rewarded with benefits tomorrow - when it is a wholly different set of people that will get rewarded (if at all). More importantly, in the process countless people suffer all the time.

ghassan karam said...

Your point is not tangential at all. I believe that it is seminal and not only to this issue.
No one knows how the future is going to look like or what the priorities will be. So for our convenience we assume that the future will be like us but it never is. This issue plays a major role in environmentalism as well as politics. It is also one reason most prognostications turn out to be wrong since the only way models can be constructed is on the basis of a surprise free hypothesis.


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