Most of us now have the same basic end goal for the Israelis and Palestinians — a two state solution based on 1967 borders with appropriate land swaps.
That border mantra is really the easy part. The real fun begins when it gets to negotiating the period of time for settler “unsettlement,” refugee compensation, what minimum
number of refugees get to go back to Israel, water rights, security, the control of neighborhoods and holy sites in East and West Jerusalem, and then putting all of this to a vote.
That’s why the proposed U.N. vote on a resolution granting Palestinian statehood ultimately lacks strategic purpose. The resolution doesn’t resolve or help to push to resolve longstanding issues that will only get resolved (and legitimized) through negotiations led and endorsed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders, that will then be followed by a clear expression of support from the Arab League and America and a vote by the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Thomas Friedman echoes these thoughts in his June 26 New York Times editorial: “When did the Middle East make us happiest in the last few decades? That’s easy: 1) when Anwar el-Sadat made his breakthrough visit to Jerusalem; 2) when the Sunni uprising in Iraq against the pro-Al Qaedaforces turned the tide there; 3) when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was routed in 2001 by Afghan rebels, backed only by U.S. air power and a few hundred U.S. special forces; 4) when Israelis and Palestinians drafted a secret peace accord in Oslo; 5) when the Green Revolution happened in Iran; 6) when the Cedar Revolution erupted in Lebanon; 7) when the democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt emerged; 8) when Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza.”
“And what do they all have in common? America had nothing to do with almost all of them. They were self-propelled by the people themselves; we did not see them coming; and most of them didn’t cost us a dime. And what does that tell you? The most important truth about the Middle East: It only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. If it doesn’t start with them, if they don’t have ownership of a new peace initiative….no amount of cajoling or doling out money can make it work…..When people own an initiative….as the Egyptian and Israeli peacemakers did — they will be self-propelled and U.S. help can be an effective multiplier.”
“When they don’t want to own it…or when they think we want some outcome more than they do, they will be happy to hold our coats, shake us down and sell us the same carpet over and over.”
Several readers have emailed me to disagree. They believe pro-Israel supporters should work to amend the resolution so that a positive vote could finally help lead to peace negotiation progress. These are sincere people who fervently hope only the best for Israel. But they are deeply frustrated. They worry about Israel’s “pariah” status throughout the world, and what the long-term economic and political consequences of that might be — to Israel, America and Diaspora Jewry.
They fear that the Palestinian and Israeli stalemate is causing Israel to slowly drift away from its Diaspora support base. They want progress — any progress — and a broadly worded U.N. resolution is at least something tangible that might actually help, if Israel can get good wording: Maybe the resolution can require the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Maybe the resolution is only triggered if certain security parameters critical to Israel are met. At least that’s better than the two sides arguing about what each must do before they can even start talking, isn’t it?
Maybe. But probably not.
Shaping a resolution outline that Palestinian and Israeli leaders will later fill in is not a strategic victory. At best, a resolution recognizing Palestine, one that sets out broad parameters and has little detail, and one that is certain to be vetoed by America and probably Canada and several European countries, will only allow Israel and the Palestinians to continue to tread water. At worst, random violence and terrorism will return as “day after” Palestinian expectations lead to frustrations when they see their daily lives largely unchanged.
The basic problem with spending so much time attacking or “wordsmithing” a potential U.N. resolution is that this shifts the focus away from the real peace process impediment: the absence of vision and leadership on both sides of the “didactic polemicists” divide.
An agreement still will have to be negotiated, approved and implemented, and it will be impossible to negotiate, approve or implement it with a current Israeli government that includes key leaders like a proudly racist, obstructionist Foreign Minister and his ultra-nationalist party, and a disjointed Hamas and Fatah leadership structure. It just won’t happen. It can’t happen. This isn’t Nixon going to China; it’s Nixon flying on a plane operating with no route guidance or final destination.
It would be easier to agree with all of the political and organizational focus on a UN resolution (that is merely another in a long series of feckless maneuvers, albeit a more serious one) if there was also a thoughtful and much stronger focus on the type of strategic leadership changes that must occur before a real peace process can ever begin.
Palestinians and Israelis getting back into negotiations isn’t the end game. The ultimate goal is a real process led by Palestinian and Israeli leaders that can also envison how to get to an end of the negotiations, then sell the agreement to their people and move the process forward to a vote and through the critically important implementation stage.
If major Jewish organizations want to make more of a strategic difference, then while they engage in supporting Israel in its many and varied tactical defensive battles against flotillas, U.N. resolutions, Goldstone-type reports, delegitimization campaigns, terrorism, unfair media treatment, poor public relations or whatever the latest battle is against — it is unfortunately a long and growing list — they need to also join with key Israelis in supporting a change in Netanyahu’s coalition. Netanyahu’s Likud party and Livni’s Kadima party must unite in a new coalition structure that drops Yisrael Beiteinu and possibly some or all of the religious parties.
Of course, this change won’t guarantee that we’ll have peace tomorrow or even next year. Netanyahu would still be the coalition leader. But a Livni for Lieberman trade would substitute a strategic thinker who supports a peace process for someone whose strategy seems to lean more to obstructing any peace process. And anyone that chooses to realistically view the current coalition structure can’t possibly conclude that a true peace process is possible unless we have some addition and subtraction. ( Certain Israeli politicians and media members have also suggested a coalition change, and Livni and Netanyahu have had discussions, but apparently not any serious ones.)
Whether Jewish organizations encourage a coalition change publicly or privately— few, if any, will want to be seen as acting against the current government — is less critical than whether the effort begins to happen. The coalition change push is, and must be positioned as, another way, a more strategic way, to better defend and support Israel: Unless Israel gets a new coalition government that includes more
visionary leadership, then, unfortunately, Jewish organizations will continue to have (in the decades to come) many more issues and resolutions to utilize as tools to raise contributions to fight other issues and resolutions. And the inanity will march hopelessly on, until many in the Jewish Diaspora won’t identify with Israel anymore, or care.
Another important pro-peace process strategic action would be to support the emergence of a Palestinian unity government headed by Salam Fayyad. Yes, Hamas would be part of a unity government and that is deeply problematic. But, as some Israeli government officials will say “off the record,” Israel’s own pre-1948 militant groups were able to make the “militant” break once they were in power, and that would be the expectation here. Since any final agreement will be phased in, subject to the fulfillment of agreed security parameters, there will be built in incentives for Hamas to moderate and for Palestinian and Arab League pressure to apply to better control Hamas’s behavior.
Thomas Friedman’s basic premise that real progress comes through the efforts of strong and committed local leaders is hard to dispute. However, that’s exactly what’s been absent in the Palestinian and Israeli off and on — mostly off — discussions. Each side regularly shares their history lessons, but neither side is currently well structured to actually design and then implement an agreement.
Unless and until we get that leadership in place, nothing substantive can or will occur. That’s why much more strategic focus needs to be on the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian teams than on the tactical plays they call.